A study released Tuesday suggests that mothers who live next to fracking wells in Pennsylvania have children who experience a variety of negative health effects, but the report does not tell the entire story.
Children born to mothers who live 1 kilometer from an active fracking well are 25 percent more likely to have low birth weight, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances. Other researchers have noted some serious flaws with the journal’s conclusions.
The report is fatally flawed, Pennsylvania Director for Energy in Depth (EID), Nicole Jacobs, said in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation. EID is the research arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, a pro-oil association based in Washington, D.C.
“The researchers acknowledge that they don’t control for significant factors that would potentially lead to infant health problems, even if they didn’t live near natural gas development,” she said, referring to the age of the mothers and their behavior.
“Further, the study is based on proximity and not actual measurements of pollutants, which the authors admit to this being a key limitation of their study,” Jacobs added. “It’s just one of many examples of reports that have similar limitations.”
The research claimed to show “evidence” that mothers who live near fracking wells in Pennsylvania are having low-weight babies. Science Advances’ report was financed by the MacArthur Foundation, a billionaire group that has sunk more than $10 million into anti-fracking groups in the past.
But their research shows mothers who live 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) away from oil and natural gas sites are more likely to have babies with low birth weights than those who live closer, which seriously eats into the efficacy of the author’s conclusion.
Researchers also conceded that their findings could be unrelated to the fracking industry. The study notes that those studied were “younger, less likely to have been married at the time of the birth, and less educated — characteristics that might lead to worse infant health outcomes even in the absence of fracturing.”
Michael Greenstone, who co-authored the study, still championed the research and sought to tie the findings directly to natural gas development, despite researchers’ move to hedge their findings.
“This study provides the strongest large-scale evidence of a link between the pollution that stems from hydraulic fracturing activities and our health, specifically the health of babies,” he wrote in a press statement announcing the study.
Greenstone and his colleagues also did not include actual pollution levels in their study. Instead, they relied on assumptions of exposure rather than actual air quality data – Greenstone and others, to their credit, admitted that not having access to actual levels could be fatal to the study’s conclusion.
Recent reports also indicate that the natural gas industry might have economic benefits for many people in Pennsylvania and in other states. The benefits could help reduce health risks for a poor family, some analysts say.
From 2012 to 2014, for instance, the shale oil industry generated 4.6 million new jobs and $3.5 trillion in new wealth due to an energy boom and the resulting low gas prices, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Fracking added a total of $1,200 to $1,900 per year for the average nearby household, and resulted in a six percent increase in average income, according to a University of Chicago study in December 2016. Science Advances’ study acknowledges many of these benefits, but ultimately concludes they are offset by the health costs.
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