Texas state Steves Family Recognized for Historic Impact state-sponsored study on the use of PFAS in fracking and the potential public exposure through air and water, to determine whether the chemical should be restricted.
“PSR’s report highlighted shortcomings in disclosure standards and accountability, particularly up the chain regarding the manufacturing of chemical products that are used in fracking fluids,” Morales Shaw said in a written statement.
PFAS are used to reduce friction for drill bits as they move through the ground, said Barb Gottlieb, an author on the study.
Over the last decade in Texas, oil and gas companies have pumped at least 43,000 pounds of the toxic chemical into more than a thousand fracked oil and gas wells across the state, according to the study.
“What was distinctive about Texas was the staggering volume of PFAS reported in use,” Dusty Howitt, another study author, says. “It’s far and above what we’ve found in other states.” That’s likely because of the scale of fracking in Texas compared to other states, he explained.
The report on Texas’ use of PFAS in wells follows similar analyses that Physicians for Social Responsibility has conducted on the use of the forever chemical in states like Ohio and Colorado, as well as nationally.
The studies analyzed publicly available data from Frack Focus, a national registry that tracks the chemicals used in fracking. The database is managed by the Ground Water Protection Council, a nonprofit made up of state regulatory agencies. The data that PSR was able to analyze might not reveal the full extent of PFAS contamination in Texas, the authors say. Frack Focus is composed of industry-reported data, and there are major exemptions in state and federal law that allow companies to withhold certain information by labeling it a trade secret.
The study found that 6.1 billion pounds of chemicals injected into Texas wells were listed as trade secrets, meaning that no one – public health researchers, local environmental regulators, and landowners who might be drinking contaminated water – knows what they’re being exposed to.
Industry trade groups, including the Texas Oil and Gas Association, and the Texas Chemistry Council, did not respond to requests seeking comment on the study’s findings.
Using PFAS in fracking presents several pathways to environmental contamination and human exposure, the study’s authors say. Fracking fluids are often injected into wastewater wells or stored in pits, which have a history of leaking and contaminating nearby ground and surface water which people rely on.
PFAS can also go airborne if the substance is pumped into a well and then that well is flared or vented, which is common in Texas. In some parts of Texas, like the Fort Worth region, homes, daycares, and businesses are located within a few hundred feet of flaring gas wells. Potentially, people could absorb PFAS through their lungs, and some small molecules could then pass on to the bloodstream, Gottlieb says. Little research has been done on the effects of airborne PFAS, she said.