Anti-fracking activists’ long effort to scare the public with false information is perhaps best illustrated by a recent flyer advertising a rally organized by Appalachia Resist in Ohio, in which activists actually plan to meet in a graveyard wearing skull costumes (!). From the announcement:
“WHAT: FRACKING IS FRIGHTENING RALLY. Cider and donuts provided. We will stand with gravestones representing the disastrous results of corporate sponsored chemical contamination (C8, Love Canal, Clyde, Ohio, Bhopal). We will wear black, and paint our faces as skulls. It is Halloween, after all!”
The group further notes that they plan “to paint gravestones for the rally” and that “Paint, brushes, and cardboard” will be provided, (never mind the fact that paint and cardboard gravestones wouldn’t be possible without petroleum).
This isn’t the first time anti-fracking activists have used Halloween as a backdrop for their protests, as one can see in the following pictures from New York in 2011:
Let’s just say that painted gravestones and skull costumes are not the kind of props needed for folks who have the science on their side!
Of course, fracking isn’t scary—not by a long shot. Let’s take a look at some of the ways anti-fracking activists try to scare the public and the actual science that debunks them.
#1: Claiming fracking causes widespread water contamination
This claim is an old one that continues to be the calling card of ban fracking activists. Even when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its long-awaited study in June finding that fracturing technology has “not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources,” fracktivists claimed exactly the opposite. Actor Mark Ruffalo was even bold enough to say,
“Today’s EPA fracking water contamination study confirms what both the oil and gas industry and the Obama administration have long denied – that fracking poisons American’s drinking water supplies.”
But that’s not what the EPA found, nor is it what studies since have determined. In fact a study out of Yale University from earlier this month concluded,
“We found no evidence for direct communication with shallow drinking water wells due to upward migration form shale horizons. This result is encouraging, because it implies there is some degree of temporal and spatial separation between injected fluids and the drinking water supply.” (p. 5; emphasis added)
United States Geological Survey (USGS) agrees that fracking does not contaminate groundwater.
#2: Claiming fracking causes earthquakes
Activists have long tried to claim that fracking is causing earthquakes. But that’s not accurate: the earthquakes that have been in the news lately have been potentially linked to injection wells, not fracking.
The fearmongering and sensational headlines got so bad that one of the lead researchers of a University of North Texas study on seismic activity potentially linked to injection wells set the record straight stating,
“We’re not talking at all about fracking,” Dr. Matthew Hornbach, a scientist at Southern Methodist University who recently released a study on quakes in North Texas, told Congress Tuesday. “In fact, it’s been driving us crazy, frankly, that people keep using it in the press.” (emphasis added)
In June, the USGS and the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) submitted an article to Seismological Research Letters (SRL) to clear the air on the facts surrounding earthquakes, injection, and fracking. As E&E News reported,
“Although the message that these earthquakes are induced by fluid injection related to oil and gas production has been communicated clearly, there remains confusion in the popular press beyond this basic level of understanding,” Rubinstein’s paper states.
The papers released by the two organizations went on to spell it out clearly:
Myth #1 (SRL): “Hydraulic fracturing is causing all of the induced earthquakes.”
Fact #1 (USGS): “In the United States, fracking is not causing most of the induced earthquakes. Wastewater disposal is the primary cause of the recent increase in earthquakes in the central United States.”
And for the times fracktivists try to throw injection in with fracking they also explained just how rare seismic activity is from injection wells also,
Myth #2 (SRL): “All injection wells (hydraulic fracturing, wastewater disposal, and enhanced oil recovery) induce earthquakes.”
Fact #2 (USGS): “Most injection wells do not trigger felt earthquakes.”
#3: Claiming fracking is causing climate change and increasing air pollution
Another popular fracktivist claim has been that fracking increases air pollution and causes climate change.
But they’re denying the science: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that fracking should actually be credited with enabling the United States to reduce its GHG emissions dramatically. From the IPCC’s assessment:
“A key development since AR4 is the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply… this is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.” (Ch. 7, p. 18)
Of course, the same activists claiming that fracking causes climate change are the ones who pull stunts like driving to a protest in a gas guzzling tank, which gets about one mile to the gallon.
Further, data from the EPA and U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that air emissions across the board nationally are falling at the same time oil and gas activity has ramped up. As a report by Energy In Depth explains,
“From 2005 to 2013 emissions of PM 2.5 have decreased by 60 percent; emissions of SO2 decreased by 68 percent; and emissions of NO2 decreased by 52 percent. As regulators and scientific experts have noted, this progress is largely due to the skyrocketing production and use of natural gas.”
#4: Claiming fracking is negatively impacting health, especially in babies
Anti-fracking activists take every opportunity to tout studies that claim to find a “link” between fracking and health impacts. But take, for instance, a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University that tried to link fracking to increased hospitalizations in the Marcellus, despite the data suggesting otherwise. The authors of that study had to admit, “the study does not prove that hydraulic fracturing actually causes these health problems.” Many of these studies generate headlines but more often than not, the statements given to media don’t even match the findings of the researchers.
What’s more is several of the studies from this year have also hidden conflicts of interest from the public and media that would have shown potential bias in the research. For instance, in a report that attempted to link fracking to increased hospitalizations, the authors declared no conflicting interests, yet one of the authors, Poune Saberi, is anything but quiet in her views on fracking, as is evident from her blog posts on the website Protecting Our Waters, a group whose mission is:
“To protect our air, health, biodiversity, climate and communities, we aim to stop fracking.”
#5: Claiming fracking chemicals aren’t disclosed
Fracktivists like to make the claim that the oil and gas industry does not disclose the additives used in fracking solutions, despite the readily available public chemical disclosure registry, fracfocus.org. The reality is the majority of states actually do require disclosure of the chemical used in the process either on fracfocus.org or through their own state regulatory bodies. The list of states with disclosure policies on the books or in the works is readily available on the FracFocus website, and of the states that do not have anything so far, well they don’t have oil and gas development either.
As for the chemicals used in the process, most are found in common household items. Here’s a breakdown of a typical fracturing solution:
#6: Claiming fracking is not regulated
Despite the many state and federal regulations that the oil and gas industry must abide by, fracktivists still claim the industry lacks regulations. A Pennsylvania newspaper recently committed an entire week-long series to asserting this claim, leaving out key information that disputed their articles. But the industry is heavily regulated both at the federal and state level, and several states have even been in the process of revising those regulations.
At the federal level alone there are regulations at every step of the oil and gas development process, not just during fracking. A September 2012 report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) set the record straight on this claim:
“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.”
The report goes on to cite the specific federal environmental and public health laws that govern the development of oil and gas, which include: the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) (for disposal wells); Clean Water Act (CWA); Clean Air Act (CAA); Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA); Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA); Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA); and Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) – all laws that opponents continually claim are, somehow, “exemptions.”
#7: Claiming industry doesn’t provide safety measures for workers
Josh Fox released his latest film late this year that attempted to say that fracking is especially unsafe for workers in the industry. But much like his previous unfounded accusations, this claim has little to do with the facts.
Safety is very important for the oil and gas industry, as partnerships to help ensure that operations remain safe and efficient with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have shown. These partnerships have resulted in a number of highly effective programs, including the National Service, Transmission, Exploration & Production Safety (STEPS) Network, an alliance with OSHA and NIOSH, with the clear vision of “Incident-Free Operations.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) data, have a far lower work risk rate than other industries. In fact, construction, transportation and warehousing, agriculture, forestry, government, professional and business services, manufacturing, retail trade, leisure and hospitality, wholesale trade, and education and health services had more fatal injuries than the oil and gas industry in 2014. And BLS data also shows that oil and gas fatalities by region have decreased as well, in the midst of a boom in the industry. For instance, data show that North Dakota saw a 32 percent decrease, California saw a 16 percent decrease, and Pennsylvania saw a four percent decrease in fatalities.
At the end of the day there isn’t really anything new coming out of the fracktivist camp. Instead they recycle the same tired playbook of assertions while moving into new areas like Florida in an attempt to scare residents who may not be as familiar with the fracking process as states with heavy shale development. But with the science overwhelmingly showing that fracking is safe and has manageable risks, anti-fracking activists’ attempts to be scary are just starting to look desperate.