A new low in the media’s war on fracking

Robert Bradley

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.”

Dig into the details, though, and it becomes clear that the study is not scientific. There remains no proof that fracking is dangerous.

Fracking 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.

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 fracking-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 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.

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.”

Ironically, activists’ obsession with discrediting fracking 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.

Robert L. Bradley Jr. is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research.