*Update* Three Things to Know About Latest Health Study From Disavowed Anti-Fracking Research Team
UPDATE (4/9/18, 5:40 EST) Dr. Larry Wolk, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), has just weighed in on the latest study by Lisa McKenzie. Here’s what he had to say:
This study confirms our 2017 findings of low risk for cancer and non-cancer health effects at distances 500 feet and greater. In addition:
1. This study only found increased risk for cancer and non-cancer health effects at distances closer than 500 feet.
2. This study uses similar methods and many of same datasets as we did in our 2017 report. However, there are two main differences:
a. This study considered data from closer than 500 feet from the oil and gas operation whereas our 2017 report only considered data collected at 500 feet or greater as this is the current Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission setback distance.
b. This study used California EPA risk assessment methods while our 2017 report used U.S. EPA standard methods. This report underscores the potential public health importance of the 500-foot setback and the need to collect more comprehensive air quality data in communities in close proximity to oil and gas operations.
3. This report underscores the potential public health importance of the 500-foot setback and the need to collect more comprehensive air quality data in communities in close proximity to oil and gas operations.
4. The department’s Oil and Gas Health Information and Response program has been collecting extensive air sampling measurements in multiple communities near different oil and gas activities using our mobile laboratory. So far, we have not found any elevated short or long-term risks from the same substances evaluated in the McKenzie study.
5. A detailed risk assessment is currently being conducted using more comprehensive data collected by CSU researchers on substances directly emitted from oil and gas operations. This will provide us with important information to further understand the results of McKenzie’s study and our report findings. The findings of this risk assessment will be submitted for a peer-reviewed publication this summer.
Lisa McKenzie, whose thoroughly debunked work is routinely cited by anti-fossil fuel activists, has published yet another study attempting to link health issues to oil and gas development in Colorado. And even though the study’s press release states plainly that “[t]he study acknowledged substantial uncertainties and the need for more research” — effectively invalidating its topline conclusion that, “Those living near oil and gas facilities may be at higher risk of disease” — this study is sure to catch like wildfire in ban fracking activists’ circles and add more misleading talking points to their collection.
Recall, McKenzie’s previous study, purporting to link childhood leukemia to oil and gas development in Colorado, 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 McKenzie’s past 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.”
It is quite telling that McKenzies’ thoroughly debunked childhood leukemia study is actually one of the foundational pillars of her most recent work, and in fact leans on it to support her new study’s conclusion.
With that in mind, here are some of the glaring flaws we found in our initial review of the recently released McKenzie study:
Flaw #1: McKenzie admits that the uncertainties of this study are substantial
From the study’s press release,
“[T]he uncertainties in our risk assessment are substantial and the results are best suited for scoping policy and future studies.”
Basically, this study is nothing more than a screening or hypothesis-generating study. Put another way — its topline conclusion is that further studies are needed to find a conclusion.
This is an all-too-familiar refrain in McKenzie’s work, and you don’t have to take our word for it.
As we’ve noted in our recent Energy in Depth Weld County health report , one of the CDPHE’s top officials Dr. Mike Van Dyke, shared in an interview that McKenzie’s often-cited leukemia study “significant limitations” and constituted “research that suggests more research needs to be done, not research that definitively links oil and gas exposure to cancers in this age group.”
Unfortunately, despite the fact that McKenzie’s latest study is only appropriate for forming a hypothesis for further research, she has once again promoted it to the press in order to achieve the researchers’ true objective — producing more scary (and unwarranted) headlines.
Time and time again, McKenzie has released studies and has promoted them as absolutes, only to see her work exposed shortly after as nothing more than mirages in the desert, useful only for wandering activists looking to ban fracking through flawed research.
The usual drill goes as such – once McKenzie’s studies catch a quick media storm and has been successfully added to the anti-fracking activists’ big book of debunked talking points, it’s very common for McKenzie to start back tracking on her “definitive” claims. For example – last year McKenzie hosted a conference call to discuss one of her several debunked studies – where McKenzie herself ended up listing gaps in research about the health impacts of oil and natural gas development. Another time McKenzie has been caught talking out of both sides of her mouth was in an opinion piece published by the Denver Post, McKenzie concedes that her and her team of researchers latest findings “do not provide enough evidence to say that living near oil and gas wells causes leukemia or does not cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”
Flaw #2: Researchers Use Far More Stringent California Standards to Bolster Alarmist Conclusions
Is Colorado the new California? McKenzie and her research team might seem to think so.
A glaring question this study brings to mind is: Why did McKenzie use California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) risk assessment methods to assess a study based on Colorado?
“We used California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) Risk Assessment Guidelines to estimate acute and chronic non-cancer hazards and cancer risks for exposures to NMHCs, including BTEX, in residential exposure scenarios. California’s OEHHA guidance addresses developmental outcomes not fully covered in standard United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) risk guidance.”
Simple answer is California standards are some of the most stringent regulatory standards in the country – often going above and beyond EPA and other state standards. Just how stringent are OEHHA’s rules? Most recently OEHHA Prop 65 ballot measure has caused California’s local coffee shops to add a cancer warning label right next to where they probably misspelled your name on your to-go coffee – that’s correct, OEHHA deems your morning cup of coffee as a major health risk. With that in mind, it’s clear that McKenzie’s use of OEHHA as a standard is simply click bait material used to generate the outrageous headline claiming that health risks are “eight times higher than the EPA’s upper risk threshold,” in the press release promoting the new study.
Flaw #3: Researchers Use Measurements From A Single Cherry-Picked Study
Though the study was similar to a recent CDPHE study that was based on direct measurements (and found emissions well below EPA thresholds of concern, by the way), McKenzie’s latest study only reviewed three air sampling studies and, ultimately, based its conclusions on just one of those studies, according to the study’s text:
“All samples included in this risk assessment were collected at plausible residential locations (i.e., at a distance greater that Colorado’s historic 150 foot (46 meter) setback distance from the nearest O&G facility) using NMHC measurement results from one of three CNFR studies conducted in the summer of 2014 .”
The report goes on to discuss the sparse datasets used to draw the conclusions they were looking for:
“We used convenience samples (i.e. not collected specifically for this risk assessment) from three field sampling campaigns conducted on the Colorado Northern Front Ranges in the summer of 2014.”
By comparison, CDPHE’s evaluation used 15 datasets as opposed to the three used in McKenzie and team’s study. If there is ever a question of cherry picking data, this new McKenzie study is a prime example. To add to this – the study that is being promoted as facts is in fact incomplete – lacking an explanation to methodology used to draw such conclusions.
EID’s recent health report highlights publicly available data from 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 with findings that contradict all of McKenzie’s research seeks to find. EID’s report highlights 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.”
As McKenzie continues to draw sharp rebuke from CDPHE, it’s clear the researcher’s ultimate goal is to scare the public about oil and natural gas development in Colorado. As mentioned, EID’s recent report highlights the facts and findings from Colorado’s top regulators – bringing to light why it’s not surprising that McKenzie’s most recent work is nothing more than fearmongering ban-fracking propaganda lacking any solid scientific conclusion. EID has served and will continue to serve as a watchdog to McKenzie and her research teams continued abuse of their scientific post as they seek to feed the ban-fracking rhetoric machine by putting out easily debunked research.