Mountain States

Anti-Fracking Groups Recycle Old “Threat-Maps” in Desperate Bid for Attention

The Wilderness Society and Earthworks have teamed up again to recycle their thoroughly debunked “Threat Maps” – and mislead the public about oil and natural gas development – for the third time.

First, the groups launched a nationwide campaign targeting people living near oil and natural gas development, next they targeted Latino communities.  Now the groups are directing their misinformation toward people living near energy production happening on public lands across six Western states.

Activists admit in the study they have no evidence to link fracking to health problems

Materials released with the new maps kick-off with language that is clearly written for shock value. From the Wilderness Society:

“A new online tool released today by The Wilderness Society and Earthworks shows that at least 74,000 people in six western states live within a half-mile of active oil and gas wells on public lands, leading to increased risks of cancer, heart disease and respiratory ailments from natural gas released into the air.”

But a little further down in the press release Earthworks, admits:

“The Threat Map doesn’t mean you’re safe if you live farther than a half-mile from a facility, or doomed if you live closer than a half-mile.”

This is exactly what happened the first time they released their “Threat Maps.”  They claimed people living near oil and natural gas development find themselves within a “threat radius” – an area they clearly want the public to believe is at risk. But they themselves admit (in the fine print) that it cannot be taken seriously:

“The Threat Radius is the area within ½ mile of active oil and gas wells, compressors and processors. It indicates that those within it should be concerned; it is not a declaration that those within it will have negative health impacts. The Threat Radius does not quantify the threat posed by this pollution.” (emphasis added)

Public health officials have debunked activists’ claims

The Wilderness Society and Earthworks claim that people living near energy development on public lands face “increased risks of cancer, heart disease and respiratory ailments from natural gas released into the air.”

But health officials have thoroughly debunked these claims. For example, in Colorado, a state specifically targeted by the groups, a recent interview with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) executive director and chief medical officer Dr. Larry Wolk, addressed anti-fracking activists’ health claims head-on. From the Colorado Independent:

“What the data shows is that from a registry standpoint — we maintain registries based on a number of health conditions, whether it’s cancer, birth defects, etc.— that the rates of these different health concerns or issues in some of these oil and gas-rich communities were no different from those that were not in oil and gas-rich communities.” (Emphasis added)

Dr. Wolk also points out that CDPHE data show that pollution in the region is down, while cases of asthma remain flat and instances of lung cancer have declined over the last 10 years. This happened during a rapid acceleration in oil and natural gas production along Colorado’s Front Range. Also from the Colorado Independent:

Asthma has been flat and high for quite a while, although, because we have a state where people are coming and going a lot, it’s hard to look statewide. You can look at our website and see what that sort of prevalence has done in terms of trends. From a pollution standpoint, we have been relatively stable, and have actually seen some improvements in some types of pollution. Particulate matter is way down — we don’t have the brown cloud like we used to — and ozone we’ve been able to regulate to a level that certainly isn’t getting any worse, and, in some respects, is actually getting a little better.”

The data show similar trends in Pennyslvania. As EID previously reported, state health data indicate a significant 26 percent reduction in inpatient asthma hospitalizations throughout the entire state between 2009 and 2013—which happens to be a time when shale development was soaring. And as EID highlighted, the data shows that counties with shale development saw fewer hospitalizations than those where little or no fracking was taking place.

Activists ignore public health benefits of increased natural gas use

Adding to their credibility problems is that the Wilderness Society and Earthworks simply ignore the fact that emissions have been steadily declining across the United States, thanks to natural gas. Public health and environmental regulators from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, CDPHE, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have all found that hydraulic fracturing does not pose a credible threat to air quality or public health.  In fact, Pennsylvania’s DEP found that thanks to natural gas, emissions have been reduced by over 500 million tons. For Pa. DEP Secretary, Chris Abruzzo, said:

“It is important to note that across-the-board emission reductions … can be attributed to the steady rise in the production and development of natural gas, the greater use of natural gas, lower allowable emissions limits, installation of control technology and the deactivation of certain sources.” (emphasis added)

Former New York City Mayor Bloomberg has also highlighted the public health benefits of fracking, mentioning that thanks to the increased use of natural gas, New York has the cleanest air in over 50 years, which means fewer asthma problems across the board:

“Today, because of the significant improvements in air quality, the health department estimates that 800 lives will be saved each year and approximately 1,600 emergency department visits for asthma and 460 hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular issues will be prevented every year. The City expects further improvements in air quality and the future health of all New Yorkers as buildings continue to convert to cleaner fuels over the next several years.”

And contrary to the activists’ claims, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign says that natural gas usage reduces asthma attacks:

“This shift [to natural gas in electricity generation] has also yielded significant public health benefits, avoiding thousands of premature deaths and more than 100,000 asthma attacks in 2015 alone.”


The credibility problems for these activist groups will persist no matter how many times Earthworks repackages its debunked “Threat Maps.” The only questions that remains is: how will they try to recycle it next?

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