- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2014

DENVER — A major class of fracking fluid is no more toxic than chemicals found in a typical household, according to a newly released University of Colorado study.

The first-of-its-kind research showed that surfactants, which are used in hydraulic fracturing in five states to reduce surface tension between water and oil, also appear in everyday items such as toothpaste, laxatives, laundry detergent and ice cream.

“This is the first published paper that identifies some of the organic fracking chemicals going down the well that companies use,” said Michael Thurman, the lead author of the paper published in the scientific journal Analytical Chemistry, in a statement.

“We found chemicals in the samples we were running that most of us are putting down our drains at home,” said Mr. Thurman, a co-founder of the Laboratory for Environmental Mass Spectrometry in Colorado’s College of Engineering and Applied Science.

The research comes as a boost for the oil and gas industry, which is locked in a public relations battle with anti-fracking groups over the safety of hydraulic fracturing. Despite scant research linking fracking to health problems, five towns in Colorado have passed fracking moratoriums over the last three years, as have communities in California and Ohio.

Last week, voters in Denton, Texas, approved a ballot measure to ban fracking within the city limits, the first community in oil-rich Texas to do so. Proponents of the measure, which takes effect Dec. 2, campaigned with the slogan, “Our health and safety, our air and water, our Denton.”

A Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday found that 47 percent of those surveyed oppose fracking and 41 support it, a reverse of the center’s March 2013 poll, which saw supporters outnumbering opponents by 48 to 38 percent.

At the same time, the survey found that 59 percent support building the Keystone XL pipeline, which would move oil from Canada to U.S. refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.

The CU study used samples of fracking fluid from Colorado, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas. The research was funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, and the samples were obtained directly from companies or from third parties like Colorado State University, said CU spokeswoman Laura Snider.

Fracking fluid, which is injected deep into the ground to loosen shale from rock, is composed mainly of water and sand, along with antibacterial agents, corrosion inhibitors and surfactants. Fracking critics argue that the fluid contaminates groundwater, although Environmental Protection Agency testing has never found evidence of that.

“What we have learned in this piece of work is that the really toxic surfactants aren’t being used in the wells we have tested,” Mr. Thurman said.

Kelly Giddens, president of the anti-fracking group Citizens for a Healthy Fort Collins, noted that the study only analyzes surfactants. Companies are required to disclose the contents of fracking fluid but are permitted to use broad categories in order to avoid disclosing their proprietary mixture.

“This study changes nothing,” Ms. Giddens said in an email.

Doug Flanders, spokesman for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, praised the CU study, saying that, “We welcome and embrace sound science, thorough studies and continued transparency.”

“For Colorado families, this should again give comfort that oil and gas development is being conducted responsibly,” Mr. Flanders said in a statement.

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