Fact Check: 5 Key Facts on New Study

Protecting and improving our environment and public health is a top priority for the natural gas industry, which has a long and clear record of working collaboratively to advance these shared and important goals. We’re also deeply committed to fostering and supporting sound research.

Unfortunately – as is too often the case – a new study makes a number of highly suggestive, headline grabbing-focused claims about natural gas development and public health despite failing to account for a wide range of basic yet highly critical factors.

Put another way, as Science Magazine reports on the study, there is no smoking gun that proves how fracking impairs infant health.”

Following a thorough review the study, the Marcellus Shale Coalition highlights the study’s “deep methodological flaws

We absolutely support rigorous, fact-based research and sound science. Unfortunately, this study’s methodology fails to account for a wide range of basic yet highly critical public health factors.  

“For example, the researchers failed to consider crucial issues linked to low-birth weights like smoking as well as alcohol and drug use. The authors even acknowledge that actual exposure levels weren’t measured and that their so-called conclusions were based off a sample group that’s already more likely to experience premature and low birth weight deliveries.

“Given these deep methodological flaws, it’s dangerously misleading and inflammatory to suggest that natural gas development has done anything but improve public health.

Here are five key facts about the study’s fundamental shortcomings:

  1. Sample Expected to Have Negative Outcomes: According to the authors, “mothers whose babies were potentially exposed to nearby fracturing in utero are younger, less likely to have been married at the time of the birth, and less educated— characteristics that might lead to worse infant health outcomes even in the absence of fracturing.” (p.2)
  2. Correlation Doesn’t Equal Causation: To achieve their findings, the authors take two sets of data, find an association and claim one causes the other. But that’s not sound science. Just because two things are correlated, doesn’t mean one causes the other. If one was at a red light and got a flat tire, did the red light cause the flat tire?
  3. Fail to Consider Critical Factors: Key factors of low birth weights have been long-studied and well-documented. Basic factors like smoking, alcohol and drug use significantly increase the risk for low birth weights. Other factors, like nutrition and prenatal care, can also have impacts. These factors were not accounted for in any way, shape or form by the researchers.
  4. Doesn’t Measure Actual Exposure: Rather than conduct air quality monitoring, the authors look at “potential” rather than actual exposure to make their so-called conclusions. According to the study: “A limitation of our study is that given the nature of the available data, we are constrained to focus on potential exposure to pollution (which is determined by the mother’s residential location) rather than actual exposure that could be measured with personal monitoring devices.” (p.6)Importantly, actual air quality monitoring near natural gas well pads in Pennsylvania has shown no changes to local air quality. An independent analysis in Washington County concluded that “detected volatile compounds were below health-protective levels.”
  5. Occupation & Location: In addition to failing to account for actual exposure, the study doesn’t control for occupation, ignoring potential exposures and other activities that could lead to lower birth weights. It also assumes that the mother lived at the residence listed on the birth certificate during her entire pregnancy, when that can’t be proven.

**BONUS**: This study’s authors are “grateful for the financial support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.” So, what do we know about the multi-billion dollar MacArthur Foundation, considered “a juggernaut in the environmental community”? Well, the organization has funneled tens of millions of dollars to harshly anti-fracking activist organizations, including Earthworks, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club, among others.

Given this clearly biased agenda, it’s not surprising that the organization’s former president has made the claim that “fracking contaminates ground water and reduces air quality.” Is that so?