In its ongoing efforts to spread fear and misinformation about safe, strongly regulated American natural gas development, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published several weekend stories that omitted key facts, context and data.
The two stories – one focused on assertions about natural gas (study 1) and another on claims about agriculture and transportation (study 2) – paint a dire picture of the region’s air quality and public health outlook and recommend levying even higher energy taxes as policy “solutions.”
We’ll put aside for now the fact that this research was in part “done at the request of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette” (an extremely unusual arrangement, to say the least) as well as the deep – and unreported – inter-connectivity among the researchers and the highest levels of the anti-natural gas Heinz Endowments (more on that below).
That said, we agree with some statements made by one of the lead researchers, Carnegie Mellon University professor Nicholas Muller. Specifically, Mr. Muller tells the Post-Gazette:
Overall, CMU studies generally show that “you can’t pollute your way to prosperity.”
“When you only look at GDP or jobs, you’re missing the crucial piece of the puzzle.”
Clean air as well as affordable and reliable energy are not an either-or proposition – Pennsylvania is clearly demonstrating that we can, and must, have both. We also agree that research that is too narrow – and misses “crucial puzzle pieces” – delivers results that lack credibility.
We appreciate that study 1’s authors honestly acknowledge the limited scope of their research, as the Post-Gazette reports:
The study’s scope is limited. It doesn’t look at the air quality benefits that might result from using natural gas instead of coal, or what the use of the gas is substituting for. The study also does not take into account premature deaths avoided by using gas instead of coal for electric power generation.
The good news is that air quality and consumers savings data related to expanded natural gas production and use is widely available.
- A report released earlier this year found that shale development literally saves thousands of lives each year.
- Likewise, an October White House Council of Economic Advisers report notes that the shale-driven decline in particulate and related emissions has $17 billion in annual health benefits.
- The White House report also underscores the fact that the shale revolution saves U.S. consumers $203 billion annually, or $2,500 for a family of four.
And as MSC president David Spigelmyer wrote in recent column in The Hill:
With the greater use of natural gas, Pennsylvania — and our nation more broadly — is making incredible clean air strides. In 2017, total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. reached their lowest levels in 25 years, according to EPA, propelling the nation to the world leader in CO2 emission reductions. Asthma-inducing and ozone-harming air pollutants plummeted during the same period, and EPA data also conclude total methane emissions are 19% lower than in 1990. These significant gains are not despite the shale revolution, but rather because of it.
Here are several of the many studies and reports that show the air quality and public health benefits of natural gas.
- (Dec. 2019) Click HERE to access a Pa.-focused overview of the significant and historic natural gas-driven reductions in criteria pollutants, such as NOx, SOx and VOCs as well as in carbon emissions from power generation based on publicly available state and federal government data.
- (Feb. 2019) Pa. DEP Sec. Patrick McDonnell: “We’ve seen for example, the Clean Power Plan proposal that the Obama administration put forward, we were already well on our way in large part – and actually since met what were proposed goals – primarily because of the shift towards cleaner natural gas. We’ve seen improvements on ozone, we’ve seen improvements in those asthma precursors, those VOCs and nitrogen oxides.” (Source)
- (Jul. 2018) Click HERE to read more about a Pa. DEP natural gas-focused air quality study that the Post-Gazette reported on last year. This from Post-Gazette at the time: “A much-delayed state air monitoring study meant to gauge the long-term health risks of living near Marcellus Shale operations found limited impacts to the air quality around the sites it examined and little risk of healthy residents getting sick from breathing the air nearby.” (Post-Gazette)
- (Jun. 2019) PA & CO Depts. of Health Review on Shale Development: Research from the Pa. & Colo. Depts. of Health concluded the majority of studies tying negative health outcomes to shale development were rated “low certainty” and limited in design. Most had “conflicting evidence (mixed), insufficient evidence, or in some cases, a lack of evidence of the possibility for harmful health effects.” (Source)
- (Sept. 2019) Health Effects Institute: Studies tying shale development to negative public health impacts used imprecise measures, failed to consider other possible factors, and, in some cases, were poorly designed, a committee of independent scientific experts affiliated with the Health Effects Institute concluded in a Sept. report. The Committee’s independent analysis concluded the studies’ limitations and poor designs prevent the Committee from determining whether unconventional oil and gas development “contributed to the assessed health outcomes.” (Source). More HERE.
- (May 2019) Comprehensive Air Quality Analysis Finds No Health Impacts Tied to Shale: Results from a two-year air quality study of a natural gas well site in southwest Pa. determined that natural gas development does not pose a threat to public health. The analysis, completed by Gradient, a Boston-based environmental and risk sciences consulting firm, found that unconventional natural gas operations near Ft. Cherry School District in Washington County – Pa.’s second largest producing county – “do not pose any acute or chronic health concerns” and that the data “showed no air quality impacts of potential health concern.” Full overview HERE.
- (Jun. 2016) Wash. Co. Air Quality Monitoring “Well-Below Health-Protective Levels”: An air quality study in Washington Co. PA, sponsored by Ft. Cherry School District, concluded that the presence and operation of a hydraulic fracturing well pad “did not substantially affect local air concentrations of total and individual VOCs” and “all individual VOC concentrations in the monitored area were well below health-protective levels.” (PubMed)
Again, why didn’t the CMU-led research team – which worked in partnership with the Post-Gazette – include public data like this?
Where’s the Transparency?
As noted above, the Heinz Endowments has a long and clear record of providing heavy financial support – millions and millions of dollars – to organizations and entities that advocate aggressively against natural gas.
- Study 2 covered by the Post-Gazette was funded by the Heinz Endowments, though it was not disclosed in the paper’s reporting.
- Study 1 – the subject of the Post-Gazette’s other recent story – was jointly authored by Jared Cohon, who was quoted extensively in the article. Mr. Cohon, a CMU professor, has been a member of the Heinz Endowment’s board of directors since 2013.
- In addition to funding study 2, the Heinz Endowments has funneled millions of dollars to various organizations over the years – including $850,000 directly to the Breathe Project (separate and apart from the millions more directed to the group’s activist partners), which the Post-Gazette quotes in its story – as well as CMU.
Why did the Post-Gazette shield – rather than transparently disclose – these long-established financial and advocacy ties to its readers? Could it be that these are “crucial pieces of the puzzle” that may hamper the paper’s biased agenda?
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