Fracking Fearmongering: Another "Regulatory Science" Confirmation

Science: Searching really hard until you find what you want?



The New York Times is reporting a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that purports to find contamination in drinking water by 2-n-Butoxyethanol (2-BE). 2-BE is a compound sometimes used in fracking fluids used to crack open deep shale to release natural gas. The Times reports:

"This is the first case published with a complete story showing organic compounds attributed to shale gas development found in a homeowner's well," said Susan Brantley, one of the study's authors and a geoscientist from Pennsylvania State University.

"Complete story" is a pretty good summation of their findings. Why? Because the contamination was not the result of fracking itself. It was either the result of a 2009 surface tank leak or a faulty well-casing—the compound did not travel upward from the layers of shale through thousands of feet of rock to surface aquifers. In their supplmental information, the researchers note, "Although not expected to be significant, release of 2-BE could also result from consumer product use, such as out-door use of liquid cleaners and paints." Perhaps so, but how confident can they really be that that is not a source for the 2-BE? After all, the contamination "was measured in parts per trillion, [and] was within safety regulations and did not pose a health risk."

It's perhaps unfair, but studies involved with the possible assertion of regulatory authority bring to mind the joke in which a statistician is asked what the result of a calculation is? He replies, "What do you want it to be?"

Of course, surface tank leaks and faulty well-casings happen with conventional gas and oil drilling and if they produce contamination that harms property owners, they should be fully compensated. The Times quotes industry representatives:

Katie Brown, an energy consultant with Energy in Depth, an advocacy group for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said the authors had no evidence that the small traces they found of 2-BE, which is also used in many household items, came from a drilling site.

"The entire case is based around the detection of an exceedingly small amount of a compound that's commonly used in hundreds of household products," Ms. Brown wrote in an email. "The researchers suggest the compound is also found in a specific drilling fluid, but then tell us they have no evidence that this fluid was used at the well site."

The EPA is currently in the midst of conducting a study aimed at "elucidat[ing] the relationship, if any, between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources." The agency claims that it is "committed to conducting a study that uses the best available science, independent sources of information, and a transparent, peer-reviewed process that will ensure the validity and accuracy of the results."

In my column, Is Regulatory Science Oxymoronic?, I asked:

A final couple of questions: Why is it that environmentalists and environmental agency bureaucrats can always gin up studies that show that any activity they oppose and/or want to regulate is dangerous to the environment? On the other hand, why is it that energy producers and energy agency bureaucrats can gin up studies that suggest that the benefits of any activity they favor outweigh the costs? 

Tentative answer: Regulatory science is an oxymoron.

That is still my answer.

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  1. Science: Searching really hard until you find what you want?

    I wonder if there are any other scientific disciplines guilty of that.

    1. “The trends reported by our weather station, which used to be next to an orchard but is now next to a parking lot, indicate that the Earth will soon burn to a crisp!!”

    2. I make up to $90 an hour working from my home. My story is that I quit working at Walmart to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $40h to $86h? Someone was good to me by sharing this link with me, so now i am hoping i could help someone else out there by sharing this link… Try it, you won’t regret it!……

  2. “Parts per trillion” is central to this. Too many people forget that “the dose makes the poison,” and freak out over the tiny quantities of substances that are now detectable. Ironically, modern science thus supplies “evidence” to alarmists.

    1. Too many people forget that “the dose makes the poison,” and freak out over the tiny quantities of substances that are now detectable.

      Growing up, our well was drilled just uphill from a swamp. The groundwater was filtered in through it and when we would go on vacation or otherwise leave the water off for prolonged periods of time volatile organics would accumulate. Occasionally, it occurred with rapid shifts in the water table as well. You would get a ‘fwoosh!’ of ‘air’ when you turned on the faucet. I say ‘air’ as it was exceedingly flammable.

      The only contaminant the well *ever* tested positive for was E. coli and it was bleached and subsequently tested clean. Kinda permanently biased my thinking about groundwater contamination. If you really are that worried about contaminants, get small pets and learn to love them like you would a Gas Chromatograph or Mass Spectrometer.

      1. My well is drilled into a couple hundred feet of sand. The water is pristine.

      2. Whenever someone mentions that flaming faucet in Gasland in a panicky voice, I tell them that Pennsylvanians have been lighting their well water on fire for centuries. Fracking doesn’t cause geology.

        1. From what I have heard, it seems like some well contamination might be caused by poorly sealed gas wells. In which case the well owners should be compensated. But when done properly, the only place gas is released underground is thousands of feet of impermeable rock below the water table and the idea that fracking causes the contamination is ridiculous.

    2. I would probably drink potassium cyanide at those concentrations. In P-Chem lab while casually discussing washing a small flask with a very low volume to surface area ratio, the professor mentioned that he would drink from that flask after six or seven flushes. He maintained that the concentration of KCN dropped by approximately an order of magnitude per wash and that seven would give you a maximum concentration of 10^-7 (which, if I recall is 100ppb). Parts per trillion is not contamination in any meaningful sense.

    3. No shit. Parts per trillion? Oh no! Someone help me to my fainting couch! What a load of horseshit.

      I think we need to update the old saying: “there’s lies, damn lies, and regulatory science.”

    4. It’s like the people on the west coast worrying about contamination fro Fukushima.

      No, we’re just really good at detecting very small amounts of radioactive materials.

  3. Jack the Bleever was here just a couple of weeks ago linking a study that proved fracking causes earthquakes, so this should be no surprise.
    But then that study seems to have been largely ignored even by the rest of the concern trolls. I wonder if, like commie-kid’s “historic agreement with Iran”, it was actually a unicorn sighting.

    1. People confuse “we have instruments that are more sensitive” with “oh shit! Something new and dangerous is happening and it must be our fault!” See the hole in the ozone layer as the prime example.

    2. It does!

      …if you define “earthquakes” as ‘nearly undetectable microshifts‘ which in fact are also produced by a wide variety of *other* energy-production processes, like mining, hydroelectric, geothermal, and even more benign things like creation of Water Reservoirs

      Never mind that ‘small earthquakes’ are a very good thing, because they prevent the *big ones*.

      1. “…if you define “earthquakes” as ‘nearly undetectable microshifts’ which in fact are also produced by a wide variety of *other* energy-production processes, like mining, hydroelectric, geothermal, and even more benign things like creation of Water Reservoirs”

        How about a Barry Bonds homer?
        Anyhow, I looked at the paper’s abstract, and there was no mention of the size of the quakes, but since it died as quickly as an Obo promise, I was sure there was a catch someplace.

      2. Small earthquakes are interesting and harmless. I hope fracking does cause them.

        There is a place in Connecticut where you can see how a road cut through some ledge released tensions along some old faults. The drill holes are discontinuous. It’s pretty interesting to see. It caused some small quakes, and I think it might have broken some well casings. So some people got new wells and everything is OK.
        I don’t know what my point is. More examples of things that people do that can cause geological things to happen, I guess.

  4. Christ, Tim Farley on SiriusXM’s POTUS channel reported this as if it were a major finding (and I believe he mentioned there was evidence of methane as well?).

    Maybe I’m too credulous, but I find Tim to be pretty non-crazy.

    1. T19: Some of the tested wells did have methane (earlier study) – it was also the result of bad well-casings which have nothing to do specifically with fracking.

      1. Sort of like that place in Colorado where people had wells built over shallow coal seams, i.e. naturally-occurring methane?

      2. This. I’m fracing right now–literally, right now. Most people who hate frac have no idea what they’re talking about. If a well is poorly designed or implemented and it fails during a frac job, that isn’t frac’s fault. It’s usually either the fault of the cement, or poor removal of drilling fluids prior to the cement being pumped (more likely the latter).

        It’s like not putting studs in your walls, then blaming the drywall for not supporting the doors.

        1. The argument that I keep seeing on Facebook is that fracking uses lots of water, and since California is in a sought, we should ban it.

          1. They mangle the numbers, as well – refute them.…..-fracking/

  5. Science: Searching really hard until you find what you want

    I like what you were going for there, Ron, but the acronym doesn’t quite fit

    1. Science: Searching Constantly to Identify Evidence Necessary to Confirm Evil?

      1. With evil defined as whatever gets progtards panties in a bunch this week.

  6. I thought the Saudis were taking care of the green’s fracking problem by undercutting our producers?

  7. OT: WNBA needs to take a leading role in domestic violence

    Kudos to those in the commentariat who predicted this hilarious development.

    1. I think they’re about to surpass the NFL. Oh, you mean in combatting domestic abuse.

  8. Sounds like Rolling Stone needs to assign this story to Sabrina Rubin Erdely. The “Searching really hard until you find what you want” thing seems to be her M.O. “Proof by Narrative”

  9. We have our conclusion. As soon as we can find some evidence to support it, we’ll be ready to publish

    1. That’s environmental science in a nutshell.

    2. A New Scientific Method: Not Just for Creationists Anymore!

  10. OT: I see Ms. Free Range kids is a keynote at PorcFest. Huzzah!

  11. Fracking has been great for my home state of PA, and we’re not an environmental hellhole where the mutated living envy the dead, despite an all-out attack by the Greens to stop fracking.

    Which they are doing because it gives us so much cheap natural gas that it pushes off their wind and solar Utopia for decades more.

    1. I heard Williamsport has actually stopped being a festering shithole where 3rd graders can be spotted smoking in the park on their way home from school, and whose glory days of lumber magnates are decades in the past.

  12. OT: I’m getting an ad at the top of the page to join Hillary’s campaign. I thought the Clintons were supposed to be the ones with the great machine in place to win the election? Keep wasting money you dumb cunt.


  13. The Intercept has a piece on the 43 massacred Mexicans.

    Sounds like the govt/mafia stopped them, then got carried away and slaughtered them. One had his face flayed. They also shot up a travel soccer team’s bus. Real mess down there.

    1. It’s all worth it if it helps make cocaine and heroin just a little bit more expensive. Apparently.

  14. Regulatory science is an oxymoron.

    I’m having a hard time seeing how “regulatory science” doesn’t include the CAGW wing of climatology, Ron. If not, by this point, damn near all climatology.

  15. Facebook told me this “proves” that fracking is killing us all.

    Stop disagreeing with Science, haters.

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