Post Carbon Institute Fellow Takes Another Run at Fracking

John Quigley - Tom Shepstone ReportsTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.



Post Carbon Institute shill Brian Schwartz uses his perch at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to put out another shoddy attack on fracking.

Brian S. Schwartz is a fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. He’s also associated with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He has used his position to push out one piece of junk science after another attacking anything to do with gas drilling or fracking. That’s no coincidence. Today, he released yet another junk science study suggesting shale development produces migraines, fatigue and sinus problems.

Visit the Post Carbon Institute website and you’ll immediately see this:

Post Carbon Institute

Brian S. Schwartz is a “health & peak oil” fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. Bill McKibben is also a fellow for “climate, ecology & economy.” The group puts out videos such as this one:

There should be no doubt. The Post Carbon Institute is a radical fractivist enterprise and Brian S. Schwartz, as a fellow, is a flack for it. But, here is what Schwartz’s latest study says about him:

Dr. Schwartz is a Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute (PCI), serving as an informal advisor on climate, energy, and health issues. He receives no payment for this role. His research is entirely independent of PCI, and is not motivated, reviewed, or funded by PCI.

Such disclaimers have the effect of proving the opposite, don’t they? No one is capable of  being “entirely independent” of an organization with such an explicit political agenda. No “peak oil” guy can be considered to have an objective position on oil and gas development. Attempts to suggest either only insult the intelligence of the reader. The study itself does the same.

Schwartz’s latest junk science attack on fracking, in fact, is one of those pseudo-academic reports intended to obscure the lack of evidence for the headline. It does so with scientific sleight of hand that’s not too hard to catch if you’re paying attention:

  1. Although 39 Pennsylvania counties were sampled for the study, there were relatively few participants from the major drilling areas of the Commonwealth. There were only 12 participants from Bradford County, for example, the most heavily drilled among those sampled. That’s out of 7,785 total participants. And, here is the map of “Cases in 4th quartile of UNGD activity” compared with shale well drilled. “UNGD” stands for unconventional gas development. The 4th quartile of activity supposedly represents the top one-fourth of those impacted, where there is a correlation between development and the symptoms of sinus, migraine and fatigue issues.
    Post Carbon InstituteLook really closely at the map. When you do, you’ll see the bulk of the cases are outside the area of drilling. They are mostly found in Columbia, Lackawanna, and Luzerne Counties or the gas-less areas of Lycoming, Sullivan and Wyoming Counties. We are never told anywhere in the study just how far a person with a migraine can be from a well and be considered to have been affected by it, but we can see from this map at least three-quarters of the cases supposedly most affected are located in Berwick, Carbondale, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and other urban centers. They parallel the interstate routes through the region. What Schwartz and company appear to have done is deliberately include such areas by uses of obtuse formulas that suggest it is gas drilling, fracking and the like that are producing what is really the impact of highway traffic and urban development.
  2. The way answers to surveys were counted also ensures cases were generated. The authors say, for example, they “dichotomized the three responses. Responses of ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ were scored as no and responses of ‘less than half the time’ or ‘half the time or more’ were scored as yes.” Hmmm. A glass that is less than half-full is full. Even a glass that is three-quarters empty is apparently full. Only a glass that is almost empty is empty. Junk science is taken to a whole new level.
  3. The authors also admit “Compared to the reference group, individuals with each single outcome were more likely to be younger and current smokers (Table 2).” Indeed, only 9.7% of the members of the reference group were current smokers, compared to 13.6% to 26.2% for those with symptoms. The study states “Exposure to allergens, toxicants, and secondhand smoke may trigger nasal and sinus symptoms,” but otherwise ignores smoking as the likely cause of many the problems identified.
  4. The study also includes several disclaimers (emphasis added):
    “This study had several limitations. In general, cross-sectional surveys such as ours cannot assess temporal relations between exposures and outcomes, and we did not ascertain the onset dates of some symptoms… Our ascertainment of self-reported outcomes was susceptible to various types of information bias. For example, despite the fact that our questionnaire did not mention UNGD, individuals residing near UNGD may have over-reported symptoms. There was some evidence of selection bias, as survey participants had poorer health (measured by the Charlson comorbidity index) than non-responders… Another limitation is that our estimates of well development phase durations, although based on published average values, may have been incorrect for individual wells. Further exposure misclassification could have occurred because our UNGD activity metric was based on residential addresses. Participants’ exposure to UNGD activity could have been affected by unmeasured factors such as occupation, travel, and time spent outdoors. Additionally, our UNGD activity metric did not allow identification of specific exposures or exposure pathways.
    The last one, of course, is the one that really matters and the one likely to be ignored by fractivist media outlets and sympathizers. Correlation says nothing about causation. This study offers nothing whatsoever as to show how drilling and fracking in Susquehanna County might have caused someone in Scranton to get have a sinus problem.

What we have with this study is something one finds in many ideological diatribes; too complicated to decipher formulas intended to create a scientific facade for nothing more than speculation based on preconceived beliefs. There is nothing there. Not only is there no evidence of causation, but the failure to consider smoking, highway traffic and urban development are fatal flaws. The map alone is the ultimate proof of its junk science status. The entire series of reports done by Schwartz and his cohorts is one continuous stream of junk science, in fact. It’s giving me fatigue. But, that’s what one might expect from the “peak oil” fellowFellow at the Post Carbon Institute, isn’t it?

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4 thoughts on “Post Carbon Institute Fellow Takes Another Run at Fracking

  1. USEPA’s Environmental Evaluation of Hydraulic Fracturing

    On March 24, 2013 the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] Science Advisory Board has now announced the creation of a 31-member panel that will peer review the draft report of results due out in late 2014. Leading up to the peer review, the SAB Panel will provide scientific feedback on EPA’s research in an open and transparent manner.

    On 6/4/15 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its “Draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources” for public comment and peer review, along with nine final peer-reviewed “EPA technical reports” completed as part of the study. While the study found that certain mechanisms in the fracking process—from water acquisition to injection of wastewater—have had impacts on drinking water, the report notes the number of reported cases is low compared to the amount of operating wells. The message provided fodder to industry officials who for years have contended the practice is safe, but also to environmentalists who show that breaks in the process can lead to contamination
    For the study, mandated by Congress, the EPA analyzed more than 950 sources of information, including previously published papers, state reports and the agency’s own scientific research, but found no clear evidence that the fracking process itself could cause chemicals to flow through underground fissures and contaminate drinking water. When the agency took a broader look at the entire water cycle around fracking — from getting water supplies to disposing of fluid waste — it documented instances where failed wells and above-ground spills may have affected drinking water resources.
    Members of the EPA Science Advisory Board [SAB], which reviews major studies by the agency, says the main conclusion — that there’s no evidence fracking has led to “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water” — requires clarification, David Dzombak, a Carnegie Mellon University environmental engineering professor leading the review, said in an e-mail.
    On Aug. 11, 2016 the SAB peer review of the agency’s June 2015 draft of the its study on potential impacts from hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on drinking water supplies. generally found that the agency’s approach of focusing on individual stages of hydraulic fracturing water cycle (HFWC) processes for oil and gas’s potential impacts on drinking water sources “to be comprehensive but lacking in several critical areas.”
    “The SAB observes that the statement has been interpreted by readers and members of the public in many different ways. The SAB concludes that if EPA retains this conclusion, [it] should provide quantitative analysis that supports its conclusion that [fracing] has not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.”
    Statistical Review of Hydraulic Fracturing to Total Industrial Regulatory Violations

    The SAB’s final review recommends additional data to support the non-systemic impact of Hydraulic Fracturing to water resources. Consider the comparison to Hydraulic Fracturing to other industrial processes – using regulatory violations as a bench-mark matrix.
    As of August 2014 there were approximately 24000 unconventional wells in USA. National Institute of Health [NHI] found that from 1998 to 2011, there were a total of 2,025 safety and drilling violations that were issued to 335 companies in seventeen states between February 1998 and February 2011, 549 of which were classified as “major.” The percent of violations for all unconventional [horizontal drilling – hydraulic fracturing] is less than 10% or 8.4%. On an annualized basis unconventional well violation rate equals about 155 notices per year or 0.6% per year.
    Compare these annualized figures to the national rates of industrial regulatory violations. Per USEPA in FY2015, approximately 2,360 civil judicial and administrative cases were concluded. Unconventional well violations represent 6.6% of the overall industrial regulatory violations.
    Peer review data suggest that for unconventional wells, the violation rate in the northeast was 9.8% for wells drilled from 2000 to 2008 compared with 9.1% for 2009 to 2012.
    Nationally the violation rate of frac wells are slightly less than in northeast. Such extensive data supports the USEPA position, per their draft study, that found no ‘widespread, systemic’ impacts to drinking water from hydraulic fracturing”.

    Dr. Richard W Goodwin P.E. 8/25/16

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