You Sent Out the Wrong List?

AP story on “potentially harmful” chemicals used in fracturing process runs everywhere in Pennsylvania – two days later, we learn DEP sent AP the wrong list (!)

Here’s how the argument against the decades-old process of fracturing a natural gas well tends to be structured: In one breath, an anti-gas activist will tell you the materials used in fracturing procedure are “secret.” And then in the next breath, he’ll recite a specific list of materials used in the process and declare them to be a danger to public health and welfare. Never mind the contradiction. Never mind that fracturing solutions are composed almost entirely (99.5%) of water and sand. Never mind that the formations being fractured are thousands (and thousands) of feet below the water table.

But this week, activists were dealt a serious blow when the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a comprehensive listing of the additives used in the fracturing process – effectively rendering moot all future claims of secrecy. But the news wasn’t all bad for these folks: Having secured a copy of the list from DEP, the Associated Press reported on Monday that among the items found on the sheet were naphthalene, toluene and xylene – all chemicals associated with a barrel of oil. So why exactly were shale producers using oil to produce natural gas?

Turns out they weren’t. According to an item in today’s Scranton Times-Tribune, the list supplied to the Associated Press by DEP contained a pretty significant boo-boo: Instead of listing all the materials used to access the shale gas, DEP’s list of chemicals included “not just the chemicals pumped deep underground, but also those stored or used on a well site, including fuel for vehicles and brake fluid,” according to the Times-Tribune.

Translation: The diesel fuel in the gas tank of the truck that carried the worker to the wellsite was included on the list. Looking for a good analogy? It’d be like compiling a list of materials used in baking a cake, and then including chemicals like toluene and xylene on that list simply because the dessert was delivered by a truck.

Here’s how the mistake went down:

The original list was a compilation of the chemicals identified on safety documents … but [DEP] did not realize that it included substances the contractors use both above and below ground on a well site. The second list was winnowed by a DEP chemist … Of the 83 chemicals on the list published by the AP and the 78 on the list posted by the DEP, only 37 items are in common. …

“You can blame it on me,” Scott Perry, the director of DEP’s Bureau of Oil and Gas Management, said on Wednesday.

Essentially what we have here is an honest mistake – made by a regulator who hasn’t been shy when it comes to defending the record of his Department against the likes of U.S. Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.). Back in April, Casey told Mike Soraghan of E&E News (link here, subs. req’d) that he planned to “look at whether state regulation is enough” in managing the fracturing process, stating further that if language was included in a Senate bill reaffirming the good work states have been doing over the past 60 years in safely regulating fracturing, “they will make me mad.”

Those words, incidentally, drew a strong rebuke from Democratic governor Ed Rendell’s DEP office, with Department spokesman Neil Weaver telling that same reporter that his office “would be more than willing to sit down and talk with Senator Casey about what we’re doing and how we’re moving forward.” Snap.

All of which brings us back to DEP’s Scott Perry, who told the Scranton paper to “blame it on me” for the mistakes in the AP story. Here’s what he told that same paper back in April when DEP first announced its intention to make its updated list public:

“If I honestly thought that fracking was causing a direct communication with groundwater resources, I wouldn’t be talking about how we have a chemical list. That is the ultimate half-measure. I would be saying, ‘This cannot occur.’ ”

“There has never been any evidence of fracking ever causing direct contamination of fresh groundwater in Pennsylvania or anywhere else,” [Perry] said.

Just so you have it handy, here’s a great list of the Top 10 quotes from DEP officials on the importance of responsible natural gas development – as compiled by the folks over at the Marcellus Shale Coalition. And here’s the video from a speech that DEP’s Scott Perry gave recently in the Northeast part of the state. Take a look at some of his quotes:

On the misconceptions he continues to encounter across the state:

  • “When I’m talking to folks about the Marcellus, they try to point out some of its unique characteristics: ‘Well, Marcellus is different than all of these other wells; these are the deepest wells we have in the state.’ Well, that’s actually not true. We have over 11,000 permitted deeper wells in the Commonwealth; we have an entire statute devoted to regulating those wells.”
  • “Some of the other things they say … ‘It’s the fracking. Fracking is what makes the Marcellus Shale different than all other wells in Pennsylvania. But [fracking] has been standard operating procedure in Pennsylvania since the ‘50s and … almost 100 percent of the wells drilled in Pennsylvania have been hydraulically fractured using the same [materials] that are being used with the Marcellus today.”

On Marcellus producers’ commitment to sound well construction and integrity:


  • “I will tell you that the Marcellus operators have been building their wells to exceed our current regulatory standards; they’re building their wells in a manner that exceeds the [new] standards that we have actually proposed here, in many respects.”

On putting Marcellus water use in the proper perspective:

  • “While five million gallons [of water] sounds like a lot, in the overall scheme of things, it’s not. And in fact, this industry at its peak, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission estimates, it will be using less water than our golf courses and ski resorts; it’s going to be using less water than recreation.”

On the record of safety and performance associated with hydraulic fracturing:

  • “Just a note about fracking: First of all, it’s standard operating procedure in Pennsylvania. And it’s important to point out that we’ve never seen an impact to fresh groundwater directly from fracking.”
  • “If there was fracturing of the producing formations that was having a direct communication with groundwater, the first thing you would notice is the salt content in the drinking water. It’s never happened. After a million times across the country, no one’s ever documented drinking water wells that have actually been shown to be impacted by fracking.”
  • “A lot of folks relate the situation in Dimock to a fracking problem. I just want to make sure everyone’s clear on this – that it isn’t. What happened in Dimock was that a company was drilling in the Marcellus, and they encountered a shallow gas producing formation … which is common in this area of Pennsylvania. … It wasn’t a fracking problem.”
  • “How many wells has fracturing damaged? I assume you’re referring to ‘how many drinking water wells.’? And in our experience, it’s been zero.”
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