Healthy Babies and Holiday Cheer

by Kathleen Sgamma, President on December 19, 2017 - 12:51pm

It’s the eighth day of Hanukkah and the week before Christmas. Normally I like to keep things light during the holidays, but I can tell something’s bugging people by the number of times I’ve been forwarded articles about a recent study claiming fracking causes low birth rates.  

The study, conducted by economists from Princeton, University of Chicago and UCLA, sounded really scary in the press release: “The research team found that infants born within a half a mile from a fracking site were 25 percent more likely to be born at low birth weights, leaving them at greater risk of infant mortality, ADHD, asthma, lower test scores, lower schooling attainment and lower lifetime earnings.”

Luckily, our friends at Energy in Depth, a project of IPAA, were immediately on the case, doing what they do best: picking apart the study to determine what it actually says and separating it from the hype. So rest assured, the study is not going unanswered.  

EID points out that the researchers’ own data contradicts their claim that living near fracking affects infant health. There was a greater incidence of low birth weights 3 km from well sites than those living 2 km away, a nonintuitive result if the researcher’s top-line narrative is accepted. They link health problems to pollution, but didn’t actually measure emissions or identify actual exposure. And perhaps most damaging to the researchers, Pennsylvania Department of Health data actually show that the most heavily developed counties in the Marcellus have experienced greater declines in infant mortality rates than the state overall.

It is very disappointing that many in academia are choosing to inflate results in order to get media attention. The study itself actually contradicts the PR headline, admitting that the sampled population would be expected to have similar health impacts in the absence of fracking. The press release even came with this inflammatory picture of a baby’s head encircled in smoke with a pump jack in the background! That doesn’t seem to meet normal standards for subjective academic analysis.

If you can’t trust academia to be subjective and dispassionate, how are important policy questions to be settled? Just like the back and forth on whether cholesterol and eggs are bad for you or not (current wisdom is they’re not), the public gets confused about whether fracking is safe, no matter how many times these shoddy studies are debunked. Activists continue to dredge them up and recycle refuted talking points.

EID also points out that the research was supported by the MacArthur Foundation, which continues to fund many anti-oil and natural gas groups. As we reported recently, recycled, debunked talking points were aired by NPR’s Marketplace in October after receiving a grant from the Tides Foundation, another one that frequently funds anti-fracking groups.

So it never ends. Western Energy Alliance and our partners in other trades will continue to fight the misinformation. It’s just a shame that many academics are being enlisted in this way by anti-development advocacy groups. But rest assured that we’re working to counter the misinformation with facts. 

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