Familiar Flaws Invalidate Research Team’s Latest Attempt to Link Fracking to Health Issues
Importantly, the report’s alarmist topline finding is not based on water samples taken near fracking sites or fracking fluid itself. Instead, it’s based on the evaluation of baby mice whose mothers were continuously exposed to a concoction of 23 “fracking chemicals” at extremely high concentrations during pregnancy.
If you’re getting a sense of déjà vu here, there’s a pretty good reason — this is the fourth attempt by the University of Missouri research duo of Susan Nagel and Christopher Kassotis to use studies in which mice ingested implausible concentrations of multiple chemicals to try to link fracking to health problems.
And like their recent past attempts to link shale development to low sperm counts, ovarian follicle problems and pre-cancerous mammary gland lesions, this study’s conclusions are not only invalid based on the completely unrealistic dosage levels the mice were subjected to — the researchers have again conveniently overlooked the fact that objective third party experts agree that people aren’t being exposed to fracking fluid.
EID is cognizant of the fact that we’re probably starting to sound like a broken record in our seemingly bi-monthly debunk of this research team’s “studies.” But in the interest of continuing to hold these researchers accountable, let’s recap their repeated (and deliberate) missteps and mischaracterizations of the facts.
Dosage Levels Much Higher Than What Would Reasonably Be Expected if People Were Actually Exposed to Fracking Chemicals in the First Place
The researchers exposed pregnant mice to “an estimated 30 and 300mg/kg body weight/day” of the concoction of 23 chemicals, which they claimed are “levels commonly found near fracking sites.” From the report:
“The doses were chosen based on estimates of environmentally relevant oral exposures, such that the two concentrations are similar to levels detected in surface and groundwater in UOG production regions.”
But as EID has noted several times, the researchers have openly admitted that what is claimed in the bolded text above is inaccurate.
Kassotis admitted back in 2015 that it is “unlikely people would ever be exposed to doses quite as high” as the concentrations used in each of this team’s studies. A press release promoting the first of these studies also stated:
“Kassotis cautioned that they have not measured these chemicals in local water samples, and it is likely that the high chemical concentrations tested would not show up in drinking water near drilling.”
It is also worth noting that this research team has once again administered the 23 chemicals in an equimolar fashion — assuming all chemicals are used in equal proportions in the typical fracking fluid composition — which is by no means representative of reality.
In the real world, fracking fluid is typically 99.5 percent water and sand, while the remaining 0.5 percent is made up of additives. According to the EPA’s five-year study of fracking and groundwater, the maximum concentration of all additives was less than one percent and the median maximum fracking fluid concentration was 0.43 percent by mass.
No Evidence That People Are Being Exposed to Fracking Fluid
The Nagel-and-Kassotis research team (again) uses a litany of debunked anti-fracking research (including their own) to suggest widespread exposure to fracking fluid.
But there simply is little to no evidence that people are being exposed to fracking fluid. And you don’t have to take our word for it.
The aforementioned final EPA drinking water report not only finds that upward migration of fracking fluids from impermeable tight formations thousands of feet into water tables is highly improbable:
“…due to the very low permeabilities of shale formations; this means that hydraulic fracturing operations are unlikely to generate sufficient pressure to drive fluids into shallow drinking water zones.”
The final EPA report also states that water contamination via spills is exceedingly rare as well. The final EPA report states:
“Spill reports have not documented impacts on groundwater related to the chemical mixing stage.”
No fewer than two dozen other scientific studies echo the EPA’s conclusion that fracking is not a major threat to groundwater.
Even Michael Greenstone, co-author of the flawed study released late last year that linked fracking to low birth weight, stated in a recent University of Chicago fracking debate that there is little evidence that exposure to fracking fluids is affecting human health:
“When you read the news media, it’s ‘Oh the fluids are probably getting into the water one way or another and that’s going to just affect people in a big radius.’ It’s just not in the data.”
Daniel Raimi, a Senior Research Associate at environmental think tank Resources for the Future, also writes about this subject extensively in his recently released book “The Fracking Debate,” emphasizing the importance of context on exposure to fracking fluids to the broad debate:
“Instead of asking whether fracking chemicals cause harm in large doses, we instead should ask: are humans being exposed to fracking chemicals in quantities sufficient to cause harm? A close look suggests the answer is probably no. The main reason that health damage is unlikely is that, while some fracking chemicals can be harmful if encountered in large quantities over long periods of time, the likelihood of people who live in fracking areas coming into this type of contact is extremely small. To date, there is no research that indicates that the health of people living near oil and gas wells has been — or is likely to be — harmed by exposure to the chemicals mixed in with fracking fluid.”
To be clear, Raimi doesn’t argue there is zero risk of health issues attributable to possible exposure to fracking fluids. But the above excerpt reflects the consensus of the broader scientific community and places this issue in proper context.
Study Co-Author Has Clear Anti-Fracking Bias
The press release for this study is not-so- subtlety headlined “Fracking the immune system,” which screams “advocacy” rather than objective science. And it bears repeating that at least one of the study’s co-authors’ anti-fracking bias really couldn’t be clearer.
As EID has noted several times before, Nagel actually appealed to anti-fracking activists Josh Fox, Mark Ruffalo and Yoko Ono to help her team fundraise for their research after their work was rejected by the National Institutes of Health for not being “good enough to be funded.” She also publicly endorsed Gasland in a talk entitled “What the Frack?” in which she called Josh Fox’s completely debunked films “educational” because they contain “a lot of good information.”
Paracelsus said back in the 16th century that the “dose makes the poison” and that just about anything in high enough doses can be poisonous. And even then, an exposure pathway is necessary for a chemical to pose a danger.
That said, it is clear at this point that the Nagel/Kassotis team is manipulating both dose and exposure data in an attempt to bolster its weak case that fracking fluid is an inherent harm to public health with this series of studies. But it really can’t be repeated enough: The concentration levels administered in these studies is ridiculously high and unrealistic – there is simply no credible evidence that people are being exposed to fracking fluid on anything even remotely approaching a widespread, systemic level.