Accountability: The Associated Press Digs Deep on Shale Gas Facts

Our industry, as clearly laid out in our Guiding Principles, encourages a “spirited public dialogue and fact-based education about responsible shale gas development.” As the saying goes, facts are awfully stubborn things. On the important issue of ensuring that facts – not hyperbole or scare tactics – underpin our ongoing and collective debate about safe, tightly-regulated, job-creating American natural gas development, the Associated Press reports this under the headline “Fracking critics using bad science, experts say”:

Critics of fracking often raise alarms about groundwater pollution, air pollution, and cancer risks, and there are still many uncertainties. But some of the claims have little — or nothing— to back them.

For example, reports that breast cancer rates rose in a region with heavy gas drilling are false, researchers told The Associated Press.

Fears that natural radioactivity in drilling waste could contaminate drinking water aren’t being confirmed by monitoring, either.

One of the clearest examples of a misleading claim comes from north Texas, where gas drilling began in the Barnett Shale about 10 years ago.

Opponents of fracking say breast cancer rates have spiked exactly where intensive drilling is taking place — and nowhere else in the state. The claim is used in a letter that was sent to New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo by environmental groups and by Josh Fox, the Oscar-nominated director of “Gasland,” a film that criticizes the industry. Fox, who lives in Brooklyn, has a new short film called “The Sky is Pink.”

But researchers haven’t seen a spike in breast cancer rates in the area, said David Lee, a professor of medical anthropology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

David Risser, an epidemiologist with the Texas Cancer Registry, said in an email that researchers checked state health data and found no evidence of an increase in the counties where the spike supposedly occurred.

And Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a major cancer advocacy group based in Dallas, said it sees no evidence of a spike, either.

We don’t,” said Chandini Portteus, Komen’s vice president of research, adding that they sympathize with people’s fears and concerns, but “what we do know is a little bit, and what we don’t know is a lot” about breast cancer and the environment.

And this from the AP regarding Marcellus Shale water management:

Another instance where fears haven’t been confirmed by science is the concern that radioactivity in drilling fluids could threaten drinking water supplies.

But in western Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority did extensive tests and didn’t find a problem in area rivers. State environmental officials said monitoring at public water supply intakes across the state showed non-detectable levels of radiation, and the two cases that showed anything were at background levels.

Concerns about the potential problem also led to regulatory changes. An analysis by The Associated Press of data from Pennsylvania found that of the 10.1 million barrels of shale wastewater generated in the last half of 2011, about 97 percent was either recycled, sent to deep-injection wells, or sent to a treatment plant that doesn’t discharge into waterways.

Critics of fracking also repeat claims of extreme air pollution threats, even as evidence mounts that the natural gas boom is in some ways contributing to cleaner air.

Marcellus air pollution “will cause a massive public health crisis,” claims a section of the Marcellus Shale Protest website.

Yet data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that the shale gas boom is helping to turn many large power plants away from coal, which emits far more pollution. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency passed new rules to force drillers to limit releases of methane from wells and pumping stations.

Often times, very biased and discredited claims — however untrue — can make for great newspaper headlines. Thankfully, though, facts and science will continue to guide and inform our debate. We’ve made that important commitment, and invite others to do the same.

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