Investigation Yields List of Chemicals Used in Fracking; Many are Known Carcinogens, Regulated Pollutants

by Dee Fulton on April 17, 2011

A report showed that 464,231 gallons of fracking fluid containing the toxic chemical 2-BE were injected into West Virginia gas wells and 747,416 gallons of 2-BE bearing fluids were employed in Pennsylvania.  This is the same chemical that showed up in contaminated well water in Pavillion, Wyo. and is likely the cause of the adrenal tumor that Laura Amos of Garfield County, Colo. developed after her well water was contaminated by Encana drilling activity.

You might feel like you are in Toxicology class as you review the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce’s recently released report which reveals information regarding chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.  The information for the report was collected by the Committee from 14 oil and gas service companies which submitted requested data on fracking products used between 2005 and 2009.  This is a very lay-friendly report with only 12 pages of text and tables.  The remaining 18 pages are lists of chemicals.  However, for those who just want the highlights, I’ve tried to pick out them out for this post.

“Between 2005 and 2009, the oil and gas service companies used hydraulic fracturing products containing 29 chemicals that are (1) known or possible human carcinogens, (2) regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act for their risks to human health, or (3) listed as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.”    Of the 29 chemicals,  13 are classified as carcinogens, 8 are Safe Drinking Water Act regulated chemicals, and 24  are hazardous air pollutants.  Many of the chemicals fall into more than one category.  (See chart on page 8 of report.)

Methanol, a toxic air pollutant,  was the most widely used chemical during the time period studied, as measured by the number of compounds containing the chemical.  Other hazardous air pollutants included hydrogen fluoride (systemic poison, potentially fatal), lead (reproductive disorders, high blood pressure, nervous system disease, especially among children), hydrogen chloride and ethylene glycol.

The chemical called 2-BE (shorthand for 2-butoxyethanol) is another common toxic constituent.  It is used as a foaming agent or surfactant.  ”According to EPA scientists, 2-BE is easily absorbed and rapidly distributed in humans following inhalation, ingestion, or dermal exposure.  Studies have shown that exposure to 2-BE can cause hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells) and damage to the spleen, liver, and bone marrow.”   And rare adrenal tumors.  Texas topped the list of states with 12 million gallons of fluid containing 2-BE injected into the ground.   As noted above, WV and PA were below 1 million.

Among the list of carcinogens used are formaldehyde (also a hazardous air pollutant), diesel, naphthalene and chemicals in the BTEX compound group (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene).  ”The BTEX compounds appeared in 60 hydraulic fracturing products used in the 5-year period and were used in 11.4 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluids.”  Most of those tainted fluids, 9.5 million gallons of the 11.4 million, were used in Texas.   Less than 100,000 gallons were used in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

“In addition, the hydraulic fracturing companies injected more than 30 million gallons of diesel fuel or fracturing fluids containing diesel fuel in wells in 19 states.”  In a 2004 report, the EPA stated that the use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest threat to underground sources of drinking water.

“Many chemical components of hydraulic fracturing fluids used by the companies were listed on the MSDSs as “proprietary” or “trade secret.”  The hydraulic fracturing companies used 93.6 million gallons of 279 products containing at least one proprietary component between 2005 and 2009. …In these cases, it appears that the companies are injecting fluids containing unknown chemicals about which they may have limited understanding of the potential risks posed to human health and the environment.”

The report was prepared under the leadership of US  House Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA), Edward Markey  (D-MA), and Dianna DeGuette (D-CO).

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Dodgins May 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm

The West Virginia Dept. of Inviromental Protection has sent out a list of 17 Chemical as the fracking solution used in West Virginia. Where is the truth?


Terry June 27, 2011 at 4:41 am

I wonder how many of these chemicals release poison gas? According to the DOT you are required to have hazmat labeling AND hazmat endorsement to transport ANY quantity of poision gas.


MEAMAY July 26, 2011 at 1:49 pm

With the application of the carcinogens to break up shale, we will have lower gas prices and less dependent on foreign countries. Doesn’t seem possible that the carcinogens will just contribute to more cancers in generations upon generations to come and then there won’t be anybody around to need the gas? The end will not justify the means. Solar energy is the is the only answer to the survival of human species.


Ken Calvert August 13, 2011 at 5:26 am

Heh Folks if you want to get the taste and smell of 2-BE take a sniff the next time you are cleaning windows. 2 butoxyethanol is one of the cheapest detergents used in house cleaning products!


Jim Brown September 19, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Hey, Ken, just how often do you clean windows, and how many gallons of cleaner do you use? And do you dump the leftovers into the carafe with your coffee or a pitcher with your OJ concentrate? Do you add concentrated 2-BE in your bathwater? I’m not saying it’s a great product to have in Windex or whatever, but comparing window washing to ponds containing millions of gallons of fracking fluid just isn’t realistic.


todd November 22, 2012 at 7:47 am

you anti fracking fools are dinosaurs left over from the “fear and disinformation era”. you guys are full of it.. hydrofracking has been used for nearly 100 years. its safe and you guys are being used as puppets for public and trade unions and crooked politicians that want to take it out of the hands of private landowners and business owners and into the hands of public officials and unions,,, thats when you slime balls will become big proponents of all things govt, and wont give a damn about the enviromental issues.


Diane November 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Todd, … You are so mistaken. I only hope that you will take time to do the research. You, and those like you who defend the practice …and who claim that “fracking has been used for nearly 100 years, ” are the ones that are fools believing that this is true! Assuming it is the same kind of fracking that has been used since Haliburton first invented the process of hydro fracking back in the 1940′s. (not over 100 years by the way.) And what they were doing from the 1940′s until about 2001 was NOT what they are doing now. The fracking of the Marcellus shale (and other shales in the U.S. ) Requires a process known as “slick water, high volume, hydraulic fracturing” at PSI’s far, far greater than before… using 4-6 MILLION of gallons of fresh water to frack a single well bore (with many well heads on the same pad each getting the same process). Whereas before it only required 40,000 – 80,000 gallons of fresh water and some foaming agents to frack a CONVENTIONAL vertical well. But the list of chemicals used in Marcellus shale fracking includes over 750 chemical combinations. Congress has a report dated April 2011 that lists the chemicals used and their effects to public health. Consider this ….6 million gallons of fresh water for a single well head requiring only a mere 1/2 to 1 % of chemical additives (that the industry assures us is all they use) STILL equals about 30,000 to 60,000 GALLONS of chemicals going into the ground for a single well bore! Dozens of known carcinogens and deadly toxins use as compared to before with conventional drilling. Why else would the industry have to be required to be exempt from SEVEN key pieces of enviro legislation to be able to do what they do? (e.g. clean water act, clean air act, super fund, safe drinking water act, etc… fracking industry exempted from them.) Dick Cheney of Haliburton saw to those exemptions for his buddies back in 2005 (by the way I am a republican though ashamed at what he did to the American people.) Do your homework, bub! This is NOT the same fracking as before. I will gladly forward you hundreds of research links that proves the industry is lying to YOU. And it’s not a matter of treehuggers gone wild. Email wv host farms and I’ll share. You need to get your facts straight!!!!


Randal S Mick November 24, 2012 at 12:56 pm

I would like to start with, look at Bradford PA, what do you think caused this. The fracks done even 20 years ago were called 5 stage fracks. The payzone was very small and didnt use near the water or chemicals. If it was a limestone formation they would just pump sulfuric acid to eat the limestone and allow gas to flow. Because of directional drilling and rotary steering capability the fracstages are up to 30 and growing towards 40 stages. This means that you can have up to a couple of miles of payzone. This is an insane amount of water and chemicals. If you want to challenge expert opinion I have 15 years in the industry. Propane fracs would be better but cost is too high so its cheaper to destroy water. The stuff thats vital for all life.


S. Tom Bond November 25, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Anyone who spouts verifiable foolishness must be in the pay of those perpetrating it.  Vituperation doesn’t win points – it’s what you see and hear and smell and taste that counts.  There’s plenty of that in shale drilling. 

Opposition has come up spontaneously everywhere it has been tried.

I’ve had four Benson wells (5000 feet) drilled on my property, one on the week before Christmas when it was raining.  I’ve seen shale wells and been on the tours.  I’ve talked to people who have had shale wells done to them.  As the lady used to say on radio before you were born,  ” ‘Taint the same, McGee.”

Candy Andrews April 8, 2013 at 4:39 pm

I agree with you 100 percent.


Peter Hill October 23, 2011 at 6:29 am

Here in New Zealand it seems we’re just going to frack anyhow, even though there is so much uncertainty about the impact on the people and the environment. I guess, if we want to find the cause of many problems, oil and gas exploration being one, then we just have to follow the money trail.


PBD November 20, 2011 at 11:12 am

I was just reading the information that has been put out, regarding “backyard burning”, by State of NY, Office of Attorney General and the American Lung Association. All of NY population have been prohibited from burning trash in a barrel because it can “produce hazardous air pollutants such as dioxins, benzene, formaldehyde, chromium, cadmium, mercury, arsenic and hydrogen cyanide.” Any of these sound familiar? Can’t put these “pollutants” into the air, but we can, in the interest of fracking for natural gas, PUT THEM INTO THE GROUND?? Money speaks, doesn’t it? Health matters only when there no big corporations controlling their own interests in Albany and Washington.


justn December 8, 2011 at 8:10 pm

my wife’s sister lives in northwest arkansas; she had a friend who died of spleen cancer, so her friend gave her the dog she owned before she died. a year later, the dog died – of cancer of the spleen. there has been a lot of fracking in that area recently, and my sister-in-law’s water supply has begun to leave a residue. she is afraid to get it tested because she doesn’t want there to be problems, but it seems pretty clear to me there already are.

this is ridiculous, it’s stupid. it’s like every day i find some new way monetary profit is killing people. it’s the 21st century, folks. can we please back a clean energy source already?


Meg Daniels December 11, 2011 at 12:16 pm

I’m wth you friend.The people of WV are going to pay a high price for this drilling/fracking action. How can we stop rule by money. It seems that’s all that matters.


G. J. March 12, 2013 at 6:59 am

It’s difficult to consider a list of ‘ways corporations are poisoning our food, water and the earth’ I must say.

The ‘hydraulic fracturing’ for gas and oil is poisoning our groundwater and aquifers with known carcinogens and other regulated pollutants (keeping in mind that it is only in the 21st century that chemicals have been incorporated into fracking operations.)


Russian Oil November 1, 2019 at 7:17 pm

How Russia contaminated $2.7 billion of oil exports to Europe – Reuters, Reuters News Service, April 30, 2019

The oil was contaminated with organic chlorides, compounds used in the industry to boost extraction from oilfields by cleaning oil wells and accelerating the flow of crude.

The compounds must be removed before oil enters pipelines as they can destroy refining equipment or, at high temperatures, create the poisonous gas chlorine.

Tests by Belarus on oil from Druzhba showed organic chloride levels of 150-330 parts per million (ppm) between April 19 and 22, according to Gomeltransneft documents seen by Reuters, well above the maximum 10 ppm allowed by Transneft.


RUSSIAN OIL November 1, 2019 at 7:23 pm

Total finally offloads tainted Russian oil shipment

By Sherry Su, Olivia Konotey-Ahulu and Alex Longley on 10/31/2019

LONDON (Bloomberg) – A cargo of contaminated Russian oil was sold at a discount of more than $25/bbl to benchmark crude prices, six months after the consignment first got loaded onto a tanker.

The 720,000 bbl shipment, currently being stored in Rotterdam, was sold by the trading arm of Total SA as part of a tender, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Some of the oil has 39 parts per million of organic chloride — a chemical that can damage refineries and equipment — far beyond the single-digit levels that would be considered normal.

Russia’s unprecedented oil-contamination crisis began in April but it’s proven tricky and slow for the industry to absorb the supplies. The nation’s oil output was below its OPEC+ production target in the months that followed. Since then, cargoes have either been put into storage, stranded on oil tankers or sold at deep discounts.

“There’s a wave of factors that doesn’t make this crude very attractive to anyone unless it’s heavily discounted,” said Christopher Haines, an analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd. in London. “There’s just such a huge risk of taking that crude oil because if you blend it inconsistently you’ll end up having refinery problems.”

Pricey Storage. The market’s current price structure, known as backwardation, makes it expensive to store the crude, he said.

When the crisis was at its worst, some European refineries were forced to cut processing rates or even halt, prompting governments to tap emergency oil reserves.

In August, BP Plc failed to sell some of the contaminated Urals it inadvertently acquired during the crisis. That cargo had 29 parts per million of organic chloride.

There are still a handful of other shipments in limbo. At least two Aframax-class tankers, which usually carry about 700,000 bbl of Russian oil each, are yet to discharge the contaminated supplies. One is near Turkey and another is sailing to the Middle East, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.

“It’s more about minimizing their losses at the moment,” Alex Kavouris, a senior oil analyst at Facts Global Energy, said of the Total sale. “They’ve been trying to sell contaminated oil for how long now? It’s been sitting in storage, or in floating storage, and no one has been interested so maybe $25 is a good enough discount for both parties.”


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