Public safety, Science

“Dear Aunty, is fracking really bad for unborn babies?”

Well, sweeties, I don’t think so. But I’ll let you judge for yourselves after reading this short post.

In January this year (2014) a group of US researchers associated discussed some of the early conclusions of their work at a conference and in the media.

Bloomberg reported it thus:

“In a study presented today at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in Philadelphia, the researchers — Janet Currie of Princeton University, Katherine Meckel of Columbia University, and John Deutch and Michael Greenstone of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — looked at Pennsylvania birth records from 2004 to 2011 to assess the health of infants born within a 2.5-kilometer radius of natural-gas fracking sites. They found that proximity to fracking increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than half, from about 5.6 percent to more than 9 percent. The chances of a low Apgar score, a summary measure of the health of newborn children, roughly doubled, to more than 5 percent.”

The important thing to note here, poppets, is that they claim to have found an increased likelihood. That’s not the same as a certainty. Which means it is entirely wrong to present it as “Study Shows Fracking Is Bad for Babies”.

Now, another important point my loves is made in the next paragraph of the Bloomberg report:

“The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed or posted online, comes at a time when state and federal officials are grappling with how to regulate fracking”

So, at the time of widespread media reporting, the study hadn’t been peer reviewed. Mike Hill, self-styled oil and gas industry expert based in Lytham, England, and that is opposed to shale gas exploration there regularly and falsely cites this study as evidence of observed harm and also falsely states it was peer reviewed.

One of the authors, Michael Greenstone, has also since been quoted as saying:

The newspaper articles describe preliminary results that we did not intend to share with press. We will release a full working paper as soon as we are finished with the analysis.

You can find it in this blog by New York Times writer Andy Revkin.

So, dears, is fracking for shale gas harmful to unborn babies?

It’s certainly not possible to draw that conclusion from the study I’ve outlined here.

Until next time xxx

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