Fact Check: Anti-Fracking Political Ad Misses the Mark

According to the Federal Communications Commission, the North Carolina Environmental Partnership (NCEP) recently spent over $140,000 on an anti-shale advertisement in North Carolina. NCEP, which is comprised of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Environmental Law Center, tossed in some wild claims about shale development in North Carolina. Below is a quick fact check of this ad:

CLAIM: “Fracking can pollute the air and threaten our drinking water

FACT: This is a two part claim, so we’ll examine it in two brief parts.

  1. Air: Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have been hailed as not only great American innovations, but also as important tools for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1994 levels. Shale development has allowed the United States to become the world leader in natural gas production. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the abundance of this cheap, clean-burning energy source has allowed the United States to slash its greenhouse gas emissions. As Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy stated in December 2013, “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.”
  2. Water: The claim that hydraulic fracturing pollutes drinking water is the most worn out card in the anti-fracking deck. America’s top regulators and energy experts have repeatedly said that shale development does not pose a credible risk of contaminating groundwater. As Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, said: “I still have not seen any evidence of fracking per se contaminating groundwater.”

CLAIM: “Fracking uses toxic chemical including Benzene, Silica, Formaldehyde, chemicals that can cause cancer and birth defects.”

FACT: While benzene has been linked to cancer, this is also true of numerous substances we come into contact with every day. Any actual risk, however, is based on a variety of factors, most notably long-term exposure at elevated levels. According to the EPA, the largest sources of benzene exposure are automobiles and roads. Numerous studies have shown that hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, near shale development sites are actually well below scientifically-determined thresholds that would indicate a serious health risk.

The claim about birth defects is certainly one that elicits strong emotions, but it’s also factually suspect. Recently, the Colorado Department of Public Health (CDPH) debunked claims that shale development was linked to birth defects. Earlier this month, the CDPH reported:

“Department epidemiologists looked at more than a dozen factors including each mother’s place of conception and current address; drinking water source (municipal and well); proximity to active oil and gas wells; proximity to each other; the age, health, and family history of the mothers; the mother’s use of medications, supplements, tobacco, alcohol, caffeine and other substances; each mother’s prior pregnancies and deliveries; and ethnicity. While there were different risk factors identified for individual cases, no pattern emerged to suggest a common risk factor for the reported anomalies.” (emphasis added).

CLAIM: “Stop reckless fracking in North Carolina”

FACT: Shale opponents tend to ignore that the oil and gas industry’s understanding of our environment is deep and sophisticated, and it is this knowledge that allows the industry to function. The industry is stringently regulated and simultaneously operates under local state and federal laws; furthermore, hydraulic fracturing has been used responsibly for more than half a century. Regulators at all levels have been diligent in making sure production does not come before safety and best practices, even as the United States continues to reap the economic and environmental benefits of the shale revolution.

Suggesting a tightly regulated industry is operating “recklessly” may score the desired political points, but it gets an F for accuracy.


Attack ads are generally not the best place to find hard science, and this ad is certainly no exception. North Carolina voters, regardless of political party, should not be fooled by the use of tired and repetitive claims about alleged impacts of shale development – claims that have been refuted by both science and experience.


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