Flawed anti-fracking studies debunked, used by fractivists anyway

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A WPX Energy natural gas drilling rig in Parachute, Colorado, December 10, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart, researcher

TEDX also claimed natural gas wells responsible for dangerous levels of chemicals found in air quality samples

Ed. note: EnergyInDepth is an industry-funded and focused website. Despite the bias, we run these op-eds because they are generally well researched and contain plenty of links the reader can follow to do further research and come to their own conclusions.

Later this morning, Lisa McKenzie, a researcher whose work is routinely cited by anti-fossil fuel activists, will be leading a conference call to discuss her latest study that claims adverse health impacts associated with oil and natural gas development.

Energy In Depth is curious about what she will say, seeing as the study has already been debunked and disavowed by state health officials, and her team has already conceded that its latest findings “do not provide enough evidence to say that living near oil and gas wells causes leukemia or does not cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”

A team led by McKenzie, an assistant research professor at the University of Colorado, released a new study earlier this year that attempted to link oil and natural gas development to childhood leukemia.

The study immediately became a talking point for “ban fracking” activists, even though it was quickly disavowed and discredited by state health officials.

“[T]his study’s conclusions are misleading in that the study questions a possible association between oil and gas operations and childhood leukemia; it does not prove or establish such a connection,” Dr. Larry Wolk, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) wrote in a statement upon the release of the study.

In an interview with The Colorado Independent, Dr. Wolk’s colleague, CDPHE’s head of environmental epidemiology, occupational health, and toxicology Dr. Mike Van Dyke, clarified that the study was “not research that definitely links oil and gas exposure to cancers in this age group” due to “significant limitations,” and “there are a lot of alternative explanations that could be proposed to explain this same relationship.”

In light of the criticism they received from state health officials, the beleaguered researchers admitted in an opinion piece published by the Denver Post last month that their research does not actually “provide enough evidence to say” that living near oil and gas wells actually causes health problems.

This was not the first time the researchers’ work had drawn sharp rebuke from state health officials, which forced them to walk back their claims.

Their 2014 paper that attempted to link oil and natural gas development to birth defects was promptly disavowed by the CDPHE, and their 2012 paper that attempted to connect proximity to natural gas wells to increased cancer risks forced concessions and qualifications from McKenzie on the findings.

Of course, these flaws did not stop activists from using the studies to provide false legitimacy to their “ban fracking” campaigns.

To erase any doubt about potential biases that the researchers might hold, today’s call is hosted by The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), which has claimed that the oil and natural gas industry is “steamrolling over vast land segments in the West” and has called oil and gas operations “cancer-like.”

TEDX has also claimed that natural gas wells are responsible for dangerous levels of chemicals found in air quality samples – while conceding in the same research that the chemicals “cannot, however, be casually connected to natural gas operations.” It is self-evident why TEDX and McKenzie are natural allies.

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