What do Bigfoot and New York’s ban on fracking ban have in common? The evidence supporting the existence of both is equally (un)credible.
Gov. Cuomo last month made history by making New York the first state in the nation with significant natural-gas deposits to ban hydraulic fracturing, a k a fracking.
It’s a process that uses a mixture consisting of 90 percent water, 9.5 percent sand, and 0.5 percent chemical additives to create tiny cracks in shale rock, releasing the oil and natural gas trapped within.
In announcing the ban, Cuomo pointed to a new report from the state Department of Health that claims there’s not enough evidence to prove that fracking is safe.
Yet many of the studies that the report points to raising safety doubts have been thoroughly discredited.
Meanwhile, many of the assertions made by Dr. Howard Zucker, Cuomo’s hand-picked acting state health commissioner, about “significant public health and environmental risks” are contradicted by the mounting evidence that shows fracking is done safely, protecting both public health and the environment, in many other states.
A major pillar of the DOH report’s claim of health risks is a highly problematic study by Dr. Lisa McKenzie of the Colorado School of Public Health.
Her work suggested a link between fracking and birth defects in Colorado. But she failed to implement even elementary controls to account for known causes of birth defects: Her researchers didn’t consider whether the pregnant mothers in the study drank alcohol or smoked tobacco; didn’t review the women’s access to prenatal care or possible genetic factors.
The study also ignored where the pregnant mothers lived during the first trimester of pregnancy, when most birth defects occur.
As a result, environmental factors such as living near large interstate highways — where air pollution includes benzene, which is known to cause birth defects — were not controlled for and may have influenced the results of the study.
This study is so problematic it prompted Dr. Larry Wolk, the chief medical officer for Colorado and director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, to warn the public: “A reader of the study could be easily misled and become overly concerned.”
Wolk continued, “I would tell pregnant women and mothers who live, or who at-the-time-of-their-pregnancy lived, in proximity to a gas well not to rely on this study as an explanation of why one of their children might have had a birth defect.”
Then there’s the studies Cuomo’s people ignored — particularly on the high-profile charge that fracking contaminates water supplies.
In fact, evidence of that has proved to be as elusive as Bigfoot himself. Peer-reviewed scientific studies, including several done by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Department, conclude that hydraulic fracturing fluids do not contaminate groundwater.
This is certainly not to say the practice is utterly risk-free, but merely that the risks are manageable by industry and competent regulators implementing reasonable safety standards far short of a total ban.
For example, a study published in the September Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found eight instances in which natural-gas development in Pennsylvania and Texas resulted in 133 drinking water wells becoming polluted.
But it also found that the problem was faulty well casings and/or poor cementing jobs, not the process of hydraulic fracturing itself, an important distinction.
Cuomo’s ban is a blow to many living in depressed Upstate. They view natural-gas development as a crucial way to stimulate their lackluster economy — as it has next door in Pennsylvania, where the energy industry directly employs 28,000 people at average yearly pay of $93,000.
The people of Upstate deserve better than to have the governor and state health officials deny them economic opportunities based on discredited science — and on ignoring more credible evidence demonstrating that hydraulic fracturing is safe.
The existence of Bigfoot remains unproven, but pseudoscience is alive and well in the Empire State.
[Originally published at the New York Post]