Industry Keeps Secret the Gas-Drilling Toxins Seeping into Drinking Wells

December 17, 2008

"In July, a hydrologist dropped a plastic sampling pipe 300 feet down a water well in rural Sublette County, Wyoming, and pulled up a load of brown oily water with a foul smell. Tests showed it contained benzene, a chemical believed to cause aplastic anemia and leukemia, in a concentration 1,500 times the level safe for people." — So began a Nov. 13, 2008, story in ProPublica by Abrahm Lustgarten.

Lustgarten went on to relate that the drinking water contamination likely came from a technology pioneered by Halliburton called hydraulic fracturing, which shoots water, chemicals, and sand underground to break rock apart and release gas. The Bush EPA said in a 2004 study that it did not endanger drinking water, and today the process (called "fracking") is used in 9 of every 10 domestic gas wells.

But a series of contamination incidents have raised doubts about EPA's safety claim. And what makes it hard for scientists, journalists, or the public to know the truth of EPA's safety claim is that the identity of the chemicals injected into the gas wells is unknown — protected as a "trade secret."

"Of the 300-odd compounds that private researchers and the Bureau of Land Management suspect are being used, 65 are listed as hazardous by the federal government," Lustgarten reports. "Many of the rest are unstudied and unregulated, leaving a gaping hole in the nation's scientific understanding of how widespread drilling might affect water resources."

The oil and gas drilling industry have drilled themselves exemptions to the toxic substance reporting requirements of major environmental laws like the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, Superfund, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Clean Air Act.

What the public doesn't know may make them very sick, but it's all perfectly legal.