Another study takes careless aim at fracking
A study conducted by the University of Missouri of a handful of drilling sites in Garfield County — reported in The Daily Sentinel on Thursday — is drawing understandable fire from the energy industry.
The study is one more in a list of projects investigating the practices of hydraulic fracturing in which the claims aren’t fully substantiated by the facts.
A press release for the study says that fracking “uses many chemicals that can disrupt the body’s hormones.” It adds, “with fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure.”
However, the study, which took surface and groundwater samples near five sites in Garfield County where drilling-related spills had occurred sometime in the past few years, doesn’t demonstrate conclusively that fracking caused the chemical problems it claims to have found.
The press release said there were moderate to high levels of endocrine-disrupting chemical activity in water from the sites tested, and moderate levels in the Colorado River in that part of Garfield County. There was less such activity at sites not near drilling activity, it said.
One problem is, the study didn’t identify where the chemicals came from. And since these sorts of chemicals are present in nature and in many man-made materials — including pesticides, herbicides, detergents, cosmetics and more — the study doesn’t prove the chemical activity is a result of fracking.
In fact, the authors of the study acknowledge as much, saying, “Both naturally occurring chemicals and synthetic chemicals from other sources could contribute to the activity observed in water samples collected in this study,” according to the pro-industry organization, Energy In Depth.
Also, there are questions about whether any chemicals used in fracking were identified in the water samples tested.
Those issues, and the small number of samples taken, raise significant red flags about statements that fracking may be disrupting human hormones and creating additional health risks.
We have argued that sound scientific examination of fracking is necessary to assess its effects on water, air and soils.
Fortunately, a broad study of those impacts is being conducted by a variety of institutions, led by the University of Colorado at Boulder. Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, it includes partners such as the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Michigan. Additionally, CSU has been conducting an ongoing study of air quality related to drilling activity in Garfield County.
These independent but thorough studies will provide a more detailed picture of facking and its impacts than studies that are much more limited in scope, and don’t account for other sources of potential contaminants.