This week, the Wall Street Journal is hosting its ECO:nomics conference, discussing the state of green business. One panel featured an exchange between Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon and Paul Gallay of Riverkeepers. Gallay calls McClendon’s support of natural gas fracking “snake oil.” One particular claim stood out at me.
He first argues that the prevalence of benzene in the air around Dallas has increased. Then Gallay implies (at 2:30 in the video) that fracking has led to health problems for children, saying specifically “In the Dallas/Ft. Worth area the amount of childhood asthma is double the statewide average. These are the facts.” That may be a fact, but it has nothing to do with either fracking or air quality.
This is a common sleight of hand among environmentalists. Instead of citing air quality data, they cite surrogate data (like asthma rates), implying that the two are synonymous. They are not. Interestingly, asthma rates are climbing nationwide at the same time outdoor air quality has dramatically improved.
According to the EPA, in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, the number of days with “good” air quality has climbed from 124 in 2001 to 195 in 2011. The number of “unhealthy” days has fallen from 13 to 6 during that time period. The worst air quality, measured by the EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI), has fallen from 204 to 169. Put simply, the air quality in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area is much better today than ten years ago. I don’t know when fracking around Dallas began, but the amount is certainly higher today than ten years ago, and yet air quality has improved. If asthma rates are climbing, it is due to some other factor. (NCPA has addressed this in the past, for example “Facts Not Fear on Air Pollution.”)
There is a real danger here. Rather than focus on the real causes of childhood asthma, such sleights of hand distract our efforts for political purposes, making it more difficult to solve the problem. This is a fundamentally dishonest game and it harms efforts to improve childhood health.
If fracking is the threat to the environment and human health that Riverkeepers claims, why not use real data? Gallay chose two “facts” to point to the damage fracking does to the environment. If one of the two examples he provides is deceptive, why should we believe the overall case against fracking is any stronger?