State regulators held two meetings June 17, 2022 during which it became clear that no one is testing drilling fluids and well construction aids for PFAS content. Officials from the Wisconsin DNR confirmed they only look at the Safety-Data-Sheets (SDS’s) supplied by the chemical manufacturers themselves as the sole determination of what is in the products. Most of the products are made by oil & gas industry service companies like Halliburton and Schlumberger. If the SDS doesn’t list “PFAS” as an ingredient, the DNR doesn’t look for it.
Because of an exemption known as the “Halliburton loophole” these chemical manufacturers do not need to disclose the exact make-up of their product mixtures. They simply claim that divulging the true ingredient list would jeopardize trade secrecy and give competitors an unfair advantage. Most drilling fluid Safety-Data-Sheets claim the privilege of not disclosing the full ingredient list because of trade secrecy.
There is another inherent problem with the SDS’s that regulators rely on. OSHA has rules guiding what needs to be listed on SDS’s. If a manufacturer determines that the product contains less than 1% of any ingredient they are not required to list those ingredients. Essentially, what gets shown on an SDS is up to the manufacturer’s own discretion. This discretion is what Wisconsin regulators have been relying on for years.
What about product testing? It was confirmed that state regulators like the Department of Health Services and the Department of Natural Resources do not do any testing to confirm what exactly is in the drilling products. No state agencies do testing for PFAS content or testing to confirm the information on the SDS is accurate.
It was also confirmed that the preeminent testing authority in the nation does not test products used for exploration drilling and well construction for PFAS content. The NSF confirmed that they ‘may’ only test for PFAS content if it is one of the listed ingredients on the chemical labeling. Even though there are over 180 drilling products that carry the NSF logo indicating they are allowed to come in contact with drinking water, this full product listing does not include testing for PFAS content.
Since the manufacturers are incentivized to not list the full ingredient list, this eliminates their need to test drilling fluids for full chemical content. Why would an oil & gas industry supplier test their products to determine if they contain PFAS? If found it would be the end of sales for those products. Conversely, if the manufacturers know their products contain PFAS, but they are allowed to not disclose the full ingredient content, why would they list exactly what is in there? If the SDS or the labeling listed PFAS as an ingredient it would be a giant red flag that the product is not safe.
Who is testing products that are used for drilling holes into the water aquifer? Answer: No one.
There isn’t any comprehensive testing occurring to make sure drilling fluids do not contain PFAS. This reveals the major health concern that from the time a hole is drilled in the search for minerals or water, the chances are high this is when the PFAS contamination cycle begins.
Is anyone doing something about this? Not in Wisconsin – yet. However, on June 3, 2022 Colorado decided to move forward with a law that bans the use of drilling fluids that contain PFAS. Going forward; any manufacturer who wants to offer drilling fluids for drilling exploration holes or water well construction, is going to need to prove it first that the products do not contain PFAS. The burden of full chemical content testing and factual certification is on the manufacturer – not the tax-payer. If the manufacturer wants to sell their products in Colorado they are going to have to prove they are free of PFAS.
These developments should serve as a call to action for Wisconsin state regulators and law-makers to follow the lead of Colorado. If Wisconsin wants to get ahead of the seemingly unending emerging PFAS contamination problem, they need to make sure that the chemicals used from day-one of well drilling are not the source of the problem. Wisconsin needs to ban the use of drilling fluids that contain PFAS – right now.