Michelle Bamberger and friends are at it again, telling people the natural gas industry is responsible for sick animals — offering not even a shred of evidence of causation.
Some of NaturalGasNOW’s readers may recall a post my daughter Rachael did a while back on the EID Marcellus blog regarding Michelle Bamberger, the woman who did a study on sick animals in natural gas development areas and admitted finding no scientific link between the two, yet in the same breath condemned the natural gas industry for being at fault.
Bamberger, in her presentation last year in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, talked about interviewing several livestock owners, who couldn’t even produce veterinarian information in most cases. She told the audience she didn’t have any solid evidence natural gas had anything to do with cattle becoming ill, but then proceeded to talk as if it did. Like me, many people wondered why they were there if there was no evidence to receive. It was like being told in geometry class there’s no research to indicate the shortest distance between two points is anything but a straight line, and then being lectured for an hour on why it must be otherwise.
Unsurprisingly, Bamberger and her allies are still attacking natural gas development without proof, this time claiming it is at fault for some sick cattle in Pennsylvania and North Dakota. Her and her husband, Robert Oswald, have also recently used a forum jointly sponsored by Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) and the Medical Society of the State of New York to make their non-case. PSE, of course, is funded by the Park Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, the Wallace Genetic Foundation and the Civil Society Institute.
We have yet to see anything proving her opinion, yet Bamberger and her friends are, nonetheless, still out there making unsupported statements to special interest groups suggesting food safety is endangered by natural gas development. The author of the aforementioned piece is Elizabeth Royte, who is a contributing editor for OnEarth Magazine, a publication of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Do we need to say much more?
For some more specificity, Royte writes this about a North Dakota case of cows who supposedly and mysteriously lost their tails:
After drilling began just over the property line of Jacki Schilke’s ranch in the northwestern corner of North Dakota, in the heart of the state’s booming Bakken Shale, cattle began limping, with swollen legs and infections. Cows quit producing milk for their calves, and they lost from 60 to 80 pounds in a week and their tails mysteriously dropped off. Eventually, five animals died, according to Schilke.
Ambient air testing by a certified environmental consultant detected elevated levels of benzene, methane, chloroform, butane, propane, toluene, and xylene—and well testing revealed high levels of sulfates, chromium, chloride, and strontium. Schilke says she moved her herd upwind and upstream from the nearest drill pad.
Although her steers currently look healthy, she says, “I won’t sell them because I don’t know if they’re okay.”
I’m an animal lover, and that sure sounds horrible. But one thing I’ve learned whenever shale development is involved is to always research things to the next level. After a quick Google search for “Jackie Schilke,” I found this article giving another side to the story (and this one). More specifically:
Ok, so what evidence do we have that Schilke’s claims are true? Almost nothing other than her own testimony, since she won’t provide any:
Keller [Susan Keller, State Veterinarian] said she offered to assist Schilke last year with testing but didn’t receive a response.
“If we’ve got something like that going on … for the sake of the neighbors, I’d really like to know if there are some legitimate contamination issues,” said Keller, adding that the offer still stands.
Schilke said she doesn’t recall hearing from Keller or anyone from the state veterinarian’s office.
But she added that she would not consider working with the state veterinarian’s office or a similar office from an oil-producing state because she doesn’t believe she’d get objective information.
Instead, Schilke said she has worked with an independent environmental consultant from Texas and veterinarians at Cornell University and Iowa State University. Autopsies of two cats that became ill and died ruled they died of asphyxiation, Schilke said.
Schilke said she attempted to have autopsies performed on her cattle, but local veterinarians didn’t have time to promptly collect the necessary samples. Schilke said she has had hair and blood testing on her cattle.
However, she declined to provide a copy of the test results, autopsy reports or veterinary records because she has been advised by an attorney not to share that information because it could be important to a future legal case.
So, Schilke won’t work with state officials on this matter, choosing instead to work only with sources sympathetic to her environmental cause.
And as an update from last yet, it appears as though Schilke is now allowing the Department of Health to investigate the matter, but the problem is they can’t find anything wrong with the environment where Schilke is living:
The North Dakota Department of Health, the Oil and Gas Division of the Department of Mineral Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency have investigated Schilke’s concerns and continue to do more testing.
“We’re having a hard time connecting the issues she’s having with her livestock with any environmental problem,” said Kris Roberts, environmental geologist with the Department of Health’s Division of Water Quality. “That’s not to say there isn’t one, we just haven’t been able to find it.”
Perhaps it’s time for a different tact in this investigation. Someone ought to look into whether or not Schilke is harming her own animals as a part of her environmental activism. Because that’s my guess.
It looks as if the woman with the falling cow tails has an agenda, too. But talking about that would have required asking questions and not simply reprinting whatever you’re told.
Back to Bamberger
This time around she’s doubling down and telling people sick cattle that might have been affected by hydraulic fracturing are being butchered and sold to consumers. Her exact claim is that exposed livestock “are making their way into the food system, and it’s very worrisome to us. They live in areas that have tested positive for air, water, and soil contamination. Some of these chemicals could appear in milk and meat products made from these animals.” This is nothing more than speculation, of course, but Bamberger gets away with it because it fits the Royte template.
Even if we assume this is true, one would also expect this to show in the beef or the milk, both of which are subject to rigorous FDA and USDA standards and testing — but it does not. That also ignores a problem with Bamberger’s presumptions: She assumes hydraulic fracturing fluids will routinely come in contact with animal water supplies and, therefore, animals who drink from these supplies will ingest harmful things with their hamburgers.
This is simply not true. There are no storage ponds for flowback in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and no one expects to see them in New York, either. The industry has moved to closed-loop systems. There is no point in the system at which hydraulic fracturing fluids or flowback pose a serious risk of coming into contact with animal water supplies.
Moreover, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have both performed extensive water testing in areas with natural gas development, and the tests have not indicated the sorts of impacts Bamberger alleges.
Bamberger also suggests air contamination is contaminating the food supply. Yet, we know the pollution levels in areas of natural gas development are far superior to those of urban areas and places such as the Central Valley of California, — which is, arguably, the nation’s breadbasket. Do we hear any concern from Bamberger and friends about buying almonds, milk or olives from there because of the air pollution? Of course not. They are focused on natural gas development because they want to stop it in New York and elsewhere. So this really has nothing to do with food.
Finally, Bamberger throws soil contamination into the mix, just for good measure. Yet, if we are truly worried about soil contamination there are a lot of other things one might think worthy of getting our attention first. We might, for example, focus on the millions of tons of road salt and other deicers dispensed onto our roads every year.
So, what we have from Bamberger is simply another speculative non-beef hamburger between two buns of pseudoscience. And, that’s really the only food that’s been contaminated here.