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Green Panic: Brussels Desperate To Block Shale Revolution

Some people will be leaping on this story:

BRUSSELS—Oversights in REACH registration dossiers could mean the use of hazardous chemicals in hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas is technically illegal in the European Union, the European Commission told BNA Sept. 27.

Commission environment spokesman Joe Hennon said the Helsinki-based European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) had examined REACH registration dossiers “for a selected number of chemical substances having a high probability to be used in shale gas operations,” and had found no instances of chemical safety assessments mentioning exposure scenarios related to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

We can see the headlines: Frackers use illegal chemicals. Of course this is simply an over eager group of pedants, whose priority may be as more to self-preservation than public protection. Let’s look at the case of one of the chemicals Cuadrilla Resources uses in the UK:

The potential problem for shale gas operators was first raised at a conference on REACH in Brussels Sept. 23 by the most senior official in the Commission’s environment department, Karl Falkenberg.

“None of the substances used [for fracking] have been registered for this process in Helsinki so far,” Falkenberg said.

“You can only use substances for registered purposes. We need to know what substances are used to get to this resource [shale gas],” he added.

Hennon said that ECHA’s examination of dossiers for fracking use scenarios had covered ethylene glycol, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, glutaraldehyde, hydrochloric acid, hydrotreated light petroleum distillates, isopropyl alcohol, methanol, polyacrylamide, and sodium hydroxide.

The chemical uside is polacrylamide. The name sounds scary.  Chemicals sound scary.  We don’t understand chemicals so let’s ban them. But what use is polyacrylamide registered for in the EU? What is this chemical that REACH wants to study more?  Polyacrylamide:

It is highly water-absorbent, forming a soft gel when hydrated, used in such applications as polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and in manufacturing soft contact lenses. In the straight-chain form, it is also used as a thickener and suspending agent. More recently, it has been used as a subdermal filler for aesthetic facial surgery (see Aquamid)

Not only that polyacrylamide is used in two other authorised uses:

It has also been advertised as a soil conditioner called Krilium by Monsanto Company in the 1950s and today “MP”, which is stated to be a “unique formulation of PAM (water-soluble polyacrylamide)”. It is often used for horticultural and agricultural use under trade names such as Broadleaf P4, Swell-Gel and so on. The anionic form of cross-linked polyacrylamide is frequently used as a soil conditioner on farm land and construction sites for erosion control, in order to protect the water quality of nearby rivers and streams.[2]

So far, we see that Polyacrylamide, one of a suite of secret hidden chemical fluids according to opponents, is useful for a nose job, disposable contact lenses and for use in the fields where food is grown or the parks kids play in, and at far higher quantities ,2.5% in disposable contact lens v 0.25% in frack fluid. But don’t dare use it in frac fluid at any concentration, because you didn’t ask us.

But, since you asked,  it is perfectly acceptable to let your kids use it in toys and in baby powder:

The polymer is also used to make Gro-Beast toys, which expand when placed in water, as the Test Tube Aliens. Similarly, the absorbent properties of one of its copolymers can be utilized as an additive in body-powder.

But please not in frack fluid. We have to protect water!  Water is the lifeblood!  We can afford to run out of energy but never water!  And on that score I am with people 100% per cent.  But at the same time have to point out a rather inconvenient truth about polyacrylamide:

The ionic form of polyacrylamide has found an important role in the potable water treatment industry. Trivalent metal salts like ferric chloride and aluminium chloride are bridged by the long polymer chains of polyacrylamide. This results in significant enhancement of the flocculation rate. This allows water treatment plants to greatly improve the removal of total organic content (TOC) from raw water.

Run this one by me again:  Although polyacrylamide is widely used to actually clean up water,  you can’t use it in fracking because we have to run a big risk exercise to make sure that it doesn’t actually pollute water. Or food. Or children’s toys. Or even, God forbid: it may make people blind. Or is that to see?  No matter.  Let’s have a six year study period just to make sure.

No Hot Air, 29 September 2011