CU study finds fracking fluid benign
Boulder Daily Camera
The chemicals found in fracking fluid collected in five states — including Colorado — were no more toxic than common household substances, according to a newly released study by researchers at the University of Colorado.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal Analytical Chemistry, found that chemicals in the fracking fluid samples also were found in everyday products such as toothpaste, detergent, ice cream and laxatives.
Michael Thurman, co-founder of CU’s Laboratory for Environmental Mass Spectrometry, said this is the first published paper to identify some of the organic fracking chemicals going into wells.
“At least so far, we’re finding chemicals that are more friendly to the environment,” Thurman said. “The compounds are not the kinds of things we consider toxic.”
The study examined samples from Colorado, Nevada, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas. According to the researchers, fracking fluid is composed mostly of water and sand, but oil and gas companies add a variety of other chemicals such as anti-bacterial agents, corrosion inhibitors and surfactants — chemicals that reduce the surface tension between water and oil.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a technique used to free oil and gas from rock formations.
Recent state and federal regulations require companies to disclose what is being used in their fracking fluids, but companies typically use broad chemical categories to describe the ingredients to avoid disclosing what they consider proprietary information.
The study used a mass spectrometry laboratory sponsored by Agilent Technologies Inc. to more closely examine what was in the fracking fluid samples.
The published study included eight samples, while he’s since increased that number to more than a dozen. He said the samples came from several sources: CU and Colorado State University, both of working are working on projects with drilling companies; the Environmental Protection Agency; and a company in Denver that is working to treat water used in fracking.
The researchers cautioned that individual well operators might use different chemicals based on location, and said there are still other concerns about fracking, including air pollution, the antimicrobial biocides used in fracking fluids, wastewater disposal triggering earthquakes and the large amount of water used.
But Thurman said water pollution from surfactants in fracking fluid may not be as concerning as some people had thought, with the really toxic surfactants, such as endocrine disruptors, not being used in the wells that were tested.
Cliff Willmeng, of the anti-fracking activist group East Boulder County United, declined to comment on the study itself, saying instead that “we’re missing the point,” with studies such as CU’s diverting the conversation away from whether communities should ban fracking.
“This is a question of community rights versus corporate power,” he said. “We don’t need a study to conclude that democratic power comes from the people.”
Courtney Loper, the western field director for Energy in Depth, said the study backs up the oil and gas industry’s assertion that hydraulic fracturing is a fundamentally safe technology.
“Anti-fracking activists have been making alarming claims on this subject for many years, but the facts aren’t so scary at all,” she said. “The chemicals the oil and natural gas industry uses in hydraulic fracturing are a tiny fraction of the total fluid composition, and many are very similar to the kinds of products you keep under your sink and that other industries use routinely without controversy.”
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