Thursday, July 5, 2012

HCL spill report in PA tells us much by saying very little

When do fracking chemicals have nothing to do with fracking?

Answer: When they are spilled over the Pennsylvania countryside. That happened Wednesday when 4,700 gallons of hydrochloric acid spilled at a well site operated by Chief Oil and Gas in Leroy Township. Except, according to the industry version of the report, it wasn’t a spill. It was “a release.” To handle this release, “appropriate clean up crews were quickly dispatched” to build infrastructure of “precautionary protection.” The result: “The release was quickly contained and cleanup is near completion.”

The scant details available on line today – a day after the spill -- rely heavily on this account provided by unnamed Chief Oil and Gas public relations staff. It notes that “there were no drilling or fracking operations taking place at the time of the release” and ”there was never an issue of safety.”

So what’s significant about this event, other than the sheer volume and toxicity of the spilled acid? Or that, as reported by Chief, “a few dead minnows” were “observed” in the nearby “plungepool”? It is, of course, what the industry-generated report doesn’t tell us: hydrochloric acid (HCL), which can burn through rock and flesh, is used to dissolve material in the well bore to allow a more efficient interface with the surrounding shale. HCL is one of hundreds of caustic and toxic chemicals that are part and parcel to fracking operations. When the anonymous industry report states there were “no drilling or fracking operations taking place” at the spill site in Leroy, it’s somehow excluding the handling and storage of hazardous materials that are central to those operations. In short, the cause and outcome of this particular spill, like the impact of large scale fracking operations over time, are made obscure by industry-speak. This 4,700 gallon “release” is, once again, something to keep in mind when you hear that fracking has never polluted groundwater.


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