Earthworks Releases Another Report in Attempt to Condemn Gas Development

Last month, Earthworks released a report in which they concluded that state regulation of fracking is a failure.

Now Earthworks set out on a mission to collect surveys from people in areas where gas development has occurred in Pennsylvania.  Their goal was to link health problems in people to drilling.

Not surprisingly, since Earthworks had already concluded before starting the study that gas drilling was harmful to human health and was working backwards from that conclusion, they conclude in their report that the results of the surveys and environmental testing conducted demonstrate a link between health problems and oil and gas drilling.

There is quite a bit of information to digest in the report, which is entitled Gas Patch Roulette: How Shale Gas Development Risks Public Health in Pennsylvania.  Certainly there are a lot of people in areas near gas drilling who complain of health problems.  Here are a couple of things that should give pause about the report, however (besides the fact that the organization behind it is anything but objective):

  • The surveys were only taken from areas where gas drilling has occurred.  The report itself acknowledges:

It should be noted that this project did not investigate additional factors that can influence health conditions or cause symptoms (e.g., through structured control groups in non-impacted areas and in-depth comparative health history research). Such work, while important and currently lacking, was beyond the scope of this particular project.
In other words, how can you objectively state that the risk of health problems is higher when you live in an area where development occurs if you don't also take samples from areas where development did not occur?  There is no baseline for this report.

  • There wasn't a random selection process.  Participants were apparently chosen because they had previously been in contact with Earthworks, and then they referred the organization to others who they thought would want to be part of the survey.

Survey distribution was initiated through existing contacts in the target counties.  These individuals then chose to participate in the project themselves and/or recommended other possible participants, who in turn provided additional contacts. The survey was also distributed to individuals who expressed interest in participating directly to OGAP at public events.
Perhaps my imagination is running wild, but it would seem that if Earthworks started with "existing contacts," they were likely starting with people who share their anti-drilling agenda.  Then these "existing contacts" recommend other participants, who recommend others, etc.  Not exactly a recipe for objectivity, especially when the report is only dealing with 108 people in total.

  • While some of the symptoms increased the closer the participants lived to the oil & gas sites, others spiked at greater distances.  Earthworks attributes this to some other factor causing chemicals from oil & gas sites to interact differently with the environment - never even mentioning the possibility that this could indicate that some, most, or all of the symptoms may have nothing to do with drilling.
That being said, the report is a well-organized effort to sound an alarm about fracking, and unquestionably if one just considers most of the raw data and ignores some of the factors that might raise questions about the validity of the results, it would be easy to conclude that oil & gas drilling is making people sick in Pennsylvania.  In an attempt to invoke stronger emotion from the drilling opponents that are sure to run with this report, several participants are given personal profiles at the end of it.

It keeps bringing my thoughts back to our area.  If the conclusions stated in this study and by other fracktivists are accurate, then residents of Carroll County and the surrounding area should be concerned.

Yet, I still have not personally heard of anyone in our area having complaints about contamination or health problems from fracking.  When I had a post a couple of weeks ago that specifically asked for anyone to share if they had experienced any negative effects, no one responded.  Again, I extend that request.  Share your experience in the comments.  Has anyone been experiencing some of the symptoms mentioned in the Earthworks report?  Can they be traced to the start of oil and gas development nearby?  Or is everything as it was before?

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