Todd Staples | Corpus Christi Coller Times
Fear is often wielded as a dangerous tool to influence public opinion and impact public policy. In Texas and beyond, many groups that are funded to oppose oil and natural gas development use misinformation and outright fabrication to create fear and confusion. For many of us, it can be hard to tell the difference between sound science and junk science.
Dr. Dan Hill, head of the petroleum engineering department at Texas A&M University, once urged his neighbors to be "savvy consumers" of information about oil and natural gas issues and "to keep an eye out for claims masquerading as 'science,' which have been widely discredited by scientists and experts."
Hill explained that many "claims about increased cancer risks and degradation of air quality … are based on flawed research and inappropriate comparisons of air test results and safety thresholds."
"When researchers use appropriate comparisons," he continued, "studies show that natural gas activity doesn't result in air exposures that would pose health concerns."
In fact, experts have dispelled all of the most frequently repeated myths about oil and natural gas development and water and air issues.
For example, researchers from Stanford, Syracuse, Yale, the California Council on Science & Technology and the University of Colorado have all concluded that hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) is not contaminating drinking water.
The well-worn claim that people within a mile of a natural gas well are at increased risk of cancer has been thoroughly debunked because researchers used flawed methodology and inflated data to reach their conclusions. Local and national organizations that are funded to oppose oil and natural gas development repeatedly cite this and other discredited studies, despite the body of research that refutes their claims.
Others intent on stopping oil and natural gas development did not hesitate to deep-six research that concluded that oil and natural gas development is safe.
In this case, the University of Cincinnati conducted a three-year study to examine the impact of hydraulic fracturing on local water supplies and found no evidence that natural gas production contaminates drinking water. So why didn't anyone publicize these findings?
One of the lead researchers of the study answered this question by explaining, "Our funders, the groups that had given us funding in the past, were a little disappointed in our results. They feel that fracking is scary and so they were hoping our data could point to a reason to ban it."
Nonacademic groups like Environment Texas often manufacture misleading reports and attempt to pass them off as credible research. When such a report recently alleged serious air emission violations in Texas, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times called out the report's lack of context and encouraged its readers to "peel back a layer" when considering its conclusions. This is good advice given these groups' well-documented history of publishing inflated numbers, omitting context and misrepresenting information.
By design, these "reports" are heavy on figures and slim on facts. Advancing understanding is not the goal. Derailing oil and natural gas development is the goal, an agenda that threatens energy security, affordable electricity and jobs.
As it should be, the oil and natural gas industry is one of the most regulated industries in the state. If companies don't comply with regulations they can lose their permits to operate here. In fact, Texas is a global example for its policies that protect our environment and grow the economy.
Science-based regulation is one of the reasons Texas is the nation's No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas and the United States holds the No. 1 spot in the world. As a result, we are less dependent on other countries and net imports of foreign oil have dropped to a 30-year low. A robust oil and natural gas industry directly funds Texas schools, roads and essential services through state and local taxes and state royalties, paying $13.8 billion last year alone. All of this progress is occurring while Texans and our environment remain safe.
Peddlers of junk science do a disservice to Texans who are more secure across the board because of safe and responsible production of oil and natural gas. Facts, not fear, should drive discussions and decisions about our nation's energy needs, our economy and our planet.
Todd Staples is president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association.