The University of Cincinnati (UC) has spent more than $470,000 of taxpayer money over the past four years on a trio of studies researching potential air and groundwater impacts attributable to fracking. But for a third consecutive time, UC’s research has foundno air or groundwater issues tied to natural gas extraction. For its latest study, UC gathered air samples near production sites in three of the top producing oil and natural gas counties in Ohio — Guernsey, Noble and Belmont — to examine air quality near natural gas extraction. And according to a media report, lead researcher Dr. Erin Hayes told local elected officials during a recent presentation on the study that “none of the air sample averages exceeded EPA levels of health concern” after being evaluated for 63 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde.
This is just the latest in a long list of studies based on actual air measurements and found emissions from oil and gas production sites are below the threshold that would indicate a threat to public health. These studies have been largely ignored by activists, whose claims of public health harms from fracking-related activities have typically been based on studies that fail to take air measurements and instead find “associations” rather than proof of causation, among many other issues.
A UC representative said the presentations were preliminary and that they “plan to publish the data in the upcoming months.” But based on UC’s recent track record, the statement merits close monitoring.
Will UC Publish These Results?
As EID has highlighted numeroustimes over the past year, UC’s last fracking study, which found “no evidence for natural gas contamination” of groundwater, has yet to be published. As a reminder, the UC groundwater study and was “disappointing” news to the anti-fracking community, which funded part of the study. It’s been 18 months since the UC groundwater study findings were announced in February 2016 at a Carroll Concerned Citizens meeting under eerily similar circumstances to this week’s announcement made at the Guernsey County Commissioner’s meeting. Six months ago, UC reported to the National Association of Royalty Owner’s (NARO) that they are “currently working to prepare these data for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.”
UC has done three fracking studies, but only one has been published. Notably, that study had to be retracted because it exaggeratedwhat was ultimately determined to be a non-existent carcinogenic threat by 725,000 percent. The two UC studies that have yet to be published found no harms from fracking.
Why It Matters
Studies published in a peer reviewed scientific journal matters for several reasons. Most importantly, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) mandates that environmental assessments by state and federal regulators must be based exclusively on research published in peer-reviewed journals.
A good example of how this plays out is the recent Environmental Assessment of the Marietta Unit in the Wayne National Forest. The Bureau of Land Management needed to conduct an NEPA analysis before leasing of federal minerals could take place. Despite the fact that the results from the UC groundwater study were public knowledge, the BLM was unable to use the study as evidence that natural gas extraction has not caused groundwater contamination in Ohio, because it hadn’t been published a peer-reviewed journal. Here’s what the BLM had to say when they were asked by the UC study was not included in their analysis:
In addition, environmental reporters far and wide routinely will not report on studies unless they are published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
One local report called this new UC air study “good news” and it certainly is, but we are a bit skeptical that the study will actually be published, based on UC’s recent history on this front. We certainly hope that UC will keep their word, but as the old saying goes, “We’ll believe it when we see it.” After spending over $470,000 of taxpayer money, one would think that a comprehensive publicresearch university in Cincinnati, is part of the University System of Ohio would publish both the groundwater and recent air studies with haste.