This article originally appeared at Forbes.
Rolling Stone just dropped a bombshell — or so it claims in its article, “‘The Harms of Fracking’: New Report Details Increased Risks of Asthma, Birth Defects and Cancer.”
Highlighting what it deems an “authoritative study,” Rolling Stone concludes that fracking is “contaminating the air and water — and imperiling the health of millions of Americans.”
Dig into the details, though, and it becomes clear that the study is not scientific. There remains no proof that fracking is dangerous to the general population.
Hydraulic fracturing is a drilling technique used to access energy reserves that are trapped deep underground in shale rock deposits. Developers drill into the shale formations and inject a mixture of water and sand at very high pressures. This infusion of liquid breaks up the rock deposits to free oil and natural gas for extraction.
This process typically takes three to five days. Once a well is fracked, it can produce fuel for years.
The Rolling Stone piece centers on a new report from two activist organizations, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Concerned Health Professionals of New York. These organizations didn’t conduct original field research but extrapolated data from existing studies to draw a hyperbolic conclusion.
According to Rolling Stone, the report’s central claim is that “residents living near an active [fracking] site breathe air laced with carcinogens,” which leads to an “increased risk of asthma, a decrease in infant health and worrisome effects on the development of a fetus.”
But the vast majority of studies used in this report examine hydraulic fracturing-related emissions out of context. They don’t look at how often, how long, or how much humans were actually exposed to these emissions.
And their report has not been subject to rigorous scientific review. It’s easy to see why. The preponderance of existing evidence directly contradicts the hysterical claims. The new “study” only reconfirms the adage: garbage in, garbage out.
The Fracking Reality
The gold-standard fracking assessment comes from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which evaluated some 10,000 air samples from fracking sites and found that the emissions levels were “safe.” Department officials reported that there is “no substantial or moderate evidence for any health effects” caused by fracking.
That’s no surprise. Fracking fluid is 99 percent water and sand. Small amounts of chemicals are added to preserve the drilling equipment.
The Rolling Stone report also claims to substantiate the long-standing activist gripe that the process releases hazardous chemicals into nearby drinking water, putting the people in surrounding communities at risk.
But two dozen studies have looked into the water contamination issue and determined that fracking is safe.
Even the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency, which harbored little affection for the energy industry, concluded that fracking is “unlikely to generate sufficient pressure to drive fluids into shallow drinking water zones.” Lisa Jackson, the former head of the EPA under President Obama, plainly stated that “in no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.”
The Media’s War
Rolling Stone’s fake exposé is just the latest in a long and growing list of specious anti-fracking studies. For a decade, activists have trotted out shoddy science in hopes of discrediting new-generation fossil-fuel extraction.
There’s Gasland, the 2010 documentary from Brooklyn-based filmmaker Josh Fox. It’s a master class in sophistry.
Just consider its most infamous scene, in which a man living near a drilling site in Colorado lights his tap water on fire, supposedly demonstrating that it’s full of dangerous fracking chemicals.
Colorado regulators have since determined that the man’s water contamination was “not attributable” to energy exploration. Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has said: “We can’t find anywhere in Colorado a single example of [fracking] that has polluted groundwater.”
There’s also a paper published this spring in the journal Endocrinology. It claims fracking chemicals can disrupt hormone production in lab mice. But the researcher’s chemical concoction doesn’t even resemble the mixtures used in real-life fracking operations.
Then there’s a 2017 report from the NAACP which claims emissions from fracking and other energy industry activities drive up rates of asthma, cancer, and other deadly conditions in African American communities. NAACP researchers make the basic mistake of assuming correlation equals causation. They conclude that, because some African Americans communities near fracking sites suffer higher rates of disease, fracking must be causing those conditions.
But there are other factors at play. For instance, 40 percent of asthma risk in minority children is caused by allergens in the home. That has nothing to do with fracking.
Ironically, activists’ obsession with discrediting hydraulic fracturing blinds them to the well-established truth that fracking is an ecological and environmental godsend. Fracking has enabled an unprecedented boom in American natural gas production. Natural gas isn’t just cheaper than coal; it also burns much cleaner.
It’s no wonder that as power plants have switched from coal to natural gas, air quality has improved. Air pollutants, as well as carbon dioxide emissions, have dropped. And a recent increase in natural gas exports has done wonders for energy market competition.
Activists ought to be celebrating a new era of energy plenty and reliability. Instead, they remain determined to smear fracking with shoddy science. It’s almost as if they have a hidden agenda — one that has nothing to do with what’s good for people and the planet.