UPDATE (9/6/16) Texas environmental regulators are strongly pushing back on this recent Clean Air Task force and Earthworks report, noting that their data do not square with the actual science. As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports:
“State regulators say emissions from oil and gas operations are not a major contributor to air pollution in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, calling into question a recent environmental report linking methane leaks to an anticipated rise in asthma attacks.
But Texas Commission on Environmental Quality data shows that operations associated with the energy industry in Fort Worth and Dallas contribute 1.8 parts per billion to ozone levels on the worst days, from May to September, while planes, trains and automobiles contribute 14.1 parts per billion. Those measurements also were taken during the peak times of the ozone season, agency officials said.” (Emphasis added)
The Star-Telegram goes on:
“David Brymer, the agency’s director of air quality, voiced doubts about how Earthworks and the Clean Air Task Force used its computer models to produce the information and then how they analyzed that data. Brymer cautioned that they have insufficient information to entirely evaluate the environmental report.”
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) officials are also calling the assumptions used in the report into question by pointing to steps the state has been taking to curb ozone-forming emissions. As EID had previously pointed out, a big problem with the report was the reliance on 2011 EPA emissions estimates that failed to take new state and federal emissions rules and regulations into account. Also from the Star-Telegram:
“Since nitrogen oxides are the dominant precursors for ozone in Texas, not methane, the state has taken vigorous steps to control it, Brymer and other agency officials said. In 2007, the agency issued rules that resulted in a 93 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide, agency officials said.” (Emphasis added)
And state officials say those reductions were achieved at a time when oil and natural gas development was “booming”:
“Those reductions also came at a time when drilling for natural gas in the Barnett Shale in North Texas was booming and the population was booming, Brymer said.
“In 2000, emissions contributed 102 parts per billion to ozone levels while in 2015 it was at 83 parts per billion, showing that the majority of the monitors showed compliance with the federal 75 parts per billion standard, Brymer said. And that was when the population in the area grew by 35 percent, he said.
““The Dallas-Fort Worth area has come a long way,” Brymer said.”
The agency also highlighted national data showing that asthma attacks “have decreased since 2011 for all age groups” according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Also from the Star-Telegram:
“This decline also came at a time when, nationwide, the percentage of children suffering from asthma plateaued and even slightly decreased since 2008, said Andrea Morrow, an agency spokeswoman. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma attacks have decreased since 2011 for all age groups, she said. Those statistics were “notably missing” from the Earthworks report, she said.” (Emphasis added)
Meanwhile, the Star-Telegram also highlights the results of an actual peer-reviewed study from the University of Texas at Arlington, which as EID has reported, shows that emissions associated with fracking in South Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale are within acceptable limits. As the Star-Telegram reports:
“The study, which monitored for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes — volatile organic compounds that are found in petroleum derivatives — suggests that air contamination can be monitored, controlled and reduced, said Kevin Schug, an analytical chemistry professor.”
Of course, this is not the first time Texas environmental officials have debunked Earthworks’ claims. But it appears that no matter how many times the groups behind this latest scare campaign are proven wrong, they will continue to ignore peer-reviewed studies and easily accessible national data in order to generate conclusions tailored to fit their anti-fracking narrative.
-Original post follows-
The Clean Air Task Force (CATF) is out with yet another report – this time with the alarmist title “Gasping for Breath”— which constitutes the group’s latest effort to scare and mislead the public. The report (which was not peer reviewed by the way) makes sweeping and erroneous predictions about future health impacts that the researchers blame on fracking, despite the fact that emissions have been steadily declining, and its thanks to natural gas that air quality has been improving across the board in the United States.
Just as a bit of background, CATF has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Energy Foundation, a prominent anti-fossil fuel organization that funds numerous campaigns against fracking. The researchers also thank Earthworks – a group that has essentially declared a “war on fracking” – for its “invaluable contributions and counsel” on the report.
Aside from the obvious bias of the researchers, and the lack of peer review, the report simply ignores an overwhelming number of scientific studies that completely debunk their conclusions. Here are a few things to know:
Fact #1: The researchers use woefully outdated numbers to estimate future health impacts
The researchers admit in the study that their estimates are “based on a U.S. EPA 2025 projection of the National Emissions Inventory (NEI) for 2011.” In other words, they’re basing their argument on an inventory that’s five years old even though technologies and the regulatory environment have, obviously, changed during that period of time. In doing so the researchers left out a plethora of regulations over those years form state and federal governments, which have had a significant impact on emissions. The researchers even acknowledge ignoring several of these regulations in the CATF report:
“regulations promulgated by December 2014.13 This includes the impact of EPA’s 2012 new source standards for oil and gas VOCs, but not EPA’s recently finalized 2016 new source performance standards for VOCs and methane from oil and gas.”
Fact #2: Natural gas production, which has dramatically reduced air pollution, has led to lower asthma flare-ups and hospitalizations
The researchers claim that “Ozone smog that results from oil and gas industry pollution poses a real threat to children who suffer from asthma” but the science shows exactly the opposite.
Take Pennsylvania, for instance – one of the most prolific oil and gas states. The state’s Department of Health recently released data showing a significant 26 percent reduction in inpatient asthma hospitalizations from 2009 to 2013, at the same time natural gas production soared. That data also show that some of the most heavily drilled counties in Pennsylvania had far lower asthma hospitalizations than counties that had no drilling at all.
That’s because improved U.S. air quality — courtesy of fracking — is helping to reduce asthma exacerbations.
Former New York City Mayor Bloomberg recently noted this, mentioning that thanks to the increased use of natural gas, New York has the cleanest air in over 50 years, which means fewer asthma problems across the board:
“Today, because of the significant improvements in air quality, the health department estimates that 800 lives will be saved each year and approximately 1,600 emergency department visits for asthma and 460 hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular issues will be prevented every year. The City expects further improvements in air quality and the future health of all New Yorkers as buildings continue to convert to cleaner fuels over the next several years.”
Even Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has noted that natural gas usage reduces asthma attacks:
“This shift [to natural gas in electricity generation] has also yielded significant public health benefits, avoiding thousands of premature deaths and more than 100,000 asthma attacks in 2015 alone.”
The authors also simply ignore established studies and government data showing that emissions during oil and gas development have been rapidly declining. And perhaps more importantly they ignore the fact that fracking is the No. 1 reason that three pollutants linked to asthma — nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) are all in rapid decline.
For example, a recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), found that “The increased use of natural gas has…led to emissions reductions of NOx (40%) and SO2 (44%).” According to the report:
“Further reductions in these emissions can follow by converting a larger fraction of U.S. electric power production to natural gas, and by ensuring that all natural gas power plants are equipped with the latest combined cycle technology.”
Meanwhile, as EID has previously reported, EPA data shows dramatic reductions in pollutants. From 2005 to 2013 emissions of PM 2.5 decreased by 60 percent; emissions of SO2 decreased by 68 percent; and emissions of NO2 decreased by 52 percent.
It’s also worth noting that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality produced a paper pointing out that evidence linking ozone to asthma symptoms is “insufficient.” From the paper:
“EPA investigated the epidemiology studies that show effects of ambient ozone concentrations on asthma health outcomes. Keeping in mind that these studies suffer from the same exposure measurement errors as the mortality studies, EPA showed that 21 of the 33 reported associations between ozone and asthma symptoms were not statistically significant, and those that were significant were not consistent with one another. This result is quantified in the regulatory impact analysis, 32 where EPA shows that there is no statistically significant decrease in asthma exacerbations with a decreasing level of the ozone standard.”
Even if the CATF researchers could credibly make the case that ozone itself causes asthma exacerbations (they can’t) they’d still have the problem that ozone contributions from oil and gas production have been shown to be very small. A recent National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study looking at ozone and oil and natural gas development along Colorado’s Front Range found that oil and gas only accounts for 17 percent of the area’s ozone. From press release announcing the study:
“[Erin McDuffie] and her colleagues found that the VOCs from oil and gas contribute an average of 17 percent to local, chemically produced ozone during the summer. “Seventeen percent is small but potentially still significant,” said Steve Brown, co-author and scientist at the NOAA ESRL Chemical Sciences Division.” (emphasis added)
The CATF researchers actually cite this, yet they characterize it as showing a “substantial impact” even though NOAA itself said it was “small.”
Fact #3: Natural gas production is dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions
The CATF researchers claim that “Natural gas development and transmission release a host of pollutants – such as toxics, smog forming pollutants, and greenhouse gases – that take a toll on our environment and our health.”
But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that fracking is “an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.”
The IPCC isn’t alone: according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), natural gas has prevented more than one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted from power plants in the United States, bringing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to a 27-year low.
That’s why the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) recently hailed natural gas as a “valuable component of a gradually decarbonizing electricity and energy system.” The role natural gas is playing in reducing emissions has even been noted by President Obama, EPA Administrator McCarthy, and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. Even anti-fracking groups like the Sierra Club have admitted that natural gas plays a key role in decreasing U.S. emissions, as it noted last year:
“We project that as a result of recent coal retirements, as well as advocacy for related policy measures like efficiency and demand response and market forces including historically low natural gas prices, electric sector coal use in 2015 will be approximately 9 percent lower than in 2014.” (Emphasis added)
A look at the claims laid out in this latest report makes it clear that the authors are far more interested in garnering headlines than looking at the science, which is likely why this project was not peer reviewed. They ignored well-established data showing the benefits of shale development in their efforts to scare and mislead the public against oil and natural gas development.