Mice, Sound Science and Working to Protect Public Health
Posted February 14, 2018
The natural gas and oil industry is continually evaluating the safety of its operations and products while developing research projects, technologies and practices that are designed to protect people and the environment. We acknowledge and appreciate that experts from the regulatory and scientific communities are also conducting studies with the same goals.
A recently published paper that associated endocrine disruption to chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid generated some press attention. Yet, as we compare that study’s findings to other scientific literature, there’s a need for caution when interpreting “what if?” study findings.
In the recently published study, the researchers’ goal was to evaluate the effects of a lab-generated, 23-chemical mixture on laboratory mice. According to the researchers, the mixture hypothetically represented chemicals to which people living near oil and natural gas activities could be exposed.
However, the link to oil and natural gas activities is weak, and the study’s design limits the ability to interpret its results. In a practical sense, there’s really no scenario under which the public or even industry workers would be exposed to the mixtures referenced in this study. Some observations:
- The chemical mixture the researchers used isn’t representative of any mixtures used by the industry, and as such it is highly unlikely that the mixture as generated would be found in drinking water because, as confirmed by EPA, hydraulic fracturing fluids do not migrate to drinking water sources.
- Researchers did not identify any scenarios that explained how people would be exposed to their 23-chemical mixture. Their vague claim that the mixtures were “equivalent to concentrations measured in drinking water in regions experiencing drilling” was made without providing references to analytical data supporting their claims.
- The model used in the study to evaluate the effects of the chemical mixture has known technical challenges and is severely limited in its applicability. The challenges may lead to a study design that cannot be replicated or results that cannot be reproduced – factors that are essential to validating a study’s findings.
Industry cares about these issues. Our employees live, work and raise their families in these communities, too. We’re committed to protecting health and the environment.
As an industry we’re continuously improving the safety of our operations and products, reflected in investments totaling more than $339 billion in environmental enhancements between 1990 and 2016. Our efforts extend beyond spending.
As noted above, we pay attention to the scientific research of others, carefully reviewing published articles to evaluate and identify useful findings within the context of the studies’ limitations.
Further, API is active in the Endocrine Policy Forum, a consortium of scientific and regulatory experts working together to “ensure that chemicals are properly screened, tested and regulated for endocrine activity and potential to cause adverse health effects.” API also is a stakeholder in EPA’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which is developing methods and processes that will be used to evaluate endocrine disruption systematically.
About The Author
Uni Blake is a scientific adviser in regulatory and scientific affairs at API. As a toxicologist her focus includes exposure and risk assessments as they relate to environmental and public health. Uni graduated from the College of Wooster with a bachelors in chemistry and the American University with a masters in toxicology. Currently, she is working on a doctorate in Public Health in Environmental and Occupation Health at George Washington University. She lives in the Northern Neck of Virginia with her husband and children, where she enjoys working in the yard and taking care of her flower and vegetable gardens.