Tucked quietly away in Waste Management Plan WMP3-1 (a link within the proposal) is the suggestion that hydrofluoric acid (HF), one of the world’s most caustic and toxic chemicals, should be permitted as a means of releasing oil and gas from shale. Even small splashes of HF on the skin can be fatal. Inhalation causes permanent lung damage. It was used in the TV series 'Breaking Bad' to dissolve both human bodies and metal.
‘Site workers and local communities should not be exposed to such risk,’ says Balcombe resident Charles Metcalfe. ‘Do we want to see tankers full of this deadly substance travelling up and down our English country lanes? Statistically 1% of wells ‘blow out’. If a well containing hydrofluoric acid were to blow out, what would the consequences be?’
In America the steel workers union (USW) are campaigning to have its usage stopped. "If released in the atmosphere, HF rapidly forms dense vapor clouds that hover near land and can travel great distances. Like other powerful acids, HF can cause deep severe burns and damage the eyes, skin, nose, throat and respiratory system. But the fluoride ion is also poisonous. Entering the body through a burn or by the lungs, it can cause internal damage throughout the body. At high enough exposures, HF can kill. '' (Executive Summary vi 'A Risk Too Great' United Steel Workers 2010) http://www.usw.org/workplaces/oil/A-Risk-Too-Great.pdf
The new ‘catch-all’ permits ‘will have a positive impact on business’, according to the Environment Agency. ‘If operators can meet the requirements of standard rules they do not have to apply for a bespoke permit, thereby saving them time and money." (Standard Rules for the Environmental Permitting Regulations - Consultation No.11, Summary iii).
‘Now it all becomes clear,’ says Balcombe resident Helen Savage. ‘All the while our government tells us this industry has “the strictest regulations”, it is quietly making moves to erode protections and make way for business. The concerns of ecology and local inhabitants ('receptors' as we are called in this document!) are most definitely a secondary consideration.’
The consultation on the new ‘standard rules’ closes on Monday, June 15th – there now remains one week for members of the public and other interested parties to lodge their objections.
Comment on the proposals here: https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/portal/ho/ep/src/newrules/oilandgas?pointId=1419248829504#section-1419248829504
Download Frack Free Balcombe Residents' Association's press release below.