Lab tests from wells near Nicor Gas’ oldest underground natural gas storage facility detected alarming levels of benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer.
In a violation notice issued in December 2019, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency alleged the state’s largest natural gas company broke the law and threatened the quality of groundwater when it dumped the carcinogenic wastewater into the soil.
Federal safety standards set the limit of benzene at five parts per billion. According to lab tests obtained in a Target 3 investigation, the benzene found in eight Nicor Gas wells exceeded federal safety standards for three consecutive months. One test conducted in February of 2019 detected 26,000 parts of benzene per billion, an astounding 5,200 times higher than legally allowed.
In an emailed statement, the company said it discovered benzene during regular monthly testing and reported it immediately the state’s environmental regulators.
“Nicor Gas and the IEPA have been unable to identify the source of the benzene,” spokeswoman Jennifer Golz wrote on Wednesday. “Benzene is not a chemical that we use in our processes.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, benzene “is a natural part of crude oil, gasoline,” and is a widely produced industrial chemical often associated with underground storage sites.
Gas companies like Nicor, a subsidiary of Southern Company Gas, routinely pipe fracked gas in from out of state before storing it deep underground in naturally occurring aquifers. Industry experts say the chemical liquids used in hydraulic fracturing are often kept secret as proprietary information, but several health studies and news reports have documented widespread use of benzene in fracking fluids
Go read the whole thing. Crazy.
*** UPDATE *** Nicor…
I saw your mention of the WCIA article about Nicor Gas, and I wanted to let you and your readers know that this downstate television station did not attempt to factcheck its reporting, nor has made the factual corrections Nicor Gas has requested. Therefore, I am reaching out to you directly to ensure you know that all Nicor Gas storage facilities are safe and in compliance with local, state and federal environmental standards and guidelines.
WCIA is presenting factually inaccurate information about the operation of our storage facilities in a misleading and irresponsible manner that alarms those in our state who rely on Nicor Gas to keep their families safe, homes warm and businesses running.
There are several inaccuracies in the WCIA report including assertions that Nicor Gas “dumped” contaminated water without regard. All produced water was discharged legally in seepage fields permitted by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for more than 20 years. The presence of benzene was not identified in any of the company’s routine monitoring and analytical tests until 2018. Nicor Gas was first to detect the benzene, and we immediately reported this to the IEPA and implemented proactive corrective actions to stop benzene discharge, including disposal of the produced water in appropriate and permitted disposal facilities.
It’s important to note, as we have also shared with WCIA, that benzene is not used by Nicor or in natural gas operations. Its presence is not an effect of our work or processes.
The source of the benzene is still unknown. However, as soon as it was identified, Nicor Gas immediately shut in the extraction well where benzene was detected despite the challenges it would present to operations and distributing natural gas to our customers during the winter heating season. These events were happening during the same time as last year’s Polar Vortex. Without the added capacity of our underground storage, more than 700,000 customers would have been without heat during the dangerously cold temperatures.
If you’d like to learn more about how our storage ensures we are able to safely and reliability meet the energy needs of Illinoisans, I encourage you to visit https://www.nicorgas.com/storage.
Thank you for your time and consideration to help set the record straight.
Manager, PR & Media Relations