Not willing to rest their laurels on the theft of the future, the fossil fuel industry is now salting the earth with forever chemicals.
In a bombshell exposé from Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and the New York Times last week it was revealed that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were readily used at fracking sites across the US.
PFAS never break down, a disconcerting fact that has led many to call them “forever chemicals”. Such durability comes with surprising mobility as these chemicals have proven preternaturally gifted at gliding through geological and geographic borders with ease. Oh, and they are toxic.
None of these worrisome properties proved sufficient to dissuade the fossil fuel industry from injecting PFAS into at least 1,200 fracking wells in the United States, including in states where wastewater from oil and gas operations is routinely sprayed on roads and farms.
This revelation comes days after Unearthed released a video of fossil fuel executives bragging about just how easy it has been to sabotage legislation aimed at addressing climate change and petrochemical pollution, including PFAS.
“They’re called forever chemicals,” one ExxonMobil executive said, “which basically means these chemicals never, never deteriorate.”
While most scientists agree that such toxic immortality warrants sensible restrictions on PFAS use, ExxonMobil disagrees. According to the videos, company executives launched a stealth campaign to undercut the scientific consensus and surging momentum to regulate PFAS. ExxonMobil’s preferred strategy of obstruction? Commission another government study.
In the meantime, 130 oil and gas companies (including ExxonMobil) have been dumping forever chemicals into fracking sites in at least six different states.
The use of PFAS in fracking “brings together two planetary emergencies”, said Barbara Gottlieb of PSR: contamination and climate. As climate change tips so much of the United States into a parched drought with inescapable heatwaves, what water remains is increasingly poisoned by PFAS.
“We already know that over 200 million people have PFAS in their drinking water. Add to that the additional number of people surrounded by fracking sites in their literal back yards, and you have the majority of the population affected by a dangerous class of PFAS chemicals,” Phil Brown, who directs a research center on PFAS contamination, told me.
At one Encana/Athlon fracking site in Glasscock county, Texas, it is estimated that drilling operators injected 324 pounds of PFAS in a single well. As Dusty Horwitt, the lead author of the PSR report explained, a minuscule amount of PFAS can render a titanic amount of water undrinkable. “One measuring cup of PFOA could contaminate almost 8bn gallons of water.”
As other sectors distance themselves from forever chemicals and the ungodly problems they pose, the fossil fuel industry is doubling down on PFAS in willful defiance of settled…