Dallas Hearing Showcases Gap Between Facts and Fractivists

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

The City of Dallas sits on the edge of the Barnett Shale in North Texas, and many Dallas residents are eager for their city to share in the job and wealth creating bounty that has resulted from energy production elsewhere in the region. According to a study commissioned by Dallas neighbor Fort Worth’s Chamber of Commerce, the Barnett Shale energy industry has added over $11.1 billion in annual output and 100,268 jobs in the region in recent years.

The City of Dallas has been working for more than a year to update its natural gas drilling regulations, commissioning a Gas Drilling Task Force to make recommendations and engaging various stakeholders along the way. As part of this ongoing process, the Dallas City Plan Commission met yesterday to discuss proposed changes to the city’s natural gas drilling ordinance.

This meeting drew a number of anti-energy activists who came armed with information that has, naturally, been disproven and debunked across the country.

City Plan Commissioners were regaled with various spurious claims, including:

  • CLAIM: A 2012 University of Colorado Denver School of Public Health study that allegedly demonstrated an increase in cancer among people living within 1/2 mile from a site.
    • FACT: The cancer risks identified in the study (which EID debunked here) are actually in line with or well below the risk for the entire U.S. population, regardless of where they live.
    • FACT: This was also the same study that used out of date emissions data and inflated routine industry events by as much as 900 percent. The study also failed to account for additional exposure sources, including a nearby interstate highway (the EPA identifies mobile sources as the largest source of benzene exposure).
  • CLAIM: Earthquakes and sinkholes in the area are due to hydraulic fracturing.
    • FACT: EID has looked into this issue several times, but it’s always worth repeating: the seismic events are not from hydraulic fracturing, and experts studying those incidents have said so many, many times. Instead, they believe the culprit is wastewater disposal, a process that is not only regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, but has also been declared safe by the EPA.
    • FACT: The National Research Council put it best: “hydraulic fracturing a well as presently implemented for shale gas recovery does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events.”
  • CLAIM: A CDC Study that discussed silica exposure on pad sites. Allegedly, of the 11 sites studied, all 11 exceeded the silica standards that the government has set.
    • FACT: What the activists always forget to tell you is that this finding from the CDC (specifically NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) was part of collaborative effort with the oil and gas industry! The purpose was to identify exposure risks and technologies to address those risks, based on sound and credible science, and develop processes to further protect workers.
  • CLAIM: The Colorado study that suggested methane leakage rates from oil and gas systems were twice as high as previously thought.
    • FACT: That study was debunked by environmental experts, and the Environmental Defense Fund said its findings should not be used to describe industry-wide emissions (which is exactly what the Dallas activists were doing). A subsequent study by many of the same researchers suffered from its own set of major flaws. EPA data show that methane emissions from natural gas systems have actually fallen since 1990.
    • FACT: Methane leakage claims have become anti-drilling activists’ answer to the impressive and undeniable reductions in American greenhouse gas emissions that have resulted from an increased use in natural gas.
    • FACT: In 2012, U.S. carbon emissions hit a 20 year low thanks to the increased use of natural gas for electric power generation. These emission reductions have irked anti-fossil fuel zealots who have responded with various studies that claim to debunk the clean air success story of natural gas.
  • CLAIM: Texas Commission on Environmental Air Quality has stated there is more air pollution coming from the energy industry in Dallas-Fort Worth than all the cars and trucks in the area.
    • FACT: This claim relies on a study conducted in 2009 by then SMU Professor Al Armendariz that has been thoroughly debunked by the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council.
    • FACT: It is notable that the author of this study, Al Armendariz, went on to become head of the EPA Region 6 office before resigning in disgrace after video surfaced of him touting the notion of “crucifying” energy companies. He was also the orchestrator of EPA’s endangerment order against Range Resources in Parker County, from which the agency backtracked after scientific tests showed conclusively that the company was not at fault. He now works for the Sierra Club.
    • FACT: After the Armendariz report was released, TCEQ actually weighed in on the air pollution issue in the Barnett Shale. Chairman Bryan Shaw said:
      • “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.”

These bogus claims were not the only thing demonstrating that anti-drilling protestors have a tenuous grip on reality. One speaker called the energy industry “pornographers” and stated that its employees – hardworking men and women from all walks of life – need to be at least 1,500 feet away from other businesses. Others laughably cited Gasland and Gasland Part 2 as ipso facto evidence that shale gas production should not be allowed to proceed in Dallas.

However, there were also speakers who were grounded in reality and poked holes in the often bizarre claims of activists in attendance. Tom Blanton, CEO of Trinity East (the energy company that invested $19 million on leases in Dallas, which are now stuck in legal limbo), called out the hyperbolic opponents on their outrageous claims about the public health impact of shale gas drilling.  “If it was as bad as some people say today, our industry would be dead because all the workers would be either in the morgue or in the hospital,” Blanton said. “We don’t have those issues.”

Also, Dallas resident Mickey McGuire noted that, while he had no direct stake in the success of the energy industry, revenue from Barnett Shale leases and energy production had helped North Texas governments weather the recent economic turmoil.

As Dallas moves forward with its updated drilling regulations, let’s hope elected leaders here have the courage to take a close look at the science and substance of natural gas drilling and not be swayed by those who happen to shout the loudest.

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