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Stand up to junk science on fracking

America’s smart drilling revolution has bestowed numerous economic and environmental benefits. Innovative entrepreneurs who combined horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing have led to huge increases of domestic energy production, making the U.S. the number one oil and gas producer in the world. We did all this while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality.

It’s puzzling, then, that Lois Marie Gibbs would claim in an op-ed on this site that “the science and experiences of Americans” show that hydraulic fracturing poses “immense harm to people across the nation.”

The reality is exactly the opposite.

{mosads}In her piece, Gibbs rehashes the discredited talking points of environmental activists who reflexively oppose any oil and natural gas production.

As just one example, she claims a report from the Colorado School of Public Health “found air pollutants near fracking sites at levels sufficient to raise risks for cancer,” among other ailments, especially among pregnant women. But Gibbs failed to acknowledge that the study was swiftly condemned after its release.

Larry Wolk, director and chief medical officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health, issued a statement warning expectant mothers “not to rely on this study as an explanation of why one of their children might have had a birth defect. Many factors known to contribute to birth defects were ignored in this study.”

As is typical among anti-energy activists, Gibbs employs vague language to stoke unfounded fears. She says, “fracking fluids can be incredibly dangerous.” But anything “can be dangerous” in theory—you can get into an accident driving your car or overdose from drinking too much water. Gibbs’ framing sheds no light on the degree of risk involved in energy development.

All energy sources carry a degree of risk, but science and experience consistently show that hydraulic fracturing poses minimal risks and offers substantial rewards.  The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, for instance, explains, “When properly conducted, modern fracing is a safe, sophisticated, highly engineered and controlled procedure.” Officials from Michigan, California, Pennsylvania, California and elsewhere, including the Obama administration, have reached similar conclusions.

Gibbs’ other tactic is to try and pass off studies funded by agenda-driven environmental groups as dispassionate science. Take the “analysis” from the Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy. Gibbs fires off bullet points hyping “potential risks or adverse health outcomes” from hydraulic fracturing, but fails to disclose that this group is funded by the left-wing Park Foundation, which bankrolls a variety of anti-energy causes. The group also signed a “pledge of resistance” to hydraulic fracturing along with radical activists such as Bill McKibben and Josh Fox.

The reality is that our environment has improved as energy development has increased. We’re producing more oil than we have in more than two decades, yet greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change dropped by 10 percent between 2005 and 2012, according to EPA data. Meanwhile, the six common air pollutants EPA measures have declined by 62 percent over the last three decades.

Amid all this progress, somehow all Gibbs sees is a “public health disaster.”

Baseless fear-mongering on hydraulic fracturing has serious economic consequences for American families. Just look at New York, where Governor Cuomo recently opted to ban the well-completion process. New York State’s Southern Tier is an economically depressed region thought to contain vast supplies of natural gas. The New York Times reported on the “deep disappointment felt by many” after Cuomo announced the fracking ban—one resident described the area as “dead in the water” thanks to Cuomo’s decision. Now officials in some of the towns in the area want to secede from New York to join neighboring Pennsylvania, where natural gas production in the Marcellus Shale has shot up 700 percent since 2007.

Gibbs is right about one thing: history repeats itself. Her junk science on fracking is nothing new. We just hope discerning readers will allow reality to trump rhetoric. 

Pyle is president of the American Energy Alliance, a free-market advocacy group that accepts funding from individuals, foundations and corporations, including those of the oil industry.


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