Fact-Check: ‘The Usual’ Anti-Fracking Activists’ Claims Ahead of Today’s Hearing on Rep. Joseph Salazar’s ‘Martinez/Earth Guardian’ Bill
Today, more public testimony will be heard on State Rep. and Colorado Attorney General candidate Joe Salazar’s (D) bill, HB18-1071 — also known as the “Martinez/Earth Guardian” bill —ahead of a vote in the Colorado State Senate Ag Committee.
We have covered both the bill and the court case that has prompted it extensively, noting this effort is backed by national ban-fracking activists as part of the broader “Keep It In the Ground” agenda. It’s not surprising that Rep. Salazar is the author of the bill, as he’s pledged before to “bring bills to go after the oil and gas companies” and to “support those who bring bills to go after the oil and gas companies,” in an effort to avoid consequences he described “would relegate me to the depths of hell.” In addition to this pledge, Rep. Salazar recently joined the national anti-fossil fuel group 350.org at a “Tour de Frack” rally, stating simply “I don’t believe the data” that shows oil and gas development is safe.
We can expect to hear the same tired lines from activists during today’s hearing that were used during their last appearance in the House. With that said, it’s important to highlight that this type of ban-fracking rhetoric is not exclusive to the Martinez legislation being discussed today. Time and time again activists mischaracterize studies regularly in every venue where public policy discussions take place. To push back, Energy In Depth-Mountain States has released a new report on publicly available data and key findings from Colorado’s top health regulators.
EID’s new report highlights publicly available data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), including epidemiological health studies and air sample studies for Weld County, Colorado – where 90 percent of the state’s oil and 40 percent of natural gas development occurs. EID’s new report includes a broad analysis of Colorado communities conducted by CDPHE. This includes CDPHE’s Oil and Gas Health Information and Response (OGHIR) Program reports, which tracked health concerns self-reported by Colorado residents. OGHIR’s reports examined residents’ health concerns, with 50 percent of the self-reported concerns in the state originating in Weld County. CDPHE responded to those stakeholders by taking air samples and provided summaries of their findings.
From the OGHIR report:
“OGHIR deployed the Colorado Air Monitoring Mobile Laboratory (CAMML) to three of the investigations, resulting in approximately 500 sampling hours. Each hourly sample includes about 1,000 individual data points.…
“In general, the data collected from air sampling investigations have shown low risk for short- and long-term health effects to people in communities reporting concerns.”
In addition to the recent release of the new report, EID-Mountain States did a deep dive and sifted through the typical “Keep It In the Ground” talking points to arm Coloradans with the facts and separate out the anti-fracking movement’s usual claims.
CLAIM: Several activists have cited Dr. Lisa McKenzie’s study, sometimes referred to as the “CU study,” which claims to find that when living near oil and gas, babies are likely to be underweight, have asthma, lower future test scores and increased risk of acute lymphocytic anemia.
FACT: While this study immediately became a talking point for “ban fracking” activists, it was quickly disavowed and discredited by the state’s top health officials, including Colorado’s top doctor.
Dr. Larry Wolk, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), wrote in a statement upon the release of the study:
“[T]his study’s conclusions are misleading in that the study questions a possible association between oil and gas operations and childhood leukemia; it does not prove or establish such a connection.”
In an interview with The Colorado Independent, Dr. Wolk’s colleague, Dr. Mike Van Dyke, CDPHE’s head of environmental epidemiology, occupational health, and toxicology, clarified that the study was “not research that definitely links oil and gas exposure to cancers in this age group” due to “significant limitations,” and “there are a lot of alternative explanations that could be proposed to explain this same relationship.”
In light of the criticism they received from state health officials, the researchers admitted in an opinion piece published by the Denver Post that their research does not actually “provide enough evidence to say” that living near oil and gas wells actually causes health problems.
CLAIM: Several activists have claimed the “American Lung Association gives Fort Collins an ‘F’ for air quality, and oil and gas causing illnesses.”
FACT: The American Lung Association’s (ALA) annual air quality reports have long been debunked not only by Energy In Depth, but by state air regulators, EPA officials, and the local news media. And in 2014, the CDPHE came right out and warned that the ALA’s air quality report card was “both inaccurate and misrepresents air quality in Colorado.”
CLAIM: Dr. Judy Stone’s recent Forbes opinion piece noted that chemicals found as far as a mile away in air from drilling sites affect brain development in kids.
FACT: Stone, an infectious disease specialist practicing in Maryland, used a three-part anti-fracking series to push for a ban on fracking in her home state of Maryland. Stone discussed several health studies, predominantly from Johns Hopkins University, all of which used modeling, meaning they did not actually take any samples to make any determinations, and none of them actually found a causal link to fracking.
CLAIM: Pennsylvania birth study purports to link proximity to well sites with lower birth weights.
FACT: A recent Pennsylvania birth study, authored by researchers from Princeton University, the University of Chicago and the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), claimed to show “evidence” that fracking has caused greater incidences of low birth weights in babies born to mothers living near Pennsylvania shale production sites. The press release declared that the study provides the “strongest large-scale evidence of a link between the pollution that stems from hydraulic fracturing activities and our health, specifically the health of babies.” But the authors admit that the study was only exploring “potential” pollution, not “actual exposure,” and even said that such pathways are “not known with certainty.” With that said, the authors relied on a simple spatial correlation to suggest that the closer mothers live to production sites, the more likely they are to have babies with lower birth weights.
EID Health did a full debunk of this report finding six major flaws in the PA report that attempts to link fracking to infant health issues.
CLAIM: Activists claim that living near drilling sites causes illnesses.
FACT: CDPHE scientists have reviewed 12 relevant epidemiological studies covering 27 different health effects, and found “no substantial or moderate evidence for any health effects.” CDPHE ranked the majority of recent studies purporting to find a link between oil and natural gas activity and adverse health effects as “low quality, primarily due to limitations of the study designs that make it difficult to establish clear links between exposures to substances emitted directly from oil and gas and the outcomes evaluated.”
The Martinez ruling isn’t good for Colorado and carries serious implications. Earlier this year, the Colorado Supreme Court announced it will review the Martinez appeals decision. Equally, the companion legislation to the Martinez ruling is just as bad for Colorado. Even lawyers behind the Martinez case are opposed to the legislation and tried to warn Rep. Salazar that his bill is in fact unnecessary.
There’s a lot at stake here, not just for Colorado’s oil and gas industry, which contributes nearly $32 billion annually to the state’s economy, but for the livelihood of 232,000 Coloradans relying upon well-paying jobs that this legislation jeopardizes. In addition, should this sort of ban-fracking work-around legislation be passed, it will take away hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes paid by oil and gas producers annually, which helps fund vital public services and infrastructure in our local communities, like schools and fire departments. Bottom-line, the health and safety of Coloradans should remain the paramount consideration for our lawmakers—but let’s make sure our laws and policy reflect the facts and data, and not unsubstantiated claims.