Narrative and Images by David Manthos; Data Analysis by David Darling
Recognized carcinogens are used in 1 in 3 hydraulic fracturing operations across the nation – according to industry self-reporting. Independent analysis of the SkyTruth Fracking Chemical Database by IT professional David Darling found that 9,310 individual fracking operations conducted between January 2011 and September 2012 disclosed the use of at least one known carcinogen. While not all hydraulic fracturing operations or all chemicals used in the process are disclosed by the drilling industry, thanks to the lack of a uniform national disclosure law and exacerbated by the liberal use of “trade secret” exemptions, known cancer-causing substances such as naphthalene, benzyl chloride, and formaldehyde were used in 34% of all fracks reported by industry to FracFocus.org.
|Hydraulic fracturing operation near private homes in Wetzel County, West Virginia, November 2012 (photo by SkyTruth; aerial overflight provided by LightHawk).|
- Spills of raw ingredients or wastewater: Drilling chemicals are transported by truck to the worksite along public roads and often over private land; workers must handle these chemicals to mix and pump them into the ground; and in the end some chemicals return to the surface in wastewater that must be either disposed of or treated for reuse. Anywhere along this chain of events human error or unavoidable accidents can and do occur, releasing chemicals into the environment and exposing workers and/or the general public to toxic substances. Our SkyTruth Alerts system tracks oil and hazardous materials spills reported to the National Response Center, as well as state-issued environmental and safety violation reports in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
- Air pollution: Unconventional shale oil and gas development has substantially impacted air quality around active fields such as the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields in the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming, where on some winter days ozone levels are worse than in Los Angeles. From aerosolizing these chemicals through the high-pressure process of fracking, to flaring off gases from the well (which may also burn a number of these chemicals), to evaporating the chemicals from open pits of drilling fluids, water is not the only vital resource impacted by fracking.
- Groundwater contamination: Images of flaming sink faucets from contaminated wells have ignited a global movement against fracking. If a well casing fails, a cementing job is inadequate, or fractures reach the water table, then groundwater can become not only toxic, but potentially explosive.