What chemicals are they using to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing? A new study carried out by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) showed that most people in California have no idea. Because fracking companies aren't disclosing the chemicals to the public, and poor regulations fail to track which chemicals are being used, it is becoming even more difficult to uncover the potential contamination fracking is causing. This is a cause for alarm for Californians as wastewater from fracking is frequently repurposed for agricultural use in California’s ongoing drought.

For the study, the CCST suggested that state agencies ban repurposing fracking wastewater in any capacity, because as of now, the impacts on human health, wildlife, the environment, and vegetation is relatively unknown. “These are things that require diligence,” Jane Long of CCST told ThinkProgress. “There are a lot of potential issues.”

The process of fracking involves a mix of water and chemicals that are injected at high pressures into shale and rock deposits to help release oil and gas stored within them. When the fracking process is over, the wastewater, laden with these chemicals, needs to be disposed of. Determining what to do with this water has been an ongoing topic of debate. The CCST reports that information about the toxicity of over half the chemicals isn't available to the public, and that many of these chemicals have not undergone basic testing to better understand all their possible risks.

As to whether or not fracking has contaminated water within California, information is currently scarce. To date, only one study on the effects of fracking on water supplies has been completed near a fracking site in Los Angeles County. The results of other studies across the country have been inconclusive as well; in fact, the EPA released a mixed statement in June saying that contamination does happen but only in rare cases when compared to the breadth of the industry. The few studies that have been conducted, though, may prove irrelevant in the long run because of our lack of knowledge about the chemicals that are being used — scientists might not even be testing the right chemicals.

“Notably, most groundwater sampling studies do not even measure the stimulation chemicals, partly because their full chemical composition and reaction products were unknown prior to this study,” the report explained.

With a lack of information regarding these chemicals, it could also mean that when wastewater is treated, it isn't being treated for all potentially hazardous chemicals. So now, when water is repurposed, it may still contain toxic elements.

ThinkProgress reported that it is becoming common in California for oil and gas companies, like Chevron, to sell treated fracking water to farms in need of water supplies. The few tests that have been conducted on fracking wastewater used for irrigating farms has found high levels of acetone and methylene chloride, chemicals known to be toxic to humans. The tests also detected oil within the wastewater, which is supposed to be removed during the treatment process.

What’s more, the three ways that wastewater can be disposed of are not adequately monitored. Fracking companies are given the options of putting water into open pits to allow it to seep back into the ground, injecting it into wells below the ground, or repurposing it into the aforementioned industrial or agricultural settings. All of these options have the potential to contaminate drinking water in the face of California’s current, lax monitoring process.

“There is no ideal way to dispose of it,” says Long. “But it’s also a resource — or potentially a resource.”

Desperate times with severe water shortages mean that all available water must be used. But if we don’t know what chemicals remain in the water, how can we safely repurpose this waning resource? Lack of regulation seems to pose the biggest problem when it comes to wastewater potentially contaminating the water supply. But imposing stricter regulations may prove a moot point, because the study reveals that even with fracking regulations in place, they are not being enforced.

California's government is making some effort to regulate what happens to fracking chemicals, but its efforts are doing little to prevent contamination. The CCST report was, in fact, ordered by the state government in Senate Bill 4 to uncover the chemicals within wastewater, while also imposing a new set of regulations on the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). The study was intended to come out before the regulations were implemented in order to make them more comprehensive. But with the study getting delayed, the regulations were passed without necessary information. Many believe these new regulations do little to stop chemical contamination.

“It’s really evident that those regulations are deficient,” Clare Lakewood, a staff attorney from the Center for Biological Diversity, told ThinkProgress. “The report is quite clear in the risk to health and safety and the environment.”

Right now, the impending threat of contaminated wastewater is alarming. ThinkProgress claims that 1.7 million people live within a mile of a fracking site, and that two-thirds of all fracking operations take place in shallow wells underground, making groundwater extremely susceptible to contamination. What’s more, 2.6 billion gallons of freshwater are utilized for the purpose of fracking each year — during a time when California needs every drop it can get.

Source: CCST Project Report. Well Stimulation in California. 2015.