Activists Try Once More to Hijack Dallas Drilling Hearing with Misinformation

*NOTE: Our friends at CLEAN Resources contributed to this report.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported this week that Texas pumped 2.7 million barrels of oil per day during September, the highest average since January 1981. For 25 straight months, the state’s production rate has increased by more than 25 percent year-over-year.  The Barnett Shale alone has added over $11.1 billion in annual output and 100,268 jobs in the region in recent years.  It’s also rapidly boosting the state’s coffers: how many states can boast of a Rainy Day Fund flooded with billions of tax dollars from oil and gas development?

Unfortunately, there are activists who are determined to stop this development (and the manifold benefits that come with it), and they descended on the Dallas City Council this week to try to undermine any future benefits of shale development in the region.  As a quick background, the City of Dallas has been working for over a year to update its drilling regulations, commissioning a Gas Drilling Task Force and frequently inviting stakeholders to offer suggestions.

Once again, attendees at the hearing yesterday were subjected to the rehashing of anti-hydraulic fracturing activists’ claims, which have been debunked time and time again. Here are a few of the more notable (read: outrageous) things said during the hearing:

CLAIM: “We have four different epidemiological studies which show a higher cancer and non-cancer risk living in these facilities and the other side has presented no signs in the middle of calling us anti science. We are the only group bringing studies to the table.  Where are yours? Where are your epidemiological studies showing there is no harm?” –Jim Schermbeck, Downwinders at Risk

FACT: It’s not that there are no studies affirming safety. It’s that critics refuse to acknowledge their existence. Here are but a few examples of widely-reported on analyses that Mr. Schermbeck thinks the public shouldn’t know about:

  • A recently released study on emissions in the Barnett Shale by the Houston based ToxStrategies concluded, using data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), that there is no credible health risk associated with shale development. As it states: “The analyses demonstrate that, for the extensive number of VOCs measured, shale gas production activities have not resulted in community-wide exposures to those VOCs at levels that would pose a health concern.”
  • The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality conducted months of testing in the Barnett Shale area, and its samples showed “no levels of concern for any chemicals.” TCEQ added that “there are no immediate health concerns from air quality in the area.”  Months later, when Earthworks published a woefully uninformed report on the health impacts of development in the Eagle Ford Shale, the TCEQ responded: “Overall, the monitoring data provide evidence that shale play activity does not significantly impact air quality or pose a threat to human health.”
  • A study by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found no major health threat from shale development, concluding, “Based on a review of completed air studies to date, including the results from the well pad development monitoring conducted in West Virginia’s Brooke, Marion, and Wetzel Counties, no additional legislative rules establishing special requirements need to be promulgated at this time.”
  • The Colorado Department of Public Health installed air quality monitors at a well site that activists complained about and concluded in its study of the data:

“The monitored concentrations of benzene, one of the major risk driving chemicals, are well within acceptable limits to protect public health, as determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The concentrations of various compounds are comparatively low and are not likely to raise significant health issues of concern.”

  • A recent draft report by Public Health England (PHE), an executive agency of the UK’s Department of Health, concluded: “The currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health from exposure to the emissions associated with shale gas extraction are low if the operations are properly run and regulated.”
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) conducted air monitoring northeast Pennsylvania and concluded that the state “did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.” A similar report for southwestern Pennsylvania came to the same conclusion.
  • The Pennsylvania DEP also found that over 500 million tons of emissions have actually been removed from the Commonwealth’s air thanks in large part to the increased use of natural gas.
  • An environmental think tank, The Breakthrough Institute, found that the increased development and utilization of natural gas “have dramatically reduced emissions across Pennsylvania.”
  • A peer-reviewed study looking at cancer incidence rates in several Pennsylvania counties found “no evidence that childhood leukemia was elevated in any county after [hydraulic fracturing] commenced.”
  • Last week, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, at a Center for American Progress event, touted the air pollution reduction benefits of natural gas, explaining:

“The pollution that I’m looking at is traditional pollutants as well as carbon. And natural gas has been a game changer with our ability to really move forward with pollution reductions that have been very hard to get our arms around for many decades.”

CLAIM: “This whole thing has developed out of actual problems, not of fear out of facts – people getting sick.  Mayors having to move their families away like in Dish, TX because his family was so ill.  I could give you a long list of people here in the Barnett Shale who have had to move away because they and their family were sickened by the gas drilling and other fracking related production activities near their homes.” –Molly Rooke, Dallas Sierra Club

FACT: Ms. Rooke is referring to the former Mayor of Dish Texas, Calvin Tillman, who was one of the stars of Gasland, by the way.  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) looked specifically into Tillman’s claims on benzene and found that the “highest potential 1-hour maximum benzene concentration is below the health effects level.”  In addition to the TCEQ’s findings, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) later collected blood and urine samples from residents in and around the town of Dish to assess whether Tillman’s claims were accurate. DSHS concluded:

“Although a number of VOCs [volatile organic compounds] 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.”

CLAIM: “A Colorado Health Study looked at the impacts of ½ mile away versus residents not living near the drilling pads and they found a higher hazard –  health hazards were in that range of a ½ mile.” –Molly Rooke, Dallas Sierra Club

FACT: EID has a full debunk of this study here, but it’s worth pointing out a few key facts:

  • The study inflates exposure times by as much as 900 percent.
  • It uses data that are woefully outdated, and nowhere near reflective of the current operating environment.
  • It fails to account for additional exposure pathways for compounds such as benzene, including a nearby interstate highway, which the U.S. EPA identifies as the largest source of benzene exposure.
  • While the authors claimed to have been working closely with local environmental officials in Garfield County, those officials publicly denied any such cooperation.
  • Finally, the cancer risks identified in the study are actually in line with or well below the risk for the entire U.S. population, regardless of where they live.

Activists cited this same study back in August during the Dallas hearing, and it was just as flawed then as it is today.

CLAIM: “Many chemical components of fracking fluid are harmful to human health at low doses – these include chemicals which harm the nervous system, brain, respiratory system, gastrointestinal organs, skin and the eyes.  Many are known to cause cancer, birth defects, cardiovascular and birth defects according to the Colborn Study in 2010.” –Rachel Baker Ford, Garland Area Democratic Voice

FACT: Again, EID has the full debunk of that “study” here, but we’d like to point out something the activists in Dallas conveniently omitted from the study: The authors billed the research far and wide as proof natural gas production was responsible for air quality concerns, but in that same study admitted: “The chemicals reported in this exploratory study cannot, however, be causally connected to natural gas operations.” Further, many of the measurements that they made showed emissions levels that were not above public health thresholds.

CLAIM: “One more time I am going to go over the facts of fracking: UT and the University of Oklahoma have both linked fracking to earthquakes.” –Rachel Baker Ford, Garland Area Democratic Voice

FACT: No, they didn’t.  The University of Texas research paper was extremely clear that the seismicity was not due to hydraulic fracturing.  As lead author Cliff Frohlich explained, “Although there is a considerable amount of hydraulic fracturing activity in the Eagle Ford, we don’t see a strong signal associated with that and earthquakes.”

The authors emphasized that the seismicity appeared to be more closely linked to oil and fluid extraction, as opposed to injection (i.e. “fracking” and/or wastewater disposal).  Frohlich went on to say, “I don’t think people should be hugely concerned because of the huge amount of production and injection we’ve had in Texas. If it were a big problem, Texas would be famous for all its earthquakes.”  He added that “this is a phenomenon that we need to understand, but it’s not appropriate to say it’s vastly dangerous.”

Perhaps the National Research Council summed it up most succinctly: “hydraulic fracturing a well as presently implemented for shale gas recovery does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events.”

CLAIM: “Texas is in a drought and agriculture is drying out each and every time a well is fracked. Approximately five million gallons used is poisoned beyond repair.” –Rachel Baker Ford, Garland Area Democratic Voice

FACT: Golf courses, car washes and irrigation use a great deal more water than oil and gas producers.  In water-constrained Colorado, hydraulic fracturing accounts for less than one-tenth of one percent of the state’s total water demand.  Producers in Pennsylvania use 12-20 million gallons of water per day, which is less than one percent of the 9.5 billion gallons of water the state uses daily.

And no, it’s not “poisoned beyond repair” – in fact, as the Associated Press recently reported, water recycling is quickly becoming standard operating procedure.  The article describes Water Rescue Services, the company that runs recycling services for Fasken Oil and Ranch in West Texas, “which is now 90 percent toward its goal of not using any freshwater for fracturing.”

According to the Pennsylvania DEP, producers in the Marcelllus are now recycling 90 percent of their flowback water – and that’s a trend that will continue.

CLAIM: Ground water has been poisoned and water from wells can be set on fire. I cite the land owner in Parker County with a 5 million dollar house whose water is now contaminated.” –Rachel Baker Ford, Garland Area Democratic Voice

FACT: The meeting wouldn’t be complete without an activist conjuring up the infamous flaming hose from Gasland Part II.  As we’ve pointed out many times, the landowner hooked his hose up to a gas vent and ignited it.  A judge later ruled that he had created a “deceptive video” in order to scare people in Parker Country into believing that their water would catch on fire.  According to a 2012 ruling of the Texas District Court, this landowner conspired with a local consultant to:

“…intentionally attach a garden hose to a gas vent – not to a water line – and then light and burn the gas from the end of the nozzle of the hose. The demonstration was not done for scientific study but to provide local and national news media a deceptive video, calculated to alarm the public into believing the water was burning … [and] alarm the EPA.”

The Texas Railroad Commission, after an exhaustive investigation that included detailed fingerprinting of the methane found in the landowner’s water, concluded that the company operating nearby was not responsible for contaminating drinking water.

CLAIM: “Denton has an F rated air quality which is equivalent to Houston. Nationally that’s the American Lung Association saying that it’s an F.  They don’t have 16 sq. kilometer refineries it’s fracking.  460 some odd wells that they can’t even count right now.” –Corey Troiani

FACT: Denton may well have gotten that grade from the American Lung Association, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s from hydraulic fracturing.  Along with the numerous studies that have found no credible risk to air quality from shale development, the American Lung Association also gave eight North Dakota counties, including several that are leading the state in Bakken oil production, high grades for air quality.

As for the ALA’s reports on Denton specifically, the organization’s report card noted that the average number of ozone days in Denton County has actually declined by more than half since 1996. The period between 1996 and 2012 is also when Barnett Shale development expanded rapidly in the region.

**NOTE: Next week, the Dallas City Council will be holding another hearing on this subject at City Hall. The full agenda can be found here. At the conclusion of that hearing (which is scheduled to begin at 1pm CT on December 11), the Council will be voting on the proposed rules. So if you’re interested in having your voice heard, be sure to attend.


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