EARTHWORKS

*In Their Own Words* - the fracking chapstick edition

Lisa Sumi's avatar
By Lisa Sumi

March 12, 2012

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Polyacrylamides and chicken poop: two things you don't want in your chapstick -- no matter what Anadarko Petroleum says.

This is the second submission of "In Their Own Words."

Earthworks sent our Texas Sharon Wilson to a much ballyhooed fracking industry PR conference in Houston because we feel it's important to keep a close eye on this industry. She recorded industry PR reps admitting they use ex military personnel to conduct PSYOP operations in neighborhoods, and recommending the use of the US Army/Marine Insurgency Manual against the "insurgents" who are the American public. They also talked about "inoculating" influential members of our society against what they might hear.

In this second post, we hear Anadarko Petroleum's Brad Miller discuss/dismiss the use of fracking polyacrylamides.

—polyacrylamides—Ah, people get really worried when you talk about putting polyacrylamide in frack that they’re gonna pump down a well. What is that? It’s chap stick – so take your stick of chap stick when somebody talks about polyacrylamides. .So we need to kind of bring what we put in there down to where people can understand.

There are so many problems with this statement that I hardly know where to begin.

First of all, the manufacturer’s Material Safety Data Sheet does not list polyacrylamide as an ingredient of Chapstick, nor does the National Institute of Health’s Daily Med web site. So if an oil and gas industry representative pulls out a tube of Chapstick and calls it polyacrylamide he or she really needs to provide some information to prove that statement true.

Second, just because some people put things on or in their bodies, it does not mean the products are safe to use. In the past few years organizations like Women’s Voices for the Earth and the Environmental Working Group have brought to light health and toxics issues associated with many household items, such as high concentrations of lead in lipstick or cancer-causing chemicals found in cosmetics and cleaning products.

According to EWG, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Assessments have determined polyacrylamide to be safe for use in cosmetics, subject to some limitations, but Environment Canada suspects polyacrylamide of being an environmental toxin.

Third, polyacrylamides are synthetic chemicals made by creating polymers of acrylamide. While polyacrylamide itself may be relatively safe, polyacrylamide formulations almost always contain a residue of acrylamide, which is a known peripheral nerve toxin and is on California’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Moreover, researchers at Kansas State University have found that “polyacrylamide degrades under environmental conditions, releasing acrylamide.” Another study showed that the concentration of acrylamide in a polyacrylamide solution more than doubled when the solution was exposed to temperatures of 70° C (158° F). This is important because hydraulic fracturing fluids are often exposed to high temperatures when injected underground.

So even if pure polyacrylamide is injected during hydraulic fracturing, the fracking flowback waste that sits in pits on the surface may also contain some of more harmful acrylamide chemical. What comes up may not be what went down.

Fourth, the oil and gas industry web site FracFocus states that “carrier fluids” like potentially toxic petroleum distillates may be used to deliver polyacrylamide downhole. According to the Environmental Working Group, petroleum distillates are likely to contain benzene, a known human carcinogen that is toxic in water at levels greater than five parts per billion. Petroleum-distillate-laced lip balm is not something you want to smear on your lips or find in your drinking water.

Finally, it is important to note that this person singled out polyacrylamide as one of the chemicals for industry to highlight when talking with people about fracking chemicals. Polyacrylamide is used as a friction reducer during hydraulic fracturing. It is probably the least toxic of all of the friction reducers. Other friction reducers include ethylene glycol and methanol, both of which have the potential to cause a range of health effects such as kidney and liver damage, respiratory problems and others. Would this oil and gas representative be as enthusiastic about holding up a bottle of anti-freeze (which contains ethylene glycol) as he would a tube of Chapstick to a public wanting to know about hydraulic fracturing chemicals?

Polyacrylamide is not Chapstick. And depending on the conditions experienced during and after hydraulic fracturing polyacrylamide may not remain as polyacryamide. Some things cannot be boiled down to simple analogies. The oil and gas industry needs to stop trying to gloss over the facts.


For more information:

MP3 of Brad Miller of Anadarko Petroleum, talking about polyacrylamides

MP3 of Brad Miller of Anadarko Petroleum, talking about bleach

News stories:

More EARTHblog

Texas Sharon: PSYOPS posts

Tagged with: psyops, in their own words, chapstick, brad miller, anadarko

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