Obstruction of Science: Activists Suppress Study Vindicating Fracking

Is it an impeachable offense to bury scientific evidence that would guide beneficial energy and public health policy? Anti-fracking activists had better hope not, based on their extensive efforts to bury scientific evidence showing natural gas production through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) produced no groundwater contamination in eastern Ohio.

Funded by environmental activist groups, scientists at the University of Cincinnati conducted a comprehensive three-year study of groundwater quality in Eastern Ohio. The impetus for the study was a large number of fracking permits granted in Carroll County, Ohio, early this decade. In 2011, just three natural gas wells existed in Carroll County. By 2015, 354 natural gas wells existed. The study monitored water quality by sampling 27 drinking water wells three to four times per year during the period of increasing fracking activity. Another 96 groundwater wells were sampled in 2014 in a five-county region surrounding the heightened fracking activity.

shale gas plays EIALooking for methane, a tell-tale sign of natural gas contamination, in water samples, the study found methane concentrations were no higher at the end of the study than at the beginning. To the extent small amounts of methane were found in groundwater, the methane was clearly naturally occurring. The scientists confirmed the natural origin of the methane by isotopic analysis.

“None of the measured parameters significantly varied in these groundwater wells before or after drilling or natural gas production,” wrote Elizabeth Claire Botner, a Master of Science student at the University of Cincinnati in her Master thesis.

“We have found that a small subset of groundwater wells in the Utica Shale region consistently contained elevated CH4 levels, but stable isotope analysis indicated biological sources. Based on the carbon and hydrogen stable isotope data along with the relatively consistent measurements within individuals wells over the study period, we have found no evidence for natural gas contamination from shale oil and gas mining in any of the sampled groundwater wells of our study,” Botner’s thesis paper concluded.

As a side note in her thesis paper, Botner noted evidence of incidental increases in methane near Pennsylvania fracking sites. Botner explained that the incidences of higher methane were likely unrelated to the fracking process and were more likely the result of deficiencies in wellhead casings.

This brings us back to burying science. Why, you may wonder, am I quoting a Master of Science thesis paper rather than a paper published in the regular scientific literature? The reason is the environmental activist funders of the study wanted to bury the inconvenient results.

“Our funders, the groups that had given us money 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,” the study’s lead scientist, Amy Townsend-Small, explained in a Carroll County town hall meeting.

“Some of our highest observed methane concentrations were not near a fracking well at all,” Townsend-Small added.

Not only are the study’s findings being stifled, but the scientists who discovered the good news about fracking’s environmental safety are seeing their funding dry up as a result.

“University of Cincinnati spokesman Greg Vehr said the study was paid for by anti-fracking groups who may have been confused about the findings,” the Washington Examiner observed. “He said Townsend-Small is a good professor whose study followed sound techniques.”

“The facts are the facts,” Vehr told the Examiner.

Townsend-Small can hardly be described as a pro-fracking advocate. Not only did she accept anti-fracking activist funding for the study, she worked with Carroll Concerned Citizens – a local anti-fracking group – to recruit volunteers to collect water samples. She has apparently spoken at anti-fracking events in Ohio.

For most people, a comprehensive scientific study showing that an exponential increase in fracking activity caused no water contamination would be considered good news. For the environmental left, it is considered bad news that should be suppressed. Apparently, the environmental left would rather see people die from fracking side effects – just so they can have an excuse to ban fracking – than seeing scientific evidence showing fracking is safe for groundwater quality.

Perhaps obstruction of science should be an impeachable offense.

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