Mountain States

ShaleTest Tries Same “Scientifically Inappropriate” Tactics in New Pavillion, Wyoming Study

Anti-fracking activists have been busy this week scrambling to gain support for their ban fracking efforts. After suffering a huge defeat when the Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board affirmed EPA’s finding of “no widespread, systemic impacts” to drinking water sources from fracking, activists have immediately shifted gears to a full court press spreading misinformation about air emissions.

The latest example comes in the form of a new study, which claims oil and natural gas development is to blame for chemicals lurking in the air and bodies of residents of Pavilion, Wyoming.  The study is published by a group called Coming Clean in conjunction with activist Wilma Subra and Shale Test, a group co-founded by Calvin Tillman, a former mayor of DISH, Tex., and one of the big stars of Josh Fox’s Gasland films.

On several occasions, ShaleTest has teamed up with other well-known anti-fracking activist groups to produce “studies” just like the one released this week – and each one has been criticized for its lack of scientific integrity. For example, in response to one recent ShaleTest report on air quality, a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokesman even took issue with their methodology saying “it is not scientifically appropriate.”

Activist John Fenton is also involved in this study and is described by press materials accompanying the report as simply a “resident and farmer.”  Of course, the report doesn’t disclose that he was also a star in the Gasland films. He also has close affiliations with radical anti-fracking organizations such as “Stop the Frack Attack,” with which he recently participated in a march on Denver that culminated in the construction of a mock drilling rig in front of the governor’s mansion.

Against that backdrop of radical anti-fracking activism, let’s take a look at what we can derive from their results:

Fact #1: Researchers admit they have no data to make their claims

When it comes to their collection methods, the researchers claim,

“Of special interest are the chemicals detected in summa canisters, which can identify specific VOCs and their concentrations; and sorbent tube samples which indicate chemicals present in the immediate proximity of the individual participants which, they were likely to have inhaled. Unfortunately there is no way that scientists can prove that chemicals detected at an emission source are the same chemicals detected in the air immediately surrounding people. In addition, differences in the monitoring devices and laboratory techniques meant we were not able to make apples-to-apples comparisons between the sample results. However the information is still helpful in establishing a methods for showing which chemicals were detected and where they were found, on the progression from emission source to people’s bodies.” (Emphasis added)

They also state in the paper:

“Our model, which utilized a series of tools, each capable of testing for differing lists of VOCs and incorporating different methods for sample capture and analysis, provides an overview of possible monitoring methods. Our pilot study was intended to explore the methods and challenges of evaluating exposures to chemicals from gas production, with a view to refining the methods used in future projects. The results of this investigation must be viewed as a snapshot of air emissions from gas production sites and a clear warning sign of problems, not as results which can be generalized.” (Emphasis added)

Yet those determinations were apparently not taken into consideration when the researchers wrote the “recommendations” section of the paper.

Fact #2: Report fails to consider chemicals can come from numerous sources

People are exposed to both naturally occurring and man-made volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on a daily basis. That is particularly true of the BTEX chemicals (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene and Xylenes), that the researchers were looking for. The researchers actually do point this out:

“People are not only exposed to BTEX and other VOCs in proximity to oil and gas production. They are present in vehicle exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke as well as in everyday household products made from derivatives of oil and gas.29 BTEX and other VOCs are found in a wide array of everyday products such as paints and paint strippers, solvents, glues, cleansers and disinfectants, children’s toys, pesticides, paints and protective coatings, fingernail polish, gasoline, aerosol sprays, wood, fiberglass, flooring materials, office equipment, PVC plastic, health and beauty products and more. Therefore people that live next to gas production facilities face greater potential exposure to VOCs from both gas production and everyday products, than the general population.”

But they still allude that it must all be from fracking. The Pavilion residents who submitted blood and urine for analysis in the study remain anonymous, which is understandable. But without any additional information on their lifestyle, occupation and any other variety of factors, it is impossible to determine the source of an elevated presence of chemicals.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that you can be exposed to benzene from a variety of sources. Excerpted from the CDC:

  • Outdoor air contains low levels of benzene from tobacco smoke, gas stations, motor vehicle exhaust, and industrial emissions.

  • Indoor air generally contains levels of benzene higher than those in outdoor air. The benzene in indoor air comes from products that contain benzene such as glues, paints, furniture wax, and detergents.

  • A major source of benzene exposure is tobacco smoke.

Fact #3: A recent comprehensive recent study of Pavilion by the DEQ showed “no problems with air quality”

While researchers were quick to accuse air regulators of failing to perform “more comprehensive” monitoring, they simply gloss over the fact that officials with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had just wrapped up a year-long air quality study in the area. In response to citizen concerns, the agency set up a mobile air quality monitor to continuously collect data from January 2011 – March 2012. As the Casper Star-Tribune reports:

“Data from a monitor near the Pavillion natural gas field showed no problems with air quality, according to results of a Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality study.

The agency placed a mobile monitoring station just east of the field — owned by Encana Oil and Gas — to measure levels of nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, particulate matter and ozone. In more than a year of testing, none of the results exceeded regulator-set levels.” (Emphasis added)

Fact #4: Along with the Wyoming DEQ report, study after study has found no credible threat from emissions during oil and gas development 

Along with the Wyoming DEQ study a remarkable number of studies exist showing no public health threat from emissions related to oil and natural gas development.

For example, one 2011 study evaluated health impacts in southwest Pennsylvania from a well pad located approximately 900 yards away from a local school. The researchers took air samples prior to hydraulic fracturing operations over the course of nine days.  Then, air monitors remained in the same locations throughout the completion process.  Here’s what the report concluded:

“The results of the fracking and flaring sampling periods were similar to the results obtained from the baseline monitoring period and likewise, did not show anything remarkable with respect to chemicals detected in the ambient air. When volatile compounds were detected, they were consistent with background levels measured at the school and in other areas in Washington County. Furthermore, a basic yet conservative screening level evaluation shows that the detected volatile compounds were below health-protective levels.” (p. 6; emphasis added)

The Colorado Department of Public Health also installed air quality monitors at a well sites and found that concentrations of benzene “are well within acceptable limits to protect public health,” and that “concentrations of various compounds are comparatively low and are not likely to raise significant health issues of concern.”  The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection took air measurements in northeast Pennsylvania, and the agency “did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.”  The Pennsylvania DEP also looked into wells in southwest Pennsylvania and concluded that they “did not detect levels above National Ambient Air Quality Standards at any of the sampling sites.”

A report from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection concluded that “no additional legislative rules” were required to protect public health with respect to hydraulic fracturing activities.


As we continue to discuss the safe and responsible development of shale, we must rely on science, not anti-fracking conclusions drawn from research set forth by those opposed to developing oil and gas. It is clear from the background and conclusions drawn from this paper that this team was far more interested in pushing an agenda, than advancing science.

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