Hydraulic fracturing chemicals found ‘under your kitchen sink’ 

A proposed amendment to rewrite the Safe Drinking Water Act that may be considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee today could have “serious consequences” for hydraulic fracturing, a key technology used for decades to extract natural gas from shale formations, Energy In Depth executive director Lee Fuller warned in a letter to chairman Henry Waxman, D-CA, and ranking member Joe Barton, R-TX.

Drafts of the amendment by Rep. Diana DeGette, D-CO, would require energy companies to disclose the materials they use in the process to state authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In hydraulic fracturing, water is mixed with ordinary playground sand and various chemicals that are less than 0.5 percent of the total volume. The mixture is then injected under high pressure deep into the ground, where it cracks open shale formations and releases clean-burning natural gas.

Concern about the release of proprietary information to foreign and domestic competitors about the small percentage of chemicals used in the process would have a chilling effect on drilling companies’ efforts to develop even more environmentally friendly alternatives, Fuller warned. “It could have the perverse effect of forcing companies to cut their investment in this important research, or abandon it altogether.”

A 2004 EPA report found that hydraulic fracturing does not pose any threat to drinking water supplies. However, the House panel is investigating the process again.

“As it relates to the composition of fluids commonly used in the fracturing process today, it’s important to note that greater than 99.5 percent of the mixture is comprised of water and playground sand,” Fuller said in the letter.

“The remaining materials, used to help deliver the water down the wellbore and position the sand in the tiny fractures created in the formation, are typically components that can found in your kitchen cupboard and beneath your kitchen sink. The most prominent of these, a substance known as guar gum, is an emulsifier more commonly found in ice cream and peanut butter.”

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