New study underscores dangers of hydraulic fracturing

A new study by a Paonia, Colo.-based doctor who’s a frequent critic of the state’s natural gas industry, has been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Human and Ecological Risk Assessment.

Natural Gas Operations From a Public Health Perspective [pdf],” co-authored by Paonia’s Dr. Theo Colborn, who runs the Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TDEX) there, calls for the full disclosure of all chemicals used in the natural gas drilling process called “hydraulic fracturing,” or “fracking” for short.

Fracking involves injecting sand and water, mixed with a small percentage of undisclosed chemicals, deep into natural gas wells to fracture tight underground geological formations and free up more gas.

Critics claim the process can contaminate water supplies and have been calling for full disclosure of all the chemicals involved, which many gas companies keep secret for proprietary and competitive reasons.

“We demonstrated that toxic chemicals are used during both the fracturing and drilling phases of gas operations, that there may be long-term health effects that are not immediately recognized, and that waste evaporation pits may contain numerous chemicals on the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] Superfund list,” Colborn writes in her synopsis.

“Our findings show the difficulty of developing a water quality monitoring program. To protect public health we recommend full disclosure of the contents of all products, extensive air and water monitoring, a comprehensive human health study, and regulation of hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette, D-Denver, introduced legislation that would remove a Safe Drinking Water Act exemption for fracking that was granted during the Bush administration in 2005. The EPA is currently studying the process.

In Wyoming, where regulators this summer passed new oil and gas drilling regulations for the oversight of hydraulic fracturing, the website ProPublica is reporting Colorado’s neighbor will have the best idea of any state in the nation of what’s being injected into the ground if the rules work as written.

In Colorado and heavily drilled Garfield County, oil and gas drilling regulations that went into effect in the spring of 2009 require a list of chemicals to be kept onsite at drilling locations and made available to emergency responders within 24 hours if requested.

It’s estimated that more than 90 percent of natural gas wells are fracked for maximum production. The fracking issue has become a political hot potato in more populous East Coast states like New York and Pennsylvania, where Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell is pushing for a 5-percent tax on natural gas production.

The Philadelphia Inquirer last week reported Rendell is not confident a compromise can be reached with Republican lawmakers on a taxing structure to help pay for the rising costs of natural gas production in his state and help also fill “recession-ravaged coffers.”

“The surge [in gas production in the Marcellus Shale, which underlies most of the state] has sparked water-pollution and safety concerns from environmentalists, along with worries from municipalities that fear being overburdened,” the Inquirer reported. “Pennsylvania remains the largest gas-producing state not to collect any tax on those natural resources.”

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