Quantitative Survey and Structural Classification of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals Reported in Unconventional Gas Production by Elsner M and Hoelzer K, Environ Sci Technol. 2016 Apr 5;50(7):3290-314. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.5b02818. Epub 2016 Mar 9.
Much interest is directed at the chemical structure of hydraulic fracturing (HF) additives in unconventional gas exploitation. To bridge the gap between existing alphabetical disclosures by function/CAS number and emerging scientific contributions on fate and toxicity, we review the structural properties which motivate HF applications, and which determine environmental fate and toxicity. Our quantitative overview relied on voluntary U.S. disclosures evaluated from the FracFocus registry by different sources and on a House of Representatives (“Waxman”) list. Out of over 1000 reported substances, classification by chemistry yielded succinct subsets able to illustrate the rationale of their use, and physicochemical properties relevant for environmental fate, toxicity and chemical analysis. While many substances were nontoxic, frequent disclosures also included notorious groundwater contaminants like petroleum hydrocarbons (solvents), precursors of endocrine disruptors like nonylphenols (nonemulsifiers), toxic propargyl alcohol (corrosion inhibitor), tetramethylammonium (clay stabilizer), biocides or strong oxidants. Application of highly oxidizing chemicals, together with occasional disclosures of putative delayed acids and complexing agents (i.e., compounds designed to react in the subsurface) suggests that relevant transformation products may be formed. To adequately investigate such reactions, available information is not sufficient, but instead a full disclosure of HF additives is necessary. [Multinational corporations won’t ever let that happen – full chemical disclosure would let citizens properly test their water wells and prove that companies are causing the contamination, not nature or citizens.]
In W. Virginia, frack wastewater may be messing with hormones By Brian Bienkowski, April 5, 2016, Environmental Health News
Waste leaching from frack disposal wells are the likely source of a spike in endocrine-disrupting compounds in downstream waterway—a troubling sign given the roughly 36,000 disposal sites across the U.S.
Researchers found high levels of endocrine disruption activity in the water near or downstream from the wastewater site in Fayetteville, West Virginia. The study, published today in the journal Science of the Total Environment, adds to evidence that some chemicals in hydraulic fracturing waste are hormone-mimickers or blockers and are leaching out of wastewater disposal wells and into nearby water, potentially impacting fish and human health.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process that uses…high volume fluid injections to release oil and gas. Along with water, the injections contain sand and a mix of chemicals—some of which have been linked to cancer, hormone impacts, and reproductive problems. It’s estimated that every well produces more than one million gallons of wastewater, which is eventually pumped into disposal wells.
There are an estimated 36,000 fracking disposal sites in the U.S. and little testing has been done on nearby surface water, said lead author Christopher Kassotis, a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University.
Kassotis and other university and federal researchers collected water upstream, downstream and around a wastewater facility that has a disposal well, holding ponds and storage tanks—all used to house excess wastewater from drilling. There is a small stream flowing through the site, which flows into Wolf Creek. Wolf Creek flows into the New River, which is used for some people’s drinking water.
Samples near the site and downstream had “considerably higher” activity for a number of hormones, including estrogen, androgen and thyroid receptors, than reference samples in the watershed far from any disposal sites.
“What’s really interesting is that they sampled from different sites that are in different places in watershed,” said Andrea Gore, a professor of pharmacology at The University of Texas at Austin who was not involved in the study. “It clearly shows substantial difference in endocrine activity looking upstream and downstream.”
The activity is worrisome for local fish—such contamination seems to affect the reproductive development of some fish species, which can lead to threatened populations. In recent years researchers are finding more “intersex” fish—male fish with some female reproductive parts—and believe the culprit is endocrine-disrupting chemicals in water.
“Sometimes we forget fish are a really important part of the ecosystem,” Gore said.
Properly functioning hormones are crucial throughout people’s entire lives, Gore said. “During development all parts of the body are going through rapid change. Most of these changes are orchestrated or at least influenced by these hormones,” Gore said. “These changes, even at really low levels, have impacts on biological development.”
And adults need normal endocrine function too, she added. “Too much or too little of any hormone, you get sick.”
Industry representatives pushed back, saying that the concentrations of compounds found do not warrant health concerns. [Do industry reps ever say anything that might affect their profit-taking?]
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals “are found in just about everything we use on a day to day basis, including dyes, perfumes, plastics, personal care products, detergents and cleaning agents,” said Seth Whitehead, a researcher at [a propaganda] program launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America called Energy In Depth, in an emailed response.
“Concentration level is far more relevant than merely detecting EDCs,” he added.
Susan Nagel, senior author of the study and an associate professor at the University of Missouri, said the levels found were within the range or higher than the level known to impact the health of aquatic organisms.
“In many cases, even with considerable dilution, levels of endocrine-disrupting contaminants would still be capable of disrupting the development of fish, amphibians, and other aquatic organisms,” the authors wrote.
While single fracking wells use about 50 chemicals, about 1,000 different chemicals are used by the industry, according to previous research. An estimated 100 of these chemicals are known endocrine disruptors.
While some known endocrine-disrupting compounds were identified in the current study, it’s unclear which of these chemicals were responsible for the endocrine activity in West Virginia.
Also the authors point out that the injection well studied may accept wastewater from other industries, which could also contain endocrine-disrupting compounds.
The findings aren’t the first time frack waste has been linked to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
Nagel and colleagues previously reported that water near Colorado fracking drill sites had much higher endocrine-disrupting activity than other nearby water. [Emphasis added]
Oil and Gas Wastewater Disposal May Increase Endocrine Disrupting Activity in Surface Water and Harm West Virginia Waterways Press Release by Jeff Sossamon, April 6, 2016, University of Missouri College of Arts and Science
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) operations combine directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to release natural gas and oil from underground rock. Recent studies have centered on potential water pollution from this process that may increase endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in surface and ground water and whether populations living near these operations have an increased risk of disease. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri (MU) report high levels of EDC activity in the surface water near a hydraulic fracturing wastewater disposal facility in West Virginia. Scientists warn that this level of activity may be associated with negative health effects in aquatic organisms, other animals and humans.
“Surface water samples collected on the disposal facility site and immediately downstream exhibited considerably greater EDC activity than surface water samples collected immediately upstream and in a nearby reference stream” said Susan C. Nagel, director of the study and an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health in the School of Medicine, and an adjunct associate professor of biological sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science. “The level of EDC activity was within the range or higher than the level known to impact the health of aquatic organisms.”
Dozens of chemicals may be used in fracturing at one site and approximately 1,000 different chemicals are reportedly used across the industry; more than 100 of these chemicals are known as or suspected to be EDCs. Large volumes of wastewater are produced in the process of fracking. Fracking wastewater is laden with chemicals used to drill and frack the well and may also contain radioactive compounds and heavy metals released from deep underground.
Disposal wells, like the one in the current study, are used only to dispose of fluids associated with oil and natural gas production, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“Approximately 36,000 of these disposal wells are currently in operation across the U.S., and little work has been done to evaluate their potential impacts on nearby surface water,” said Christopher Kassotis, a former graduate student in Nagel’s laboratory and a current postdoctoral fellow at Duke University. “Given the large number of disposal wells in the U.S., it is critical for further investigation into the potential human and environmental health impacts.”
“Endocrine Disrupting Activity in Surface Water Associated with a West Virginia Oil and Gas Industry Wastewater Injection Disposal Site” will be published online in Science of the Total Environment. Research was part of a larger collaboration with Denise Akob, a geomicrobiologist at the U.S. Geological Survey who also directed the study.
High Levels of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Found Near Fracking Wastewater Site by Lorraine Chow, April 6, 2016, Ecowatch
A new study from the University of Missouri (MU) has reported high levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the surface water near a fracking wastewater disposal facility in West Virginia, raising concerns if similar cases are occurring nationwide given the country’s 36,000 fracking disposal sites.
The report, Endocrine Disrupting Activity in Surface Water Associated with a West Virginia Oil and Gas Industry Wastewater Injection Disposal Site, was published today in the peer-reviewed journal Science of the Total Environment.
BuzzFeed News reported from the study:
The contamination near Fayetteville, West Virginia, flows from a brook called Wolf Creek a few miles upstream of a drinking water treatment facility for 11,300 people. The disposal site, which includes a deep waste well, several holding ponds, and storage tanks, sits on a hillside above the creek, and has been the site of a fight over its permit, revoked in 2014 and then renewed by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in August.
“I wouldn’t drink out of Wolf Creek,” University of Missouri toxicologist Susan Nagel, a study author, told BuzzFeed News. It’s unclear whether the contamination has reached residents’ drinking water, but that should be tested, Nagel said.
EDCs are associated with many health risks such as altered reproductive function in males and females, breast cancer, abnormal growth patterns and neurodevelopmental delays in children, as well as changes in immune function.
The study reported that surface water samples collected on the disposal facility site and immediately downstream exhibited considerably greater EDC activity than surface water samples collected immediately upstream and in a nearby reference stream.
“We do not know the exact pathway/source of the contamination,” Nagel explained to EcoWatch.
“It is likely that aquatic life downstream of this facility are swimming in oil and gas chemicals and at levels high enough to disrupt the endocrine system.”
Fracking fluids are already known to contain a toxic slew of hazardous chemicals, but oil and gas companies are not required to disclose exactly what they are.
Nagel told EcoWatch that it is important to note that under ideal fracking and wastewater disposal operations, many potential impacts on surface water would not occur.
“Whether chemicals reach surface water through surface spills, the former impoundment ponds, or surface/ground water mixing at this site, is unknown,” she said. “Now that we have identified impacts to the local environment due to activities at the site, further work is needed to assess the specific routes of contaminant movement from these operations into the stream.”
According to a press release of the study, dozens of chemicals may be used to frack a single site and approximately 1,000 more are reportedly used nationwide. Not only that, more than 100 of these chemicals are known as or suspected to be EDCs.
The large volumes of wastewater produced during the fracking is laden with chemicals and may also contain radioactive compounds and heavy metals released from deep underground, the press release noted.
“Our study only assessed the surface water impacts from a single injection disposal well facility,” Christopher Kassotis, a former graduate student in Nagel’s laboratory and a current postdoctoral fellow at Duke University, said in a statement to EcoWatch. “While there are more than 30,000 of these wells operating across the U.S., we have not yet assessed any other facilities. The work presented herein suggest that this could be an issue at other similar operations, but further study is needed to determine whether that is the case.”
The scientists warn that in addition to humans, this level of EDCs may also be associated with negative health effects in aquatic organisms and other animals.
In a prior study published in Endocrinology last year, prenatal exposure to fracking fluids at levels found in the environment lowered sperm counts in male mice when they reached adulthood.
“This study is the first to demonstrate that EDCs commonly used in fracking, at levels realistic for human and animal exposure in these regions, can have an adverse effect on the reproductive health of mice,” Nagel, who was also the senior author of this study said, according to Endocrine News. “In addition to reduced sperm counts, the male mice exposed to the mixture of chemicals had elevated levels of testosterone in their blood and larger testicles. These findings may have implications for the fertility of men living in regions with dense oil and/or natural gas production.”
As for the big picture, the country’s fracking boom only means a growing number of disposal wells. … Disposal of oil and gas wastewater into underground disposal wells have also been linked to an increase seismic activity, especially in frack-happy Oklahoma.
“The major take-homes are that oil and gas injection well operations may be another source for contamination of surface water with EDCs used in oil and gas production,” Nagel explained to EcoWatch. “We hope that this drives additional research in this area to clearly define how oil and gas wastewater disposal impacts surface and ground water.” [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to:
2015: MUST (LONG) READ! Special Issue of Journal Environmental Science and Health, Part A: Toxic/Hazardous Substances and Environmental Engineering: Facing the Challenges – Research on Shale Gas Extraction
2013: Hormone-disrupting chemicals found in ground and surface water at fracking sites, Peer reviewed study of fracking sites in Garfield County Colorado finds chemicals linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer ]