Mountain States

Discredited Anti-Fracking Researcher Pitching Herself as “Academic Neutral”

According to recent news reports, elected officials in Broomfield have invited controversial researcher Lisa McKenzie – a favorite of anti-fracking groups – to brief them on health issues and oil and gas development later this month. The officials believe McKenzie is an “academic neutral” on oil and gas issues, but they have clearly been misled.

While McKenzie has doggedly tried to institute a connection between cancer, birth defects, and oil and gas development, her work has been repeatedly discredited.

Here are some highlights:

Disavowed by Colorado Officials

McKenzie’s attempts to link oil and gas development and birth defects led the head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Dr. Larry Wolk, to disavow McKenzie’s use of CDPHE data and issue a statement saying that Colorado health officials “disagree with many of the specific associations” in the study, which rely on “miniscule” statistical differences. He also went on to say that the researchers ignored “many factors” besides natural gas development in their research, and “a reader of the study could easily be misled to become overly concerned.” You can read Dr. Wolk’s full statement here.

By the way, Wolk followed up on this point recently telling the Greeley Tribune that when it comes to oil and natural gas development impacting public health, “it’s all about exposure to toxins, and we don’t see anything to be concerned with at this point in time.” 

A Favorite of Anti-Fracking Activists

Let’s recall that McKenzie became a favorite with anti-fracking activists when she published a study claiming that people who live within a half-mile of a natural gas wells may have an increased lifetime cancer risk. That 2012 study – which didn’t actually show any meaningful increase in cancer rates – has morphed into one of the anti-fracking campaign’s most frequently used talking points, used in ban-fracking campaigns across the country. It was even cited in a celebrity “ban fracking” video last November that targeted Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO).

As we’ve noted many times, the study exaggerated emissions from well development by at least 10 times, failed to take into account exhaust fumes from a major interstate highway less than a mile away, and failed to note the cancer risk detected was not above the national average. Even McKenzie herself has conceded the study’s flaws.

McKenzie’s Research Used to Justify Anti-Oil and Gas Setback Measures and Bans in Colorado

According to FracTracker Alliance, an anti-oil and gas website, activists’ recent attempts to get a 2,500 foot setback on the Colorado ballot were inspired by McKenzie’s research:

Current ballot initiatives, created by Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED) demand local government control of oil and gas infrastructure and 2,500-foot setbacks from homes, schools, outdoor recreation areas, and sources of drinking water. This setback distance is based on a Colorado health study, concluding that people living with a half-mile of wells had an increased risk of illness than those further away.

In their 2014 issue brief, the Natural Resources Defense Council cited McKenzie’s research as one of the reasons for “identification and implementation of adequate and protective setback requirements to reduce the exposure of residents to intermittent and chronic levels of air pollutants and toxins.”

Food and Water Watch’s short-lived “Don’t Frack Denver” campaign also used McKenzie’s research to try to scare Denver residents about cancer and birth defects.

Claiming to be an “academic neutral” must be McKenzie’s version of an “alternative fact.”


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