Yesterday’s Associated Press story about the health impacts of fracking-enabled oil and gas drilling in southwest Pennsylvania inadvertently reveals the bias that underlies much of the “mainstream” fracking debate.
The story covers results from the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project’s study: fracking-enabled oil and gas development harms the health of residents living nearby.
One might think that a story about fracking’s threat to human health shows how robust the debate is – or even that there’s an environmental bias in fracking reporting. But one would be wrong.
There has been years of evidence of fracking’s threats to human health. Both from studies, and from the long established pattern of health impacts that follows oil and gas development wherever it goes. Yet this story implies that this research is the first of its kind.
The Associated Press claims that science reporting, especially in matters of public health, must be held to a very rigorous standard. Which, if true, would be easy to respect. But that rigor is only applied to one side of the fracking debate.
This same story which – years late – acknowledges the health risks of fracking, in the same breath suggests – without support – that the fracking’s risks are offset by the benefits of replacing coal with fracked gas.
And that’s the bias. In many circles — in the mainstream press and in government — the bar is high for consideration of the downside of fracking. But there appears to be no similar bar to considering the (speculative) upside of fracking.
Furthermore, the story implies that the only alternative to fracked gas is coal. It makes no mention of evidence that natural gas is worse for the climate than coal. It makes no mention of the rapidly emerging, and now cost competitive, renewable energy market. Or (hah, silly me) energy conservation.
Leveling the terms of the debate so that fracking’s alleged upsides are treated with at least the same degree of scientific rigor and skepticism as its downsides – at the Associated Press, in state legislatures around the country, in Congress, and in the Obama administration – is essential to protecting communities and the environment from the negative impacts of fracking-enabled oil and gas development.