Cancer-causing chemicals used in shale gas extraction

Further criticism has been aimed at the practice of shale gas extraction, after a US report has said that hazardous chemicals have been used in the process.

The report was released by Democrat Energy and Commerce Committee members and contains the first comprehensive inventory of chemicals used by hydraulic fracturing companies in the US during the drilling process.

The report highlights concerns that these hazardous chemicals, which are injected into the wells, could be released into the drinking water supply and urges that robust protection against this possibility is enforced by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The report found that 14 leading oil and gas service companies used more than 750 chemicals in the hydraulic fracturing process.

While many were harmless substances such as salt and citric acid, there were also extremely toxic substances such as benzene, methanol and lead. Some of the chemicals are either known or possible human carcinogens.

Some of the chemicals could not be identified. The companies used 94 million gallons of 279 products that contained at least one chemical or component that the manufacturers deemed proprietary or a trade secret.

Committee ranking member, Henry A. Waxman, said: “It is deeply disturbing to discover the content and quantity of toxic chemicals, like benzene and lead, being injected into the ground without the knowledge of the communities whose health could be affected.

“Of particular concern to me is that we learned that over the four-year period studied, over one and a half million gallons of carcinogens were injected into the ground in Colorado.

“Many companies were also unable to even identify some of the chemicals they were using in their own activities, unfortunately underscoring that voluntary industry disclosure is not enough to ensure the economic benefits of natural gas production do not come at the cost of our families’ health.”

The Committee wants industry and government to consider alternative safer methods of extracting natural gas.

In the UK Energy and Climate Change Committee recently attacked the government for a lack of transparency on shale gas exploration in the UK. The Committtee heard that shale gas extraction is twice as carbon intensive as coal.

Alison Brown

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie