Research & Commentary: Study on Fracking-Related Air Pollution in Ohio Retracted Due to Errors

Published July 18, 2016

A joint study from researchers at Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati (UC) – originally published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology in March 2015 – claimed hydraulic fracturing, also called “fracking,” of the Utica shale in Carroll County, Ohio is causing significant air pollution. But the researchers have retracted the controversial study due to its numerous miscalculations and errors. When much of the erroneous data was corrected, the researchers found they “significantly” changed “air concentrations … relative to those reported in the published article.”

The study, partially undertaken by UC’s Center for Environmental Genetics, received a $47,910 grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The UC Report originally found elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) in Carroll County that are “significantly higher than what was found by other researchers in downtown Chicago; South Haven, Mich.; a Belgian oil refinery; an Egyptian city; or the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.” These elevated PAH levels, the report notes, could cause cancer rates to increase by 2 to 3 cases per 10,000 people, “depending on proximity,” which would exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable cancer risk level.

Energy in Depth (EID) reports the study’s volunteers were recruited and trained by the Carroll Concerned Citizens organization, a local offshoot of the anti-fracking activist group Frackfree America National Coalition. Critics of the UC study, EID notes, argued the researchers used an “extremely small sample size,” did not utilize random testing, and only assumed “worse case” scenarios, such as the elevated cancer risk.

“The researchers argue that their findings show there could be a slight increased risk for cancer, an additional two cancer cases for each 10,000 people,” wrote EID. “And that estimate is based on the assumption that PAH levels never change and that a person lives in the same location for 25 years and stays in that location 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” Even the authors of the study admitted at the time of publication the study rested on assumptions that were “totally impractical.”

Since the March 2015 UC study was published, another UC study on Utica-shale hydraulic fracturing and its effects on groundwater was conducted. The new study was released in February 2016, and it examined 23 wells in Belmont, Carroll, Columbiana, Harrison, and Stark Counties using 191 separate samples. The evidence from that study, in complete contradiction to the March 2015 findings, show “no evidence for natural gas contamination from shale oil and gas mining in any of the sampled groundwater wells … None of the measured parameters significantly varied in these groundwater wells before or after drilling or natural gas production.”

That fracking is having no systemic impacts on groundwater resources is the same conclusion reached in 2015 by the Environmental Protection Agency after it conducted a comprehensive review of available scientific literature.

There is no scientific justification for banning fracking. Drilling is currently being conducted in Ohio in a safe and responsible manner, and it has transformed the energy outlook of the Buckeye State for the better. As my colleague Isaac Orr has stated, “Hydraulic fracturing and the shale gas boom have provided the United States a cost-effective, clean, and abundant source of fuel that will stimulate economic growth while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in a practical and significant way.”

The following documents provide more information about hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic Fracturing a Game-Changer for U.S. Energy and Economies
In this Policy Study from The Heartland Institute, Heartland Research Fellow Isaac Orr explains the advantages and disadvantages of smart drilling and its alternatives. Orr reviews the background and potential of hydraulic fracturing in the United States and puts that potential in the context of the supply of and demand for oil and gas. He addresses the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, both positive and negative, and public safety issues raised by activists, such as potential harm to drinking water supplies. Orr also discusses how oil and gas production is regulated at the state and national levels and suggests appropriate policies for these two levels of government.

Fracking Facts: The Science, Economics, and Legal Realities
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, has been employed in the United States since the 1940s. Although innovation has improved the precision of the process, the essentials are the same. Utilizing horizontal drilling, a mixture of mostly water, sand, and trace amounts of chemicals are used to create fissures in underground shale deposits to allow oil and natural gas trapped in hard rock to move toward the surface to be collected. Activists have blamed fracking and the processes associated with it for emissions of pollutants, earthquakes, and even groundwater contamination, though independent evidence consistently shows these allegations to be false. Leigh Thompson of the Texas Public Policy Foundation argues the evidence supporting fracking bans looks slim when attention is drawn to the facts.

Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues
This booklet explores solutions to the top public policy issues facing the states in 2016 and beyond in the areas of budget and tax, education, energy and environment, health care, and constitutional reform. The solutions we have identified are proven reform ideas gaining momentum among the states and with legislators.

Ten Principles of Energy Policy
Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast outlines the ten most important principles for policymakers confronting energy issues, providing guidance to help withstand ongoing changes in markets, technology, and policies adopted in other states, supported by a thorough bibliography.

Research & Commentary: EPA and GWPC: Ohio Is Right, Anti-Frackers Wrong on Class II Injection Wells–commentary-epa-and-gwpc-ohio-is-right-anti-frackers-wrong-on-class-ii-injection-wells
Tim Benson, policy analyst at The Heartland Institute, writes about two recently released reports on Ohio’s Class II wastewater injection well program, including one from the Environmental Protection Agency. Benson says the studies have discredited claims made by opponents of hydraulic fracturing who say the creation of wells directly causes earthquakes and that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has neglected to establish proper regulations needed to keep Ohioans safe.

Hydraulic Fracturing: Critical for Energy Production, Jobs, and Economic Growth
Increased energy production on private lands in the United States has been one of the most promising economic success stories in recent years. A large part of the success is due to an energy-extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing. Misconceptions about hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, abound. The Heritage Foundation’s Nicolas Loris explains hydraulic fracturing is safe if regulated effectively, greatly increases the nation’s energy production, and fosters job creation.

Managing the Risks of Hydraulic Fracturing: An Update–hydraulic-fracturing
Kenneth P. Green of the Fraser Institute argues policymakers should ignore the siren song made by those calling for moratoria or bans on fracking.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the website of Environment & Climate News at, The Heartland Institute’s website at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

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