Cuomo Confidential: Secret N.Y. Dept. of Health Review of HF Concludes It is Safe
Over the past few months frustration has mounted in New York as the state struggles to finalize its natural gas regulations. What may have originally been an attempt at a pragmatic review has quickly devolved into political theater, with each day bringing new information to light on the actions – or, all too often, inactions – of state officials who seem content to let the issue drag on indefinitely. The latest example? A secret health review from Governor Cuomo’s hand picked Health Secretary which found that “significant adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine HVHF operations.”
Over the past few months frustration has mounted in New York as the state struggles to finalize its natural gas regulations. What may have originally been an attempt at a pragmatic review has quickly devolved into political theater, with each day bringing new information to light on the actions – or, all too often, inactions – of state officials who seem content to let the issue drag on indefinitely.
The latest example? A secret health review from Governor Cuomo’s hand picked Health Secretary which found that “significant adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine HVHF operations.” The February 2012 report, which was never publicly released and only today uncovered by the press, noted that “the state’s proposed regulations would prevent any potential health risks from air emissions, water contamination, and radioactive materials unearthed during the drilling process.” The report added that “human chemical exposure during normal HVHF operations will be prevented or reduced below levels of significant health concern.”
Wait, what? Weren’t we told that the health risks from hydraulic fracturing were “unknown,” thus necessitating yet another missed deadline for finalizing the state’s regulations so the state could complete a health review? Why did it take 11 months for this existing review to surface, and why did the state see fit to keep it hidden from the public view?
The answer to that last question could have something to do with the findings in the review itself, which refute nearly every significant criticism levied by opponents working day and night to stop natural gas development in New York. If the state has already determined those charges to be bogus, then how could it also credibly call for yet another analysis based on the content of those same accusations?
Three other findings are of particular note:
- “With the aforementioned mitigation measures in place, human exposure due to HVHF-related contamination of water resources would be prevented or reduced below levels posing a health concern, and thus significant adverse impacts on human health are unlikely.”
- “Based on currently available information it is anticipated that cuttings and flowback water will not contain significant levels of naturally occurring radiological materials (NORM)…. Any potential worker-health or waste-disposal impacts related to concentrated NORM are already subject to controls under existing DOH and DEC regulations…with those measures in place, potential significant adverse impacts on human health from NORM exposure are unlikely.”
- “With the proposed mitigation measures in place, human exposure levels to HVHF-related air contaminants would be reduced below established health-based standards or guidelines. Therefore, significant adverse human health impacts from air emissions are associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing operations are unlikely.”
The review also found that the proposed regulatory system for transporting produced and flowback fluids “will be subject to recordkeeping requirements similar to the treatment of medical waste, which are more stringent than requirements for conventional wastewater hauling.”
That, of course, would be news to Catskill Mountainkeeper and others who frequently declare that the state has “no plan” for disposing of wastes from the fracturing process (see point 8).
Taken together, all of this makes us wonder: If the Governor had clear answers refuting some of the most serious claims made by opponents, then why would he encourage his agencies to sit on that information? In that same vein, why would he appear on the Fred Dicker Show (Nov. 20th) to make inflammatory statements like “people are afraid of being poisoned” if he had information that could alleviate those public fears? What’s more, with 80,000 New Yorkers seeking answers to questions about potential health impacts from hydraulic fracturing, why would he purposely keep those answers hidden from the very people he was elected to represent?
For someone who has indicated that science should determine the outcome of this discussion, this is undoubtedly an odd course to take. It appears the Governor is obstructing the opinions of qualified experts in order to cater to the needs of influential downstaters who want to ban hydraulic fracturing in the Empire State. Worse yet, this chain of events provides some credence to a recent New York Post editorial, which suggested the Governor’s end goal on HF regulation is for the current moratorium never to be lifted.
Regardless of the motives, all of this has to be frustrating for landowners in upstate New York who want nothing more than to be able to enjoy a respectable living in a state that contains the nation’s 10th highest unemployment rate and one of the nation’s highest property tax burdens. While the Governor plays a game of political Chess with the one option that could actually provide them relief, men and women throughout the state struggle to pay the bills, find jobs, and in some cases hold onto their family farms.
Of course, the Governor should also recall how voters in the Empire State took their frustration to the ballot box by voting against candidates who called for more delays and outright bans on hydraulic fracturing.
As residents in New York continue to struggle, more of whom support responsible shale development than oppose it, an important question lingers: Is Governor Cuomo really being guided by science and concern for the state’s residents, or is all of this being carefully manufactured based on a reading of the political tea leaves four years from now? Stay tuned.
*UPDATE II* Public Health and Hydraulic Fracturing: A Review of the Data
We’ve all seen the frightening headlines and read about so-called “experts” linking any number of negative health impacts to oil and gas development, specifically hydraulic fracturing. But what’s more telling about these allegations is what they are missing, namely: a basis in fact.
UPDATE II (9:53 am ET, 10/26/2012): New data released from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that injuries in the oil and natural gas industry declined in 2011 by an amazing 33 percent — from a rate of 1.2 to 0.8 for every 100 workers. A story from E&E News (subs. req’d) points out that the injury rate for oil and gas extraction (and indeed for the entire mining industry) is also “below the national incidence rate of 3.5 cases per 100 workers.”
UPDATE (10:21 am ET, 5/17/2012): NPR has been running a series of stories about the alleged horrors of hydraulic fracturing, relying mostly on anecdotal reports about health impacts to say there “isn’t an answer” to questions about whether the wells are emitting hazardous levels of pollutants (news flash: there is an answer, it’s just not convenient to folks who want to write scary stories.) Nonetheless, one of NPR’s segments actually let the cat out of the bag, specifically in reference to the town of Dish, TX (which was featured in Gasland and was also where Dr. Al Armendariz made his infamous “crucify” comments). From NPR (emphasis added):
Quite a few of the 225 people who live in Dish, Texas, think the nation’s natural gas boom is making them sick.
They blame the chemicals used in gas production for health problems ranging from nosebleeds to cancer.
And the mayor of Dish, Bill Sciscoe, has a message for people who live in places where gas drilling is about to start: “Run. Run as fast as you can. Grab up your family and your belongings, and get out.”
But scientists say it’s just not clear whether pollutants from gas wells are hurting people in Dish or anywhere else. What is clear, they say, is that the evidence the town has presented so far doesn’t have much scientific heft.
It’s truly amazing the kinds of conclusions one will reach when relying on scientific facts.
—Original post from April 18, 2012—
We’ve all seen the frightening headlines and read about so-called “experts” linking any number of negative health impacts to oil and gas development, specifically hydraulic fracturing. But what’s more telling about these allegations is what they are missing, namely: a basis in fact.
The claims have also made us wonder: If suggestions about negative health impacts were true, wouldn’t the men and women who are working in the industry – many as long as 60 to 70 hours per week, year round – be suffering from some of the worst health conditions? After all, if hydraulic fracturing or shale development as a whole were emitting dangerous levels of pollutants, then those working on the well pads day in and day out would be more exposed than anyone else. Right?
As it turns out, the facts tell a completely different story than what we’ve read in the newspapers or heard from opponents of shale. And to clear the air, we’ve done the research so you don’t have to. All of the information that follows, we should point out, is not based on anecdotal horror stories or unverifiable reports, but rather easily accessible data via the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). No smoke and mirrors, no secret decoder rings, just the facts.
According to the BLS:
- Among the industries with the highest rates of injuries and illnesses, oil and gas extraction is not even in the top 25. Veterinary services, soft drink manufacturing, hospitals, pet and pet supplies stores, and ship building all register higher injury and illness rates than oil and gas.
- In terms of injuries specifically, the oil and gas industry is quite safe. In fact, the national injury incidence rate average is three times higher than the rate for oil and gas extraction specifically.
- As for illnesses specifically, oil and gas operations register comparatively few total cases. Here is a list of just a few industries that record more total illnesses than oil and natural gas: ice cream and frozen food manufacturing, wineries, bottling water, book publishers, tortilla manufacturing, recyclable material merchant wholesalers, boat dealers, novelty and souvenir stores, radio and television broadcasting, investment banking, accounting and tax preparation, and real estate. Once again, oil and gas operations don’t even come close to being in the top 25 in terms of industries with the highest rates of illnesses.
- And those working in oil and natural gas development aren’t taking much time off, either. The BLS compiled a list of industries with the highest rates of injuries and illnesses requiring days off from work, and – lo and behold – oil and gas extraction didn’t make the list.
This data also matches the conclusions of scientific research for specific areas across the country, including for two of the largest shale-producing areas in the country.
An air quality report for northeastern Pennsylvania, which was issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), “did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.” And although the report’s scope did not include an assessment of longer-term impacts, it did conduct air sampling for carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone. The sampling “did not detect concentrations above the National Ambient Air Quality Standards at any of the sampling sites.” A DEP report issued two months earlier for southwestern Pennsylvania came to the same conclusions.
In addition, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has conducted extensive air monitoring for the Barnett Shale in North Texas. Here’s what TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw said of TCEQ’s findings:
“After several months of operation, state-of-the-art, 24-hour air monitors in the Barnett Shale area are showing no levels of concern for any chemicals. This reinforces our conclusion that there are no immediate health concerns from air quality in the area, and that when they are properly managed and maintained, oil and gas operations do not cause harmful excess air emissions.”
In addition, a report issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) collected blood and urine samples from residents in and around the town of DISH, which is located over the Barnett Shale. Here’s what the report concluded:
“Although a number of VOCs were detected in some of the blood samples, the pattern of VOC values was not consistent with a community-wide exposure to airborne contaminants, such as those that might be associated with natural gas drilling operations.”
DSHS concluded that the sources of exposure were likely tobacco (all those who recorded elevated levels of benzene were smokers); public drinking water systems, which include disinfectant byproducts; and common consumer products such as cleaners and lubricants. DSHS did note some limitations (including the fact that VOCs only stay in the body for a relatively short period of time), but nonetheless concluded that their assessment “did not indicate that community-wide exposures from gas wells or compressor stations were occurring in the sample population.”
A separate assessment of the Barnett Shale area took an in-depth look at health statistics, specifically in Denton County, Texas. The researchers concluded that “even as natural gas development expanded significantly in the area of the past several years, key indicators of health improved across every major category during those times.” The researchers also made this important observation:
“Health records indicate that while production increased, fewer residents were diagnosed with serious illnesses such as cancer, respiratory disease, strokes, and heart disease. This improvement occurred even as the population of residents age 65 or older increased by over 13,000, a significant uptick for any population segment.”
Bottom line: It’s easy to claim that any sort of nearby business or industrial activity – be it oil and gas, the construction of an apartment complex, or the opening of a new hardware store – has correlated with an increase in nosebleeds, headaches, or any other ailment. But that doesn’t mean such accusations are based in fact. More importantly, we’re not doing any justice to those suffering from those ailments – and we’re certainly not solving any problems – if we misallocate blame and focus attention on activities that are not responsible, merely because it’s convenient to do so.
Fact-Checking the Dallas Drilling Debate
The temperature has been 105 degrees in the Metroplex for what feels like 105 straight days, but this afternoon, the Dallas City Council attempted to let cooler heads prevail in a briefing it organized on natural gas development. EID decided to lend some facts to the debate, which opponents are fighting tooth and nail to obscure.
The temperature has been 105 degrees in the Metroplex for what feels like 105 straight days, but this afternoon, the Dallas City Council attempted to let cooler heads prevail in a briefing it organized on natural gas development. For months, the Council has been considering changes to the city’s oil and gas ordinance, and today it invited two panelists to speak about the proposed changes (And no, J.R. and the rest of the Ewings were not invited; they were too busy plotting their revenge against the Venezuelans who beat up John Ross).
The two panelists were Ed Ireland, with the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, and Terry Welch, a Dallas lawyer with Brown & Hofmeister, LLP. You can view Mr. Ireland’s prepared slides here, and Mr. Welch’s can be found here.
Ed’s presentation focused on several important facts about shale development, particularly in the Barnett Shale of north Texas: It’s a major source of employment (100,000 jobs over the past decade, including direct and indirect jobs), has generated billions of dollars in tax revenue, and boasts an impressive safety record. There have been more than 18,000 wells drilled into the Barnett Shale (including several thousand in the floodplains of the Trinity and Brazos Rivers), and there hasn’t been a single confirmed case of ground water contamination from hydraulic fracturing. And thanks to state-of-the-art air monitoring from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), we also know that Barnett development is not producing air emissions at a level that would impact public health.
That’s great news, and certainly something we should embrace and even encourage, right?
Not according to Mr. Welch. Indeed, Welch’s presentation focused on negative health and environmental impacts from development. Actually, to clarify, his presentation was all about impacts that may happen; little to no evidence was actually provided. Yet, Mr. Welch still wants the Council to believe that the impacts are very real – he’s just not sure if or even when they’ll ever materialize.
It’s also worth pointing out that Mr. Welch, as a member of the Gas Drilling Task Force, was actually presenting a minority report of the Task Force, which other members of the city’s Task Force felt was unfair. Those other members weren’t afforded the same opportunity to present their problems with the Task Force’s recommendations to the full City Council, a problem that Task Force Chair Lois Finkelman identified at the conclusion of the hearing.
But because we think evidence is important, here’s a sampling of the claims and recommendations made in Mr. Welch’s prepared slides, along with some important facts that folks in the Dallas area, including the City Council, might find useful:
WELCH: “Scientific studies currently differ as to the effect of gas drilling/hydraulic fracturing on human health, and doubt should be resolved in favor of public health and safety.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- Mr. Welch is creating doubt by decree, not based on hard evidence. Consider:
- Associated Press: Hydraulic fracturing critics using bad science, experts say (AP, July 22, 2012)
- NPR: Scientists say it’s “not clear” what is causing negative health impacts; evidence presented by opponents “doesn’t have much scientific heft” (NPR, May 2012)
- Texas Dept. of State Health Services: The “pattern of VOC values was not consistent with a community-wide exposure to airborne contaminants, such as those that might be associated with natural gas drilling operations.” (DSHS report for Dish, TX, May 12, 2012)
- Public Health Experts: “Health records indicate that while production increased, fewer residents were diagnosed with serious illnesses such as cancer, respiratory disease, strokes, and heart disease.” (Mickley/Blake report for Denton County, Oct. 2011)
- TCEQ: “After several months of operation, state-of-the-art, 24-hour air monitors in the Barnett Shale area are showing no levels of concern for any chemicals…. [W]hen they are properly managed and maintained, oil and gas operations do not cause harmful excess air emissions.” (TCEQ, 2010 [via EID])
- Pennsylvania regulators “did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.” (Pa. DEP air quality reports, Nov. 2010 and Jan. 2011)
- The bottom line: There are differing scientific studies on virtually every human activity. The question is whether the available evidence actually tilts toward one side or the other, and when it comes to shale development, the facts speak for themselves.
WELCH: “Imagine these setbacks in a Dallas neighborhood.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- Mr. Welch is attempting to frighten the public about a potential drill site in the middle of a jam-packed residential area. Luckily for the City of Dallas (and inconveniently for Mr. Welch) this supposition is completely divorced from reality.
- There are no leases or proposed drilling sites located inside a dense neighborhood as Mr. Welch suggests here. It would have been just as erroneous to suggest a rig would be centered at City Hall – which, interestingly, Mr. Welch actually does earlier in his presentation.
- Here’s what City Council Member Jerry Allen said in response to this information from Mr. Welch: “I don’t see the value of that slide.” Ouch!
WELCH: “Floodplains by definition are subject to flooding, and flooding of gas well sites may result in release of undisclosed hazardous chemicals, along with significant amounts of salt and hydrocarbons, into water channels.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- Notice the key phrasing – “may result” – in Mr. Welch’s slide. There is no evidence of this, but by suggesting there is a chance, he’s forcing the other side to prove a negative, which is impossible. This is essentially a rhetorical device, not a fact- or evidence-based observation.
- What we do know is that, according to the Texas Railroad Commission, there are more than 4,300 oil and gas wells already located in floodplains in Tarrant, Dallas, Johnson, and Denton counties. To date there have been no significant impacts to water or floodways.
WELCH: “Drilling in the floodplain would allow drilling in the Trinity River corridor.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- Again, there are more than 4,300 oil and gas wells located in floodplains in Tarrant, Dallas, Johnson, and Denton counties. All of these wells in Tarrant, Dallas, and Denton counties are located in the Trinity River floodplain specifically (roughly half of the wells in floodplains in Johnson County are in the Brazos River floodplain). And again, there is no evidence of significant impacts to water supplies.
WELCH: “Dallas development regulations currently allow landfills and electrical substations in the floodplain; however, those activities are subject to several existing federal water pollution prevention laws that gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing operations are exempt from.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- It’s difficult to know which laws Mr. Welch is referencing, but his suggestion that oil and gas development are “exempt” from water pollution laws is categorically false.
- For example, waste from oil and gas operations is tightly regulated by individual states and federal hazardous waste laws. Any waste sent to public treatment plants must pretreatment guidelines established by EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. If the waste is not sent to a treatment plant and instead sent to an underground injection well, the U.S. EPA already tightly regulates that process – which the EPA also says is a “safe and inexpensive option” for wastewater disposal.
- Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator: “[Hydraulic fracturing] requires smart regulation, smart rules of the road. What it doesn’t necessarily require…is that all that smart rule of the road setting be done at the federal level. There are states that have been regulating oil and gas development for a long time.” (Remarks at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, February 2012 [via Truthland])
- Steve Heare, Director of EPA’s Drinking Water Protection Division: “I have no information that states aren’t doing a good job already [with regulating hydraulic fracturing].” (Houston Chronicle, February 2010)
WELCH: “All parkland is valuable and a limited public commodity, and if drilling is allowed, that area may be diminished or effectively eliminated as parkland for decades.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- Once again, Mr. Welch has created a hypothetical (“…may be diminished…”) and then advances an argument based on a situation that doesn’t exist.
- Here’s a picture of a completed and reclaimed well site in the Barnett Shale in Burleson, TX. Was the land “effectively eliminated” for recreational use? Hardly. Fore!
WELCH: “If these concerns are later determined to be without merit, the City Council may amend its ordinances accordingly.” (Welch prepared slides, Aug 1, 2012)
- It seems even Mr. Welch lacks confidence in his own dire assessment, to the point that he’s flat out stating that his claims could very well “be without merit” in practice.
- This is also a dangerous method of approaching public policy. Companies have already paid more than $33 million to the City of Dallas for oil and gas leases, which the city then used to pay down its debt. Arbitrarily changing the terms underlying those leases – on the dubious basis that the Council can simply “amend” the new rules later – means the city would be reneging on its promises to companies looking to invest further in the City of Dallas. Is that the kind of investment climate the City wants to promote?
- The City Council has an obligation to enact (or uphold) ordinances that are in the best interest of the city, not to experiment with the community on the misguided assumption that the damage it causes can be wished away through another set of amendments later down the road.
It’s one thing to exercise caution when making decisions, but it’s quite another to hide behind a wall of uncertainty (real or perceived) to justify serious restrictions or even outright bans on certain types of activity. What Mr. Welch has presented is not a list of proven impacts of development, but is instead largely a series of hypotheticals designed to frighten the City Council through manufactured uncertainty. And then he suggests that if his proposals end up being too burdensome, they can just be adjusted later – as if there are no repercussions in the interim. Does anyone really believe that would be the case?
Because the facts and the data don’t back them up, opponents of development in Dallas (and across the country, really) are trying to shift the burden of proof away from themselves and onto the industry. They suggest that it’s not necessary to prove their statements about negative impacts, but it is the responsibility of the industry to prove a negative (i.e. “There’s no evidence of water contamination? Prove it!”). This is not only absurd; it’s also not a legitimate basis for any meaningful public policy discussion.
Besides: If the damage and destruction to which Mr. Welch repeatedly alluded in his slides (and which opponents have similarly referenced) were actually happening, wouldn’t he have mentioned the specific examples?
- YouTube: Lisa Jackson affirms safety of HF
- Report: Data Show Health Impacts from Development are Overstated
- EID: Public Health and Hydraulic Fracturing: A Review of the Data
- TX DSHS: Exposure investigation for Dish, TX [PDF]
- Fact Check: Natural gas development and air quality in Dallas-Fort Worth
*UPDATE* Cornell Veterinarians Go Into “Beast Mode” on Shale
When it comes to the issue of responsibly developing oil and natural gas resources from shale, we’ve seen a lot of wacky things come out of Ithaca, New York over the past couple years. So it was no surprise when a pair of veterinarians associated with Cornell wrote an article attacking shale development...
UPDATE (4/6/2012, 1:15pm ET): Some intrepid research by the EID team has uncovered a meaningful critique of the Bamberger-Oswald paper, and the source is no slouch: Dr. Ian Rae, a professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia and a Co-chair of the Chemicals Technical Options Committee for the United Nations Environment Programme, says the paper is “an advocacy piece” that suffers from poor referencing, and the authors themselves “cannot be regarded as experts” in the field in which they are commenting. Rae’s full comments about the paper can be found here, but we’ve excerpted the most significant items below:
- “It certainly does not qualify as a scientific paper but is, rather, an advocacy piece that does not involve deep…analysis of the data gathered to support its case.”
- “The data in Table 2 are incomplete in that no dates or places are provided, and no references to other commentary on the events it reports, so it’s hard to assess the weight of the evidence. Surely there were reports to or by regulatory agencies. It could be that this is old evidence and that note has been taken of the hazards and appropriate regulations put in place to mitigate them. We just don’t know.”
- “Contributions to the journal are said to be refereed, but the refereeing process evidently was not very stringent. For example, better refereeing would have forced the authors to provide the details I identified above as missing from their compilation. As well, it might also have curtailed some of the less-well supported statements and asked for more recent references to the scientific basis for expressions of concern that material dated to the 1960s and 1970s.”
- “As far as I can see, neither [Bamberger nor Oswald] has a track record of investigation in environmental studies. This does not mean they are wrong to sound a note of concern, but it does mean that they cannot be regarded as experts in the field with broad experience and attainments.”
- “I have not had time to read the articles in recent issues of the journal, but the titles show that they are advocacy pieces dealing with issues that are matters of concern, and for that reason are also extensively covered by other journals.”
—Original post from January 11, 2012—
When it comes to the issue of responsibly developing oil and natural gas resources from shale, we’ve seen a lot of wacky things come out of Ithaca, New York over the past couple years.
The primary recipient of millions of dollars every year of anti-shale advocacy provided by the Park Foundation (also based in Ithaca), Cornell University has become to anti-energy activists what “Linebacker U” was once to Penn State — with the debunked-ad-nauseum Howarth paper on shale emissions serving as the movement’s main playbook. Ithaca also happens to be the place from which outlets like the New York Times pull “data” on mineral leasing, notwithstanding the fact that no actual Marcellus development even takes place there.
So it was no surprise when a pair of veterinarians associated with Cornell wrote an article attacking shale development for its supposed link to animal health impacts. (One of the authors, Robert Oswald is a professor at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine; the other, Michelle Bamberger, received her doctorate from Cornell.)
Now, needless to say, we don’t have any bones to pick with veterinarians, and in fact the scientific research they provide on a daily basis is without question critical to us better understanding the natural world (plus, we love dogs). But the authors here did not produce a scientific assessment, a fact they freely admit in their article. Instead, Oswald and Bamberger chose to highlight a handful of personal testimonials that cannot be independently assessed or verified because they decided to keep all relevant details anonymous. Thus, we’re left with a 27-page unscientific article making bold assertions about oil and gas development, without a single shred of data or independent corroboration to back any of it up.
While the article contains many flaws, we’ve highlighted a few of the key problems below, all of which should raise serious doubts about the “scientific” nature of this particular article.
- Right off the bat, the paper leads with a philosophical quote from Sandra Steingraber, who has described hydraulic fracturing as “the tornado on the horizon” that will destroy people’s ability to do everything, from local gardening to even riding a bicycle (Orion Magazine, Sept./Oct. 2010). Ms. Steingraber has also called for an end to all fossil fuels to “avoid human calamity.” With respect to shale development, Ms. Steingraber has stated: “If we mitigate fracking to kill fewer people, we’re still killing people” (The Vindicator, Jan. 10, 2012).
- The authors assert that developing natural gas from shale is “moving forward without benefit of carefully controlled studies of its impact on public health” (p. 52). Aside from the fact that the authors readily admit in the paper that their own conclusions are not the result of controlled experiments, their claim is simply not true. For example, a study from earlier this year by the city of Fort Worth, TX, concluded there were “no significant health risks” from nearby shale development (July 2011).
- A separate scientific assessment of the Barnett Shale in north Texas concluded: “[E]ven as natural gas development expanded significantly in the area over the past several years, key indicators of health improved across every major category during those times” (Oct. 19, 2011). The Barnett Shale is one of the most productive shale fields in the United States, with more than 15,000 producing wells.
- Instead of seeking out the answer to a legitimate question – what, if any, are the health impacts of developing natural gas from shale? – the authors simply accuse the industry of taking a position “similar to the tobacco industry that for many years rejected the link between smoking and cancer” (p. 52). The report goes on to suggest that “epidemiologic studies [that] linked smoking to human health impacts…could be used to assess the health impacts of gas drilling operations on human beings” (p. 53). It seems the authors have already made up their minds.
- The authors clearly admit that the study is not sound science: “This study is not an epidemiologic analysis of the health effects of gas drilling, which could proceed to some extent without knowledge of the details of the complex mixtures of toxicants involved. It is also not a study of the health impacts of specific chemical exposures related to gas drilling” (p. 53).
- Later in the article the authors further concede: “By the standards of a controlled experiment, this is an imperfect study, as one variable could not be changed while holding all others constant” (p. 55). Instead, the article is merely a compilation of unsourced and unverifiable case studies.
- The report conceals names and locations, which means independent review of the claims and parties involved cannot be completed; statements from the researchers about their findings are simply asserted as fact. Ironically, much of the paper is committed to critiquing the industry for not disclosing enough information to independently verify data.
- Despite its lack of scientific bent, the authors nonetheless conclude definitively that their assessment “strongly implicates exposure to gas drilling operations in serious health effects on humans, companion animals, livestock, horses, and wildlife.” They go further and, without any scientific evidence, state that “a ban on shale gas drilling is essential for the protection of public health” (p. 72).
Calling for a ban on responsible oil and gas development without any scientific basis? Wait, we’ve heard this one before…
Again, those interested in the supposed health impacts of developing natural gas from shale should reference this assessment from October, in which two public health professionals studied conditions in the Barnett shale region of north Texas. Their conclusion? Even though the area has been one of the highest gas producing regions of the country, “key indicators of health improved across every major category.” That followed a study from last summer for the city of Fort Worth which “did not reveal any significant health threats” from shale development.