*UPDATE* On Paul Gallay’s “Facts”

UPDATE (4/3/2012, 11:04 a.m. ET): Mr. Gallay now has a piece in the Huffington Post in which he attempts to defend his claims from the ECO:nomics conference last month. He insists on claiming that smog-causing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil and gas production are a grave threat to air quality in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, except the study to which he links (found here) actually says the exact opposite, projecting that eight-hour ozone design values will decrease at every single monitoring station between 2006 and 2012 and will meet the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). From the report: “All regulatory monitors have model-projected 2012 eight-hour ozone design values less than the 1997 eight-hour ozone NAAQS” (p. ES-2). Gallay looked solely at emissions levels to support his claim, but it’s the concentrations that give us information on actual health impacts. And instead of discussing those concentrations, Gallay chose to pull a single statistic out of context in order to scare the public.

Gallay also writes about benzene emissions, but once again provides no context. At the conference he cited a Fort Worth air quality study (detailed below) that found benzene emissions at local monitoring stations, but that study actually concluded there was “no evidence” to suggest benzene concentrations were anywhere near levels of health concern. Faced with that fact, Mr. Gallay went searching for a different study — any study — to validate his opinion, and landed on a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) analysis from 2010. He linked to an article describing that report, but he conveniently left out the statement from the director of TCEQ’s toxicology division, who is quoted in that article as saying of the report: “There is no need for widespread alarm,” which is exactly what Mr. Gallay is trying to create.

To complete the trifecta, Gallay cited childhood asthma rates in the Dallas-Fort Worth area…without any context. He linked to the the Community-wide Children’s Health Assessment & Planning Survey (CCHAPS), but a white paper issued by that same organization was hardly laying the blame squarely on the oil and gas industry. In fact, CCHAPS notes that natural elements, including “roach droppings, animal dander and dust mites,” contribute to regional asthma cases. In addition, CCHAPS describes North Texas as “an allergy ‘belt’ for pollen and spores which are also potential triggers.” The paper does mention man-made sources, including automobiles, oil and gas activity, and railroads, but CCHAPS concludes that “childhood asthma is a complex issue, with multiple impacts and interactions across the entire ecosystem.”

For someone who is quick to accuse those who disagree with him of living in a “Spin Zone,” Mr. Gallay sure doesn’t like providing even basic context for his data, probably because doing so would show that what he’s suggesting simply isn’t true. And frankly, we’re unsure why Riverkeeper is so adamantly opposed to natural gas development, especially since they want natural gas to replace nuclear power.

Original post from March 23, 2012

Earlier this week, New York Riverkeeper Paul Gallay flew clear across the country (expending 2,500 pounds of CO2 in the process, one way) to participate in a panel discussion on natural gas and hydraulic fracturing during the Wall Street Journal’s annual ECO:nomics conference in California.

It was quite a commitment to make – especially considering he wasn’t even an invited panelist. But Paul didn’t let any silly stuff like that get in the way, appropriating the microphone during the Q&A session from the cheap seats to launch into a disquisition attempting to compare shale development to “snake oil.”

Of course, none of that’s either new or surprising for Riverkeeper – funded by the same folks who brought you Gasland and the Howarth Cornell study, Paul and his team are more than happy to do what they’re told. What troubled us, though, was his stubborn insistence, over and over again, that all the stuff he was saying was factual. “These are facts,” Gallay declared at one point. “These are not my facts, they are not his facts, they are just facts.”

All of which got us to thinking: Is it possible the Riverkeeper doth protest too much? If someone who’s telling you something feels it necessary to punctuate ever other sentence with the insistence that what he’s telling you isn’t a lie, wouldn’t you start to wonder if it actually was? We would. And so, we checked. Below are the two main charges Mr. Gallay leveled during his soliloquy this week, compared to what the facts, as they actually exist, actually tell us

Gallay: “There are air monitors throughout the city of Fort Worth, 94 percent of them come up with a hell of a lot of benzene that wasn’t there before you start fracking.” (ECO:nomics conference, 2:22)

  • The source of Mr. Gallay’s “94 percent” number is a report that Eastern Research Group completed in the summer of 2011. It was a $1 million study for the city of Fort Worth, the most comprehensive such study to date, according to the city’s mayor, Betsy Price. And in addition to recording air emissions, the study also placed those emissions in their proper context, including comparing them against statewide averages and basic thresholds that would indicate health concerns.
  • Mr. Gallay is correct that 94 percent of monitoring stations recorded the presence of benzene. What he left out, though, is the bigger point: The benzene levels detected were far below the lowest health-based screening levels set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), as measured in both long-term and short-term exposure scenarios.
  • According to the report: “The ambient air monitoring data provide no evidence of 24-hour average concentrations reaching levels of health concern” (ERG, p. 5-9, emphasis added).
  • As for long-term exposure scenarios, the report found that the detected concentration levels “would not be expected to cause adverse health effects among exposed populations” (ERG, p. 5-18, emphasis added).
  • For even more context, ERG compared its findings with 45 other monitoring stations throughout the state of Texas. What they found “provides no evidence that benzene levels measured during this study were unusually elevated when compared to other monitoring stations in Texas. More importantly, the program average concentrations for the Fort Worth monitoring stations are all lower than TCEQ’s long-term health-based AMCV” (ERG, p. 5-42, emphasis added).
  • NOTE: AMCV stands for Air Monitoring Comparison Values, which TCEQ defines as “chemical-specific air concentrations set to protect human health and welfare.”
  • TCEQ has also conducted its own monitoring of the Barnett Shale area and arrived at similar results. As the EID-Marcellus team outlined last summer, TCEQ found annual benzene averages in the region to be “substantially lower” than levels determined to pose any threat to human health.
  • As TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw, Ph.D., said in the fall of 2010: “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” (emphasis added).
  • TCEQ added, more definitively, that there has been “no increase in benzene levels as natural gas operations in the Barnett Shale area have grown over the years.”
  • A separate scientific assessment, completed last year, looked at health trends in the Barnett Shale region and concluded that negative health impacts were overstated. In fact, the researchers noted that “even as natural gas development expanded significantly in the area over the past several years, key indicators of health improved across every major category during those times.”
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the largest source of nationwide benzene exposure results from smoking tobacco or otherwise being exposed to tobacco smoke. The EPA notes that most benzene emissions “come from mobile sources” such as cars and trucks.
  • So, to conclude on this point: Was benzene detected at 94 percent of the monitoring stations in the Fort Worth area? Yes, according to the ERG report. Do those detections signify any sort of health concern? No. And, finally, is there a “hell of a lot” of benzene in the area? Not even close, and that’s according to both TCEQ and the report Mr. Gallay himself cited.

Gallay: “In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the amount of childhood asthma is double the state average. These are facts. These are not my facts, they are not his [Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon’s] facts, they are just facts.” (ECO:nomics conference, 2:30)

  • Childhood asthma rates are definitely something to take seriously, but unfortunately Mr. Gallay is way off with the “facts” here.
  • In other words, the asthma rate in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is not “double the state average,” and, in fact, is actually lower than the state average.

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