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10 Billion Pounds of Chemicals Injected Underground in Texas for Fracking

Chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects

AUSTIN –10 billion pounds of chemicals have been pumped underground  to frack 54,958 wells in Texas since 2011, according to a new report from Environment Texas Research & Policy Center. Written along with the Frontier Group, the study, Fracking by the Numbers, quantifies how 138,000 fracking wells permitted over the last decade across the country have harmed the nation’s air, water, land and climate.

“From dirtier air to wasted water, fracking has taken a major toll on Texas,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “Texas leaders need to act immediately to eliminate the worst industry practices and safeguard the environment and public health.”

The report paints a frightening picture of fracking’s harms, including global warming pollution, contaminated drinking water and marred landscapes. Using all data available from federal and state government entities, the report found:

  • According to data self-reported by industry to the website FracFocus, 10 billion pounds of chemicals, including hydrochloric acid, benzene, and methanol, have been used for fracking in Texas. Fracking uses vast quantities of chemicals known to harm human health. People living or working nearby can be exposed to these chemicals if they enter drinking water after a spill or if they become airborne. Recent analysis of 550 groundwater samples drawn from aquifers overlying the Barnett Shale formation found elevated levels of 10 different metals as well as 19 different chemical compounds associated with hydraulic fracturing, including, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Another study found higher concentrations of arsenic, selenium and strontium in drinking water wells in the region.
  • At least 120 billion gallons of water have been used in fracking since 2005, an average of 3.2 million gallons per well. Fracking requires huge volumes of water for each well - water that is often needed for other uses or to maintain healthy aquatic ecosystems. The Eagle Ford Shale oil play used nearly 18 billion gallons of water in 2013, roughly 16 percent of the area’s total water consumption.” In 2013 the municipal water supply for Barnhart went dry after excessive water withdrawals for fracking.
  • At least 2.5 billion pounds of methane were released in 2014, the pollution equivalent of 8,184,404 cars. Methane, a pollutant 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the course of 20 years, is released at multiple steps during fracking, including during hydraulic fracturing and well completion, and in the processing and transport of gas to end users. The report’s estimates, a conservative tally of fracking’s climate impact, come as new research shows that methane emissions have skyrocketed since the fracking boom began in 2005.
  • Fracking wells produced at least 15 billion gallons of wastewater in 2014. Fracking wastewater has leaked from retention ponds, been dumped into streams, and escaped from faulty disposal wells, putting drinking water at risk. Wastewater from fracked wells includes not only the toxic chemicals injected into the well but also can bring naturally occurring radioactive materials to the surface. Texas wastewater numbers are not included in this figure, as the state of Texas does not require that to be reported.
  • Infrastructure to support fracking has directly damaged at least 257,000 acres of land in Texas since 2005. Well pads, new access roads, pipelines and other infrastructure built for fracking turn prairies and rural landscapes into industrial zones.

Given the scale and severity of fracking’s impacts, the report says fracking should be prohibited wherever possible, and stricter regulations should be enacted to better protect communities already on the frontlines of drilling. 

Environment Texas pointed to the upcoming “Sunset review” of the Railroad Commission, the state’s primary oil and gas regulator, as an opportunity for the Legislature to take action to limit the damage from fracking. The group urged the Legislature to adopt stronger enforcement measures, clear setbacks to protect neighborhoods from drilling, and higher bonding requirements to make sure drillers, and not taxpayers, pay to clean up abandoned wells.  While oil and gas companies have a legal obligation to plug wells, there are nearly 10,000 unplugged or un-remediated wells in Texas and an unknown number of unrecorded old wells. Texas has spent more than $230 million to plug these wells.

The report also gives lift to the effort to convince President Obama to end new fracking and drilling leases on public lands and in public waters to keep upwards of 450 billion tons of global warming pollution out of the atmosphere.  This week the Bureau of Land Management announced they were removing all Texas parcels of land from an April 20 lease sale, pending a further review of public feedback. Proposals to lease public land near Lake Lewisville, Somerville Lake, Lake Conroe and Choke Canyon Reservoir prompted hundreds of Texans to file comments to BLM in opposition. 

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Environment Texas Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentTexasCenter.org