Secret Fracking Chemicals Threaten Ohioans’ Health, Drinking Water

Ohio law allows drilling companies to hide chemical identities, even from first responders; EPA records suggest secret fracking chemicals pose serious health risks

September 16, 2019. Drilling companies injected at least one hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) chemical with an identity kept hidden from the public into more than 1,400 oil and gas wells drilled in Ohio between 2013 and 2018, according to a new report from Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) with mapping and data analysis from FracTracker Alliance. This groundbreaking in-depth analysis of secret fracking chemical use in Ohio shows that according to public records, companies injected undisclosed fracking chemicals 10,992 times into 1,432 wells, utilizing a law that allows these chemical identities to be concealed as trade secrets. The report includes an interactive map that allows readers to locate these wells drilled in eastern Ohio in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

The report details evidence compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including data released to PFPI in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, which indicates that these chemicals could have serious health effects including irritation to skin and lungs, liver toxicity, developmental toxicity and neurotoxicity. As a result, the widespread use of secret fracking chemicals poses serious health risks for people living near Ohio’s oil and gas wells and to first responders who cannot access the chemical identities under Ohio law unless they file and win a lawsuit.

Access the interactive components of this report including opportunities to take action, at

“First responders risk our lives enough without having to be exposed to secret chemicals,” said Silverio Caggiano, battalion chief with the Youngstown Fire Department and an original member of the Ohio Hazardous Materials and Weapons of Mass Destruction Technical Advisory Committees. “Keeping us uninformed not only puts our guys at risk, it prevents us from knowing how to protect the public during emergencies when we typically have only thirty minutes to determine how to contain a chemical spill.”

The health risks from secret fracking chemicals extend to thousands of Ohioans who might be exposed through pathways including the spreading of drilling and fracking wastewater on roads to suppress dust and to remove snow and ice, leaks and spills related to disposal of billions of gallons of wastewater in underground wells, and illegal dumping of wastewater. This wastewater comes not only from Ohio but also from wells in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In 2014, a fire at a natural gas well in Monroe County caused tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals to spill, including secret fracking chemicals. Fluids from the site flowed into a nearby tributary, where an estimated 70,000 fish subsequently died.
“The use of so many secret and potentially toxic chemicals is deeply troubling to communities where the oil and gas industry operates or wants to pump its wastewater underground,” said Annette McCoy, Trumbull County NAACP President. “How are we supposed to protect ourselves if we don’t know what we could be exposed to?”

“When EPA regulators believe that dozens of secret chemicals used in oil and gas wells pose health risks, the public and first responders have a right to know these chemicals’ identities and where they are being used” said PFPI Senior Counsel, Dusty Horwitt, the report’s author. “Under Ohio’s lax regulations, people could be exposed to toxic chemicals from oil and gas drilling and might not find out until it is too late.”

“Secret exposure to chemicals that our own EPA reports as a potential hazard to human health is unconscionable,” said Alan Lockwood, MD, a national board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility who lives in Oberlin. “Healthcare professionals can’t possibly treat patients properly, make protective public health plans and decisions, and protect first responders without knowing what chemicals are in the environment.”

Exposure risks may be increasing. New oil and gas wells have grown significantly in terms of vertical and horizontal length and hydraulic fracturing fluid injected. According to public records, in 2017 companies fractured the average well in Ohio with about 13 million gallons of water, and at least one has used more than 70 million gallons, dwarfing the 18 million gallons of water that Youngstown delivers each day to its 175,000 customers. Chemicals comprise only a small percentage of fracking fluid. But due to some chemicals’ high toxicities and the staggering quantities of fracking fluid, a small percentage of chemicals in today’s wells could equal enough volume to contaminate billions of gallons of water if the chemicals leached into water supplies. The report also shows that the use of secret chemicals in Ohio’s oil and gas wells extends to the drilling process that precedes fracking and often involves boring directly through groundwater.

“Thousands of secret chemicals are being injected into oil and gas wells throughout Ohio. In many cases, even workers on site have no idea what chemicals they are using in these proprietary blends,” said Matt Kelso, FracTracker Alliance Manager of Data and Technology. “This is a real obstacle to those trying to understand the exposure risk, whether through spills, groundwater contamination, or off-gassing of potentially hazardous materials.”


Download the report here.
About Partnership for Policy Integrity: Founded in 2010, the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) uses science, legal action, and strategic communications to promote sound energy policy and to help citizens enact science-based policies that protect air, water, ecosystems, and the climate. Our current work focuses on biomass energy, and oil and gas extraction.
About FracTracker Alliance

FracTracker Alliance supports groups across the United States, addressing pressing extraction-related concerns with a lens toward health effects and exposure risks on communities from oil and gas development. FracTracker Alliance provides timely and provocative data, ground-breaking analyses, maps, and other visual tools to help advocates, researchers, and the concerned public better understand the harms posed by hydrocarbon extraction.

Partnership for Policy Integrity