Media coverage of a Duke University study on a supposed 6,648 spills in the oil and gas industry left out some crucial information.
Media outlets like BBC News, Seeker, Inside Climate News, and The Daily Kos used the research to claim that fracking was “worse than we thought,” but many of the spills it looked at weren’t of harmful substances at all or never impacted the outside environment. The study identified the spills in Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania across roughly 10 years.
“Context is essential when it comes to studies of this nature, and unfortunately the authors provided little in an effort to generate scary headlines,” Seth Whitehead, a researcher at the pro-industry group Energy In Depth, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “For example, the largest spill in the report was a freshwater spill. And at least 10 percent of the total volume of spills documented in the report can be attributed to 10 freshwater spills in North Dakota.”
A freshwater spill means that no contaminants, chemicals or anything dangerous was released, and would be comparable to spill tap-water on the ground. The largest spill poured 991,200 gallons of freshwater out in North Dakota. The largest spills by volume were freshwater.
“The authors also fail to note that a vast majority of spills are small and contained on site,” Whitehead said. “Data from North Dakota — where more than two-thirds of the spills in the report occurred — have consistently shown that between 70 and 80 percent of spills have been contained on site and not reached the environment since the Bakken shale boom began. The latest data also show that 58 percent of 2016 North Dakota spills were 10 barrels or less.”
A New York Times database of such spills starting in January of 2006 found that 78 percent were contained on site and never affected the environment.
Additionally, one of the researchers conducting the study, Kate Konschnik, has several anti-fracking ties. Konchnik worked for the green law firm Earthjustice and has served on the executive committee of a local Sierra Club. She also used to work for Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who heavily opposed fracking.
“The oil and gas industry is well-regulated and there are systems in place to help prevent spills and deal with any issues should they occur,” Chris Warren, a spokesperson for the Institute for Energy Research, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s important to remember that resources are valuable and companies have strong market incentives to prevent spills. The data shows that the vast majority of spills are contained to the well pad without impacting the environment.”
Other than these spills, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing contaminates groundwater after 5 years of study.
A ban on hydraulic fracturing would kill 14.8 million jobs and cost the average American family $4,000 dollars, according to a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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