Fracking is linked to breast cancer: Chemicals used in high-pressure oil and gas extraction cause uncontrolled cell division

 

  • Previous research reveals cancer is caused by uncontrolled cell division
  • This occurs when mice are exposed to chemical levels of those in fracking areas
  • Fracking involves drilling into the earth before inserting a high-pressure mixture
  • Although this releases gas and oil, chemicals can contaminate local water 
  • One in eight women in the US and UK develop breast cancer at some point


Fracking is linked to breast cancer, new research suggests.

The chemicals used in the high-pressure extraction of oil and gas cause uncontrolled cell division in adult mice's mammary cells, a US study found.

Past research shows cancer is caused by uncontrolled cell growth, which results in tumours.

This cell division occurs when mice are exposed to the equivalent level of chemicals found in the drinking water of areas affected by fracking, the research adds.

Fracking is a contentious issue in the UK with campaigners recently announcing they will continue to protest about the proposed operation in Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire until the energy firm behind it goes bust.

The controversial process involves drilling down into the earth before inserting a high-pressure mixture to release gas and oil trapped in rocks.

Campaigners argue the use of potentially cancer-causing chemicals in fracking may escape and contaminate local water supplies.

How the research was carried out

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts exposed pregnant mice to one of four doses of 23 chemicals commonly used in fracking.

These chemicals were added to the rodents' drinking water.

The researchers then analysed the breast tissue of the pups at 21 days old,as well as just before puberty and at 85 days old, which is considered early adulthood in mice.

According to the researchers, the two lowest chemical doses investigated are equivalent to levels found in drinking water from drilled areas.

The highest dose used matches that of chemicals present in industry wastewater.

'The mammary gland is sensitive to mixtures of chemicals'

Results further reveal exposure to chemicals used in fracking during mice's gestation does not alter their breast tissue at 21 days old.

Yet, in early adulthood, such rodents experience 'excessive layers' of cells that grow at a rapid rate.

The researcher write that their findings 'suggest the mammary gland is sensitive to mixtures of chemicals used in [fracking] at exposure levels that are environmentally relevant.

'The effect of these findings on the long-term health of the mammary gland, including its risk of cancer, should be evaluated in future studies.'

The findings were published in the journal Endocrinology.

'In the UK we are only permitted to use non-hazardous chemicals'

On the back of these findings, Katherine Gray, a spokesperson from UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said: 'It would be highly misleading to suggest that these results from an American study hold any semblance of reality to operations in the stringent and robust regulatory environment of the UK.

'The fact is that in the UK we are only permitted to use non-hazardous chemicals in our wells and every single one must be approved by the Environment Agency.

'Public Health England (PHE), the Royal Society, the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management and the Scottish Government's own experts have all said that hydraulic fracturing does not pose a health risk if conducted within our strict regulatory regime, and as an industry we monitor every stage of the process before, during and after to ensure the highest standards are met.

'PHE have further commented that caution should be taken when extrapolating experiences in other countries since the regulations, mode of operation and geology are likely to be different, a particularly salient point given the unrealistic laboratory test conditions of this American study.

'As well as following tight rules around our use of chemicals, our regulators also look at how hazards could find pathways to humans and animals, something that we work tirelessly to eradicate any risk of.'

Does fracking cause earthquakes?

Earlier this month, scientists suggested a major trigger of man-made earthquakes rattling Oklahoma is how deep fracking water is injected into the ground.

They analysed more than 10,000 injection wells where 96 billion gallons of fluid are pumped annually.

Oklahoma has suffered from an explosion of damaging earthquakes in recent years, recording as many as 800 3.0 magnitude quakes in 2015, according to the scientists. Such quakes can cause building damage.

Experts determined many years ago that earthquakes may be induced by industrial processes, such as fracking.

According to the study's lead author Dr Thea Hincks from the University of Bristol, state regulators could cut the number of man-made earthquakes by around half by restricting deep injections in the ground.

The researchers add companies drilling for oil and gas should not inject water within 600-to-1,500 feet (200-to-500 meters) of the geologic basement as this hits hard rock deep underground, which is usually crisscrossed with earthquake faults.

The closer you get to the faults, the more likely you are to trigger them, according to Stanford University geophysicist Matthew Weingarten, who was not involved in the study.