What the Frack?

July 2012

What the Frack is Hydraulic Fracturing and Why Should I Care?

Have you ever heard of the chemical Acrylamide? Neither had I before last week. And yet it could soon be poisoning the water all around us, including 15,600,000 of us who get our water from the Delaware River Basin if Governors’ Corbett & Christie get their way. Acrylamide is just one of hundreds of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing that are not disclosed, and local water authorities may not even be testing for its presence in our water.

According to information I was sent, Acrylamide is being used by the oil & gas industry as a “cheap friction reducer to use in drilling/fracking and casement lining.” This issue would appear to have as many layers as there are chemicals being used but not disclosed. One concerned voice from Bradford County stated,

“I have been trying to convince people for a long time that the drilling mud is probably more important than the fracking fluid in the contamination issue; after all they use this product when they are drilling through the aquifer. It would be the first thing that would migrate through the casing. They always talk about this being so benign. Even the name mud makes it seem harmless. In fact Chesapeake has a video in which they discuss how they use drilling mud as one of the layers of their casing system. It is a great way for them to get rid of a drilling waste product. Just leave it in the ground and let the future generations worry about it!”

You see, hydraulic fracturing is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, a gift bestowed upon the industry by Dick Cheney, and known as the “Halliburton Loophole”. Yes, the same company that provided shoddy equipment to our troops in Iraq & Afghanistan and who used substandard materials at the Deep Horizon site, Halliburton was given an exemption from regulation for this extreme and imperfect extraction method.

Through this exemption, companies like Chesapeake Energy have been able to use chemicals that are known to be carcinogenic, like Acrylamide. Two separate studies link this chemical to cancer:

Two studies are available that demonstrate the carcinogenicity of acrylamide: Johnson, Gorzinsky, Bodner et al. (1986/Ex. 1-825) and Bull, Robinson, Laurie et al. (1984/Ex. 1-252). OSHA described both of these studies in the preamble to the proposed rule (53 FR 21191); they are briefly summarized here. In the Bull et al. (1984/Ex. 1-252) study, acrylamide was tested as a skin tumor initiator in female Sencar mice; 12-o-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) was used as a promoter. The authors administered six doses ranging from 0 to 50 mg/kg body weight over a two-week period. A dose-related increase in tumor incidence was observed for all routes of exposure tested, including topical, gastric intubation, and intraperitoneal injection. The same authors (Bull, Robinson, Laurie et al. 1986/Ex. 1-252) noted a dose-related increase in lung adenomas in A/J mice administered acrylamide either by gastric intubation or intraperitoneal injection.

The second study was performed by Johnson et al. (1986/Ex. 1-825) on male and female Fischer 344 rats given 0 to 2.0 mg/kg/day acrylamide in drinking water for a period of two years. During the last four months of this study, mortality from cancer was observed at a statistically significant rate in rats exposed at the highest dose level; in addition, tumor incidence increased in animals of both sexes in the highest dose group. In females, tumors of the mammary gland, central nervous system, thyroid gland, oral tissues, uterus, and clitoral gland were seen, while males developed tumors of the central nervous system, thyroid, adrenal gland, and scrotum (Johnson, Gorzinsky, Bodner et al. 1986/Ex. 1-825). Peripheral nerve degeneration was also seen in female rats exposed at the 2 mg/kg/day level (ACGIH 1986/Ex. 1-3, p. 13). [1]

And do you know what makes it even worse here in Pennsylvania? Our legislature just handed the frackers a get out of jail free card and given them a way to hide the potential negative health impacts, this is from Dorothy Basset as quoted on Truth-Out[2]:

“[The bill] includes verbiage that says that when a patient comes in, sick due to exposure to chemicals, doctors have to request in writing info on [the chemicals patients might have been] exposed to (think of the time — and treatment delays involved in this process!) and then have to keep it confidential.  Also, the industry doesn’t have to reveal compounds that have formed when all these chemicals and materials from underground come together, nor do they have to report exposure to heavy metals, radioactive substances, etc., from below.

Given the problems with airborne and waterborne carcinogenic and neurotoxic substances from this industry’s open pits of toxic wastes, compressor stations, and the like, this means that entire communities will still be exposed to chemicals that one or more people have had to see a doctor for, and that the doctors will have to keep it quiet while the communities are at risk.

The fact that the industry has included verbiage in this bill that prevents doctors from revealing the chemicals their patients were exposed to:

  1. indicates that the industry knows that much of the substances they are using are a threat to public health – enough so that emergency room and other physicians would see cases of toxic exposure to fracking and related chemicals and substances on a regular basis, i.e. that this is not a safe process;
  2. indicates that the industry wants to keep it quiet – they know that if the health risks of their activities due to chemical exposure (in air and water) were to become public there would be such enormous outcry that they would be – appropriately – shut down;
  3. [shows that industry knows fracking/ms] is a human rights and a civil rights violation to the residents and workers affected, and would ultimately contribute to a public health catastrophe;
  4. would guarantee that other individuals [and] families in the area would not be warned that they are being exposed on an on-going basis to highly hazardous chemicals that have made other individuals ill  — often seriously and irreversibly ill.

The bill also says that the industry will NOT provide information on compounds created by the chemicals or the interaction of the chemicals with things below ground or any of the substances that come up from underground.”

Why is the Governor willing to force your family to drink fracked water but not his own? And more importantly, how long will we let him get away with it? In addition to the millions of gallons of clean water used in the extreme extraction method, the wasted contaminated toxic sludge produced in hydraulic fracturing is then injected back into the earth, some of it in Ohio, very near the epi-center of that last earthquake.

It is time to call for a moratorium on fracking. We start by insisting Congress pass the FRAC Act, our own Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), is the sponsor in the Senate. And we can all support him by calling on legislators to pass this important bill that does one thing, it closes the “Halliburton Loophole”. It does not stop hydraulic fracturing, it simply says that this extreme extraction method will now fall under the Safe Water Drinking Act, Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. That is step one. Next we insist on stricter regulation and fees & fines to establish environmental impact fund.

The bigger questions I would ask you to ponder are these, why do we allow these companies to plunder our national resources from our public lands for private profit? Why do we continue to invest in the extreme extraction of diminishing resources at the expense of our health safety & water supply? Who benefits from the continuation of reliance on an obsolete grid and fossil fuels?

And ask yourself this as well, how can reliance on fossil fuels ever lead to true energy independence? Just the term reliance belies true independence. Imagine a grid based upon community solar & wind, houses built utilizing passive solar and integrating wind technology. Picture schools heated with passive solar heaters. What a different world that creates, one where energy independence becomes attainable.

Send your thoughts and comments to the Bureau of Land Management, White House and Legislators. Write to the EPA, ask The Sierra Club how you can help. Get in touch with Protecting our Waters or Berks Gas Truth. Ask how you can help with the effort to keep our land and water from being fracked.


[1] http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/pel88/79-06.html

[2] http://www.truth-out.org/fracking-industry-colludes-pennsylvania-legislature-dangerous-new-laws-head-governors-desk/132923015


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