Hydraulic Fracturing Threatens Drinking Water
Sue Smith-Heavenrich

Dusty Horwitt talks with residents about potential impacts of hydrofracking on drinking water. Photo: Sue Heavenrichouldders

Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel for Washington DC-based Environmental Working Group (EWG), recently visited upstate NY to speak about the risk of gas drilling to drinking water. His focus: that drilling companies continue to inject petroleum distillates into their mix of fracking chemicals.

Diesel, used for years as a friction reducer in drilling, is regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) because of its high benzene level. Companies can still use diesel, but they need to get a permit from the US EPA. For the most part diesel gets ignored while companies use other petroleum distillates—the ones that don’t need any permits.

That practice, warns Horwitt, is threatening drinking water supplies from Pennsylvania and New York to Wyoming. Just four months ago he released Drilling Around the Law, an EWG investigation into petroleum-based fracking chemicals used by companies drilling for natural gas.

Because of exemptions allowed for fracking, drilling companies are allowed to inject kerosene, mineral spirits and a number of other petroleum distillates into wells. Horwitt notes that these distillates often contain high levels of benzene. Benzene is a carcinogen so toxic that the EPA says more than five parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water is unsafe. That’s the equivalent of five drops of benzene in 500 barrels of water.

“Ironically, these other petroleum distillates can contain 93 times more benzene than diesel,” Horwitt said. Petroleum naphtha contains 93,000 ppm benzene – 18.6 million times higher than the EPA standards.

How much benzene might potentially contaminate NY drinking water?

Drilling horizontal wells in Marcellus and other shales will take anywhere from one to eight million gallons of water and fracking chemicals per well.

The companies insist that they only add small amounts of petroleum distillates into the frack fluid. “Point zero eight (.08) percent,” Horwitt said. “It sounds like a miniscule amount, but do the math.” He calculates that anywhere from 800–6400 gallons of petroleum distillates could be injected for a single frack job.

“That’s enough to contaminate more than 100 billion gallons of water,” Horwitt exclaimed. “More than ten times the amount the state of New York uses in a single day!”

Horwitt would like to see the exemptions for oil and gas drilling eliminated; he thinks they should obtain a permit for any chemical they inject. “Why require a permit for only one type of petroleum chemical?”

WaterHaudenosaunee Statement on Hydrofracking

HydrofrackingOn November 5, 2009 the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force, a scienti. c agency of the Haudenosaunee Con-federacy, issued a strongly worded statement calling for a ban on hydrofracking.Visit bit.ly/diJb1q to read the statement.

Representatives of the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force have visited communities impacted by hydrofracking in Pennsylvania. We have seen . rst-hand the impacts of hydrofracking…even when things are done ‘right’ the impacts are dev-astating.”

Furthermore, when he asked Department of Environmental Conservation officials whether they checked to see what chemicals companies are injecting, the response was no. “They [drillers] could easily be injecting diesel,” Horwitt said. And indeed, Halliburton, Schlumberger and other companies have admitted doing just that in some states.

Dusty Horwitt’s full report can be found at ewg.org/drillingaroundthelaw. style='font-family:"Arial","sans-serif";font-style:normal'>

Sue Heavenrich is a freelance journalist writing about Marcellus gas issues, the environment and science for local media. She is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.