An outfit calling itself the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) released a report last week called “Toxic and Dirty Secrets: The Truth about Fracking and Your Family’s Heath.” The thesis? That the continued use (and even mere existence) of hydraulic fracturing – a well stimulation technology that’s been in commercial use now for more than 65 years – poses a dire and immediate threat to pregnant women and children all across the nation. Yikes! Thankfully, as we show below, the CEH paper is more about political science than it is about the actual stuff, and in some cases hilariously so.
Unfortunately, the exploitation of children has become a popular strategy among those seeking to prevent responsible resource development, pulled straight from a playbook that encourages activists to “[not] worry about highly technical information,” and instead use props that will help tell your story and elicit an emotional reaction.
True to form, the CEH paper doesn’t “worry about highly technical information” either — it simply recycles debunked claims from previously flawed reports and puts them all together in one package, specifically tailored for the press. The only thing missing? Believe it or not, despite its scary-sounding title, the report includes not one, single, real-world example of an adverse health impact being caused by the use of hydraulic fracturing. Or, in other words: the very thing the report claims in its title to be, um, reporting on.
Unable to cite any actual, real cases of demonstrable harm, the report’s authors are relegated to the realm of regurgitated talking points – including your standard grab-bag of assertions relating to “exemptions,” and “disclosure,” and even charges that EPA allows oil and gas producers to “inject hazardous materials-unchecked directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies.” Say what?
CEH also spends considerable time on air emissions – dredging up old claims and presenting them as new even in the face of contradictory evidence from EPA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). As TCEQ states in its most recent report on the subject:
After several months of operation, state-of-the-art, 24-hour air monitors in the Barnett Shale area are showing no levels of concern for any chemicals. This reinforces our conclusion that there are no immediate health concerns from air quality in the area, and that when they are properly managed and maintained, oil and gas operations do not cause harmful excess air emissions.
In addition, a report issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) analyzed blood and urine samples from residents in and around the town of DISH, which is located atop the Barnett. Among other important things, DSHS found:
Although a number of VOCs were detected in some of the blood samples, the pattern of VOC values was not consistent with a community-wide exposure to airborne contaminants, such as those that might be associated with natural gas drilling operations.
While CEH would like us to believe that entire communities in Texas are now filled with folks suffering from significant health problems, the actual data tell a very different story. As we’ve mentioned several times before, health researchers have noted that in Denton County, Texas, the health of local citizens significantly improved at the same time natural gas production rapidly expanded across the region – even as the area’s elderly population continued to grow significantly over that time. According to the researchers:
Health records indicate that while [natural gas]production increased, fewer residents were diagnosed with serious illnesses such as cancer, respiratory disease, strokes, and heart disease. This improvement occurred even as the population of residents age 65 or older increased by over 13,000, a significant uptick for any population segment.
CEH also asserts that air quality across the nation is being negatively affected by natural gas development. But according to the Breakthrough Institute, natural gas use in Pennsylvania, for example, has “dramatically reduced emissions across the State, emissions of every sort.” How dramatic was the reduction? According to data from the Pennsylvania DEP, over 500 million tons of emissions have been removed from the Commonwealth’s air thanks to natural gas.
As mentioned, the other primary theme that CEH attempts to push through in its report is the idea that oil and gas production isn’t subject to federal laws or oversight. But that assertion doesn’t quite match up with what the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found in a report issued last year. To wit:
As with conventional oil and gas development, requirements from eight federal environmental and public health laws apply to unconventional oil and gas development. For example, the Clean Water Act (CWA) regulates discharges of pollutants into surface waters. Among other things, CWA requires oil and gas well site operators to obtain permits for discharges of produced water – which includes fluids used for hydraulic fracturing, as well as water the occurs naturally in oil- or gas-bearing formations – to surface waters. In addition, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) governs the management and disposal of hazardous wastes, among other things.
Not only do oil and gas producers have to comply with overarching federal laws, they are also regulated at state and local levels, often at multiple levels simultaneously.
Of course, folks genuinely interested in improving public health outcomes for everyday Americans know well that among the most important factors in achieving that is finding and maintaining a good, stable job – one that provides a good wage and access to health care benefits.
And that’s not just, like, our opinion, you know? According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, “people with a quality education, stable employment … and access to preventive services tend to be healthier throughout their lives.” Maybe that’s why health outcomes improved so dramatically last decade in areas that sit atop the Barnett Shale. It wasn’t the actual act of drilling a well that produced that achievement – it was the jobs, revenues and economic and social opportunities that came as a result of it.
As we continue to see all across the country, natural gas development helps create thousands of jobs, and deliver wealth to communities that use those resources to build better hospitals and schools and create better opportunities for young people – all factors that contribute to better health. Maybe next time, CEH will take the time to examine the impact that those components have on the public’s health, and perhaps dispense with the talking points.