Energy & Environment

EPA approved toxic ‘forever’ chemicals for fracking in 2011: report


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2011 approved the use of chemicals for fracking that could break down into toxic so-called forever chemicals, despite internal concerns, according to documents obtained by an advocacy group.

The documents, secured through a Freedom of Information Act request by the group Physicians for Social Responsibility, indicate that major energy firms such as Chevron and Exxon Mobil used per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or substances that can degrade into them for fracking.

The chemical use covered in the group’s report spans from 2012 to 2020, incorporating both the Obama and Trump administrations, the group said in a report Monday.

The documents suggest oil and gas companies used such substances in the drilling process in more than 1,200 wells in at least six states. Incomplete disclosure of which chemicals are used in the drilling process means either PFAS or chemicals that degrade into PFAS could have been used even more extensively than the report indicates, according to the group. Affected states include Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming.

Internal EPA materials indicated concerns about the potential impact of the approval of the chemicals in drilling and fracking. Agency personnel specifically expressed concerns about the degradation of the chemicals into perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a carcinogen that was the subject of the 2019 film “Dark Waters.”

“EPA has concerns that these degradation products will persist in the environment, could bioaccumulate or biomagnify, and could be toxic (PBT) to people, wild mammals, and birds based on data on analog chemicals, including PFOA and [REDACTED],” personnel wrote in one document obtained by the group.

“The evidence that people could be unknowingly exposed to these extremely toxic chemicals through oil and gas operations is disturbing,” report author Dusty Horwitt, an attorney and researcher who works as a consultant for the group, said in a statement. “Considering the terrible history of pollution associated with PFAS, EPA and state governments need to move quickly to ensure that the public knows where these chemicals have been used and is protected from their impacts.”

The report includes a series of recommendations in response to its findings, including an assessment of whether PFAS or PFAS breakdown products have hurt public health. The group also recommends either the EPA or state agencies analyze where waste products from the use of such chemicals have ended up and test waters, plants and animals in the area for their presence.

It further suggests a hold on all PFAS use for oil and gas and restrictions on oil and gas drilling. “When doubt exists as to the existence or danger of contamination, the rule of thumb should be, ‘First, do no harm,’” it concludes.

In a statement to The Hill, an EPA spokesperson said the Biden administration has made PFAS “a top priority.”
“To address these challenges and meet the needs of our partners and communities across the United States, EPA is developing a multi-year strategy to deliver critical public health protections to the American public, prioritizing partnerships and collaboration within EPA and with our federal, state, tribal and local partners, and will continue to engage with the public about the risk associated with these chemicals,” the spokesperson added. “EPA will review the report.”
Tags EPA PFAS pollutants Pollution
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