The ‘secret’ CSG chemical that wasn’t
Regional newspapers in Northern New South Wales and Queensland came out with an exclusive investigation last week, claiming ‘secrecy’ over a chemical compound allegedly used in coal seam gas exploration and production.
The article appeared in several APN Australian Regional Media publications and can be accessed here.
The article was complete with quotes from the National Toxics Network, which wasted no time in turning up the confected outrage to maximum, and was accompanied by this graphic:
Activists rushed to Twitter, decrying the supposed ‘secrecy’, incorrectly linking the use of the compound to hydraulic fracturing.
All sounds scary, right?
The only problem is that the article was referring to a compound that is used in drilling operation and that:
- isn’t used in Australia
- isn’t used in coal seam gas activities
- isn’t used in the hydraulic fracturing process
The article is based on a publicly available, standard form assessment conducted by the National Chemical Identification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), published in mid-2015.
The NICNAS assessment is undertaken for industrial chemicals ahead of their approval for use in Australia.
The agency describes its mission as:
“NICNAS aids in the protection of the Australian people and the environment by assessing the risks of industrial chemicals and providing information to promote their safe use.”
Companies seek NICNAS assessments as matter of course, and the completion of an assessment doesn’t automatically mean that the chemical will be used in Australia.
Let’s take a look at what the assessment for this compound says:
“Human health risk assessment
Provide that control measures are in place to minimise worker exposure to the notified chemical including the use of personal protective equipment (particularly respiratory protection) and ventilated environments, the notified chemical is not considered to pose an unreasonable risk to the health of workers.
When used in the proposed manner, the notified chemical is not considered to pose an unreasonable risk to public health.
Environmental risk assessment
Based on the low hazard and reported use pattern, the notified chemical is not considered to pose an unreasonable risk to the environment.”
So, to recap – if workers use appropriate safeguards, there is no unreasonable risk, there is no unreasonable risk to public health, and no unreasonable risk to the environment.
The article also raises the spectre of a frightening sounding compound called crystalline silica.
A quick Google search – or indeed a check with a high school science teacher – would have revealed that crystalline silica is a naturally occurring, widely found mineral that is the primary component of most rocks, soil and sand.
Crystalline silica, AKA sand. (Source: Google Images)
And as for the quotes from the National Toxics Network’s Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, let’s take those with a grain of salt (or crystalline silica, as the case may be).
As we’ve written previously, she has been called out before for exaggerated claims about chemical use in the gas industry.
To summarise, the article is wrong.
But we’ll leave the last word to one of the ill-informed commentators who shared his concerns at the bottom of the article: