FACT CHECK: Post-Gazette’s Narrative on Natural Gas Conflicts with Facts

Latest “Human Toll” series stories centered on activist research; ignore objective science

Since the Post-Gazette’s “Human Toll” series recently launched (two more stories attacking the natural gas industry are set to run soon, we understand), we have fact-checked the paper’s reporting, which centers mainly on shoddy and flawed research funded by anti-natural gas activists and their supporters aimed at spreading fear.

***Read our previous fact checks, which detail responses and research from respected, independent medical professionals, below***
Top Medical Experts: “No Known Lifestyle or Environmental Causes” for Rare Childhood Cancer
Post-Gazette’s Claims on Childhood Cancer Unsupported by Medical Experts, Science

With 9,000+ unconventional natural gas wells in production across the Commonwealth alongside strong environmental regulations and compliance rates, our industry – made up of tens of thousands of hardworking Pennsylvanians – places the highest priority on workforce, community and environmental safety.

Our hearts break for the families affected by rare childhood cancers, and we support Governor Wolf’s recent call for additional, objective science-based research.

While we strongly support fair and objective media reporting, we are disappointed that the Post-Gazette continues to purposefully ignore credible, independent and exhaustive research (which we have provided) and is focused on promoting the views of fringe organizations like Physicians for Social Responsibility. PSR’s isn’t bashful about its goal to kill energy jobs, stating on its website that they “oppose fracking, fracked-gas pipelines, compressor stations, and fossil fuel export.”

With the backing of anti-energy organizations like PSR, that have virtually no credibility, the Post-Gazette set out a year ago to stir up scary headlines based on anecdotes that have no provable connection to natural gas. As evidenced by a June 2018 tweet from one of the reporters, their predetermined narrative and headlines were already mapped out.

Rather than fairly considering the facts – including state investigations, reports on health trends, air and water quality analysis that conclude natural gas development is safely and well regulated – the “news” reporters took their opinion and then looked for stories to fit it.

Our industry strongly supports fact-based research and quality, balanced news reporting, has engaged with the Post-Gazette’s reporters, providing them with a thorough set of facts, reports and independent analysis. Ahead of the story release, here are three important things to know:

  1. Well-Managed Risk and Modern, Effective Regulations: Like virtually every single form of energy, we recognize there are risks associated with natural gas development – and continue to work with all stakeholders, including regulators and community leaders, to ensure these risks are effectively managed.  

    “We have very good oil and gas regulations,” Pa. DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell confirmed last year, and has reinforced the fact that Pennsylvania hassome of the most protective regulations in the nation [that] ensure safe development of this important resource.”

    Further demonstrating a clear commitment to environmental protection, unconventional operators, who account for the incredible growth of Pennsylvania natural gas production, earned a 98.3 percent regulatory compliance rate last year following a record 19,617 DEP inspections.
  2. Fails to Establish Baseline: The Post-Gazette centers their series around a handful of anecdotal stories to make broad, sweeping and false claims about natural gas development. But it fails to establish an expected baseline level of cases or compare such incidence rates to other parts of the state or region.

    If one looks to the recent Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH) investigation into instances of childhood cancers in the region, the independent scientific research plainly states that when compared statewide and over distinct time periods the “incidence rates for the Ewing’s family of tumors and childhood cancers in Washington County and Canon-McMillan School District were not consistently and statistically significantly higher than expected in all three time periods analyzed.”
  3. Credible, Unbiased Science Tells Different Story: Opinions from professional medical experts and conclusions from objective and thorough research aligns with the progress tied to the rigorous air and water quality monitoring by state regulators, reflecting the well-understood fact that natural gas development is well-managed and does not threaten public health.
    • PA DOH and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Review: A systematic review, released in June, by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and PA DOH of existing epidemiologic literature concluded that the majority of studies claiming to link health impacts to oil and natural gas development were rated “low certainty” and limited in study design. Most of the studies, the state health agencies concluded, had “conflicting evidence (mixed), insufficient evidence, or in some cases, a lack of evidence of the possibility for harmful health effects.”
    • Asthma Prevalence: Publicly available data on asthma hospitalization rates show a decline from 2003 to 2013 – prior to and well-into shale development – in the state’s top producing counties. Further, state health data shows that asthma prevalence in Pennsylvania declined 4.2% in children from 2013-2015, the most recently available year.
    • Globally-Respected Hospital on Low-Infant Birth Weight Studies – “Not Rigorous”: When it comes to very serious accusations of low infant birthweight, the Magee Women’s Research Institute wrote that the studies like this “are not rigorous enough to generate firm, action-guiding scientific conclusions.” The well-respected institute that is part of the UPMC network continued: “The study found no significant and consistent associations between residence near unconventional gas development wells and either preterm birth or fetal abnormalities. The results do not rely on the most stringent criteria for clinically relevant fetal growth abnormality, and do not support a conclusion that the proximity to the unconventional gas development wells caused reduced birth weights or a higher incidence of small for gestational age fetuses.
    • Air Quality Monitoring Finds “Few Health Risks”: Further, Pa. DEP’s long-term ambient air monitoring project of facilities in Washington County released in 2018 foundfew health risks” and noted “little risk of healthy residents getting sick from breathing the air nearby.”

      A recent comprehensive air quality analysis conducted by Gradient, a Boston-based environmental firm, found that natural gas operations in the Fort Cherry School District “do not pose any acute or chronic health concerns” and the data – which was taken from three site monitors over a two-year period and encompassed all stages of well development – “showed no air quality impacts of public health concern.”

      Air monitoring results, for example, from a 2015 Drexel University study and a separate 2016 Fort Cherry School District air quality study came to similar conclusions.

Given our industry’s highly personal commitment to protecting public health and our environment – a record that is reflected in any number of independent reports, studies and data sets – we work hard each day to meet and exceed Pennsylvania’s rigorous regulations while also sharing best practices, conducting safety trainings and pioneering new technologies that further manage risk aimed at ensuring safety.

The natural gas industry obsesses over safety and protecting public health, and it is an absolute gross and inflammatory mischaracterization to suggest or imply otherwise.