A CSU-led research team that analyzed more than 200 research papers, studies and literature about hydraulic fracturing found that there’s still not enough research to fully understand the environmental implications of the process.
The group researched biocides, a chemical compound used in hydraulic fracturing to kill damaging bacteria. Biocides can also be found in bleach and household products, and are used in many industrial processes outside of the oil and gas industry.
A review article, “Bioicides in Hydraulic Facturing Fluids: A Critical Review of Their Usage, Mobility Degradation, and Toxicity,” was published in Environmental Science & Technology in November.
The team included professors and researchers from Colorado State University and Montana State University. The study was funded by the CSU Foundation’s Borch-Hoppess Fund for Environmental Research.
Lead investigator Thomas Borch, an associate professor of environmental chemistry at CSU, said the group focused on existing research — much of which is conflicting — to “derive conclusions that can be used to serve as a guide for environmental risk assessment” and identify sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to manage fracking fluid.
Some of the team’s conclusions, as outlined in the journal article, include:
•Nine of the 16 major biocides used in hydraulic fracturing have chronic toxicity effects, including effects that are developmental, reproductive, mutagenic, carcinogenic or neurological. Three of the remaining seven could transform into products with toxic potential.
•The most likely cause for environmental contamination involving fracking fluids is a surface spill. There were 591 reported spills releasing a total of 590,000 gallons in Colorado in 2013, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. That’s around 0.004 percent of all produced water.
•When biocides are released into the environment, they’re most likely to contaminate water but will break down more quickly. Biocides in the soil are less mobile and take longer to break down. Many degrade naturally, though some biocides can transform into something more toxic or persistent.
•Alternatives to biocides do exist but come with higher costs and energy demands, or could form toxic disinfection byproducts like chloroform.
•More research is needed to understand the environmental and human health risks of using and disposing of fracking fluid, what happens to fracking chemicals when they’re injected into the ground and the type and toxicity of compounds returned to the surface during the fracking process.
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