Lab mouse gets fat

Sierra Club and its myriad sister organizations appeal to relatively affluent, progressive, city-dwellers in industrialized western nations who have ample access to cheap, reliable, fossil fuel-based energy and are more afraid of spilling out of their Patagonia yoga pants than they are of starving in the dark.

By Marjorie Haun

No, friends, this is not a parody.

In its most recent newsletter, the Sierra Club (SC) linked to an article claiming that chemicals used in hydraulic fracking can have an effect on fat cells in humans. Although hysteria has been their main fundraising strategy for decades, the “fracking makes you fat” narrative is admittedly a new and rather creative twist on an old theme. In its July 18 newsletter, SC links to an article written by Jason Daley which states:

Despite promises that fracking is safe, those chemicals have been shown to contaminate ground-and-surface water in some areas, and the long-term effects of exposure to these compounds are not well understood.  

One new study in the journal Science in the Total Environment shows that some of the most common chemicals used in fracking have a direct effect on fat cells, causing them to proliferate and hold more fat into each cell.  

More than even a twist, this new scare tactic is a big stretch…outside the realm of reality or possibility. Let’s review the facts about hydraulic fracking. The technology is not new. First implemented in 1946, hydraulic fracturing methods have been advancing for decades, and in 2018 are proven safe with environmentally-neutral impacts. A study published in 2015 by Obama’s EPA (hardly friendly to the fracking industry) concluded that there exist no “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water.”  Although accidental spills have the potential to impact water resources, those incidents are very rare and usually occur on a very small scale. Furthermore, EPA assessments show that when industry standards and regulations are followed, there is virtually no chance that human drinking water sources will become polluted by fracking operations.

EPA illustration of Hydraulic Fracking Water Cycle

The study cited by the Sierra Club titled “Unconventional oil and gas chemicals and wastewater-impacted water samples promote adipogenesis via PPARγ-dependent and independent mechanisms in 3T3-L1 cells” claims that when living mouse cells are exposed to a mix of 23 chemicals sometimes found in fracking fluids, they accumulate fat. It states:

The 23-chemical mix led to 60 percent as much fat accumulation as rosiglitazone, a drug known to cause weight gain in humans. The wastewater led to an 80 percent accumulation; cells exposed to the surface water gained 40 percent as much fat as cells exposed to rosiglitazone. In all three cases, the formation of pre-adipocytes, or the precursors to fat cells, were all much higher than cells exposed to rosiglitazone alone.

The Daley article goes on to say:

In a 2015 study in Endocrinology, Kassotis and his collaborators exposed pregnant mice to different concentrations of the 23-chemical cocktail, then assessed the health of their offspring. What they found was an assortment of endocrine effects, including reduced sperm and egg production, increased testosterone in males, and increased weight in the body and heart. Since then, the team has published studies on the effects of fracking chemicals on the immune systemmammary cell development, and disrupted fertility in mice

The study fails to prove a direct link between fat mice and fracking, let alone human obesity. SC appears to be pushing a fatuous (pun intended) argument, and requires the reader to leap over all established facts and assume that fracking will somehow expose human populations to a proportional level of the “23-chemical cocktail” cited in the mouse study. The entire angle is pure conjecture based on worst-case scenarios along with the assumption that humans and mice will respond identically to chemical exposure. The article, however, does admit that there are holes in its premise:

“There’s still a lot we don’t know,” Kassotis says. “We don’t know the levels people are being exposed to these chemicals; the biomonitoring studies have just not been done. And we don’t know enough about all the chemicals,” he says. “So it’s hard to draw a clear translation to whether we would expect effects in people.” 

Just for fun, let’s play contrarian and explore the facts which contradict SC’s “fracking makes you fat” narrative. First of all, the study supposedly used samples taken from Garfield County, Colorado and Fayette County, West Virginia. But according to a recent Gallup Poll, Colorado is among the states with the fewest fat people, and West Virginia has some of the highest obesity rates. How do you plan to reconcile that, eh? Gallup has not published any findings on which states have the fattest mice.

Secondly, let’s explore the health effects on human populations where resources produced by hydraulic fracking are not widely available. The cleanest form of energy available on a large scale is electricity produced in natural gas-fired power plants. There are 2.5 billion people–more than one-third of the world’s population–living without access to reliable electricity in undeveloped and underdeveloped nations. Their main sources of fuel are dung and firewood. As a result of burning these fuels, some 2 million of the world’s poorest people are dying per year from lung disease. Because having no electricity also means no proper refrigeration for food, another 2 million die per year from virulent intestinal diseases. Needless to say, obesity is not a concern for the people who have no access to household electricity.

Sierra Club is probably not really interested in the world’s poorest people in fracking-free undeveloped nations, after all, those folks don’t add to its donor base. SC and its myriad sister organizations appeal to relatively affluent, progressive, city-dwellers in industrialized western nations who have ample access to cheap, reliable, fossil fuel-based energy and are more afraid of spilling out of their Patagonia yoga pants than they are of starving in the dark. SC has to appeal to its donors with a “fracking can make you fat” scare, because if they put out a study claiming “fracking can make you thin and beautiful,” it would undermine their anti-fracking, anti-affordable energy crusade.

Finally, there is one anecdotal finding worth noting. Hydraulic fracking sites are found primarily in remote regions where wildlife is abundant. In Colorado, for instance, elk, mule deer, sage grouse, and mice can be found in abundance near fracking pads, but to date, there has not been one single sighting of an animal made obese by the fracking industry. However, if you do sight a fat mouse in the wild, please contact your nearest EPA official.

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  1. What an interesting article. It just proves that they know cracking doesn’t actually harm anything because they have to lie to make a point.

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