Faced with growing public skepticism on the safety of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling, the natural gas and oil industries have taken to influencing purportedly unbiased research with handsome cash gifts to complying authors.
A WIRED.com report this week shows how the natural gas and oil industries are working in key battleground states to pay scientific researchers to produce studies that highlight the benefits of fracking drilling, including one recently published study that declares fracking drilling is “safe for groundwater” despite wide-ranging concerns it is not.
In places like Ohio, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and other areas in the Mid Atlantic, mostly, debate has raged on whether or not fracking drilling is safe and if it the economic savior the natural gas and oil industries would want the public to believe it is. In just a few years, thousands of fracking wells have been opened in these states and wherever underground shale formations are cracked in the search for gas and oil deposits, the same airing of concerns and worry follows.
Those living closest to active fracking operations seem sure it is responsible for a decline in quality of life, contaminating drinking water supplies, putting a strain on local resources and infrastructure, and polluting the air. Some families in Pennsylvania have filed lawsuits against natural gas companies because they believe their fracking wells have polluted their private water wells beyond repair with some of the dangerous toxins used in the fracking process.
Fracking uses hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water, sand, a drill, and a mix of more than 600 chemicals – about 60 known toxins among them, many of which are never disclosed to the public – that are ushered into an underground well until they reach a shale formation believed to hold valuable natural gas or oil deposits.
As the debate continues and local municipalities look to block fracking expansion in many areas, the energy industries have constantly countered, either mounting their own legal battles or now through influencing researchers to produce studies focusing on fracking’s benefits and safety.
WIRED reports that last week, the provost at University of Texas said it would have to “re-examine” a recent university report from one of its professors that declared fracking was safe on groundwater supplies when it was revealed that professor had taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from a single gas developer in the state.
Nationwide, Americans are being influenced by seemingly unbiased research but not being told who is influencing the authors of these studies. Case in point, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also recently published a report, according to WIRED, entitled “Shale Works for US” that was directed at Ohioans caught in the crosshairs of the fracking safety debate.
One of the authors of the study, Robert Chase, has been identified as one person who’s been greatly influenced by the energy industries and was even employed as a consultant for companies like Halliburton and Cabot, leaders in the fracking industry. His influence was likely part of a Penn State University study that also found fracking to be safe and ultimately led state lawmakers there to allow some of the most unchecked fracking drilling in the U.S.