Oct 13 2010

Coca-Cola Frack

Coca-Cola Substitute for Frack Water?

20 Tons of Chemicals in Frack Water -

Gas Exec:  “It Does Not Bother Me”

But Not In My Back Yard

Does the gas industry really believe hydraulic frack water with its chemical cocktail is comparable to Coca-Cola?

At the end of the day, gas company execs can drink Coca-Cola.  Will they drink frack water?

A gas industry executive is on the record in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggesting (carefully) that, “hydraulic fracturing chemicals in dilute solution” is comparable to Coca-Cola.  In fact, “as a concentrate, Coke may qualify as a toxic chemical.”

PENNECO COO & “Coke” Letter to EPA

Ben Wallace is Chief Operating Officer (COO) of PENNECO, an oil and gas exploration company headquartered in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.1

He signed the 6-page letter to EPA, dated March 26.  For a copy of the complete letter, see footnote #2 under Links & Resources at the end of this post.2

According to PENNECO’s website, “The company currently owns interests in over 1,200 wells located in Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah and West Virginia. PENNECO is active in several shale plays, including the Marcellus, Rhinestreet and Bakken shales.”

Most of these are hydraulically fracked.  Wallace told this blog, “Of our wells, I’d estimate that over 85% are hydraulically fractured.”

In his letter to the EPA, Wallace suggests a parallel between Coca-Cola and the chemicals in hydraulic fracturing fluid as concentrates and in their dilute form.  He suggests that Coke, in its concentrated form, may qualify as a toxic chemical.

After playing with this analogy, he acknowledges that, “there is no practical risk [drinking Coca-Cola] and the substance is relatively harmless.”

From there, he goes on to make his case for the comparable safety of frack water:  “We believe that the same reasonable standard of common sense needs to be employed with hydraulic fracturing chemical studies. The chemicals pumped in hydraulic fracturing are pumped at very dilute concentrations into formations which contain oil, natural gas, and brine.”

When asked whether he and his fellow executives at PENNECO would drink frac water on a weekly basis, he told this blog:

“Certainly it would be foolish to drink frac fluid just as it would be foolish to drink oil.  Frac fluid is compatible with oil and gas reservoirs.  It is not injected into fresh water aquifers and fresh water aquifers are isolated from the well.  I have NEVER stated that frac fluid is equivalent to cola.   The toxicity of cola syrup is a useful analogy to make a logical comparison that simply reading MSDS [Material Safety Data] sheets for the chemicals contained in a dilute solution is NOT the same as studying the relative risk of the solution using the science of industrial hygiene.”

From Cradle to Grave?

In response to a question, he said:

“It does not bother me that a Marcellus fracture treatment uses 20 tons of chemicals diluted in 1,000,000 gallons of water and that the slurry is injected into a natural gas bearing formation multiple thousands of feet below any fresh water aquifers isolated by steel casing and cement.  The flow back is then hauled to a licensed DEP regulated disposal facility where it is treated and cleaned.  I am familiar with the process from cradle to grave and it does not bother me in the least.  Again, as in the cola analogy, where is the comparative risk?”

Another person with a very different point of view also has a 30-year background in the oil and gas industry.

‘Explosive Power’ of Frack

James “Chip” Northrup says his background in the energy business includes that of an independent oil and gas producer in Texas and New Mexico, plus owning drilling rigs in the US, west Africa, Brazil and the South China Sea.

His assessment of the hydraulic fracturing process and its risk is eye opening.  Following are two excerpts from his comments (emphasis added).  For more context, see the link at footnote #3 under Links & Resources at the bottom of this post.3

“The fracking fluid contains chemicals that would be illegal to use in warfare under the rules of the Geneva Convention. This all adds up to a massive explosion of a “dirty bomb” underground.


When a shale gas well is hydrofracked, the explosive power of the frack breaks up the rock indiscriminately for a considerable distance – far enough to break into nearby aquifers – particularly if the frack hits a vertical fault that may cause the gas bearing formation to ‘communicate’ with other strata. This can release natural gas – which consists of methane, butane, propane, and benzene, etc. – into drinking water, along with the toxic chemicals in the fracking fluid. Once introduced, there is no way to remove the gas or the chemicals from the drinking water.”

In May, an organization called the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, based in Washington DC, issued a one-page statement which contains this reference to hydraulic fracturing (emphasis added):

“We represent the leadership of over 1.4 million scientists in over 150 scientific disciplines. ….

“The production of natural gas (methane) from shales represents a major new domestic energy resource that can reduce reliance on imported crude oil. However, the development of methane from shale formations is another example where policy has preceeded adequate scientific study. Economic recovery of methane from shales requires the drilling of long-reach horizontal wells and the high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water with chemical additives to release the gas through a process called hydrofracking.  Despite the utilization of millions of gallons of water and the flow back to the surface of these injected fluids, hydrofracking is exempted from the Clean Water Act.  Exploitation of the Marcellus Shale Formation in the Appalachian basin, recognized as the largest shale-gas reserve in the U.S., could occur across a five-state region. Prior, thorough science-based studies are required to evaluate the impact of massive shale development on rural land uses, water supply and quality, and full-life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions.”4

For property owners who might be curious, PENNECO Chief Operating Officer Ben Wallace told this blog:  “I do not have a shale gas drilling rig on my property.”

NOTE:  Next week’s blog post will continue sharing the communications exchange with PENNECO COO Ben Wallace who, unlike many gas industry execs, is “willing to engage in the debate.”  Stay tuned.

Links & Resources

1 PENNECO website: http://www.penneco.com/

2 PENNECO letter to EPA – First, for easy reference, here is the paragraph on Coke from Wallace’s letter to the EPA (emphasis added), followed by a pdf of the complete letter:

“The formula for Coca-Cola is a closely guarded secret — though the ingredients are disclosed.  In its dilute form — as a beverage — Coca-Cola is a known acid.  It is entirely likely, that in transport, as a concentrate, Coke may qualify as a toxic chemical. Perhaps on game day at a stadium, where the stadium may have thousands of gallons of Coke syrup waiting to be mixed with carbonated water, the stadium may have high levels of toxic chemicals on hand.  However, as we all know, there is no practical risk and the substance is relatively harmless.  We believe that the same reasonable standard of common sense needs to be employed with hydraulic fracturing chemical studies. The chemicals pumped in hydraulic fracturing are pumped at very dilute concentrations into formations which contain oil, natural gas, and brine.  All of these naturally inherent resources of the earth, when brought to the surface, are classified as industrial waste, if disposed of.  Industrial hygienics is a legitimate tool to compare the relative risk of the fracturing fluid to the relative risk of the naturally occurring chemicals residing in the formations being fractured.”

Here is the pdf file of PENNECO’s 6-page letter to the EPA: penneco-frackingcoke

3 Horizontal Hydrofracking of Shale Gas in New York, by James Northrup, Cooperstown, NY – From the 7/25/2010 Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce website: http://cooperstownchamber.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/from-otsego-2000-the-challenges-of-horizontal-hydraulic-fracturing-in-new-york-state-comments-by-james-northrup/

Otsego 2000 website – additional information and comments from James Northrup, who is on the Otsego 2000 Board of Directors, and others on hydraulic fracturing and shale gas extraction:


5-Minute Video of Northrup on Hydrofracking, Faults & Aquifer Pollution – Shaleshock website, August 31, 2010


4 Council of Scientific Society Presidents (CSSP) - On its website, CSSP describes itself as “an organization of presidents, presidents-elect, and recent past presidents of about sixty scientific federations and societies whose combined membership numbers well over 1.4 million scientists and science educators.”  Website: http://cssp.us/

Pdf file of one-page letter that includes commentary on shale gas extraction (see especially last paragraph of letter): ccsp-letter-on-energy-environment

Readers may also be interested in the following:

Philly academy study finds gas drilling threatens streams - Philadelphia Inquirer article by Sandy Bauers, October 12, 2010


Drilling in the Marcellus Shale – The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia.  Website:  http://www.ansp.org/about/news/marcellus-shale.php

See also pdf file of “Testimony on the Economic and Environmental Impacts of Hydraulic Drilling of Marcellus Shale on Philadelphia and the Surrounding Region,” by David Velinsky, Ph.D., VP for Environmental Research at the Academy of Natural Sciences (7 pages): david_velinsky_citycounciltestimony_2010-09-23

One Response

  1. VAppalachia Says:

    Thank you for your superlative work on this website. You are true patriots for providing citizens with such a useful collection of research.

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.