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Fracking chemicals source of fear, but also in everyday life



Published: Fri, February 17, 2012 @ 12:01 a.m.

RELATED: Fracking panel: Individuals, communities lack control over wells

Chemicals found in fracking mixes can include: They include Phenol/Formaldehyde Resin, examethylenetetramine (Hexamine), Hydrogen Chloride, Methanol (Methyl Alcohol), Aliphatic acid, Aliphatic alcohols, ethoxylated #1, Propargyl Alcohol (2-Propynol), Sodium Erythorbate1, Carbohydrate polymer, Tetramethyl Ammonium Chloride, Amine derivative, Aliphatic polyol, Potassium Hydroxide2, Petroleum Distillate Hydrotreated Light3, Aliphatic alcohol polyglycol ether, Glutaraldehyde4, Ammonium Persulfate5, Ethylene Glycol6, Trisodium Ortho Phosphate7, Ammonium Persulfate.

By Karl Henkel

khenkel@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Those who oppose the fracking process often attack the chemicals used in the process as dangerous or even potentially lethal.

But what exactly comprises the concoction of water, sand and chemicals that drillers blast into underground formations like the Utica Shale to unlock natural gas and oil?

The mix-and-match formulas differ from well to well, each well having its own unique recipe.

A Vindicator analysis of a nearby Eastern Ohio Utica Shale well fracked last November reveals a breakdown of components and their volumes.

Here — in layman’s terms — is exactly what went down the Coniglio well in Carroll County, owned by Chesapeake Exploration LLC, a subsidiary of Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp.

The verdict: a gamut of chemicals, some not meant for human contact or consumption, but not much out of the ordinary of ingredients found in everyday life.

Chesapeake used nearly 5 million gallons of water — slightly more than a golf course would use in a midsummer week — approximately 850,000 gallons of sand and more than 18,000 gallons of additives, according to a disclosure form on www.fracfocus.org, a website managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.

The additives themselves are enough to fill a large, round backyard pool.

In comparison, two other nearby Chesapeake wells used about 13,500 and 30,250 gallons of additives, respectively.

Many of the chemical additives in the brew can be found in household cleaning, car and maintenance products, but in exponentially higher quantities than for everyday use.

Their concentration levels varied.

Among the chemicals blasted down the bore hole were ammonium persulfate, an oxidizing agent often found in hair conditioners and ethylene glycol, found in everything from diaper-rash ointment to antifreeze to glass cleaner.

Most of the chemicals were of such quantities their contents could fit in a keg with room to spare. Others could fill a typical bathtub.

The 38 gallons of ethylene glycol is enough to help make more than 1,600 3-ounce bottles of Burts Bees Baby Bee Diaper Ointment.

Others, such as a carbohydrate polymer, at more than 5,300 gallons, and hydrochloric acid — found in most bathroom cleaners — at nearly 5,000 gallons, were the most-used additives in the Carroll County well.

The polymer, or gel, is used to thicken the water, as in thickening a milkshake, so that it will carry the sand. The sand is a proppant to keep formations open.

The HCL — enough to fill 500 average bathtubs — is used on the front end of the fracturing treatment to create an open path from the well bore to underground formation.

Hydrochloric acid, also known as hydrogen chloride or muriatic acid, is corrosive to skin and the “irritation … to mucous is so severe that workers evacuate from the work place shortly after detecting its odor,” according to the National Library of Medicine.

Chesapeake also used 22 gallons of methanol — an extremely toxic, odorous liquid — which, if consumed in even the tiniest portions, can be deadly to humans.

Jerry James, president of Artex Oil Co. in Marietta, who noted frack brew should is not intended for consumption, said drillers base additive mixes on the concentrations.

The more water needed to frack a well, the more additives.

“Different people have different theories on volumes,” James said.

The Coniglio well had 0.003 percent of the mix comprised of additives other than sand or water.

Vanessa Pesec, president of the Network for Oil and Gas Accountability and Protection, remains skeptical.

“If they had such low numbers, they would have told us,” she said, adding that she believes the additive concentrations are higher because of the recycled water used in some frack jobs.

Material Safety Data Sheets, posted on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ website, contained the additive information.

MSDS are required by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s Hazard Communication Standard for hazardous chemicals.

All wells aren’t created equal. Some, like a Chesapeake well in

Portage County, used carbon dioxide foam to fracture a well, a technique the company said has been used thousands of times throughout the country.

Chesapeake used about 400,000 gallons of water — or 10 times less water than in Carroll County — to frack that well.

The Carroll County well was unique in its own regard, in that the Frac Focus website listed all ingredients used in the frack mix.

At some wells, ingredients are left unidentified because, “federal law protects ‘proprietary,’ ‘trade secret,’ and ‘confidential business information.’

Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which oversees oil and gas wells, knows the proprietary chemicals in case of emergency, said Heidi Hetzel-Evans, ODNR spokeswoman.


Comments

1bumbob(128 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Part of the reasoning in this article is a rhetorical technique common to proponents of fracking. The idea that some of the chemicals used in fracking are also in everyday household products is kind of beside the point when you consider one thing: humans are not supposed to ingest these chemicals. If "Chemical X" is found in a hairspray product and is also used by a company to mix with water for fracking there's still the reality that this substance is being injected into the ground and potentially into people's drinking water.

A chemical that is applied topically or in aerosol form for human use is not the same as someone drinking it, and to suggest that a chemical used in fracking bears no risk because it's used in other ways common to industry does not answer some serious questions pertaining to health and safety. I don't really buy the faulty logic at work regarding hydraulic fracturing, even if Mahoning Valley government officials and Chamber of Commerce engage in it so that they can reassure themselves there are no risks to fracking.

Curious why some people can light their water on fire Pennsylvania? Or why the EPA study done in Wyoming found a link between fracking and health risks? Then do some research and see if the sunny disposition of the self-deluded corporate interests skulking about the Mahoning Valley are more powerful than the well-being of the people living in Ohio.

I don't view the intent of the person that wrote this article to be all-out endorsing fracking. But I see some cues within the article that suggest a great deal more research needing to be done on his part.

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2concerned(173 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Great comment bumbob.

Time and time again we are told minute amounts of chemicals and toxins from isolated sources are not harmful.

Add all these amounts up from various sources and what is the cumulative effect? Particularly on newborns and children?

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3block50(128 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

The Vindicator has ceded it's responibility as an honest broker on this issue by publishing industry propoganda. The Bush administration allowed these companies to refuse to divulge these chemicals because of the extreme toxicity involved. The state knows these chemicals 'in case of emergency'! Why do we have to wait until there is an emergency? I ask the Vindicator: If these chemicals are so harmless, why can't we know now? Our children and grandchildren will drink this poison so we can make a quick buck. Shame on us! God help our children!

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4cycleb(1 comment)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

The old argument, "Then quit driving, watching tv," etc., is just as relevant as us replying, "Then, quit eating and drinking." because that's what's at risk. Most farmers I know are afraid of contaminated soil and/or water. What's the plan, then.

And, as to the plastics, why aren't they made from plant based sources? Many of the original Ford cars used soy and hemp based plastic. I remember seeing an old film clip of Henry Ford hitting the bumper of a car with a sledge hammer, and it just bouncing off, and Henry standing back and smiling.

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5vindyreader2012(3 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

The Vindicator's headline is so misleading as to be fraudulent:
"Fracking chemicals source of fear, but also in everyday life." So is the structure of the story, which begins and ends with the more benign, non-alarming information (so that reassurance is the sense the reader gets), effectively burying the more damning information in the middle. If the headline and lead are all readers read, they never get to the 500 bathtubs filled with "Hydrochloric acid, also known as hydrogen chloride or muriatic acid, is corrosive to skin and the 'irritation … to mucous is so severe that workers evacuate from the work place shortly after detecting its odor,' according to the National Library of Medicine." As previous posters point out: We don't drink Burts Bees Diaper Ointment. Perhaps the Vindy would like to conduct an experiment where reporters and editors eat the products named, then report their findings.

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6jcmarvar(4 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Thanks, Vindy for characterizing these lethal substances in a recognizable form. It allows me to say that, while I have a can of Comet Cleanser under my kitchen sink, I don't snort it and I don't sweeten my coffee with it. I don't pour anti-freeze on my breakfast cereal, either. The fracking problem is a matter of scale. The hundreds of wells being drilled in eastern Ohio alone will receive thousands of tons of these "common household substances", posing a significant threat to our air and water. This is where we live, people! Performing these operations in our own midst is reckless, foolhardy and, in my opinion, criminal.

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7Superstar7(122 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Put to a vote, I'll wager $100,000 that the population of the Mahoning valley rejects ointment, battery acids, plastics and Phenol/Formaldehyde Resin, examethylenetetramine (Hexamine), Hydrogen Chloride, Methanol (Methyl Alcohol), Aliphatic acid, Aliphatic alcohols, ethoxylated #1, Propargyl Alcohol (2-Propynol), Sodium Erythorbate1, Carbohydrate polymer, Tetramethyl Ammonium Chloride, Amine derivative, Aliphatic polyol, Potassium Hydroxide2, Petroleum Distillate Hydrotreated Light3, Aliphatic alcohol polyglycol ether, Glutaraldehyde4, Ammonium Persulfate5, Ethylene Glycol6, Trisodium Ortho Phosphate7, Ammonium Persulfate in our water. Fracking yes, but remove, don't allow the poisons from entering our water supply. We already own the Mahoning River that our local politicians & governmental officials IGNORE!!!

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8thirdthink(11 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Holy stuff... Is Henkel high?? We need objective journalism on this subject, not sophomoric fantasies of industry talking points. I had more faith in investigative and objective reporting from this guy- shouldn't have been so. It reads like a high school creative writing paper. It's Naive to take these folks on their word after what has happened in Medina, Youngstown, Coitsville, PA, OK, TX,NY... Etc. ODNR will save us...

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9glbtactivist(247 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

You must be kidding. Anti-freeze is harmless? Hydrochloric acid is harmless? Formaldehyde is harmless? Dry gas is harmless? How stupid do you think we are? Yesterday you said two truck loads of fracking waste were rejected at the dump for being radioactive. This just gets worse.

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10jcmarvar(4 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

The writer compares the 5 million gallons of fresh water for fracking a gas well to the similar quantity used to water a golf course for a week. The water used on the golf course, however, is not infused with neuro-toxins and carcinogens before it finds its way back to our rivers, streams and drinking water. While I find the author's tone dismissive with regard these dangerous chemicals, I thank Mr. Henkel for quantifying in pounds and gallons the threat to our environment posed by hydraulic fracturing.

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11walter_sobchak(1901 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Karl Henkel is to be commended on another good article by providing the facts regarding the drilling process. He correctly points out the scale at which these chemicals are used in the processes. A good example is methanol or wood alcohol which I use as a solvent and cleaner. I have a gallon in my basement and any waste product after cleaning is thrown down the drain to be sent to a water treatment plant. Now, even the smallest amount can cause blindness if ingested and a teaspoon will kill you so I don't drink it. Most of the chemicals listed are used everyday by countless other industries and the biggest concern with them is an accidental spill during transport as was demonstrated clearly this week with an overturned tanker. Sit at a train crossing while tankers roll by and read some of the chemicals listed on the side.

Certainly, we must use caution when dealing with any chemicals and this goes for all industries. The chief concern with the drilling industry is not the big drillers like Chesapeake but the small wildcat drillers that spring up and then disappear. Vertical fracking has been done for many years and has a much greater probability for harming groundwater since it is done in much shallower welss. The horizontal fracking here is done at much deeper levels in wells that are cased in steel and cement grout. If properly installed, there is minimal risk to groundwater.

But, Jessiedavid is correct in his post. We all want the modern conveniences that industry has to offer but want no risk from the processes used to produce these products. The plastic industry will be helped tremendously in this country with the chemicals brought out of the earth in the fracking process which will help reduce the dependency on foreign crude oil.

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12vindyreader2012(3 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Certainly Henkel and editors need to keep researching independent data, as they have done in this article, on fracking chemicals, volumes used, adverse effects reporting, etc., rather than simply rely on quotes from people with vested interests in fracking, such as politicians and industry reps. And I know that headlines are usually written by the layout and design crew at night--not the reporter. But there is something specious about suggesting "Well, these carcinogens are already in your water, so why worry about adding more?" The slant is biased. We have been outlawing pesticides, herbicides, prescription and OTC drugs previously deemed safe for years now ; plenty of people now purchase "natural" cleansers, etc., for their homes for the very reason of reducing chemically-tainted ground water. Now we want to experiment by housing underground pools of toxins? Other concerns need to be addressed: Do cement casings last forever? Are they ever breached? What happens if they are? Can we really stop the flow of water underground once it starts? Don't deeper wells impact fault lines more dramatically than shallow wells? How do we monitor all of these wells and injection basins? Do we have the staff on hand and the remedies ready if or when things go wrong? This is one of this issues where you don't want to guess; you need to be sure from the get-go--and simple logic tells me there is no certainty here.

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13PAroughneck(1 comment)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

In Ohio there are 13 Class I injection wells.Of which 10 are still in operation. As of the year end 2008, these wells had safely disposed of nearly 10 BILLION gallons of industrial waste water.
Many of these wastes have a ph of <2 (highly acidic) and contain the following-
Hydrochloric acid
Acrylonitrile
Acetonitrile
Hydrogen Cyanide
sulfates
ammonia compounds
incinerator scrubber water
Lead
Chromium
These wells are regulated by the state of Ohio/EPA and as a part of their receiving a permit, the well owners must demonstrate that the injected fluids will not come in contact with underground sources of drinking water within the next 10,000 years.
These wells are injecting these hazardous wastes at depths ranging from 2800' to 3100', roughly HALF the depths that Marcellus and Utica wells are drilled to.
Seeing as how industrial wastes MUCH more toxic and corrosive than frac fluids,flowback or produced water, are safely disposed of via deep earth sequestration, in over 120 facilities nationwide without contamination of underground drinking water, I'd say it's a safe bet that frac'ing a well at DOUBLE the depths found in these waste disposal wells in Ohio, would not lead to a migration of the injected fluids into the drinking water aquifer.
Research it for yourselves,I started at the Ohio EPA site here-
http://epa.ohio.gov/ddagw/uic_class1....

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14howardinyoungstown(591 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

@ PAroughneck you might want to look into those 3 Class I wells that are not in operation, one of them in Ashtabula County was drilled to about 9500 ft, and was shut down for causing earthquakes, the largest of which happened 7 years after the well was shut down!

I would support drilling if the industry was required to use the most advanced GREEN technologies like OSORB and water based or all biodegradeable fracking fluids.
But, as things stand now the industry continues to use the most affordable products for each specific well that they know will do the job. They also when faced with delays that might affect the bottom line often cut corners, which leads to accidents that can contaminate water supplies, endanger the lives of their employees, nearby residents, and both wild animals and livestock.

We must remember that this is the same industry that is responsible for the Exxon Valdez, the Gulf oil spill from the Macondo well, and numerous other "accidents".

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15msweetwood(161 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

gltbactivist:

Of course, the irony of your post is that the story never used the word "harmless." You did.

And vindyreader2010:

We never wrote: "Well, these carcinogens are already in your water, so why worry about adding more?"

Our story is a calm, factual explanation of the process and the chemicals. The hope was that people would read it and be better informed and draw their own conclusions. BUT: That process can only be furthered if the entire story is actually read.

For the benefit of gltbactivist, here is what the story (in which we "cracked" a fracking mix to expose what was in it and illustrated the chemicals by examining what is in more familiar items) DID say:

• "Many of the chemical additives in the brew can be found in household cleaning, car and maintenance products, but in exponentially higher quantities than for everyday use."

• "Hydrochloric acid, also known as hydrogen chloride or muriatic acid, is corrosive to skin and the “irritation … to mucous is so severe that workers evacuate from the work place shortly after detecting its odor,” according to the National Library of Medicine."

• "Chesapeake also used 22 gallons of methanol — an extremely toxic, odorous liquid — which, if consumed in even the tiniest portions, can be deadly to humans."

No one suggested anyone ingest household products: In fact, there are labels on all products disclosing safe use. We are going to continue to publish rational data, however, hopeful that even if people choose to be irrational, they will at least be better informed. And we will avoid delving into the kind of hysteria (i.e. gltbactivist) that some seem prone to express for themselves – and, oddly, demand of us.

Mark Sweetwood
Managing Editor

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16vindyreader2012(3 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Dear Mr. Sweetwood,

Nor did I accuse you of writing: "Well, these carcinogens are already in your water, so why worry about adding more?" I did critique the story for SUGGESTING it by its headline, closing graf, and lead, which in my opinion stops at :"The verdict: a gamut of chemicals, some not meant for human contact or consumption, but not much out of the ordinary of ingredients found in everyday life." Even "some not meant for human contact or consumption" is embedded, with the more assuaging "everyday life" ingredients punctuating the sentence. I applaud the research, but the structure of the story feels manipulative for those of us skilled in looking. If reader response encourages more scrupulous journalistic WRITING as well as research, all the better. We consumers do the best we can to gather independent information from the Web, but the local paper is still an important source of material. Because of that, journalism is as critical to this issue as the key players, themselves. You don't want to even unintentionally sound like a press release for the industry.

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17msweetwood(161 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Vindyreader2012:

Though I appreciate your intentions, I summarily reject the notion that because we didn't label the story with a large "DEADLY TOXINS WILL KILL YOU!" headline that we somehow aimed to assuage readers one way or the other.

Keep in mind, by definition, this also includes some people who want to be assuaged in their fears and irrational hysteria. We try to aim down the middle between cheerleading and antipathy.

I am always bemused by those who try to read the white in between the letters instead of what is actually printed in the ink. The entire package - headline, graphic, story - stands together as a single entity.

This parsing of specific items out of context in a hunt for some sort of hidden message strikes me as an odd parlor game. If you felt manipulated because we tried to explain to non-chemists in the audience that potassium hydroxide is found in batteries, that's your choice, I guess.

But, no one actually opens up batteries to suck down the potassium hydroxide simply because batteries are commonly found in the household, advertised on TV and mentioned in The Vindicator, right? So, I am not sure I get the leap that some fractivists are making about a story that merely attempts to convey information that is new to many people.

That said, I applaud all of the comments. The community needs to continue to have discussions about this emerging shale industry. We hope to continue to engage and inform.

Mark Sweetwood
Managing Editor

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18marketmom(1 comment)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

I don't know about all of you, but the water coming out of my faucet is treated in a plant designed by engineers, as is the water runoff, and wastewater...Oh and one of the things I've learned from my engineering friends, including my husband, an environmental civil engineer, is that natural filters such as wetlands and vegitated bioretention are often the best for stormwater runoff...I don't think he'd lie to me or endanger our children. So if anything is escaping by the time it reached you it would be put through the best filter around. I am not saying this stuff is not bad I just don't believe it is threatening our lives through the fracking process. I think this is the point this article was trying to make. Fracking chemicals may not be good...but we're not drinking them. They are being disposed of properly, the EPA sees to that. Believe me we have enough regulation in our lives to save us all from even stubbing our toes, let alone dumping chemicals into drinking water. It just isn;t happening I don't care how many "loopholes" you think are allowing it.

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19commoncitizen(961 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Msweetwood, the atricle in the Vindy was one of the best yet in describing what is really in the fracking process.. (To bad some people still don't know the difference in fracking and injection wells) Some people, as you can see by some of the blogs, will not bleive or want to believe anything that is reported.
GOOD JOB.

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20JoeFromHubbard(1036 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Excellent article by the Vindicator on fracking chemicals. It is about time that some educational material is printed about the subject instead of the expression of fear and ignorance by the uneducated.

As I stated in the past, the poison is in the dose. The educational article supports this.

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21fang(3 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

To all,
One pertinent fact left out of this discussion is that the has never been a proven link between hydraulic fracturing a water pollution.
Never.

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22zorrogirl(12 comments)posted 2 years, 7 months ago

Certainly, many of those everyday household items can make you sick or even kill you if consumed. Try drinking some anti-freeze and see what happens. We already know small amounts of that are deadly to animals. In humans it destroys the kidneys for one. Frankly, it's not just the chemicals they are putting into the ground. It's the cement casings that either aren't done right or that shrink over time that allow methane to leak and migrate to wells and homes. It's the toxic VOCs destroying the air quality that these wells and their related compressor stations spew into the air. Asthma is up 7-fold in areas of heavy drilling.

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