Fracking companies injected millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground

Hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic chemicals were injected into underground wells in over 13 US states from 2005 to 2009, revealed a report issued by Congressional Democrats on April 16. The chemicals were used by oil and gas companies as a part of a drilling procedure called hydraulic fracturing, or “hydrofracking. “It consists of injecting a high-pressure combination of sand, water, and chemicals into underground rock formations to open fissures in the rock that release natural gas and oil. Over the years this process has drawn “increased scrutiny from lawmakers and environmentalists in part because of fears that the chemicals used during the process can contaminate underground sources of drinking water,” reported the New York Times. In addition, the Congressional report also criticized the drilling companies for “injecting fluids containing chemicals that they themselves cannot identify.”

Of the chemicals used that were identified, many are confirmed as “extremely toxic” including lead, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene, and benzene, a deadly carcinogen. “The inquiry over hydrofracking, which was initiated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee … also found that 14 of the nation’s most active hydraulic fracturing companies used 866 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products,” said the New York Times. “More than 650 of these products contained chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or are listed as hazardous air pollutants, the report said.”

The Congressional report follows just two months after lawmakers discovered that during the same time period, 2005 to 2009, more than a dozen companies injected 32.2 million gallons of fluids containing diesel fuel, which is particularly toxic because it contains benzene, into the ground during hydraulic fracturing.

Environmentalists and regulators continue to worry that some of these toxic chemicals may leak into nearby sources of drinking water. “These contaminants also remain in the fluid that returns to the surface after a well is hydrofracked,” added the New York Times, whose recent investigation“ found high levels of contaminants, including benzene and radioactive materials, in wastewater that is being sent to treatment plants not designed to fully treat the waste before it is discharged into rivers.”

Documents from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that one such treatment plant in Pennsylvania contained “roughly 28 times the federal drinking water standard in wastewater as it was discharged, after treatment, into the Allegheny River in May 2008.”

The EPA is currently conducting further studies on the possibilty of drinking water contamination from hyrdofracking, but they report in their related notes that this remains a difficult task because of the energy companies “reluctance to publicly disclose which chemicals and in what concentrations they are used.”

In the meantime, as noted by the April 16 Congressional report, “questions about the safety of hydraulic fracturing persist, which are compounded by the secrecy surrounding the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids.”

Law firms across the United States are busy addressing hydrofracking, and other forms of corporate environmental pollution, on the legal end by helping people who have been adversely affected receive financial compensation. One leading law firm that has been helping people in this area for over twenty years is Weitz & Luxenberg.

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