Dangerous loophole found in fracking practice

Dangerous loophole found in fracking practice

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is closely monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce the strictest safety codes. Unfortunately, sometimes these regulations have loopholes.

Fracking involves injecting a chemical cocktail into the ground at high-pressure rates to release hydrocarbons from the shale below. The mixture varies in its composition, with a rule against diesel unless the drillers receive a permit prior to its inclusion.

Diesel is banned because the carcinogens it may contain, including benzene. It and the other compounds included in diesel are more likely to seep into water supplies and contaminate a community’s drinking source.

For this reason, benzene is used in the place of diesel fluid.

Thousands of gallons of benzene have been pumped into the ground in Texas, as well as other oil and gas drilling sites around the United States. Even though cancer-causing benzene is used in diesel, it alone is less of a risk to water supplies according to the EPA.

Although it may be deemed safer than diesel, benzene can cause other problems. Unfortunately, accidents still happen with higher stakes when using benzene.

This report arrives after many incidents around the United States involving unsafe benzene handling practices. Apple ended its use of the carcinogen in its factories after reports of workers falling ill surfaced. Some communities in Texas complain about benzene emissions in the community, causing paint to peel and residents to get sick. During the flowback process in fracking, benzene is released at dangerous levels around the workers.

Recently, researchers in Colorado discovered chemicals seeping from well pads in the Uintah Basin in Utah. They found benzene levels at nearly double what might be recorded in a more urban area. These results are typical in more condensated areas, different from the wells found in Pennsylvania.

The continued use of benzene in the already dangerous fracking practice is like playing with fire and expecting not to get burned. Short-term exposure to benzene can cause nausea, eye and throat irritation and loss of consciousness. Long-term exposure can result in leukemia and even death.

Sources
  • Mark Drajem, “Fracking Companies Using Toxic Benzene in Drilling,” Bloomberg (Oct. 22, 2014). [Link]
  • Mark Jaffe, “A host of chemicals emissions are seeping from oil and gas operations,” The Denver Post (Oct. 21, 2014). [Link]
  • Amy Silverstein, “Texas Drillers Lead the Nation in Pumping Benzene into Earth, Which Is Not Good,” Dallas Observer (Oct. 23, 2014). [Link]
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