What is the latest science on fracking and hormone disruption ?

Fracking and Health: Ask an Expert, with Dr. Susan Nagel, 2018

Dr. Susan Nagel is Associate Professor and Director of the Research Success Center in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at the University of Missouri.

Dr. Susan Nagel discusses the science on health effects from prenatal exposure to fracking chemicals in animal models and human proximity studies and suggests building upon current research through collaboration with impacted communities.

  • Oil & Gas Program, Fracking and Health: Ask an Expert Podcasts.

How can biomonitoring be used by communities impacted by fracking ?

Fracking and Health: Ask an Expert, with Dr. Elyse Caron-Beaudoin, 2018

Dr. Elyse Caron-Beaudoin, postdoctoral fellow in the University of Montreal School of Public Health gives practical tips for designing research studies to measure chemicals in the bodies of people living near fracking.

Dr. Elyse Caron-Beaudoin also discusses how biomonitoring data can support efforts to protect public health.

Abstract

Background
Northeastern British Columbia (Canada) is an area of intense hydraulic fracturing for unconventional natural gas exploitation. There have been multiple reports of air and water contamination by volatile organic compounds in the vicinity of gas wells. Although these chemicals are known developmental toxicants, no biomonitoring effort has been carried out in the region.

Objective
To evaluate gestational exposure to benzene and toluene in the Peace River Valley, Northeastern British Columbia (Canada).

Methods
Urine samples were collected over five consecutive days from 29 pregnant women. Metabolites of benzene (s-phenylmercapturic acid (S-PMA) and trans, trans-muconic acid (t,t-MA)) and toluene (s-benzylmercapturic acid (S-BMA)) were measured in pooled urine samples from each participant. Levels of benzene metabolites were compared to those from the general Canadian population and from a biomonitoring study of residents from an area of active gas exploitation in Pavillion, Wyoming (USA). Levels measured in participants from the two recruitment sites, and self-identifying as Indigenous or non-Indigenous, were also compared.

Results
Whereas the median S-PMA level (0.18 μg/g creatinine) in our study was similar to that in the general Canadian population, the median t,t-MA level (180 μg/g creatinine) was approximately 3.5 times higher. Five women had t,t-MA levels above the biological exposure index® proposed by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. The median urinary S-BMA level in our pilot study was 7.00 μg/g creatinine. Urinary metabolite levels were slightly higher in self-identifying Indigenous women, but this difference was only statistically significant for S-PMA.

Discussion
Urinary t,t-MA levels, but not S-PMA levels, measured in our study are suggestive of a higher benzene exposure in participating pregnant women from the Peace River Valley than in the general Canadian population. Given the small sample size and limitations of t,t-MA measurements (e.g., non-specificity), more extensive monitoring is warranted.

Fracking chemicals entering the food chain

Accumulation of Marcellus Formation Oil and Gas Wastewater Metals in Freshwater Mussel Shells

Radioactive fracking chemicals dumped in the Allegheny River a decade ago are still showing up in mussels, Environmental Health News
reports. Chemicals from fracking wastewater dumped into Pennsylvania’s Allegheny River before 2011 are still accumulating in the bodies of freshwater mussels downstream, according to a new study.

Abstract

For several decades, high-salinity water brought to the surface during oil and gas (O&G) production has been treated and discharged to waterways under National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.

In Pennsylvania, USA, a portion of the treated O&G wastewater discharged to streams from 2008 to 2011 originated from unconventional (Marcellus) wells.

We collected freshwater mussels, Elliptio dilatata and Elliptio complanata, both upstream and downstream of a NPDES-permitted facility, and for comparison, we also collected mussels from the Juniata and Delaware Rivers that have no reported O&G discharge.

We observed changes in both the Sr/Cashell and 87Sr/86Srshell in shell samples collected downstream of the facility that corresponded to the time period of greatest Marcellus wastewater disposal (2009–2011). Importantly, the changes in Sr/Cashell and 87Sr/86Srshell shifted toward values characteristic of O&G wastewater produced from the Marcellus Formation. Conversely, shells collected upstream of the discharge and from waterways without treatment facilities showed lower variability and no trend in either Sr/Cashell or 87Sr/86Srshell with time (2008–2015).

These findings suggest that

  1. freshwater mussels may be used to monitor changes in water chemistry through time and help identify specific pollutant sources
  2. and O&G contaminants likely bioaccumulated in areas of surface water disposal.

How (living) close to a fracking site is too close (to residents for safety) ?

Setback distances for unconventional oil and gas development: Delphi study results

Regulations on how close fracking facilities can be to buildings and homes in Pennsylvania are too lax to adequately protect public health, according to a new study.

To protect public health, a panel of experts recommends more than doubling the required distance between frack wells and homes, Environmental Health News reports, Aug 23, 2018.

Abstract

Emerging evidence indicates that proximity to unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD) is associated with health outcomes. There is intense debate about “How close is too close?” for maintaining public health and safety.

The goal of this Delphi study was to elicit expert consensus on appropriate setback distances for UOGD from human activity.

Three rounds were used to identify and seek consensus on recommended setback distances. The 18 panelists were health care providers, public health practitioners, environmental advocates, and researchers/scientists. Consensus was defined as agreement of ≥70% of panelists.

  1. Content analysis of responses to Round 1 questions revealed four categories:
    1. recommend setback distances;
    2. do not recommend setback distances;
    3. recommend additional setback distances for vulnerable populations;
    4. do not recommend additional setback distances for vulnerable populations.
  2. In Round 2, panelists indicated their level of agreement with the statements in each category using a five-point Likert scale.
  3. Based on emerging consensus, statements within each category were collapsed into seven statements for Round 3:
    • recommend set back distances of <¼ mile;
    • ¼—½ mile;
    • 1–1 ¼ mile;
    • and ≥ 2 mile;
    • not feasible to recommend setback distances;
    • recommend additional setbacks for vulnerable groups;
    • not feasible to recommend additional setbacks for vulnerable groups.

The panel reached consensus that setbacks of < ¼ mile should not be recommended and additional setbacks for vulnerable populations should be recommended. The panel did not reach consensus on recommendations for setbacks between ¼ and 2 miles.

The results suggest that if setbacks are used the distances should be greater than ¼ of a mile from human activity, and that additional setbacks should be used for settings where vulnerable groups are found, including schools, daycare centers, and hospitals. The lack of consensus on setback distances between 1/4 and 2 miles reflects the limited health and exposure studies and need to better define exposures and track health.

Water Use for Fracking has Risen by Up to 770 Percent Since 2011

Hydraulic fracturing industry water use rises as drills extend, study says

DURHAM, N.C. The amount of water used per well for hydraulic fracturing surged by up to 770 percent between 2011 and 2016 in all major U.S. shale gas and oil production regions, a new Duke University study finds, Nicholas School of the Environment reports.

The volume of brine-laden wastewater that fracked oil and gas wells generated during their first year of production also increased by up to 1440 percent during the same period, the study shows.

If this rapid intensification continues, fracking’s water footprint could grow by up to 50-fold in some regions by the year 2030 — raising concerns about its sustainability, particularly in arid or semi-arid regions in western states, or other areas where groundwater supplies are stressed or limited.

“Previous studies suggested hydraulic fracturing does not use significantly more water than other energy sources, but those findings were based only on aggregated data from the early years of fracking,”

said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

“After more than a decade of fracking operation, we now have more years of data to draw upon from multiple verifiable sources. We clearly see a steady annual increase in hydraulic fracturing’s water footprint, with 2014 and 2015 marking a turning point where water use and the generation of flowback and produced water began to increase at significantly higher rates,”

Vengosh said.

“While the extraction of shale gas and tight oil has become more efficient over time as the net production of natural gas and oil from these unconventional wells has increased, the amount of water used for hydraulic fracturing and the volume of wastewater produced from each well have increased at much higher rates, making fracking’s water footprint much higher,”

he added.

The Duke team published its peer-reviewed findings August 15 in Science Advances.

To conduct the study, they collected and analyzed six years of data on water use and natural gas, oil and wastewater production from industry, government and non-profit sources for more than 12,000 individual wells located in all major U.S. shale gas and tight oil producing regions. Then they used these historical data to model future water use and first-year wastewater volumes under two different scenarios.

The models showed that if current low oil and gas prices rise and production again reaches levels seen during fracking’s heyday in the early 2010s, cumulative water use and wastewater volumes could surge by up to 50-fold in unconventional gas-producing regions by 2030, and by up to 20-fold in unconventional oil-producing regions.

“Even if prices and drilling rates remain at current levels, our models still predict a large increase by 2030 in both water use and wastewater production,”

said Andrew J. Kondash, a PhD student in Vengosh’s lab who was lead author of the paper.

A well’s wastewater is comprised chiefly of brines extracted with the gas and oil from deep underground, blended with some of the water initially injected into the well during hydraulic fracturing. These brines are typically salty and may contain toxic and naturally occurring radioactive elements, making them difficult to treat and dispose of safely. To keep up with the growing volume of wastewater now being generated, drilling companies increasingly are injecting it back deep underground into wastewater wells. This practice helps keep the wastewater out of local water supplies but has been linked to small- to medium-sized earthquakes in some locations.

“New drilling technologies and production strategies have spurred exponential growth in unconventional oil and gas production in the United States and, increasingly, in other parts of the world,”

Kondash said.

“This study provides the most accurate baseline yet for assessing the long-term environmental impacts this growth may have, particularly on local water availability and wastewater management.”

Funding came from the National Science Foundation.

Sources

Stress and depression higher among people living near fracking sites

Associations of unconventional natural gas development with depression symptoms and disordered sleep in Pennsylvania

People who live near unconventional natural gas operations such as fracking are more likely to experience depression, Environmental Health News reports.
Featured image credit frackfreeryedale.org.

Abstract

Environmental and community factors may influence the development or course of depression and sleep problems.

In this study, we evaluated the association of unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) with depression symptoms and disordered sleep diagnoses using the Patient Health Questionnaire-8 and electronic health record data among Geisinger adult primary care patients in Pennsylvania.
Participants received a retrospective metric for UNGD at their residence (very low, low, medium, and high) that incorporated dates and durations of well development, distance from patient homes to wells, and well characteristics.

Analyses included 4,762 participants with no (62%), mild (23%), moderate (10%), and moderately severe or severe (5%) depression symptoms in 2014–2015 and 3,868 disordered sleep diagnoses between 2009–2015. We observed associations between living closer to more and bigger wells and depression symptoms, but not disordered sleep diagnoses in models weighted to account for sampling design and participation.

High UNGD (vs. very low) was associated with depression symptoms in an adjusted negative binomial model (exponentiated coefficient = 1.18, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.04–1.34). High and low UNGD (vs. very low) were associated with depression symptoms (vs. none) in an adjusted multinomial logistic model.

Our findings suggest that UNGD may be associated with adverse mental health in Pennsylvania.

Fracking, gas drilling, and risks of (further) earthquakes

Induced Earthquakes from Long-Term Gas Extraction in Groningen, the Netherlands : Statistical Analysis and Prognosis for Acceptable-Risk Regulation

A recent overview and analysis shows that increasing amounts of gas drilling at Groningen, the largest gas field in Europe, led to a dramatic rise in regional earthquakes between 2001 and 2013. After a reduction in extraction was introduced by the Dutch Government, earthquake numbers started to fall. Statistical analysis reveals that if high extraction rates were resumed, about 35 earthquakes, with a magnitude (M) of over 1.5 on the Richter scale, might occur annually from the year 2021 onwards, including four with a damaging magnitude of over 2.5.

“Even if extraction was limited to the 2017 rate set by the government (21.6 billion cubic metres – bcm), the annual number of earthquakes would gradually increase again, with an expected all-time maximum M of 4.5, a serious event capable of shaking walls and chimneys, creating considerable damage and posing safety risks to the public.”

Science for Environment Policy explains, 19 July 2018.

2018 Study Abstract

Recently, growing earthquake activity in the northeastern Netherlands has aroused considerable concern among the 600,000 provincial inhabitants. There, at 3 km deep, the rich Groningen gas field extends over 900 km2 and still contains about 600 of the original 2,800 billion cubic meters (bcm).

Particularly after 2001, earthquakes have increased in number, magnitude (M, on the logarithmic Richter scale), and damage to numerous buildings. The man-made nature of extraction-induced earthquakes challenges static notions of risk, complicates formal risk assessment, and questions familiar conceptions of acceptable risk.

Here, a 26-year set of 294 earthquakes with M ≥ 1.5 is statistically analyzed in relation to increasing cumulative gas extraction since 1963. Extrapolations from a fast-rising trend over 2001-2013 indicate that-under “business as usual”-around 2021 some 35 earthquakes with M ≥ 1.5 might occur annually, including four with M ≥ 2.5 (ten-fold stronger), and one with M ≥ 3.5 every 2.5 years. Given this uneasy prospect, annual gas extraction has been reduced from 54 bcm in 2013 to 24 bcm in 2017. This has significantly reduced earthquake activity, so far.

However, when extraction is stabilized at 24 bcm per year for 2017-2021 (or 21.6 bcm, as judicially established in Nov. 2017), the annual number of earthquakes would gradually increase again, with an expected all-time maximum M ≈ 4.5. Further safety management may best follow distinct stages of seismic risk generation, with moderation of gas extraction and massive (but late and slow) building reinforcement as outstanding strategies.

Officially, “acceptable risk” is mainly approached by quantification of risk (e.g., of fatal building collapse) for testing against national safety standards, but actual (local) risk estimation remains problematic. Additionally important are societal cost-benefit analysis, equity considerations, and precautionary restraint. Socially and psychologically, deliberate attempts are made to improve risk communication, reduce public anxiety, and restore people’s confidence in responsible experts and policymakers.

More evidence of the psychological stress experienced in individuals living near fracking and related operations

Association between Oklahoma earthquakes and anxiety-related Google search episodes

Casey’s research mostly looks at the health implications of fracking, which was what led her to Oklahoma, she said. In the state, wastewater from fracking, as well as oil production, is being re-injected into the land, which environmental researchers now believe cause earthquakes.

2018 Study

Background
Oklahoma has experienced a rise in seismicity since 2010, with many earthquakes induced by wastewater injection. While large single earthquakes have documented mental health repercussions, health implications of these new, frequent earthquakes remain unknown. We aimed to examine associations between Oklahoma earthquakes and statewide anxiety measured by Google queries.

Methods
The U.S. Geologic Survey’s Advanced National Seismic System Comprehensive Catalog supplied earthquake dates and magnitudes. We used the Google Health application programming interface to compile the proportion of weekly Oklahoma-based health-related search episodes for anxiety. A quasi-experimental time-series analysis from January 2010 to May 2017 evaluated monthly counts of earthquakes ≥ magnitude 4 (a level felt by most people) in relation to anxiety, controlling for US-wide anxiety search episodes and Oklahoma-specific health-related queries.

Results
Oklahoma experienced an average of two (SD = 2) earthquakes ≥ magnitude 4 per month during the study period. For each additional earthquake ≥ magnitude 4, the proportion of Google search episodes for anxiety increased by 1.3% (95% confidence interval = 0.1%, 2.4%); 60% of this increase persisted for the following month. In months with 2 or more ≥ magnitude 4 earthquakes, the proportion of Google search episodes focused on anxiety increased by 5.8% (95% confidence interval = 2.3%, 9.3%). In a sub-analysis, Google search episodes for anxiety peaked about 3 weeks after ≥ magnitude 4 quakes.

Conclusions
These findings suggest that the recent increase in Oklahoma earthquakes has elicited a psychological response that may have implications for public health and regulatory policy.

Reference.

Link between fracking chemicals and immune system problems

Developmental Exposure to a Mixture of 23 Chemicals Associated With Unconventional Oil and Gas Operations Alters the Immune System of Mice

Chemicals commonly found in groundwater near fracked oil and gas wells appear to impair the proper functioning of the immune system, Environmental Health News reports.

The new study suggests that baby girls born to mothers near fracking wells may not fight diseases later in life as well as they could have with a pollution-free pregnancy.

2018 Study Abstract

Chemicals used in unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations have the potential to cause adverse biological effects, but this has not been thoroughly evaluated. A notable knowledge gap is their impact on development and function of the immune system.

Herein, we report an investigation of whether developmental exposure to a mixture of chemicals associated with UOG operations affects the development and function of the immune system. We used a previously characterized mixture of 23 chemicals associated with UOG, and which was demonstrated to affect reproductive and developmental endpoints in mice. C57Bl/6 mice were maintained throughout pregnancy and during lactation on water containing two concentrations of this 23-chemical mixture, and the immune system of male and female adult offspring was assessed. We comprehensively examined the cellularity of primary and secondary immune organs, and used three different disease models to probe potential immune effects: house dust mite-induced allergic airway disease, influenza A virus infection, and experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). In all three disease models, developmental exposure altered frequencies of certain T cell sub-populations in female, but not male, offspring. Additionally, in the EAE model disease onset occurred earlier and was more severe in females.

Our findings indicate that developmental exposure to this mixture had persistent immunological effects that differed by sex, and exacerbated responses in an experimental model of autoimmune encephalitis. These observations suggest that developmental exposure to complex mixtures of water contaminants, such as those derived from UOG operations, could contribute to immune dysregulation and disease later in life.

How Fracking is Contaminating our Air and Water, and Imperiling the Health of Millions

2018 Fracking Report details Increased Risks of Asthma, Birth Defects and Cancer

The 2018 edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking updates the rapidly expanding evidence indicating harm to health from fracking and methane infrastructure.

The most authoritative study of its kind reveals how hydraulic fracturing is contaminating the air and water – and imperiling the health of millions.

Conclusion

All together, findings to date from scientific, medical, and journalistic investigations combine to demonstrate that fracking poses significant threats to air, water, health, public safety, climate stability, seismic stability, community cohesion, and long-term economic vitality. Emerging data from a rapidly expanding body of evidence continue to reveal a plethora of recurring problems and harms that cannot be sufficiently averted through regulatory frameworks. There is no evidence that fracking can operate without threatening public health directly or without imperiling climate stability upon which public health depends. In the words of investigative journalist Andrew Nikiforuk:

Industry swore that its cracking rock technology was safe and proven, but science now tells a different story. Brute force combined with ignorance … has authored thousands of earthquakes … [and] called forth clouds of migrating methane…. The science is complicated but clear: cracking rock with fluids is a chaotic activity and no computer model can predict where those fractures will go. The regulatory record shows that they often go out of zone; extend into water; and rattle existing oil and gas wells, and these rattled wells are leaking more methane.

We close with an observation by Maryland physician Judy Stone, MD, whose recent essay in Forbes speaks for all who have contributed to this Compendium:

Fracking profits go to private industry but the public — families and communities — bear the costs of the many health complications from the drilling.

There is growing evidence of a variety of health problems being associated with fracking.
Common sense dictates that drinking and breathing cancer-causing agents will take their toll. The correlation is too strong to ignore, especially when we have other, cleaner energy options. For our safety and that of future generations, we should not allow the new administration to sell off public lands, nor allow drilling on our land, and should ban fracking completely.

Sources

  • ‘The Harms of Fracking’: New Report Details Increased Risks of Asthma, Birth Defects and Cancer, rollingstone, 2018/03/13.
  • Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction), psr, March 2018.
  • Fracking industry site near Greers Ferry Lake in Quitman, Arkansas in the Fayetteville Shale region featured image credit © Julie Dermansky.