Oil and Gas Companies Have Used PFAS in Ohio Wells; ‘Trade Secret’ Laws Limit Public’s Ability to Know Full Extent of Use September 29, 2022

For more information, contact: Bella Javidan
ijavidan@psr.org +1 (612) 812-3231

Washington D.C. — Previously unpublicized information unearthed by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) shows that a class of extremely toxic and persistent chemicals known as PFAS has been used in Ohio’s oil and gas wells since at least 2013, according to a report released by PSR on September 29. 

PFAS, often called “forever chemicals” because they break down so slowly in the environment, have been associated with cancer, pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure and other harms to human health. 

The report found that PFAS have been used in 101 Ohio oil and gas wells in eight Ohio counties, concentrated in the eastern portion of the state.  These findings raise concerns that Ohioans may unknowingly be exposed to highly hazardous substances. 

“Evidence that PFAS is being used in Ohio’s oil and gas wells is alarming,” stated Dusty Horwitt, J.D., the report’s lead author. “Ohio officials should take immediate steps to protect the public, including following the lead of Colorado by prohibiting the use of PFAS in oil and gas extraction and requiring full disclosure of all chemicals used in oil and gas wells.”

PSR analyzed data provided by the oil and gas industry and recorded in FracFocus, one of two official repositories for Ohio’s required disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

Despite the availability of industry data,  the report notes that its findings may “significantly underrepresent” the extent to which PFAS are used in oil and gas operations in the state. That is because Ohio law allows oil and gas companies to withhold fracking chemical identities from the public and regulators by claiming them as a “trade secret.” Between 2013 and 2022, companies claimed trade secret privileges in 2,164 wells across 17 Ohio counties. 

In addition to possible exposure from well sites, Ohioans could be exposed to PFAS through wastewater.  Billions of gallons of wastewater from oil and gas wells in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have been imported into Ohio and injected into Ohio’s 245 underground injection disposal wells, taken to centralized waste treatment facilities, or spread on roads for de-icing or dust suppression.

Report coauthor and PSR Environment and Health Program Director Barb Gottlieb stressed, “It is likely that there is more PFAS use in Ohio oil and gas wells than we have been able to document. This could become a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of Ohio communities and their environment.” 

Documentation of water contamination caused by PFAS from fracking operations is only now being sought.  In August, Environmental Health News reported that researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found seven types of PFAS in well water in Washington County, Pennsylvania near sites where oil and gas companies had hydraulically fractured oil and/or gas wells. One of the University of Pittsburgh researchers involved in the testing said that it was possible that the PFAS came from the oil and gas wells but it was impossible to know for sure because “we don’t know exactly what chemicals were used [in the wells], so we don’t even know exactly what to test for.” This study may have been one of the first in which scientists  tested groundwater for  PFAS that may have been associated with oil and gas operations, and it may be the first such study to detect PFAS.

To interview report lead author Dusty Horwitt, please contact Bella Javidan, above.

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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

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