Keystone Secrets: Records Show Widespread Use of Secret Fracking Chemicals is a Looming Risk for Delaware River Basin, Pennsylvania Communities
A report released today by the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) found that between 2013 and 2017, drilling companies injected at least one hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) chemical with an identity kept hidden from the public into more than 2,500 unconventional natural gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania. The report, KeyStone Secrets, found companies injected secret fracking chemicals 13,632 times into 2,515 wells in total (explore map below).
Fracking in unconventional formations has significantly increased oil and gas extraction, making Pennsylvania the nation’s second-largest natural gas producer. The process has also sparked concerns about pollution and health effects, especially related to unidentified fracking chemicals. In response, Pennsylvania and 28 other states have enacted rules that require some public disclosure of these chemicals. However, most if not all of these rules have exceptions that allow companies to withhold chemical identities as trade secrets.
This report by Massachusetts-based Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), with analysis of fracking chemical disclosure data by FracTracker Alliance, illustrates that drilling companies have used these exceptions extensively.
Records obtained by PFPI from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that non-disclosure of fracking chemical identities may leave people unknowingly exposed to harmful substances. Between 2003 and 2014, the EPA identified health concerns for 109 of 126 new chemicals proposed for use in oil and gas drilling and fracking. The manufacturers submitted information about the chemicals for review under a program that requires EPA to screen and regulate new chemicals for health and environmental impacts before they are used commercially.
Despite concerns by EPA scientists about the chemicals’ health effects, EPA approved most of the 109 chemicals for use, and 62 were later used in or likely used in oil and gas wells. Manufacturers took advantage of trade secret protections that are permitted by federal law to conceal 41 of the 62 chemicals’ identities. It is possible that some of these chemicals declared secret at the federal level are some of the same chemicals being used under trade secret protection in Pennsylvania.
Mapping of secret fracking chemical injection sites (above) show that use is heaviest in southwest Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh and in northeast Pennsylvania near the Delaware River Basin, tracking areas of intensive drilling.
The use of secret chemicals in Pennsylvania’s oil and gas wells is likely even higher than detailed in this report because of exemptions in Pennsylvania law, including:
- No disclosure requirements for the chemicals used in drilling oil and gas wells – the portion of the oil and gas extraction process that precedes fracking;
- No requirement that fracking chemicals for so-called “conventional” oil and gas wells be reported to an easily searchable electronic database; and
- A reporting exemption for chemical manufacturers who are not required to disclose trade secret chemical identities even to emergency responders cleaning up a leak or spill.
In the coming months, the Delaware River Basin Commission is expected to consider a ban on fracking in the basin – fracking that would be most likely to occur in unconventional gas wells in Pennsylvania’s portion of the four-state area. There is currently a de facto moratorium on fracking in the basin that provides drinking water for New York City and Philadelphia – among other cities. The commission is also expected to consider whether to allow related activities inside the basin, including the treatment and discharge into waterways of fracking wastewater from outside the basin. Any fracking or discharges of wastewater would be likely to include some of the secret fracking chemicals discussed in this report.
People have a right to know the identities of chemicals used in oil and gas operations so that citizens, first responders, regulators, and scientists can determine the chemicals’ risks and act to protect health and the environment. Learn more about the proprietary fracking chemicals used in PA by reading the full report:
Report Author: Dusty Horwitt, Partnership for Policy Integrity