Fracking chemicals

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According to a 2011 US Congressional report, 14 oil and gas companies used over 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products between 2005 and 2009, containing 750 chemicals and components, some extremely toxic and carcinogenic like lead and benzene.

U.S. Government Report

In April 2011, Democratic members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce released a report, "Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing," detailing the range of chemicals used in fracking. The report found that, between 2005 and 2009, 14 leading oil and gas companies used over 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products containing 750 chemicals and components, some extremely toxic and carcinogenic, including lead and benzene. Overall, the 14 companies used 780 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products between 2005 and 2009.

According to the report, the most widely used chemical in fracking fluids, methanol, is a hazardous air pollutant and is on the candidate list for potential regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Isopropyl alcohol, 2-butoxyethanol, and ethylene glycol were the other most widely used chemicals. The study noted that in some cases benzene (a known carcinogen), toluene, xylene, and ethylbenzene are used. Many of the hydraulic fracturing fluids contain chemical components that are listed as “proprietary” or “trade secret.”[1]

Of the 300-odd compounds that private researchers and the Bureau of Land Management suspect are being used in fracking, 65 are listed as hazardous by the federal government. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was tasked with going through a public review of its new rules on hydraulic fracturing, and looked into reports that "gas companies use at least 260 types of chemicals, many of them toxic, like benzene." The chemicals tend to remain in the ground once the fracturing has been completed, raising fears about long-term contamination."[2]

Congress requested disclosure of chemicals listed as proprietary products, but in most cases oil/gas companies stated they did not have access to proprietary information about products they purchased “off the shelf” from chemical suppliers.[3]

Demand and suppliers

Demand for specialty chemicals for drilling US shale basins is expected to increase to $6.7bn by 2015, according to the research firm The Freedonia Group. The demand for such specialty chemicals was worth about $2.5bn in 2005 and $4.2bn in 2010. Oil services specialists Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, and Halliburton lead the oilfield chemicals market, accounting for about 40% of US sales in 2010, the Freedonia study reports.[4]

Proprietary chemicals

A Washington County, Pennsylvania resident filed a lawsuit claiming that a Range Resources wastewater impoundment, which holds water left over from hydraulic fracturing operations, contaminated well water. As part of the lawsuit's discovery process, the judge directed Range to release the full list of chemicals used in its drilling operations. Range said in its filing that it has been unable to obtain from its suppliers the ingredients in many of the products. One company that provides a product known as Flo Stop P informed Range that it doesn't actually produce the product, just resells it. The reseller could not provide additional information about the contents. Other companies said they would not provide the information without a protective order, saying that the information was "proprietary."[5]


Disclosure rules

As of 2012, nine states and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (for federal lands) have various chemical disclosure rules: Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming. Most of the rules allow exclusions for "proprietary trade secrets." Colorado is the only state that requires detailed information on the names and concentrations of the individual chemicals used; the eight other states either do not require companies to report concentrations or only require them to report concentrations of hazardous materials.[6]

Environmental groups have petitioned the EPA for disclosure of fracturing chemicals through the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).[7]

Voluntary disclosure

Some drillers voluntarily disclose some of the fracking chemicals used on the website FracFocus, a joint project of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.

However, the disclosure is not comprehensive because:[8]

  1. Information on the chemicals comes from the chemical supplier and there is no third-party verification process.
  2. The only chemical ingredients listed are those found on a fracking fluid's Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). In an analysis of the MSDS for 980 oil and gas products, only 133 products (14%) had information on more than 95% of their full composition. The MSDS for almost half of them (421) reported less than 1% of the total composition of the product.
  3. Companies can withhold information on any product they deem to be a trade secret with proprietary information.

FracFocus is the nation's largest dataset on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. It was launched in 2011 as a voluntary tool for oil and gas operators, and later adopted by individual states to fulfill their chemical disclosure regulations. More than 20 states currently require companies to report the fracking compounds they use, through FracFocus.[9]

In October 2014 fracking operator Baker Hughes announced that it would disclose all the chemicals the company used in its fracking operations.[10]

Harvard scientist published published in January 2016 peer reviewed, Energy Policy, find that the practice of withholding chemical information on FracFocus increased since 2013, and appear unaffected by different legal requirements. The study's author found a 16.5% withholding rate on forms filed between 2013 and April 2015. The study also found that when companies reported chemicals by listing individual chemical compounds without attributing each chemical to a hydraulic fracturing brand product, withholding rates dropped by more than 75%.[11]




  1. "Committee Democrats Release New Report Detailing Hydraulic Fracturing Products," Committee on Energy and Commerce, Apr 16, 2011.
  2. Jad Mouawad and Clifford Krauss, [1] "Dark Side of a Natural Gas Boom," New York Times, Dec. 8, 2009.
  3. Lynn Herrmann, "Some hydraulic fracking companies using carcinogenic agents," Digital Journal, April 18, 2011.
  4. Sheena Martin, "AFPM: Fracking drives chemicals boom," Chemical Industry News & Chemical Market Intelligence, April 2, 2012.
  5. Kate Sheppard, "Fracking Chemicals May Be Unknown, Even To Gas Drillers, Lawsuit Documents Suggest," HuffPo, Sep 27, 2013.
  6. "Fracking Chemical Disclosure Rules," Inside Climate News chart at ProPublica, accessed April 2012.
  7. Mike Soraghan, "HYDRAULIC FRACTURING: White House delaying BLM rule at industry's request," E&E, June 22, 2012.
  8. Amy Mall, "Why voluntary disclosure of hydraulic fracturing is insufficient," NRDC, May 18, 2011.
  9. "What Chemicals Are Used in Fracking? Industry Discloses Less and Less" Lisa Song, Inside Climate News, November 24, 2015.
  10. "Baker Hughes to Disclose Fracking Chemicals" Jonathan Fahey, ABC, October 1, 2014.
  11. "Hydraulic fracturing chemicals reporting: Analysis of available data and recommendations for policymakers" Katherine Konschnika and Archana Dayalub, Energy Policy, January 2016.

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