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Oil, Gas Companies Injected Chemicals Into Ground, Report Shows

A Natural Gas Wellhead in Pennsylvania
A natural gas wellhead in Pennsylvania. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Fourteen oil and gas companies used 780 million gallons of hydraulic-fracturing products from 2005 and 2009, including toxic substances like benzene and lead, to extract gas from shale rock, according to a report by Democrats in the U.S. Congress.

More than 2,500 products containing 750 chemicals and other components were used, Representatives Henry Waxman, Edward Markey and Diana DeGette wrote in the report.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique that involves injecting a mix of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to extract oil or gas. From 2005 and 2009, the 14 companies used fracking products containing 29 chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act for their risks to human health or listed as hazardous air pollutants, according to the report.

“In many instances, the oil and gas service companies were unable to identify these proprietary chemicals, suggesting that the companies are injecting fluids containing chemicals that they themselves cannot identify,” Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

The most widely used chemical in fracking during this period was methanol, a hazardous air pollutant, the report shows. The Democratic study was reported earlier by the New York Times.

“Hydraulic fracturing has opened access to vast domestic reserves of natural gas that could provide an important stepping stone to a clean energy future,” according to the report. “Yet questions about the safety of hydraulic fracturing persist, which are compounded by the secrecy surrounding the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids.”

Shale-Gas Output

Shale-gas output in the U.S. rose more than eightfold in the last decade as operators started fields in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana and North Dakota. Increased supplies could help reduce the amount of energy the U.S. imports, the Energy Information Administration said in December.

President Barack Obama said last month the U.S. should tap its shale-gas deposits as part of a long-term plan to guarantee energy security. Shale gas may account for 45 percent of total U.S. gas output by 2035 compared with 14 percent in 2009, EIA data show.

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