Fracking with “Forever Chemicals”: Analysis Finds Oil and Gas Companies May Be Exposing Texans and Groundwater to Highly Toxic Chemicals February 6, 2023
Report Identifies PFAS Injected into at least 1,600 Oil and Gas Wells; Industry-Friendly State Disclosure Rules May Shield Far Broader Use
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Previously unpublicized information unearthed by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) shows that since at least 2013, oil and gas companies have used more than 21 tons (43,000 pounds) of a class of extremely toxic and persistent chemicals known as PFAS in hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells in Texas, according to a report released today by PSR.
Alarmingly, the full extent of fracking chemicals used is unknown. During the same period, frackers used another 3 million tons of potentially toxic chemicals that remain unidentified because state rules allow the industry to hide them from the public, the analysis found.
PFAS are a highly dangerous class of chemicals, known for their toxicity at microscopic levels, their multiple negative health effects, including cancer, and their resistance to breaking down in the environment, leading to their nickname, “forever chemicals.”
The forever chemicals that PSR was able to identify as used in Texas’s oil and gas wells are known as PTFE/Teflon and fluoroalkyl alcohol substituted polyethylene glycol.
But gaps in Texas’s industry-friendly disclosure rules prevent the public from knowing how widely PFAS or other toxic chemicals have been used in fracking or other methods or stages of oil and gas drilling and extraction. PSR found that:
- Between 2013 and 2022, oil and gas companies injected more than 58,000 oil and gas wells in 183 of Texas’s 253 counties with at least one fracking chemical whose identity the companies withheld from the public through “trade secret” designations.
- The combined weight of these chemicals totaled more than six billion pounds.
- Oil and gas companies are not required to disclose any of the chemicals they inject into oil and gas wells during the drilling that precedes fracking or during other “downhole” operations aside from fracking.
By shielding this chemical information from the public, it creates the potential that Texans may be unknowingly exposed through well water or other pathways to PFAS and other toxic chemicals from hundreds or even thousands of oil and gas production wells.
PSR’s report, Fracking with “Forever Chemicals” in Texas, recommends that Texans protect their health and environment by halting PFAS use in oil and gas extraction operations and immediately expanding public disclosure. Colorado took these steps in legislation passed in 2022.
“Evidence that PFAS is being used in Texas’s oil and gas wells is alarming, and the scale of trade secret chemical use in the state is staggering,” stated Dusty Horwitt, J.D., the report’s lead author. “Texas officials should act immediately to protect the public by prohibiting the use of PFAS in oil and gas extraction and requiring full disclosure of all chemicals used in oil and gas wells.”
”PFAS are powerfully toxic, they move readily through water, and they last for centuries in the environment. When you consider the tons of PFAS that have been used in Texas wells, plus the billions of pounds of chemicals whose identity we can’t even know, we’re looking at a grave potential threat to Texans’ health,” said Barbara Gottlieb, Director for Environment & Health at Physicians for Social Responsibility and the report’s coauthor.
“Allowing frackers to operate without oversight leaves Texans in the dark while putting our water and health at risk,” said Adrian Shelley, Public Citizen’s Texas Office Director. “The dangerous forever chemicals identified in this report are alarming enough. What is truly frightening is that no one really knows the full inventory of chemicals that oil and gas companies pump into the ground daily. And no one knows because our elected leaders have decided they would prefer not to know. Lawmakers and state regulators must stop siding with industry interests and instead protect their constituents and our water supply.”
The Executive Director of Liveable Arlington, Ranjana Bhandari, added, “Five million Texans, including one million Tarrant County residents (more than in any county in America), live within half a mile of fracking operations and are exposed to toxic emissions and resulting health crises. It is alarming and unconscionable that we are now discovering the risk of exposure to toxic PFAS compounds used in fracking. Officials at every level of government must end the use of these dangerous chemicals in fracking immediately, and create a fund urgently, to investigate, remediate, and help Texans exposed.”
“As a lifelong Texan and a family physician, I am concerned that our state has allowed ongoing, widespread use of PFAS in oil and gas extraction without appropriate testing, tracking, and public disclosure,” stated Lisa Doggett, MD, MPH, president of Texas PSR. “These dangerous chemicals are poisoning our air, water, and soil and increasing the risk of cancer and other health problems across our state. Action is needed to halt the use of PFAS in oil and gas operations and to transition away from fracking to renewable energy.”
“PFAS in the environment continues to be a pressing issue, and this report provides considerable insight into the potential PFAS content of wastewater from oil and gas operations,” said Zacariah Hildenbrand, Research Professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. “This information will serve our state well, particularly in helping us understand whether oil and gas wastewater is being effectively treated for reuse in various applications.”
PSR’s analysis is based largely on a review of industry self-reported data recorded in FracFocus, the official repository for Texas’s required disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.
PSR mobilizes physicians and health professionals to advocate for climate solutions, clean energy and a nuclear weapons-free world. PSR’s health advocates contribute the health voice to energy, environmental health, and nuclear weapons policy at the local, federal and international levels. Learn more at www.psr.org.