Push for Maryland Fracking Ban Is Based on Bad Science

Published February 6, 2017

In 2015, Maryland legislators imposed a two-year statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas by overriding Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) veto of the legislation. Now, legislators from Baltimore seem determined to enact a complete ban on fracking, but their claims fracking will contaminate water and threaten public health are scientifically baseless. The only thing a fracking ban would accomplish is denying much-needed economic opportunities to people living in Western Maryland.

Opponents of fracking claim it will contaminate water supplies, but a six-year, $29 million report studying the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing by the Environmental Protection Agency failed to produce any evidence suggesting fracking has caused widespread or systemic impacts on water supplies.

EPA estimates more than 110,000 wells throughout the nation have used hydraulic fracturing to produce oil or natural gas since 2011. Agency officials stated there have been specific instances where oil and natural gas production have led to contaminated water, but the number of cases in which fracking has negatively impacted water supplies is relatively low compared to the number of wells that have been drilled.

There have been instances of chemical or wastewater spills at Earth’s surface, and there have been some reports of leaking steel and cement well casings, but the low frequency of these events proves fracking can and has been done correctly. There simply is no reason to ban this highly lucrative practice because of fears of environmental harm or damage to water supplies.

Claims suggesting fracking causes negative health impacts are based on discredited health studies and studies that examine medical records, not actual patients.

For instance, the New York Department of Health study that was used to justify New York’s fracking ban was based on flawed research conducted by the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH). CSPH’s research claimed there is a link between fracking and birth defects. However, the researchers failed to use even elementary experimental controls to account for known causes of birth defects, such as determining whether the pregnant mothers drank alcohol or smoked tobacco during their pregnancies. Blaming fracking when these factors were unaccounted for is scientifically reckless; the study’s results are simply not credible.

The shortcomings of the CSPH study prompted Dr. Larry Wolk, the chief medical officer for Colorado, to warn the public, especially pregnant mothers, “A reader of the study could be easily misled and become overly concerned.”

Others have asserted fracking is linked to asthma, but these allegations are equally unsupported. The supposed “link” between fracking and asthma was established using a process called “p-hacking.” P-hacking is a system scientists have used to manipulate data until they find something newsworthy—in this case, a connection between fracking and asthma. The researchers acknowledged they have found zero causal evidence in the study’s unaltered data, but the press release made no mention of this important caveat.

These studies and their sensationalized news releases only serve to make the public less informed, and they have had real-world negative economic consequences.

Maryland will never be able to produce the kind of results experienced in Pennsylvania when it comes to fracking, because just 1% of the prolific Marcellus Shale is located in Maryland, but it can still provide living-wage jobs to a part of the state that is in desperate need of additional economic opportunities.

The two counties that would benefit the most from fracking are Garret and Allegany Counties, two regions with higher poverty rates than many other parts of the state. For example, 54.4 percent of households in Garrett County and 59.1 percent in Allegany County earn less than $50,000 per year, compared to just 33 percent of households throughout Maryland. Fracking, if allowed, would help to improve these numbers.

The average job in the fracking industry in Pennsylvania pays $93,000 in total compensation. These high-paying jobs and the benefits that come with them would be a huge boost to the economy and to families struggling to make ends meet. Fracking would not cure the region of all its ills, but it would be an important way of balancing the area’s economic portfolio.

Maryland legislators should approve the use of fracking and help the people of Western Maryland get back to work.

[Originally Published at RealClearEnergy]