Forbes Contributor’s Agenda Driven Anti-Fracking Series Chock-Full of Long-Debunked Claims
Forbes contributor Judy Stone, an infectious disease specialist from Maryland, recently used the final entry of her three-part anti-fracking series to push for a ban on fracking in her home state of Maryland. Not surprisingly, the final entry in Stone’s series (the first two entries can be viewed here and here) was again high on rhetoric and noticeably short on facts. Here are the most glaring examples.
FACT: The most recent Maryland polling found more residents oppose a ban on fracking than support a ban.
Stone cites a 2016 OpinionWorks poll — which was commissioned by anti-fracking groups and asked incredibly misleading questions — to make the claim that 56 percent of residents approve a ban on fracking or a long-term moratorium. Here’s the key question from the OpinionWorks poll:
“After more than six years of study, the New York Health Department declared in 2014 that ‘fracking’ for natural gas posed too many human and environmental health risks to be done safely, so the governor banned the practice of fracking in the state. In Maryland, no fracking yet occurs, but studies have found that fracking here would pose similar risks. Knowing this, do you support or oppose a ban on fracking in Maryland?”
The results of that clearly biased poll doesn’t align with results of a Goucher poll that was released the same day as the final part of her Forbes series.
That poll found that 40 percent of Marylanders oppose a ban on fracking, while 36 percent support one. In sharp contrast to the OpinionWorks poll, the Goucher poll did not frame its questions in a way that would influence responders toward a desired response, as the following example illustrates,
“Do you [support or oppose] a ban on hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — in Maryland?”
Notably, Stone has yet to update her Forbes piece with the Goucher poll findings.
FACT: Heinz-funded Public Herald’s recent propaganda attack on Marcellus development lacks the credibility Stone attempts to give it.
Stone’s series relies heavily on a recent report from the vehemently anti-fracking activist blog Public Herald, which is funded by the anti-fracking Heinz Endowments and The 11th Hour Project. As the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) noted in its blog post on the report, the group lacks credibility to the extent that the only news outlet to report on it, StateImact PA, also receives funding from the Heinz Endowment. In fact, as MSC explained, the entire report was written, reviewed and reported on in an echo chamber funded by Heinz:
“In an incredibly weak attempt to legitimize and validate Public Herald’s research, the bloggers turn to fellow ‘researchers’ to comment on their ‘findings’ – researchers who also receive handsome amounts of financial support from anti-energy foundations, including the Heinz Endowments. Specifically, Anthony Ingraffea and John Stolz, are both Heinz-funded researchers who continue to peddle ‘reports’ attacking natural gas that have debunked by independent experts, academic peers as well as state and federal regulators.”
Despite the fact that StateImpact is the only reputable news outlet that reported on the investigation, Stone refers to it nine times in her series, even going as far as to include a solicitation for donations for a “documentary” produced by Public Herald:
“To learn more about her case you can donate to receive a copy of Triple Divide — a Public Herald documentary on fracking.”
FACT: The industry is regulated at the federal and state levels.
Stone attempts to convince readers that fracking is under-regulated by turning to two of the most cliché debunked anti-fracking tactics in the book: spinning yarns about the mythical “Halliburton Loophole” and claiming fracking chemicals are kept secret.
Stone argues that “In many states, companies don’t even have to disclose what these chemicals are that they are injecting into these wells,” but that is far from true. In fact, regardless of state regulations on chemical disclosure, companies still have to disclose all chemicals used on a well site to the proper authorities because of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA). According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
“The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986 was created to help communities plan for chemical emergencies. It also requires industry to report on the storage, use and releases of hazardous substances to federal, state, and local governments. EPCRA requires state and local governments, and Indian tribes to use this information to prepare their community from potential risks.”
Stone also brings up the issue of “trade secrets,” citing Virginia’s recent legislation. Though companies do have the right conceal proprietary information that could harm their ability to be competitive, under law that information must be released to response and medical personnel in case of an emergency. Even without an emergency, companies still disclose the general name of the constituent in question, its common industrial uses, and even the volumes at which it is being deployed. The vast majority of these are considered “non-hazardous” by EPA — quite the contrast from what Stone claims. Here’s a couple examples of full completion reports including all chemical constituents used in the fracking process:
- Halliburton: Regional breakdown of both the additives and constituents used in fracturing solutions
- Range Resources: Completion reports (with detailed fluid disclosure) for more than 120 individual wells
In addition to this, companies oftentimes voluntarily report their additives used in the hydraulic fracturing process on the national chemical registry database FracFocus.org. To date there are over 117,000 wells registered on the site.
This claim has been debunked over and over again, and yet, Stone still brings it up, stating, “thanks to the ‘Halliburton Loophole,’ which exempted the injection of these fracking chemicals (now euphemistically called “tools”) from the EPA’s regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
Truth is, hydraulic fracturing has never in its nearly 65-year history been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Language adopted by bipartisan majorities of Congress in 2005 simply reaffirmed that fact. But here’s some of the federal regulations that the industry does have to follow throughout every stage of the hydraulic fracturing process:
At the state level, those regulations go even further. The following chart from the Marcellus Shale Coalition shows how the industry is regulated at every step of the process by multiple state and federal agencies:
FACT: The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) analyzed water test results in Dimock without determining fault — and its findings are consistent with pre-drilling water quality studies of the region.
In Stone’s attempt to discredit the EPA’s recent groundwater report as “downplaying” impacts to water from hydraulic fracturing both in the report and in Dimock, she gives the impression that the ATSDR found the gas industry at fault for “dangerously high levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic and copper in residents’ wells, as well as non-natural pollutants including acetone, toluene and chloroform, and a compound called 4-chlorophenyl phenyl ether. The water in 17 homes contained enough methane to risk an explosion.” But that’s not the case. The ATSDR report clearly states,
“For this public health evaluation, ATSDR conservatively assumed ingestion of residential well water with the maximum detected chemical concentration(s) and included all detected contaminants in the evaluation regardless of the source of the contaminant in the residential well (e.g., naturally occurring or otherwise). Per ATSDR’s health assessment process, ATSDR made conservative assumptions about exposures to the chemicals detected in the residential well water at this site, and made recommendations based on this information.”
E&E News also quoted Bryce Payne, a Pennsylvania environmental scientist who has studied aspects of the Dimock case, as saying, “It’s not their job to look at who caused whatever contamination there is. It’s their job to see if there are health implications.”
In other words, no one is disputing that the ATSDR tests showed high levels. But the ATSDR didn’t evaluate baseline data, and historic information and baseline water testing in the region is available. And in fact, the most comprehensive analysis of baseline water tests to date, conducted by Syracuse University, looked at over 21,000 water samples in the Norther Tier, where Dimock is located, and found that,
“… exceedance of at least one water-quality standard occurs in 63% of water well samples in NE Pennsylvania and 87% in the Western area.”
And a 2013 a study published in the peer-reviewed journal for the National Groundwater Association looked at over 1,700 wells in Susquehanna County and found:
- “Historical documentation suggests that the presence of methane gas in the shallow subsurface has been observed for over 200 years in Susquehanna County…”
- “There are several dozen instances of flammable effervescing springs and water wells dating back to the late 1700s…”
- “Water well drillers have frequently reported encountering gas during drilling, particularly in valleys and other low-lying areas…”
It went on to explain,
“The results of the extensive ‘predrill’ water well sampling and background survey show methane to be nearly ubiquitous in water wells in this region, with over 78% of the water wells exhibiting detectable methane concentrations.” (p. 3, emphasis added)
FACT: The health studies Stone cites did not find that fracking caused these health problems.
Stone discusses several health studies, predominantly from Johns Hopkins University, in the second piece of her series. But the fact remains that these studies not only used modeling — they did not actually take any samples to make any determinations — none of them actually found a causal link to fracking.
In the case of one study Stone highlighted on sinus conditions, migraines and fatigue, the vast majority of participants weren’t even located in areas with shale development. In fact, just 336 of the study’s 7,785 participants (only 4 percent) live in the five counties that happen to have the most shale development in the study area. To top that, the researchers, by their own admission, never gathered any baseline data on the participants’ histories of having these symptoms:
“We reasoned that UNGD might be associated with current CRS only for onset of symptoms after 2006, when UNGD commenced in Pennsylvania. To test the associated hypothesis we stratified the CRS group by date of symptom onset (before/after January 1, 2006) and re-ran models within each stratum. While associations of UNGD activity with our other outcomes could also differ by onset date, our questionnaire did not ascertain the onset date of migraine and fatigue symptoms.” (emphasis added)
This is just one example of the many studies that have failed to prove fracking causes adverse health effects. But as the following EID graphic shows, this hasn’t kept media headlines from suggesting otherwise.
Contrary to what the above headlines suggest, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) recently found that “the risk of harmful health effects is low for residents living [near] oil and gas operations,” and that “results from exposure and health effect studies do not indicate the need for immediate public health action.”
CDPHE came to this conclusion after collecting over 10,000 air samples in parts of the state with “substantial” oil and gas operations, noting:
“This isn’t cherry-picked air sampling data,” said CDPHE’s head of environmental epidemiology Dr. Mike Van Dyke. “This is all air sampling data.”
FACT: Many of the spills Stone describes were freshwater, and most were contained on well sites with no impacts to the environment.
Stone brings the recent Duke spills report into her argument, yet never offers any context for the claim that, “With disturbing frequency, new spills or accidents are reported at the same time as industry tries to reassure that fracking brings safe and clean energy.” But here’s some important context from the study:
“The largest spill reported in all four states was a freshwater tank spill of 3752 m3 (991,200 gal) in North Dakota.”
That’s right, the largest spill was freshwater. In fact, a large volume of the spills were actually freshwater. In addition to this, the vast majority of spills are contained on the well pad and never impact the environment. And it’s not just the industry saying this — in 2014 the New York Times created a database that showed that 78 percent of brine spills nationwide between Jan. 1, 2006, and Oct. 13, 2014, were contained on site and never affected the environment.
FACT: Well casings are not failing at alarming rates.
Stone claims “the conventional pipes often used are unable to withstand the high pressure of the fracking mixture being injected. In fact, new wells were not safer, and 6% of unconventional (fracked) wells drilled since 2000 showed problems.” Once again, though, the data does not support these claims.
The reality is, as the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) agrees, well failures are not commonplace whatsoever. In 2013 SPE said:
“[A]ctual well integrity failures are very rare. Well integrity failure is where all barriers fail and a leak is possible. True well integrity failure rates are two to three orders of magnitude lower than single barrier failure rates.”
Data compiled by the Associated Press found that the well failure rate for oil and natural gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania is approximately one third of one-percent (0.33 percent). In Texas and Ohio, a 2011 Ground Water protection study found a well failure rate of less than 0.01 percent and 0.03 percent respectively.
The decision whether or not to place a ban on the fracking process in Maryland, extend a moratorium or allow fracking to take place under the new regulations set to begin in October is an important one. Marylanders, including the elected officials who will make this decision, deserve to have the facts on hydraulic fracturing and its real impacts to the economy and environment. Stones’ recent Forbes contributions may have pushed her anti-fracking agenda, but it did little to offer Marylanders real facts on fracking.