Group wants governor to ban PFAs in oil and gas wells

The Physicians for Social Responsibility want the state to ban per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances in oil and gas wells.

A recent study found chemical signatures of PFAS in five wells operated by Chesapeake Operating Inc. in Beaver and Washington counties and four wells operated by Hilcorp Energy Company in Lawrence County. PFAS is a chemical commonly known as Teflon.

The chemicals were found to be used in the fracking process. Fracking consists of injecting liquid at high pressure into the ground to force open fissures and extract oil and gas.

PFAS are used to make coatings that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The chemicals are considered toxic and are resistant to breaking down in the environment.

“PFAS are known for their toxicity at extremely low levels, their multiple negative health effects including cancer and their persistence in the environment, which has endowed them with their nickname, ‘forever chemicals,'” the report states.

In Pennsylvania, oil and gas companies must report chemicals used in fracking operations to the state Department of Environmental Protection, but may withhold specifics of what is used from the public by designating them as trade secrets. The letter urged the state to disclose that information and place a ban on the usage of PFAS.

According to the report, approximately 160 million pounds of chemicals designated as trade secrets were injected into fracking wells in Pennsylvania from 2012 to 2022. The group expressed concerns that a portion of those chemicals could be undisclosed PFAS.

According to the report, trade secret chemicals were not listed as having been used in Warren County during the ten year study period, but were used in surrounding counties.There are more than 200,000 drilled and proposed wells that utilize fracking techniques in the state.

“Private water wells in rural areas, where most of Pennsylvania’s drilling and fracking are conducted, may be at particularly high risk of contamination,” according to a release from PSR. “Once contaminated, groundwater is especially difficult to clean up. Communities where oil and gas waste is taken for disposal that are located miles from drilling sites could also face risks from PFAS contamination.”

Other organizations, including Better Path Coalition, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Environmental Health Project, FracTracker Alliance, and Protect PT co-signed the letter. Duquesne University professor of biological sciences John Stolz also signed the letter.

The letter urged a method of disclosure that would still allow chemical mixtures and formulas to be designated trade secrets, but require public disclosure of what chemicals are used.

PSR describes itself as a group that, “mobilizes physicians and health professionals to advocate for climate solutions and a nuclear-weapons-free world.”


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