What Maryland’s New Study on Health and Fracking Left Out
This week, the Maryland School of Public Health released its final report assessing the health impacts of hydraulic fracturing.
It’s important to point out that this report does not take any new air quality measurements or water samples – it does not evaluate any new data. Instead, it looks at reports that have already been published and then it scores different categories of health impacts with point levels, which the researchers determine themselves, to indicate “high” risk, “moderately high” risk and “low” risk for each category that the researchers studied.
The researchers ultimately conclude that of all the health categories they chose, four of them fall into the “high risk” category, three fall into the “moderately high risk” category and only one falls into the “low risk” category. That would be very alarming indeed if it weren’t for the fact that the researchers focused their evaluation primarily on studies that are largely critical of shale development (many of which have major flaws in their methodologies), while glossing over or completely ignoring the vast amount of research that underscores the long record of safety of hydraulic fracturing.
While the report looks at a number of categories, let’s focus in on what would likely be the most pressing categories for Maryland residents: air quality, water impacts, and societal impacts.
The Maryland report cites no less than five reports led by Lisa M. McKenzie of the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH) – that’s highly significant as McKenzie’s work is essentially the foundation for the claims of anti-fracking activists, whose goal is to shut down shale development. Early on in the Maryland report the researchers give her work top billing:
“[F]indings have started to emerge in peer-reviewed journals linking exposure to air pollution associated with UNGDP increased risk of sub-chronic health effects, adverse birth outcomes including congenital heart defects and neural tube defects, as well as higher prevalence of symptoms such as throat & nasal irritation, sinus problems, eye burning, severe headaches, persistent cough, skin rashes, and frequent nose bleeds among respondents living within 1500 feet of UNGDP facilities compared to those who lived < 1500 feet.” (xx)
Later, the Maryland researchers cite McKenzie’s most (in)famous report:
“McKenzie and colleagues evaluated the health risks associated with UNGDP air emissions. They estimated the chronic and sub chronic non-cancer hazard indices, and the cancer risks for residents living within a ½ mile radius of UNGDP facilities and compared them with that of residents living greater than ½ mile away. The results suggest that residents who lived closer to the wells were at greater risk of adverse health outcomes related to UNGDP-related air emissions compared to those who lived more than ½ mile away. The subchronic hazard quotient (HQ) of 5 observed for residents <1/2 mile away from wells was considerably higher than the subchronic HQ of 0.2 observed for those living >1/2 mile away.” (p. 36)
Importantly, the Mckenzie report cited above has been criticized for adopting an extremely faulty methodology: it’s well known that she and her fellow researchers used out-of-date emission data and inflated exposure times by 900 percent in order to come to the conclusion of high risk. Meanwhile, in response to concern about air quality, the Colorado Department of Public Health (CDPH) installed air quality monitors at well sites. Using direct measurements from these monitors they found “[t]he concentrations of various compounds are comparatively low and are not likely to raise significant health issues of concern.” Of course that’s not the only flawed McKenzie/CSPH study that the Maryland report cites – it also gives large billing to a study McKenzie released this year, which claims to find a link between hydraulic fracturing and birth defects:
“In a separate study, investigated the relationship between maternal residence near UNGDP wells and risk of adverse birth outcomes in rural Colorado. The authors calculated maternal exposure during pregnancy using inverse distance weighted well count data within a specified radius. This inverse distance weighting approach assigned higher weights to wells that are closer to the mother’s residence compared to those that were located further away. The index was then divided into tertiles (low, medium and high). Mothers at the highest tertile of exposure were more likely to give birth to children with congenital heart defects (CHDs) compared to mothers at the lowest tertile of exposure (Odds Ratios (OR) 1.3, 95% Confidence Interval (CI): 1.2-1.5). The authors observed similar associations for neural tube defects (NTDs) as well (OR 2.0, CI: 1.0-3.9). In a similar study, Hill investigated maternal residency in areas heavily impacted by UNGDP and risk of adverse birth outcome including low birth weight (LBW) and preterm birth (PTB). The study included 22,000 live births in Colorado and 2,500 live births in Pennsylvania. In Colorado, mothers who lived within 1 km of well were more likely to have LBW babies as well were at increased risk of delivering prematurely (PTB) compared to mothers who lived 2-5 km of well. Similarly in PA, the prevalence of LBW and PTB increased in 2.5 km radius of the well after the well development.” (p. 36-37)
This latest study by McKenzie et al was immediately rebuked by Dr. Larry Wolk of the Colorado Department of Public Health (a former pediatrician of the year), who said the public could “easily be misled” and added that it is “difficult to draw conclusions from this study, due to its design and limitations.” He also warns: “I would tell pregnant women and mothers who live, or who at-the-time-of-their-pregnancy lived, in proximity to a gas well not to rely on this study as an explanation of why one of their children might have had a birth defect.”
Importantly, one of the peer reviewers of the Maryland report, Dr. Lynn Goldman, specifically criticized the researchers’ uncritical use of the McKenzie paper as well as other papers cited on birth defects. As Dr. Goldman puts it,
“The birth outcomes studies (McKenzie 2014 and Hill 2013) are viewed uncritically. The McKenzie paper is quite strongly indicative of malformations in association with residential proximity to gas wells in Colorado, and more weakly so for other birth outcomes. I note that while the authors of the McKenzie paper note a number of flaws, none are reported in the Final report. The Hill paper, as far as I can tell, has only been published as an abstract and it was not possible for me to review the methodology that was used; I question its inclusion if it has not yet been published. Perhaps it is; the citation in the Final Report does not provide enough detail to identify the paper in a scientific journal and I couldn’t find it. On the other hand the Fryzek study is critically reviewed and “serious flaws.” I agree with the critique however there are similar flaws in a number of the epidemiological studies that they have cited and this is the only study for which such flaws are noted. All studies should be eyed critically. This statement applies to all of the studies reported through 10.3.1.5.5” (emphasis added)
Interestingly the Fryzek study that Dr. Goldman references is one of the few studies that the Maryland report cites that does not find health impacts from shale development – but, also interestingly, the researchers largely dismiss it, stating:
“In a separate study funded by The American Natural Gas Alliance, Fryzek and colleagues investigated the association between childhood cancer incidence in Pennsylvania and UNGDP by linking childhood cancer data from 1990 through 2009 with 29,000 wells drilled during the same time period. The authors reported no association between UNGDP and childhood cancer. This particular study suffers from two serious flaws in study design: 1) the first UNGDP well was dug in PA in 2006 with production starting in 2008, so the vast majority of cancer cases in the study predated the exposure of interest; and 2) the study overlooked the issue of lag time that is known to exist for chronic outcomes such as cancer. Thus, the design of this study was such that it could not possibly have found an effect.” (p. 37)
Yet, as Goldman rightly states, the Maryland report has nothing critical to say about McKenzie’s work even though there’s no question that it suffers from “serious flaws in study design.” Instead of acknowledging the limitations of the McKenzie/CSPH study and proceeding with caution, the Maryland researchers rely almost completely on it to come to their conclusion of high risk.
Also interesting is that Maryland researchers highlight a study by Michael McCawley on air quality near well pads in Virginia:
“More relevant air pollution data for MD comes from a recent University of West Virginia study that collected various air quality and noise data associated with UNGDP processes in WV. The 30 air quality measurements were taken at location 625 feet away from the well pads. Results suggest that the concentrations of selected VOCs were considerably higher than the ones reported for Colorado, including benzene (mean 32.2 µg/m3 median 9.35 µg/m3, 95th percentile 160 µg/m3), hexane (mean 10.4 µg/m3, median 8.1 µg/m3, 95th percentile 22 µg/m3), acetone (mean 99.3 µg/m3 median 90 µg/m3, 95th percentile 210 µg/m3).” (pp. 29-30).
Importantly, at the well pad where the researchers detected the most benzene, the lead author, McCawley, admitted that it could have come from trucks running on diesel rather than from the fracking process. As he said to the Associated Press, “There was more diesel truck activity at the Maury and the trucks could have produced most of the benzene detected, said McCawley.” While the Maryland researchers spend considerable time on the McCawley study, calling it the most “relevant” to Maryland, it completely ignores a study by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which studied emissions from well pads in the state and concluded that there was no credible threat to public health from shale development. As the West Virginia DEP concluded, “Based on a review of completed air studies to date, including the results from the well pad development monitoring conducted in West Virginia’s Brooke, Marion, and Wetzel Counties, no additional legislative rules establishing special requirements need to be promulgated at this time.”
Also of note, the Maryland researchers call attention to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health:
“A study conducted by investigators from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) measured workers exposures to respirable crystalline silica (frac sand) at 11 sites across five states. The authors collected 111 samples from the breathing zone of workers that showed unusually high levels of exposure to respirable crystalline silica among workers. In multiple instances, these exposures were > 10 times higher than the occupational health 29standards such as OSHA’s permissible exposure limit or NIOSH’s recommended exposure limit.” (pp. 28-29)
However, as Dr. Lynn Goldman also pointed out in her peer review,
“Section 10.3.1.2 well describes the concerns about occupational exposure to silica in relation to UNGPD activities but does not describe the recommendations that OSHA and NIOSH have made for ways to reduce exposure to the silica.”
In fact, the industry has partnered with federal agencies, including OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control, to study worker safety in order to make its operations safer and more efficient. As Dr. Goldman rightly states, that’s important information for Maryland residents to know.
Indeed, it is on this (extremely) shaky foundation that the Maryland report concludes:
“Based on our evaluations of the limited but emerging epidemiological evidence from UNGDP impacted areas and air quality measurements as well as epidemiological evidence from other fields, we conclude that there is a High Likelihood UNGDP related changes in air quality will have a negative impact on public health in Garrett and Allegany Counties. Should Maryland move forward with UNGDP, the following recommendations should be implemented to prevent or minimize potential negative impacts on public health. R14. Require a minimal setback distance of 2000 feet from well pads and from compressor stations not using electric motors.” (xxvi)
However, as peer reviewers of the paper noted, this conclusion is not scientifically justified. As Dr. Jonathan Levy put it,
“The setback recommendation is not unreasonable, but the information presented is not sufficient to feel comfortable with the suggested distance. First, the setback distance will differ for pollutants and source types; traffic gradients will drop off more rapidly than gradients from taller stacks, and pollutants such as ultrafine particles or CO will drop off more rapidly than PM2.5, while ozone could be scavenged in the near field and formed downwind. More specifically, the Colorado study cited as the foundation of the setback recommendation compared samples < 0.5 mile vs. > 0.5 mile, but did not have a strong empirical foundation for the choice of 0.5 miles, used an array of area samples to characterize levels > 0.5 mile, and did not investigate alternative cutpoints. McKenzie et al. state directly that “the actual distance at which residents may experience greater exposures from air emissions may be less than or greater than a ½ mile, depending on dispersion and local topography and meteorology.” (emphasis added)
This scientifically unjustified recommendation of a 2,000 foot setback is also telling for another reason: these large setbacks are what anti-fracking activists often call for when they are trying to achieve an outright ban on development but can’t gain the public opinion to achieve that goal. They resort to deceiving the public into believing they are pushing for “safe distances” and “strict rules” when in reality a 2,000 foot setback puts most land out of commission, making development essentially impossible.
That’s exactly what happened in Dallas: the City Council adopted new “rules” that included a 1,500 foot setback from private residences – a buffer zone that is essentially equivalent to the area of the Dallas Cowboys stadium and parking lot. Anti-fracking activists celebrated, calling these rules a “de facto drilling ban.”
Meanwhile, numerous studies, state regulatory agencies and health organizations – whose job is to protect the environment and public health – have found no cause for concern in terms of health impacts. Here are a few examples, which the Maryland report ignored:
- The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality conducted months of testing in the Barnett Shale area, and its samples showed “no levels of concern for any chemicals.” TCEQ added that “there are no immediate health concerns from air quality in the area.”
- A study by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found no major health threat from shale development, concluding, “Based on a review of completed air studies to date, including the results from the well pad development monitoring conducted in West Virginia’s Brooke, Marion, and Wetzel Counties, no additional legislative rules establishing special requirements need to be promulgated at this time.”
- The Colorado Department of Public Health installed air quality monitors at a well site that activists complained about and concluded in its study of the data: “The monitored concentrations of benzene, one of the major risk driving chemicals, are well within acceptable limits to protect public health, as determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The concentrations of various compounds are comparatively low and are not likely to raise significant health issues of concern.”
- The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) conducted air monitoring in northeast Pennsylvania and concluded that the state “did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities.” A similar report for southwestern Pennsylvania came to the same conclusion.
- The American Lung Association gave “A” grades for air quality to a number of North Dakota counties that are leading the state in Bakken shale production.
There’s also a bigger picture than just what’s going on with emissions at well sites, too. It’s important for Maryland residents to know that studies have found that air quality in the Marcellus region, for instance, is dramatically improving, thanks to hydraulic fracturing and the increased use of natural gas. Here are a few examples:
- The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently released its latest emissions inventory and found a dramatic reduction in air pollution thanks to hydraulic fracturing and natural gas, which represent “between $14 billion and $37 billion of annual public health benefit,” according to the DEP.
- In another study, the Pennsylvania DEP also found that over 500 million tons of emissions have actually been removed from the Commonwealth’s air thanks in large part to the increased use of natural gas.
- An environmental think tank, The Breakthrough Institute, found that the increased development and utilization of natural gas has “dramatically reduced emissions across Pennsylvania.”
So it’s no wonder that President Obama’s chief environmental regulator, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, has credited natural gas for major pollution reductions. As she said, “The pollution that I’m looking at is traditional pollutants as well as carbon. And natural gas has been a game changer with our ability to really move forward with pollution reductions that have been very hard to get our arms around for many decades.”
Like the air quality section of the report, the section looking specifically at water impacts suffers from the same problem: it relies heavily on research that is highly critical of shale development while ignoring studies confirming the safety of the process. For instance, the Maryland researchers’ conclusions are mostly drawn from a number of studies by Duke University researchers:
“Multiple mechanisms can allow for the migration of gases (including methane, ethane and propane) into shallow aquifers used for drinking water, raising the risk of gas accumulation to concentrations that pose a risk of explosion. This gas may originate from the target formation and may migrate from the well annulus and through the cement sheath into the surrounding geology. Alternatively, the fracking process may create pathways for stray gas (that originates outside of the borehole, but has been released as a result of the fracturing) to migrate into groundwater resources. Leaky casings, abandoned oil and gas wells, and existing or even newly-formed faults resulting from fracturing activities can serve as potential opportunities for migration of gases. Bacteriogenic gases may play a role in contamination, but studies on ground waters within a kilometer of shale gas production sites have shown relatively enriched thermogenic carbon isotope fingerprints. Other investigations have found that wells where stray gas was evident had gas composition profiles of production gases consistent with Marcellus and Upper Devonian formations.” (p. 43)
The report that the Maryland researchers cite here is one that Duke researchers recently published – it essentially summarizes many of Duke’s previous studies, all of which suggest a connection between shale gas development and contaminated water wells. In that report, the Duke researchers reference to a study on methane in drinking water supplies in Northeast Pennsylvania, which they blame on shale development, even though more than fifty of the wells they sampled were nowhere near gas wells.
Part of the problem with that study is that it relies on the faulty premise that biogenic gas is naturally occurring whereas thermogenic gas, which comes from deeper formations, is from shale development. That contention has been discredited by a number of studies, which have found thermogenic gas in water wells in areas that have never seen development.
One example is a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which found thermogenic methane in 16 of the 20 water wells it sampled in Pike County, Pennsylvania (Pike County is under a four-year drilling moratorium). Another study, also by USGS, looked at water wells in Sullivan County, Pa., and found large amounts of themogenic methane in the water. Importantly, the USGS samples were baseline tests that predated drilling activity.
USGS hasn’t limited its research to only to Pennsylvania – it also found high levels of methane in water wells in New York, where there is currently a state-wide moratorium. As the Associated Press reported on that study:
“The U.S. Geological Survey study found that 15 percent of groundwater samples from 66 household wells across south-central New York contained naturally occurring methane at levels high enough to warrant monitoring or remediation, even though none of the water wells was within a mile of existing or abandoned natural gas wells.” (emphasis added)
Another study led by Fred Baldassare from Echelon Applied Geochemistry Consulting analyzed groundwater in northeastern Pennsylvania and found large amounts of thremogenic gas, again prior to any natural gas development. In fact, 88 percent of the 67 water wells tested had some presence of thermogenic gas, but none of them showed the presence of gas from the Marcellus formation. As that study explains,
“When future isotope data show a stray gas in this area to be thermogenic, that finding cannot be the sole basis for alleging that the stray gas was caused by oil or gas-well drilling.”
Although the Maryland researchers cite USGS on other topics, these four studies mentioned above are nowhere to be found in the report.
The Maryland report goes on to cite another highly criticized report by the same Duke researchers, which claims to have found “elevated levels of radioactivity” in a western Pennsylvania creek, which they argue is due to shale development. From the Maryland report:
“Examinations of effluent from a Pennsylvania facility treating flowback demonstrated significant reductions in radium and barium content, lowering activity of residual radium to less than 2 Bq/L, the industrial discharge limit. Despite these reductions, the authors described accumulation of radium in point-of-discharge stream sediments to levels approximately 200 times higher than what was observed in background and upstream samples at levels in excess of standards for radioactive waste disposal.” (p. 44)
Importantly, this Duke study was conducted from August 2010 to November 2012 and focused on the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility, a facility that Marcellus operators stopped using in May 2011. In the wake of the report, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Fluid Recovery Services, which operates the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility, both confirmed that producers did not use the facility after May 2011. As Fluid Recovery Services explained,
“Fluid Recovery Services (FRS) is in full compliance with the PA DEP permitting requirements and agreements. The facility is operating under the authorized NPDES permits and has not processed any wastewater classified as originating from unconventional sources such as Marcellus Shale since 2011.”
Further, the Duke team actually admits in the study that the radium levels they found were “well below the industrial discharge limit.” In March 2011, Pennsylvania regulators conducted a series of tests on drinking water suppliers in Western Pennsylvania and found no radioactive contaminants in the water.
The Maryland report also cites a number of studies that have been well-debunked on fluid migration:
“Pathways for stray gases into shallow aquifers may also facilitate the flow of fluids from the fracturing site to the surface and shallow aquifers.” (p. 43)
In making that claim, Maryland researchers cite a report by Tom Myers, which was actually funded by two prominent anti-fracking groups, Catskill Mountainkeeper and the Park Foundation. Considering that financial backing, it’s no surprise that the report concludes that fluids could migrate upward and contaminate water supplies. Meyer’s work has been discredited by Don Siegel, professor of hydrogeology at Syracuse University, who called his report “fatally flawed” because it relies on a number of shaky assumptions. Professor Siegel explains,
“Myers has developed an implausible model that predictably leads to implausible, and in my judgment, completely wrong results — from simple first principles of geologic and hydrologic understanding, let alone acceptable model development.”
The Maryland report also cites an equally shaky report on fluid migration by Rozell and Reaven:
“Rozell and Reaven present a conceptual model of pathways by which ground waters and production waters can become contaminated.” (p. 42)
Both the Myers study and the Rozell and Reaven study were strongly rebuked by independent researchers at Gradient. In their peer reviewed study, these researchers explained,
“Our analysis and literature review indicate that where upward flow occurs, both permeability and flow rates are low, and therefore, timescales for transport are long. Overall, the rapid upward migration scenarios that have been recently suggested (Rozell and Reaven 2012; Myers 2012; Warner et al. 2012) are not physically plausible.” (emphasis added)
In a second paper, Gradient’s team found,
“It is not physically plausible for induced fractures to create a hydraulic connection between deep black shale and other tight formations to overlying potable aquifers, based on the limited amount of height growth at depth and the rotation of the least principal stress to the vertical direction at shallow depths. Therefore, direct hydraulic communication between tight formations and shallow groundwater via induced fractures and faults (e.g., as suggested by Myers , Rozell and Reaven , and Warner et al. ) is not a realistic expectation based on the limitations on fracture height growth and potential fault slip.” (emphasis added)
While the Maryland researchers cite another report by Gradient, somehow these two peer-reviewed studies didn’t get a mention.
The Maryland report goes on to cite a highly controversial report on endocrine disruption by researchers at the University of Missouri:
“A study of 39 unique ground water samples collected in Garfield County, Colorado (a region with highly concentrated drilling activity) examined the propensity for flowback water to elicit endocrine activity on estrogen and androgen receptors. As compared to samples collected from a reference region, ground water samples from drilling areas were far more likely to exhibit endocrine activity; 89%, 41%, 12% and 46% exhibited estrogenic, antiestrogenic, androgenic and antiandrogenic activity, respectively. The authors concluded that natural gas drilling operations may contribute to elevated level of endocrine disrupting compounds in ground and surface water. While this study did not characterize likely exposures or associated human health burdens, the findings point toward future directions for epidemiologic investigations.” (p. 48)
These University of Missouri researchers billed their report as finding a link between fracking and hormone disrupting chemicals, but in the study they admit that they had no way to determine if the chemicals actually came from fracking. Endocrine disrupting chemicals can be naturally occurring or man-made, and they can be found in numerous household products (cosmetics, detergents, etc.) and agricultural products (pesticides, etc.). The report admits, “Both naturally occurring chemicals and synthetic chemicals from other sources could contribute to the activity observed in the water samples collected in this study.” It goes on to explain, “agricultural and animal care operations could potentially contribute to the measured activity in Garfield County.” After that report was published, one of the authors – Susan Nagel – gave a very telling interview on her research. As the Daily Tribune reported,
Susan Nagel, one of the researchers for the study and an associate professor for the MU Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health, said government regulations on fracking are weak.
“The EPA is just impotent to be proactive and apply typical, normal and preventative environmental monitoring,” she said. (emphasis added)
Such a statement, which has nothing to do with a study examining risks from chemicals, suggests that Nagel is not a disinterested researcher but rather motivated by a desire to see EPA’s regulatory reach expand over the oil and gas industry.
The Maryland report also cites a study by Cornell researchers on agriculture that has been highly criticized for its complete lack of scientific foundation:
“While there are not any epidemiological studies that have evaluated associations between soil quality and health, Bamberger and Oswald published a study documenting 24 cases of livestock, domesticated animals, and humans that have been adversely impacted by exposure to contaminated water and soil. In case study three, a cattle pasture had been contaminated by wastewater due to a tear in an impoundment pond, and soil tests detected high levels of chloride, sulfate, sodium, and strontium. As a result of the contamination, the cattle experienced reproductive issues, including spontaneous abortion and stillbirth.” (p. 48)
The researchers of this study fully admitted that they didn’t produce a scientific assessment at all, explaining: “By the standards of a controlled experiment, this is an imperfect study.” Dr. Ian Rae, a co-chair of the Chemicals Technical Options Committee for the U.N. Environment Programme, explained this major flaw: “It certainly does not qualify as a scientific paper but is, rather, an advocacy piece that does not involve deep…analysis of the data gathered to support its case.”
It is on this foundation of debunked and dubious research that the Maryland report concludes:
“Based on our evaluations of the limited data available from UNGDP impacted areas, we conclude that there is a Moderately High Likelihood that UNGDP’s impact on water quality, soil quality and naturally occurring radioactive materials will have a negative impact on public health in Garrett and Allegany Counties.” (p. 48)
The Maryland report goes on to make a number of negative claims about noise, traffic, STDs, crime rates, assaults on women – the list goes on – using the “research” of extreme anti-fracking groups.
For instance, it cites Food and Water Watch four times in its societal impacts section, making claims like this:
“Additionally, in these same, heavily impacted counties, the average annual number of public intoxication arrests rose 11.9%,along with steep increases in drunk driving, traffic violations and bar fights.” (p. 65).
Again, just like the report’s section on air and water quality, the Maryland report also leaves out a number of the important benefits from hydraulic fracturing – benefits that are very much related to public health.
It’s well known that hydraulic fracturing has created thousands of jobs for states that welcome it. Yet, the Maryland report somehow contends that if fracking comes to the state, Maryland families won’t get the jobs:
“Literature indicates that shale gas drilling depends heavily on a migrant workforce residing in Texas and Oklahoma and moves with rig operations to new extraction sites; local residents are often faced with part-time, short-term, and low-wage employment prospects found in supportive industries trucking, construction, and retail jobs” (p. 70)
This is utterly absurd. The Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) conducted a survey of workers and found that 96 percent of employees working in the Marcellus Shale came from Marcellus and Utica shale producing states and 56.8 percent were Pennsylvania residents. MSC also said producers will hire 4,000 new workers and they expect 70 percent of them to be from Southwestern Pennsylvania.
A study by researchers at Towson University found that shale development would bring thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to Maryland residents. It specified that two counties – Allegany and Garrett – would particularly benefit. Allegany County could see 952 new jobs and $1.7 million in new tax revenues, while Garrett County could add 2,743 jobs and increase tax revenues by $4.4 million.
What the Towson University researchers predict is being realized in states that are developing their resources. As EnergyWire reported this week, a new quarterly workforce analysis found that oil and gas employers rapidly creating thousands more jobs across the country:
“Employers in the field added 10,500 new positions during the second quarter, compared with 6,300 jobs created during the same period in 2013. A total of 20,200 new posts have been generated so far this year, surpassing 12,600 jobs created between January and June of last year.”
Manufacturing is undergoing a renaissance, thanks to cheap and abundant natural gas. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has predicted that shale development “could add more than 1 million workers to the U.S. manufacturing industry” by 2025. This growth is already being realized: chemical manufacturers, who use natural gas as a feedstock, are reporting $100 billion in investments. IHS CERA, recently released a report finding that the full shale value chain will support 3.3 million jobs by 2020 and add nearly half a trillion dollars to the U.S. gross domestic product.
Lower Energy Bills
One thing that the Maryland report completely leaves out is the fact that, thanks to abundant and affordable natural gas, families across the country are enjoying much lower energy bills. As IHS CERA recently found, American families saved an extra $1,200 in 2012 due to lower prices of natural gas and electricity. By 2025, these savings will increase to $3,500.
Shale development is also helping families save a lot of money at the pump. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA) Americans would be paying 40 cents more per gallon of gas than they’re paying now. Energy expert Dan Steffens said gasoline prices would be significantly higher without American shale development. As he explained, “With what’s going on the Middle East, I think it would five or six bucks [a gallon]. If it wasn’t for the shale revolution, you’d be in big trouble.”
These lower prices are particularly helping low income families get by. As one study explained, U.S. natural gas development has been three times more effective in helping low income families than the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program that provides financial assistance to families that cannot afford their energy bills.
The Maryland report spends considerable time arguing that hydraulic fracturing will strain Maryland’s infrastructure, even putting a burden on hospitals and other facilities. It’s worth repeating here that the Towson University study found that Allegany County could see $1.7 million in new tax revenues, while Garrett County see tax revenues of $4.4 million from shale development. These are revenues that would not only go to funding roads and bridges, but also schools and hospitals, among many other services.
States that are developing their shale resources are seeing the benefits in their coffers. A recent Cleveland State University report found that revenue from sales taxes in five Ohio counties jumped 50 percent in two years to reach $22.9 million. In Texas, some shale counties are seeing sales tax increases of “over 500 percent year over year.” According to the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, “Texas is on a course to deposit over $20 billion into the Rainy Day Fund — an average of over $3 billion annually, setting new records each year” thanks in large part to this development.
On a national level, IHS CERA has found that shale development was responsible for $74 billion in government tax revenues in 2012. That’s a huge tax break of Americans in states developing their resources.
What it leaves out…
There’s no question that having access to good-paying jobs, lower energy prices, and tax revenues to fund hospitals, schools and other services is a boon to public health. Yet, the Maryland report does not mention these manifold benefits. It also fails to acknowledge the enormous body of research confirming the safety and environmental advantages of hydraulic fracturing and natural gas.
As Maryland residents review this report they should pay particular attention not only to what it has to say, but more importantly, what it leaves out.