Dr. Susan Nagel, a researcher in obstetrics, gynecology, and women’s health at the University of Missouri, wants to confirm the link between hydraulic fracturing and hormone-disrupting chemicals that are linked to birth defects, infertility, and cancer. She’s already published a study in the journal Endocrinology revealing that fracking can contaminate water supplies with these chemicals. But it was a small study. If you to want to guarantee that even more research gets done, you’ll have to pitch in to (what else?) a crowdfunding campaign.
As fracking, a controversial method of getting natural gas out of the ground, becomes more commonplace, citizens are increasingly asking about the chemicals used in the process–and in some cases, demanding that fracking activities stop altogether. At the same time, politicians in North Carolina are pushing for a law that would make it a felony to reveal fracking chemicals.
Scientists already know of at least 12 suspected and confirmed hormone-disrupting chemicals found in fracking fluid, a mixture injected into the ground in order to release natural gas. In Nagel’s first study, researchers took samples of surface and ground water from areas close to drilling accidents in Garfield County, Colorado. The water had moderate to high levels of hormone-disrupting activity compared to water samples from areas with little or no fracking activity. Samples taken from the Colorado River, a drainage basin for nearby drilling sites, had moderate levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals.
But more needs to be done if we want truly conclusive evidence of fracking’s effects on water. Nagel writes in an email: “We have preliminary data from seven sites in Garfield County [Colorado] that suggested a doubling of [hormone disrupting activity] activity in surface and ground water at locations that had experienced some kind of spill or accident related to hydraulic fracturing. This was a small study and it is essential to test our hypothesis: ‘Does fracking contaminate water with hormone disrupting chemicals’ to support or refute it in a larger study. Ultimately, we will measure the exact chemical composition of water at these sites to determine if chemicals used in fracking are causing the hormone disrupting activity.”
Nagel applied for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to conduct further funding, but didn’t get the grant. That’s when she turned to crowdfunding, which she hopes will provide enough money to gather more data and eventually make her research competitive for a NIH grant. Not every published scientific study gets a lot of media attention, but Nagel’s did–and she’s banking on that in the crowdfunding campaign, which is being hosted by the site Experiment, a platform for funding scientific research.
Nagel has raised nearly $20,000 out of a goal of $25,000. That appears to be more cash than any other active campaign on the Experiment platform has raised thus far. She’s still holding off on judgment about the effectiveness of crowdfunding campaigns in science. “I think people will become more familiar with it and feel more comfortable directly donating to research projects. I think it is a great way to get money for new studies to generate data needed for larger government grants,” she writes.