Anti-Fracking Groups Cheerfully Deny Science in Unison
This week, two anti-fracking groups — Food and Water Watch and PennEnvironment — released “reports” arguing that (surprise, surprise!) fracking causes health and social problems, and therefore should be banned.
Just as a refresher, PennEnvironment is the same group that published a photo of a submerged drilling rig on its Facebook page and tweeted it out with the message: “Here’s more evidence Marcellus Shale drilling pads should NOT be allowed in floodplains.” Except for one minor detail: it wasn’t in the Marcellus Shale – or even in the United States. As it turns out, the photo was of a flooded rig in Pakistan. The group also published a misleading image from South Africa to try to malign Pennsylvania shale development.
These images are essentially metaphors for what groups like PennEnvironment and Food and Water Watch must do in order to make their claims: deny the science and obscure reality.
The Scranton-Times Tribune and the Pittsburg Business Times both published articles announcing PennEnvironment’s latest “report” … but the Scranton-Times Tribune linked back to an old PennEnvironment report from 2011 while the Pittsburg Business Times linked to a page on PennEnvironment’s website with just one paragraph that reads:
“Gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale could put Pennsylvania’s children, elderly and other vulnerable populations at risk. From Pittsburgh to Scranton, gas companies have already drilled more than 3,000 hydraulic fracturing wells, and the state has issued permits for thousands more. Permitted well sites exist within two miles of more than 320 day care facilities, 67 schools and nine hospitals statewide.
Use the FracTracker map below to find hospitals, day care facilities and schools located near drilling sites.”
So that’s it? A paragraph and a map? And this was billed by news outlets and PennEnvironment as a report? PennEnvironment also posted a press release Tuesday announcing its new “report” – but not only did the press release not link to the report, it has since been taken down. And a scour through PennEnvironment’s website yields nothing more than that one paragraph and map.
Of course, PennEnvironment’s paragraph and map do not point to one real-world example of demonstrable harm to children backed up with scientific evidence. That’s probably because credible scientific research and regulatory determinations have shown that fracking does not pose a credible risk to air, water, or public health. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
As for Pennsylvania specifically, The Breakthrough Institute recently released a report that found the use of natural gas and the “associated surge in fracking have dramatically reduced emissions across Pennsylvania.” More specifically, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found that over 500 million tons of emissions have been removed from the Commonwealth’s air thanks to increased use of natural gas.
Health researchers have also looked into the issue in Denton County, Tex. (which sits atop the Barnett Shale), and noted that the health of local citizens actually improved at the same time that natural gas production rapidly expanded across the region. That also occurred as the area’s elderly population grew significantly over that time. According to the researchers:
“Health records indicate that while [natural gas] 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.”
Does that mean production itself makes people healthier? The researchers don’t say. But it certainly helps debunk the myth that development poses an inherent threat to public health.
There is, however, potentially an indirect link. According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, “people with a quality education, stable employment … and access to preventive services tend to be healthier throughout their lives.”
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality also conducted months of testing in the Barnett Shale region, 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.”
Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) also installed air quality monitors near a well site that had come under intense criticism from local activists. CDPHE concluded:
“No significant concentrations were recorded that could be directly attributed to well completion operations at this well pad.”
The CDPHE monitors also checked the background levels of benzene, which had featured prominently in the talking points activists had used to frighten their neighbors. What did the data show?
“The monitored concentrations of benzene, one of the major risks driving chemicals, are well within acceptable limits to protect public health, as determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
A spokeswoman for PennEnvironment said after release of this latest report that “the burden of proof should be on drillers that [hydraulic fracturing] can be done safely.” Perhaps the burden should be on PennEnvironment to prove that, when it runs to the press with alarmist talking points, their claims aren’t phony or preconceived.
Food and Water Watch
We have to say the absurdities in Food and Water Watch’s latest report seem to have no limits – but here are a few gems:
“The fracking boom has brought heavy trucks crowding rural roads and out-of-state workers flooding small towns, often overwhelming local housing, police and public health capacities. The influx of transient workers with disposable income and little to do in their off hours is a recipe for trouble in small-town America, where alcohol-related crimes, traffic accidents, emergency room visits and sexually transmitted infection have all been on the rise” (p. 2).
“In North Dakota, the influx of young male fracking workers, many of whom retain their primary homes elsewhere and live in man camps, has created an unsafe atmosphere for women and given the state the nation’s third-highest single male-to-female ratio” (p. 4)
“The large influx of transient fracking workers can lead to higher levels of social disorder, especially substance abuse and alcohol-related crimes. The socially isolated workers have ample incomes and little to occupy their time in rural communities. One 23-year old transient worker residing in Pennsylvania admitted: ‘We definitely do drink a lot. I ain’t going to lie’” (p. 7)
This is what Food and Water Watch has been relegated to: offensively characterizing the hardworking men and women of the oil and gas industry. Families today have sustainable incomes and better futures thanks to shale, and Food and Water Watch categorizes all of them as a bunch of drunk, bored, women-abusing losers.
So, what are the real social impacts of shale development?
This summer, the McKinsey Global Institute released a study that found that Marcellus Shale producers and related industries created 239,474 jobs in Pennsylvania, fueling economic growth and prosperity.
And it’s not just jobs. Private landowners in Pennsylvania are taking in billions in royalties from natural gas companies, helping families meet their financial needs. For instance, Business Insider reported on the experiences of residents of the formerly poor Susquehanna County in Pennsylvania, and here’s what they found:
“Adam Diaz is young, handsome and, these days, frankly, rich. The 35-year-old Susquehanna County, Penn. native was scraping by supplying construction contractors with cut bluestone when the gas industry arrived to his sleepy corner of Pennsylvania in 2009.
Four years later, Diaz now owns seven different companies, including a home furnishings manufacturer and a timber harvester — that bring in $50 million a year and employs 250 people.
By one count, county residents have taken in a total of $300 million in gas royalties.
Jay Agkinson, a lifelong county resident who runs Montrose’s Shell station, said morning fill-ups can sometimes resemble truck meets.
‘A lot of people who never had money have money now,’ he said.”
The Associated Press also reported on the billions of dollars in royalties flowing to Pennsylvanians:
“‘We used to have to put stuff on credit cards. It was basically living from paycheck to paycheck,’ said Shawn Georgetti, who runs a family dairy farm in Avella, about 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh….Before Range Resources drilled a well on the family property in 2012, Georgetti said, he was stuck using 30-year-old equipment, with no way to upgrade without going seriously into debt. ‘You don’t have that problem anymore. It’s a lot more fun to farm,’ Georgetti said, since he has been able to buy newer equipment that’s bigger, faster and more fuel-efficient. The drilling hasn’t caused any problems for the farm, he said.”
These real world examples in Pennsylvania are, of course, merely part of a much more significant positive impact. A new report by IHS CERA found that, in 2012, the shale value chain supported 2.1 million jobs, $75 billion in federal and state tax revenues, and added $283 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). By 2020, these numbers will rise to 3.3 million jobs, over $125 billion in federal and state tax revenue, and more than $468 billion in annual GDP contributions.
Focusing on the social impact for a moment, one of the main benefits of shale development is lower energy bills. IHS CERA also found that American families saved an average of $1,200 per household in 2012, and that savings could grow to $3,500 per year by 2025.
As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, the decrease in energy prices resulting from shale gas development has actually been a life saver, especially for low-income households across the country. A recent report from Mercator Energy estimates that shale gas development has been three times more effective in helping low income families than the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program that provides financial assistance to families that cannot afford their energy bills.
And it only makes sense that the less money families have to spend on energy bills, the more money they have to put nutritious food on the table and afford quality health care.
The scientific and social evidence is clear: natural gas development is bringing cleaner air, more jobs, and massive economic benefits to areas all around the country. Groups like Penn Environment and Food and Water Watch routinely deny these realities, choosing instead to promote obfuscations or even offensive talking points designed entirely to confuse the public.