Fracking is one of the hottest trends in the energy business right now and it’s a word that keeps environmentalists plenty busy, too. As it grows in popularity and more wells are drilled across the country, the health aspects of the process are being closely examined. More than 750 chemicals are used in the process. Many of these chemicals are toxic and some of them are called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), a class of chemical known to interfere with the body’s production and metabolism of the hormones that govern gender and reproduction.
Fracking, also known as induced hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracturing, requires injecting highly pressurized liquids into the rocky ground containing or surrounding an underground reservoir of natural gas or oil. The induced pressure flushes the hard-to-reach gas or oil into wells that bring it to the surface for collection. Traditionally, fracking was required only once in the lifetime of a well, to get the flow of oil or gas started. Now, however, as the supply of these natural fuels in being depleted, a well may be repeatedly fracked before abandonment.
The chemicals that force the fuel supply to the wells can become mixed with groundwater, underground aquifers, and in the waters of rivers and streams that supply drinking water to individual wells or houses, towns and cities. Online videos and TV news stories have shown water from a kitchen sink catching on fire when fracking sites are in the vicinity. Earthquakes are being reported near fracking sites where no earthquakes have ever been reported.
Floods and heavy rains cause the wastewater ponds at these well sites to overflow and contaminate groundwater and nearby waterways. As the demand for fracking increases, wells are encroaching on residential lands and bringing with them the threat of toxic contamination.
The January 2014 issue of the medical journal, Endocrinology, includes the results of a study exploring the link of infertility, birth defects, and cancer and the amount of fracking chemicals in a community’s water supply. Two US counties were used for the study:
- Garfield County, Colorado, home to more than 10,000 fracking gas wells.
- Boone County, Missouri, where fracking activity is sparse.
Water samples retrieved from drilling sites contained hormone-disrupting chemicals in quantities high enough to interfere with the body’s processing of testosterone and estrogen. The highest concentrations were near wells that had experienced spills. Water from the Colorado River in Garfield County, in the drain fields of these wells, contained moderate levels of the EDCs. Water samples taken in Missouri contained no measurable traces of these chemicals.
The risk of metabolic, neurological, and reproductive diseases, especially when children are exposed to these chemicals, is likely to be elevated, according to the study’s authors. Currently, there are no federal regulations protecting groundwater in the vicinity of fracking sites.
Source: Kassotis, Christopher D., et al. “Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region (abstract).” Endocrinology. Endocrine Press / The Endocrine Society. Dec 17, 2013 (press release). Web. Dec 23, 2013.