New anti-fracking study combines old news and flawed science
Two environmentalist groups just released a scathing report which concluded that "fracking" — a technique for extracting oil and natural gas from underground shale rock formations — poses an unacceptable threat to human health.
The report is deeply flawed. It doesn't offer any original research. It simply compiles previously-published news stories, health reports, and academic papers, most of which have long since been debunked as biased.
If lawmakers and regulators act on this shoddy science and restrict fracking, they will harm — rather than improve — public health.
The report, conducted by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility, attempts to link fracking to a wide range of ailments, from asthma to low birthweight to cancer. The 266-page document seems to provide a mountain of data in support of its position.
Peek inside, however, and it's clear the authors are more concerned with the quantity of evidence than its quality.
Throughout the document, the authors display information gleaned from partisan environmentalist media outlets like InsideClimate News alongside more rigorous analyses published in academic journals — as if those sources deserve equal credence.
Even the academic research cited in the report is less-than-convincing. For the most part, the studies are epidemiological analyses that merely show a correlation between fracking and particular health conditions.
Rigorous investigations have failed to show any causal relationship between fracking and poor health. Last year, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment concluded that "Studies of populations living near oil and gas operations provide limited evidence of the possibility for harmful health effects." The Department added that these studies "do not indicate the need for immediate public health action."
A separate review of fracking studies conducted by Resources for the Future, an environmental policy think tank, reached similar conclusions. RFF's report found that all studies suggesting negative health effects "had shortcomings that were most often significant."
RFF also concluded that the analyses "reported contradictory results for each impact," meaning that some studies found an increase in certain ailments near fracking sites, while others found a decrease or no change at all.
In other words, strong scientific evidence that fracking causes serious health conditions remains elusive.
Ironically, there's a great deal of evidence that fracking improves public health by increasing production and consumption of natural gas, which emits far fewer harmful pollutants than coal. A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that the shift from coal to natural gas in Turkey reduced mortality rates in that country between 2001 and 2014.
The fracking revolution also improves Americans' health by making them wealthier, and thus better able to afford nutritious food and medical care. By driving down the cost of energy for many Americans, the fracking boom increased the average household's disposable income by $1,200 in 2012 alone. The natural gas and oil industry contributed roughly $1.3 trillion to the economy and supported 10.3 million jobs around the country in 2015.
The biased anti-fracking report tries, and fails, to prove the drilling technique is a threat to public health. Let's hope lawmakers and regulators don't fall for it.
(Regina Thomson is president of the Colorado Issues Coalition. This piece originally ran in the Albuquerque Journal)