Marcellus Shale

A Poorly Vetted Attack on Shale Gas with a Stunning Lack of Numbers!

This week there was a presentation at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on the impacts, or lack of impacts, on animals as a result of natural gas development. The event was hosted by the Wilkes University Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) , which has typically done a good job of maintaining a balanced, unbiased approach in their research on Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania. The speakers for this particular event, Dr. Robert Oswald and Dr. Michelle Bamberger (husband and wife) were hardly up to the Wilkes standard as they presented their research with an obvious bias and anti-natural gas agenda.

Nonetheless, this is a topic cropping up frequently lately, so it was useful of the IEER to offer an opportunity for the community to discuss it.  We certainly don’t hold Wilkes responsible for what comes out of Ithaca, the seeming origin of all anti-energy species, but we can’t let the anecdotal speculation of two advocates go unchallenged.  The only thing interesting about their presentation was the stunning lack of numbers connected with their research.  They say their work was peer-reviewed but it looked very poorly vetted to me! I’m not alone either, some pretty influential international scientists say the same thing.

The Study that Proves…Well, Nothing

The evening began with an overview of Marcellus development in the region and some highlights of the research being done at the IEER.  Here’e some video:

[myyoutubeplaylist m3–bXxD7KU, E3HL3TsqBY8]

I once had a professor at SUNY Oswego who told me:

Never to do a study if you know what you want the answer to be, as this will create a bias in the data. Rather, keep an open mind, do good research and let the research speak for itself, not for your personal feelings.

Her words ring true today in several ways. Here, I always thought this was common practice and couldn’t understand why she’d need to reiterate it to her students.  I was wrong.  A great deal of what masquerades as science is advocacy.  Dr. Ian Rae, a U.N. recognized authority on environmental matters, labeled it as such and, while I’m far from an expert, what I saw certainly confirmed his observations about the nature of their work.

This Is Science?  This Is Journalism?

This couple from a trendy part of upstate New York went to Pennsylvania to give a presentation proving precisely nothing, but still suggested Pennsylvania animals were dying from natural gas exploration.  How does someone get away with that?  I was shocked at the lack of data the so called “research” provided.  Luckily there were only about 30 folks in the room which was fairly underwhelming considering the promotion of the event.  All that’s beside the point, though.  The real question is how two activists get away with purporting to have conducted a  study that just happens to advance their personal anti-natural gas agendas with no quantitative data to support their conclusions and, as they admit, no evidence of a casual relationship between natural gas development and what they speculated?  This is how science is done?  Say it isn’t so!

Oswald began by asking the crowd if they believed the statement, “there are no proven cases of a ground water contamination by fracturing.” (1:30).  Unsurprisingly, the crowd didn’t respond, sadly for him, but this is a perfect illustration of the bias that pervades their report.  He said he could think of three (I know, embrace the number because it was the only one mentioned the whole night…) different cases where hydraulic fracturing had contaminated ground water.

He didn’t back up this lone number with any examples, but, of course, we know and others (e.g., EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson) have stated there are no proven cases of hydraulic fracturing fluids entering ground water by migrating upwards.  Repeat: there none – zero, nada, zilch and and absoute nothing.

The bigger point, however, is that even if this were true, it would offer nothing with respect to his argument animals are being affected except to create a possibility.  It is, rather, the bias with which he and his wife started their research.

MIchelle Bamberger

Dr. Michelle Bamberger

He then introduced his wife, Dr. Michelle Bamberger.

Bamberger began her part of the presentation by admitting the study they conducted didn’t provide any proven results of a cause and effect scenario or prevalence (9:30).  That’s a far cry from the headline the Times Leader ran the next morning.

The reporter did note, in his story, the couple could find no connection between natural gas development and animal fatalities, but the editor apparently missed that portion of the text, probably deliberately.  Sadly, this is how so much of the anti-natural gas story unfolds, with junk science being amplified through the voices and words of news sources who fail to disclose their own agendas. It only took, in this case, two biased researchers and one biased editor to blast out a completely false narrative.  It’s just plain disgusting, but I digress ..

Anyway, at this point I was questioning why one would present a study with no data or conclusions.  I certainly hope the students in the audience picked up on this as well.  Significantly, Bamberger showed a slide in her presentation laying out what she looked for. The only reasons she allowed for decreases in animal health were directly related to natural gas – no other options were allowed or even considered! She implied the only way these cows fall ill or die is because of natural gas, not genetics, not age, not disease, or other outside causes (13:17).
I know Wilkes Barre is more of an urban community, but my family owns animals and I couldn’t fathom someone actually believing every time one of them gets sick it’s because of natural gas development. Heck, we don’t have natural gas development in Afton, so I’d love to invite her up and see how she explains some of the problems we’ve had in the last few years with common things such as rain rot.

Further, the study only looked at sick animals near development. What about all of the healthy animals co-existing with natural gas development? I guess there was no need for a control group or to compare differences between the circumstances. That in and of itself is enough to discredit the “research” and study.

Red Herrings Abound

The couple interviewed people asking for their pets health records for the last five years (11:39). Naturally, not many of the families had those records. She then says pets are more likely to be effected by natural gas development than humans because they are more exposed (8:08).  What?  Of course a pet’s health will decline in five years – gas exploration or not!  If you have an animal such as a horse or cow with a lifespan of 20-30 years (based on the breed) a five year time period is ¼-1/6 of its life. Say humans live to be 80. If you test a person at age 20 (1/4 of their life) you expect them to be relatively healthy. Now, if we compare that to a person at age 40 (now ½ their life) you would see a health change. Relatively speaking, cows, for example, are more likely to decrease in health from ¼ of its life to ½ of its life. The health of an animal, such as a dog or cat, with a much shorter lifespan than a human sees drastic changes in a five year time period.

It’s hard to imagine the arguments could deteriorate further, but they did, as the duo resorted to a discussion of “open pits” (15:35), which is probably the biggest of all red herring arguments.  She suggested the possibility cows were dying from drinking fracturing fluid, again, admitting there was no evidence of this. Additionally, natural gas companies in our region don’t use open pits so this isn’t even an option anymore. She said “a good chunk” (note the lack of quantitative data) of the cows located in a pasture downhill from a natural gas well pad couldn’t reproduce, but most of the cows in a different pasture could (22:30).  A “good chunk”?

She adds that a farm had 17 cows die within an hour (19:15). Then she said cows normally die from hydrocarbons over days not hours. She just assumed this was from natural gas development even though she said herself this doesn’t normally happen. This relates back to what my professor said. Even though there was no evidence tied to it and it is very abnormal (all signs it was some other cause) she still insists it is natural gas because that’s what she wants her study to say.

She said they didn’t know what chemicals are used in the fracturing fluid and later her husband even corrected her by mentioning He said they needed to make decisions based on science. I agree! Find me some science with actual proof and numbers and then we can talk!

He said the natural gas companies should have the burden of proof that hydraulic fracturing is safe. They clearly have, as they have been doing this for decades across the country with no proven case of ground water contamination and these two could even find a number that would prove any aspect of their case.  I’d say the industry has met their burden of proof but the dynamic duo hasn’t.  Even they admit it.

Watch the whole presentation below. Note all the problems with the study! Look for the lack of numbers, the lack of options for illness and death, the contradictions between husband and wife, I’m sure you’ll be shocked too!

The final part was a question and answer session. This went rather quickly because the crowd was so small. There were only five questions.

Perhaps the most entertaining question related to whether or not the presenters allow people access to the records or contact information for the farms they interviewed. They answered by saying no, it would be an invasion of privacy. So,using these folks as examples in a “study” with no conclusive facts or numbers isn’t?  And, what kind of science provides no access to the data used?

Oswald took the last question. What do they think about the Environmental Protection Agency saying Dimock’s water is safe? He said he would challenge the EPA. Challenge the EPA with what?  The kind of baseless assertions this study generated?  Maybe, if they just brought this presentation to the EPA, this shallow piece of advocacy, it would change the EPA’s mind. I’m being sarcastic, of course, but you get the point.  The egos of these two are as stunning as their lack of data.

The night ended after the question and answer section. Thank goodness! I couldn’t sit through any more “information” from this “study,” information that was nothing more than conjecture. Then again, what was I expecting?


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