Mythbusters 2 – Chemicals

The myth: Fracking can be carried out without using chemicals.

The reality:

1.  As far as we can tell, modern high-pressure fracking of horizontal wells* hasn’t been carried out anywhere in the world without using chemical additives.  These are necessary for simple functions such as keeping the sand particles suspended in the water and preventing build-up of bacteria and living matter in the pipes.  But the chemicals used are far from simple – in New York State 260 constituents of fracking fluid have been listed. These include:

  • chemicals toxic to humans, animals and aquatic life.
  • substances known to cause cancer
  • mutagenic substances
  • chemicals with damaging reproductive effects

2. If it were possible to leave these chemicals out of the fluid, then fracking would have to be carried out at much higher pressures, making it more likely that pipes and seals could crack, leading to leaks and contamination of water and soil.

3. Even if chemicals were not used in the actual hydraulic fracturing operation, they would still be used in other parts of the process, such as the drilling of the wells.

4. Even if chemicals were not added to the fracking fluid, the liquid that flowed back to the surface would still contain contaminants picked up from deep underground.  These can include heavy metals such as arsenic, forms of oil and gas, high levels of salt and radioactive materials.

5. Remember that the company which obtains the initial licence to extract the gas will not necessarily be the same as the one that finally carries out the fracking operations and finally that ‘promises’ to local people contained in public relations material have no legal effect.


* There was an early form of low-pressure hydraulic fracturing which used water to flush out the remains of oil or gas from conventional vertical wells.  It is in the interests of some  to keep us confused about the difference between the two.

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