There is no question that increased use of natural gas has been good for the atmosphere - energy CO2 emissions are down to early 1990s levels in America and coal is at early 1980s levels of emissions, just like we all said we wanted.
Enhanced extraction methods like hydraulic fracturing - fracking - have also been good for the local economies in places like Pennsylvania. But as with any industry, Not In My Backyard (NIMBYism) occurs in residents of Pennsylvania just like it does yacht owners in Massachusetts.
Academics who specialize in workplace health issues at the University of Pennsylvania recently did a small survey and noted that 22 percent of the respondents believe fracking may cause something; gastrointestinal issues, sleeping problems, good non-specific symptoms that also get heaped on wind power. They learned this by asking 72 adults visiting their doctors in Bradford County and who volunteered to complete the survey. They facilitated things by asking specifically about symptoms that had already appeared as anecdotes in media stories among their 29 questions.
They got permission to see medical records in some cases but didn't find any links so survey answers will have to do.
"Of the few studied charts, there were no one-to-one correlations between the participants' reported symptoms on the survey and the presenting symptom to the medical provider in the records," Pouné Saberi of Penn, MD, MPH and the study's principal investigator with the department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine said in their statement from the American Occupational Health Conference yesterday in Orlando. "This raises the possibility of communication gaps between residents with concerns and the medical community and needs further exploration."
Or, when you ask people in a doctor's office if they think fracking is making them sick they like the attention and say 'yes', but their doctors were told other stories. It's more interesting than saying "stress" or "eating at Chi-Chi's" did it.
Of that 22 percent, 13 percent (translation: 2 people) thought natural gas drilling was why they were at the doctor and 9 percent (1 person) were concerned natural gas operations would lead to future health problems.
So activists who were frustrated that all of the fracking complaints they had placed in media stories were dismissed as anecdotal can now claim they have a study - made of anecdotes. With a big 22% number attached to it.
"Almost a quarter of participants consider natural gas operations to be a contributor to their health issues, indicating that there is clearly a concern among residents that should be addressed," said Saberi. Unless you ask people outside a doctor's office who didn't blame fracking before it showed up on a survey question.
Fear not, activists, the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology (CEET) behind this survey has three other surveys in the works, so soon they will claim a consensus. CEET director Trevor Penning, PhD, said, "The goal of science should be to protect the public and the environment before harm occurs; not simply to treat it after the damage has been done."
Ummmm, no, but it's the kind of thing people say when they want epidemiologists to take them seriously. Penning is a biochemist by education so you'd think he would have a better understanding of what science is than 'protect the environment'.
Is drilling likely to have some health issue to some people? Sure. I would never buy a house next to one of those giant electrical towers, or next to a sewage plant, but no one has drills in their back yards and the EPA and other activists groups are so desperate to kill the only clean energy not funded by the Obama administration they are monitoring every stream, all of the air, all of the soil and mapping it to doctor records in hopes of finding a connection.
If there is a connection, it will be found. But it won't be found by doing a survey and calling that science.