Anti-Fracking Activists’ Letter to Hillary Clinton Chock Full of Debunked Talking Points
Just ahead of the formal launch of her 2016 presidential campaign, a coalition of anti-fracking activists – from Josh Fox, director of the fabulist “Gasland” movies, to the impressively named Rochesterians Concerned About Unsafe Shale-Gas Extraction (R-CAUSE) – wrote an open letter to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to turn her back on her support of shale development and the economic and environmental benefits that it provides.
Of course, the letter contains the usual misinformation that these groups have been perpetrating for years. Here are some of their most dubious claims, followed by the facts:
CLAIM: “New York rightly concluded that the evidence is clear that fracking is not safe and should be banned.”
FACT: Remarkably, the New York Department of Health made its decision to ban fracking despite having no evidence linking hydraulic fracturing to health impacts.
In fact, one of the key reports held up by New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker at a press conference, which was used to support New York’s fracking ban, was actually written by anti-fracking groups and “peer reviewed” by Sandra Steingraber, the co-founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking, as well as other anti-fracking activists.
As EID has noted, many of the studies used to justify the ban on fracking have either been discredited or shown to have used faulty methodologies, while dozens of peer-reviewed studies showing no credible health impacts were ignored.
CLAIM: “In the last few years, early anecdotal evidence of harm has been confirmed by an avalanche of peer-reviewed studies. An analysis by independent experts of the more than 400 peer reviewed studies finds that the vast majority of these studies show problems and harms.”
FACT: The “400 peer-reviewed studies” the letter refers to were compiled by the outspoken anti-fracking groups Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSEHE) and Concerned Health Professionals of New York. Just a quick perusal of their list reveals that a good number of them were written, peer-reviewed or funded by anti-fracking activists.
Just to give one of many examples: one of the studies listed by the PSEHE was conducted by Gasland star and anti-fracking Professor Anthony Ingraffea, who recently admitted that his work is “a form of advocacy.”
The report claims that shale gas wells in Pennsylvania “leak” at a greater rate than conventional wells, with the insinuation that these “leaks” have led to widespread water contamination, a claim that EID has debunked.
Ingraffea arrives at these inaccurate figures by conflating sustained casing pressure (SCP) with well integrity failures. SCP is the buildup of pressure in a well – it’s not the same thing as a leak or a well failure. Shale wells have four to seven layers of casing, and in order for a well to fail, every one of those barriers would have to crack and leak. That’s exceedingly rare.
The Ground Water Protection Council has made this distinction, which is why its well failure rates – 0.03 percent in Ohio and 0.01 percent in Texas – are accurate. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection also makes this distinction, as it has reported Pennsylvania’s well failure rate at just 0.33 percent.
The Department of Energy has issued the following assessment based on the latter statistics: “Hydraulic fracturing… has proven to be a safe and effective stimulation technique. Ground water is protected during the shale gas fracturing process by a combination of the casing and cement that is installed when the well is drilled and thousands of feet of rock between the fracture zone and any fresh or treatable aquifers.”
Their list also fails to include the many studies by far more credible sources such as the U.S. EPA, U.S. Geological Survey, Ground Water Protection Council and Department of Energy, which have all determined fracking is safe. Whom to believe: government regulatory agencies or admitted anti-fracking activists?
CLAIM: “Dangerous endocrine disruptors and carcinogens [due to the fracking process] are increasingly common. Many parents now have to worry about what their children are drinking and breathing, often reporting increased rates of asthma, difficulty breathing, excessive nose bleeds, and other acute health problems linked to the chemicals from fracking operations.”
FACT: Reports such as a recently released study led by anti-fracking researcher Susan Nagel, which suggested “widespread infertility, cancer, deformities and birth defects” have fueled this myth.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can be naturally occurring compounds or man-made substances and can be found in many everyday household products, including plastic bottles, metal can liners and detergents. EDCs also can be found in agricultural chemicals. The researchers actually acknowledged the EDCs at those sites may not have been attributable to fracking:
“Both naturally occurring chemicals and synthetic chemicals from other sources could contribute to the activity observed in the water samples collected in this study.”
Shortly after the study’s publication, the medical publication Clinical Advisor noted the study had “a lack of direct identification of fracking chemicals in the tested water.”
The Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department Public Health and Environment also issued a statement to the media listing a series of criticisms against the paper, including geological assumptions that were “not factually or scientifically valid.”
CLAIM: “[Water contamination, including] At least 243 instances of water contamination in Pennsylvania.”
FACT: There hasn’t been a single confirmed case of water contamination caused by the fracking process, a fact attested to by an array of experts from former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. And of the 243 Pennsylvania water contamination cases referred to in the letter, not a single case was caused by the fracking process. A large majority of the contaminants the Pennsylvania DEP found are also naturally occurring and can be present far away from oil and gas drilling and disturbed by the water well drilling process.
The latter is important to understand, considering Pennsylvania has no water well regulations in place. That could explain why, according to the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, 40 percent of Pennsylvania’s water wells do not meet at least one safe drinking water standard. That organization also estimates 20 percent of Pennsylvania’s water wells contain pre-existing methane.
Further, it’s important to remember that due to a Pennsylvania law, operators are presumed responsible for contamination if water wells are within 2,500 feet of their oil and gas well drilling sites.
Even though a number of these cases are likely due to natural causes and not attributable to the oil and gas extraction process, it is important to note that the 243 cases were out of more than 30,000 oil and gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania since 2006.
CLAIM: “In Texas, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and elsewhere, researchers have found disturbing levels of ground-level ozone (smog) and volatile organic compounds, including carcinogenic benzene and formaldehyde.”
FACT: This is a talking point that originated from a 2009 study by anti-fracking activist and Gasland star Al Armendariz that claimed “the oil and gas sector likely has greater [smog-forming] emissions than motor vehicles” in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. Data from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality show the exact opposite is true. Publically available information demonstrates oil and gas production is not a significant contributor to ozone levels. Vehicle exhaust adds much more volatile organic compounds to the atmosphere than oil and gas production.
Al Armendariz, while serving as Region 6 Administrator of the EPA, was the one who stated that his “general philosophy” is to “crucify” the energy industry. It should come to no surprise that Armendariz now works for the Sierra Club.
CLAIM: “In many states, fracking and associated toxic wastewater disposal wells are causing thousands of earthquakes, including some greater than magnitude 5.0 that have damaged people’s homes.”
FACT: The Natural Research Council has concluded that the hydraulic fracturing process “does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events.” A recent peer-reviewed paper from Durham University found that of the 198 human-caused earthquakes since 1929, only one was indirectly linked to hydraulic fracturing. Other sources cite three quakes linked to fracking-related activities during that time, but two of those were linked to wastewater injection, a separate process. Seismicity caused by wastewater injection wells is also rare, as the Natural Research Council has pointed out:
“Injection for disposal of wastewater derived from energy technologies into the subsurface does pose some risk for induced seismicity, but very few events have been documented over the past several decades relative to the large number of disposal wells in operation.”
A recent EID analysis found that more than 99 percent of injection wells in the Barnett Shale region have not been associated with felt seismic events. A fraction of one percent of injection wells nationwide has been linked to seismicity, as the U.S. Geological Survey has acknowledged:
“Although the disposal process has the potential to trigger earthquakes, not every wastewater disposal well produces earthquakes. In fact, very few of the more than 30,000 wells designed for this purpose appear to cause earthquakes.”
CLAIM: “Communities with fracking have seen alarming increases in crime, including assault, drunk driving, drug abuse, and sex trafficking, as well as fatal vehicle crashes. These costs fall on local communities, while time and again, the number of jobs promised have not materialized.”
FACT: When ban-fracking activists start blaming fracking for everything from drunk driving to sex trafficking, it’s pretty clear they don’t have the science on their side. Meanwhile, communities in which shale development has taken place have actually seen their unemployment rates plummet and their tax revenues and disposable incomes surge. Not only does the oil and gas industry support more than 2.1 million jobs nationwide, it’s creating good-paying jobs as well.
CLAIM: “Shale development leaks a great deal of methane into the atmosphere, which is 86 times more potent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over 20 years.”
FACT: The EPA released data this month showing that methane emissions from natural gas production activities have dropped 38 percent since 2005. U.S. natural gas production has increased by 26 percent during that time.
“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.”
Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz has also said:
“About half of that progress we have made [on greenhouse gas emissions] is from the natural-gas boom.”
University of California-Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller hit the nail on the head when he said:
“Environmentalists who oppose the development of shale gas and fracking are making a tragic mistake.”
Former Secretary Clinton also recognizes that, thanks to increased use of natural gas, air pollution has been drastically reduced across the U.S.
Considering that all the claims in this letter have been debunked, it’s no wonder former Secretary Clinton has been a vocal supporter of the shale revolution and the hydraulic fracturing that has allowed it to happen. During a speech at Hamilton College in New York she said that responsible development is something we can and indeed should embrace. From the Democrat and Chronicle:
“Late into the lecture portion of Clinton’s Oneida County appearance, she referenced a report that the U.S. in on track to surpass Russia in domestic oil-and-gas production.
That’s good news, Clinton said.
‘What that means for viable manufacturing and industrialization in this country is enormous,’ she said to the crowd of 5,800 in Hamilton’s athletic field house.”
She is joined in this support not only by Republicans but also by major figures in the Democratic Party, including President Obama, Sen. Chuck Schumer, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, as well as the scientists and regulators who advise these officials throughout the country.
And considering all of the positives of shale development were conveniently overlooked by the activists — including economic prosperity, more tax revenue and cleaner air — it’s no surprise that fracking continues to garner mainstream support from both sides of the political aisle.