Another "study" — junk is too kind a term for this laugher — attempts to impugn the revolutionary technology for oil and gas exploration: high-volume hydraulic fracturing, better known as "fracking." The wise men and women of the formerly respected Johns Hopkins-Bloomberg School of Public Health published their propaganda piece in the journal Epidemiology with the neutral-sounding title, "Unconventional Natural Gas Development and Birth Outcome in Pennsylvania, USA." 
Their conclusions were based on retrospective record reviews obtained from the Geisinger Health System over the period 2009-2013, including the pregnancy and birth statistics of just under 11,000 neonates in fracking-rich areas of Pennsylvania. They crafted, ad hoc, a "fracking-activity" score which they used to estimate "cumulative exposure to unconventional natural gas development activity" based upon distance from wells correlated with volume of gas produced, durations of well-pad development, etc., using "an inverse-distance squared model." Attempting to control for confounders — other exposures of influences on the course of pregnancy and delivery not related to that fracking score — they utilized "multilevel linear and logistic regression models to examine associations between activity index quartile and term birth weight, preterm birth, low 5-minute Apgar score and small size for gestational age birth, while controlling for potential confounding variables."

And they came up with these conclusions: "In adjusted models, there was an association between unconventional natural gas development activity and preterm birth that increased across quartiles, with a fourth quartile odds ratio of 1.4 (95% confidence interval = 1.0, 1.9). There were no associations of activity with Apgar score, small for gestational age birth, or term birth weight. In a posthoc analysis, there was an association with physician-recorded high-risk pregnancy identified from the problem list (fourth vs. first quartile, 1.3 [95% confidence interval = 1.1, 1.7]). Therefore, prenatal residential exposure to unconventional natural gas development activity was associated with two pregnancy outcomes, adding to evidence that unconventional natural gas development may impact health."

Pretty scary, n'est ce pas? Well, Dr. Schwartz apparently thinks so, because he has been quoted as saying (among other inanities): "While the research is still in its infancy, everything that has come out so far should give decision makers cause for concern," and "The first few studies have all shown health impacts."

Where to begin? Well, Dr. Schwartz, you have just made up all those studies showing "health impacts." There are none: how could there be when the drilling takes place two miles underground, and none other than the U.S. EPA has published their own assessment which determined that there's basically nothing going on to worry about from fracking — which comports quite well with ACSH's own scientific study.

Let's not stop there, though: the study failed to do any measurements on any putative toxicants in the environment or in the mothers or babies — how could they, in retrospect? Nor is there a hint as to any biologically plausible hypothesis to explain their fracking-related premature birth scenario. Oh wait — what scenario was that? They found an 11 percent early birth rate there amongst the drilling sites, while the CDC proclaims that the national pre-term delivery rate is on the order of 11.5 percent! What's up with that? And they used some fancy statistical-sounding algorithms to "control" for confounders, right? But in fact, there is no possible way they could have accounted for key issues such as genetic factors, history of prior pregnancy issues, drug/alcohol use in the parents, etc.

This was a terrible "study" and the authors and the JH-B School of PH should all be embarrassed. So too of course should the all-too-willing-to-swallow-sensationalist-sound bites, mainstream media who simply copied and pasted the school's press release as though it made any sense without bothering to even actually read the methods and conclusions. The authors' tactics here are redolent of the official New York State-Dept. of Health's 184-page report issued last December supporting Gov. Cuomo's pre-determined ban on fracking in New York, which reeked of similar hypothetical and exaggerated risks to kowtow to his "base."

Given the actual data, a more rational synopsis would be that living near a fracking site might confer gestational benefits on moms-to-be. No, I don't believe that, but nor is there anything in this poor excuse for science that should be of concern to pregnant women, either.
The whole "anti-fracking" movement is another Big Green-ideology, anti-business, anti-fossil fuel crusade trumped up to appear to be a public-health issue. It's just too bad that cowardly and ignorant politicians have given aid and comfort to these fringe zealots, since the shale-gas revolution has conferred so many economic, geopolitical, and yes! even environmental benefits upon us.