Report: ‘Gasland’ director made false breast cancer claims

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Scientists told The Associated Press that environmentalists may be twisting the facts when it comes to their criticism of hydraulic fracturing.

One of the most controversial claims against fracking is that it has caused breast cancer rates to spike in North Texas Barnett Shale, where oil and gas companies have been drilling for about a decade.

Josh Fox, environmentalist and maker of the anti-fracking “Gasland” series, argued in a letter sent to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that breast cancer rates spiked in an area of the Barnett Shale where extensive drilling is taking place.

“In Texas, as throughout the United States, cancer rates fell,” Fox tells viewers in a creepy voice in his short film “The Sky is Pink.” “Except in one place: in the Barnett Shale. The five counties where there was the most drilling saw a rise in breast cancer throughout the counties.”

Simon Craddock Lee, a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, called Fox’s claims “a classic case of the ecological fallacy.” It is false to suggest that breast cancer is linked to just one factor when things like diet, lifestyle and access to health care are also factors.

However, there has been no such spike in breast cancer rates, according to researchers.

The AP notes: “David Risser, an epidemiologist with the Texas Cancer Registry, said in an email that researchers checked state health data and found no evidence of an increase in the counties where the spike supposedly occurred. … And Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a major cancer advocacy group based in Dallas, said it sees no evidence of a spike, either.”

Fox remained adamant that his claim was correct, responding to the AP by citing a Centers for Disease Control press release and a newspaper article, neither of which appeared to support his contention.

In fact, the story that Fox cited noted that while “local breast cancer rates are up, they are still below the national average.”

The AP notes: “When Fox was told that Texas cancer researchers said rates didn’t increase, he replied in an email that the claim of unusually high breast cancer rates was ‘widely reported’ and said there is ‘more than enough evidence to warrant much deeper study.'”

This is not the only time Fox has been criticized for misleading viewers.

One scene in his most recent film “Gasland II” showed a man being able to light to contents of his hose on fire, but a Texas court recently found that this was a hoax done at the behest of a Texas environmental activist who was engaged in a prolonged battle with an oil and gas company.

“This demonstration was not done for scientific study but to provide local and national news media a deceptive video, calculated to alarm the public into believing the water was burning,” the court ruled last year.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into cracks in rock formations to widen them and allow more oil and gas to escape, increasing the amounts that can be recovered. The process occurs at about 8,000 feet below ground, and thousands of feet below groundwater sources.

Environmentalists argue that chemicals from fracking seep up through the ground and can contaminate water supplies. However, the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to find evidence of groundwater contamination linked to fracking and a recent Energy Department study found no evidence of fracking contaminating drinking water in western Pennsylvania.

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