Shale gas and health.

Unlike most European shale experts, I’ve been to Pennsylvania and have lived to tell the tale.  The following  from Tom Shepstone  of Natural Gas Now reminds us how for shale activists there are no borders.   The Geisinger Study on shale health  has of course made the news in the UK and France. Activists in Yorkshire think the one study outbalances the Public Health England or myriad UK studies.  It is of course one study. No different than how people like the GWPF think one study disproves climate science.  We should hold both to a higher level of proof.

The average underworked reporter in somewhere like the God Forsaken North Daily News is 21 years old, makes far too little to need to worry about paying off student loans (i.e. well under 21K a year) and is unlikely to know the difference between Pennsylvania,  or Pasadena. They do know there is a steady stream of fracktivists eager to give him interviews locally.  Because he/she is overworked, inexperienced and underpaid, they’re also, in search for the eternal scoop, and quite naive.  If fracking is so controversial, why can’t he/she find anything on a mainstream news site except the occasional report of yet another study?  Local shale activists act as if they have somehow uncovered a big Galileo sized planetary plot  in their own back yard.  Most other people in town, judging by the non success of local anti fracking movements in raising money or awareness, think them eccentric.

This sound may sound cynical, but let me point out the bleeding obvious. There is no person more desperate than even  the most gungho gas opponents to prove shale gas damage than a red blooded all American attorney.  Think Erin Brockovich or John Grisham in real life.  If there was damage, even a hint of a sniff of damage, then someone, somewhere would be paying.  They’re not.  Here in the UK,  Willis, the worlds’ number two reinsurance group would be left holding the bag and paying out the actual money.  This was their view back in 2012

Going backward,it’s easy to make the assumption that Lloyds brokers aren’t worried because they haven’t had any claims from gas companies,because drillers aren’t losing any cases, because lawyers aren’t bringing them to court, because there simply isn’t any actual proof beyond hearsay and innuendo.  And who insures the insurers?:

Dominick Hoare of Watkins Syndicate at the Lloyd’s of London insurance market said the firm, which is managed by Munich Re, is heavily involved in insuring US shale exploration and production. “With a proper assessment it’s a good risk to assume,” he said.

Back to Pennsylvania and over to Tom Shepstone:

The much ballyhooed Geisinger health study never happened; instead, it passed along its data for use in fractivist junk science and anti-gas campaigns.

I’m sick to death of supposed scientists using their credentials to advance ideological agendas. A recent series of junk science reports constructed upon the foundation of data from Geisinger Health Systems illustrates. It’s an embarrassment – the Geisinger embarrassment.

Geisinger -Medical-Center-Facebook-caption_0

Geisinger Health Systems started many decades ago as a first class hospital in Central Pennsylvania and that facility continues in this tradition, savings lives every day. The institution encompassing that hospital, though, has been on an empire building mission for years now. It has been gobbling up smaller facilities and expanding its footprint geographically and program-wise to make itself a health care powerhouse. Along the way it’s started losing its way. Now, it’s participating in junk science.

A few years ago, it decided fracking was the buzzword that might allow it to become a research institution as well as a health care provider. Geisinger figured its access to data from its many facilities across much of Pennsylvania’s gas fields could be leveraged to secure big money from the gas industry – $25 million – to do extensive studies on health patterns in the region. The industry was interested in exploring the idea and met with Geisinger and some other health care providers in the region for that purpose. I was there.

It was a very friendly meeting. Geisinger insisted it had no agenda. The study would not proceed on the assumption there were, in fact, any particular health impacts from Marcellus Shale development. There was, nonetheless, a problem that quickly became apparent. Geisinger had already announced its intention to do such a study. It was referring to it as a study“to determine whether natural gas drilling in the Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale is harming residents.” The presumption was that gas drilling and/or fracking might be effecting health.

This, together with the fact nearly all academic studies end with “more study is needed” meant two things. First, the headline writers would inevitably skip over the details to say any bit of data or writing on the subject would generate “Fracking Might Impact Your Health” titles. If the question was posed whether gas drilling was somehow the culprit in some health condition found in Geisinger’s database, the answer would be an equivocal yes, no matter what the data showed.

Secondly, it was clear any health study with the words “Marcellus Shale” in the name would be use by fractivists to suggest a conclusion had already been made and only the detailed proof was needed. They would also use the study to argue for delays with any and all projects, as proved to be case two years later when Howard Zucker and New York Governor Cuomo used the study not to approve fracking “at this time” in New York. As Dr. Theodore Them, a member of the study collaborative committee, observed in reacting to the Zucker punch:

There is no such study. This writer personally sat on that initial, “collaborative” committee, composed of representatives of Geisinger Health System, TheGuthrie Clinic, and Susquehanna Health. No firm path was set, no related funding was ultimately secured, and no study has, or will be, completed as part of this “collaborative.”

Industry representatives were, for these subsequently justified reasons, highly skeptical regarding the likely outcomes of the study if the project was to be focused on Marcellus Shale. Geisinger reps said it wouldn’t be, despite the already existing problems of the way it had been portrayed in the press. They said all the right things:

The biggest problem is that there is no data to know whether there is a health concern or not…We’re not going into this with any preconceived bias. It’s not a “gotcha study.” We’re not anti-fracking. We would just like to know.

The problem was that these comments also appeared in a Keystone Physician article on the subject of the study where the study director referred to gas drilling as “intense industrial activity.” Moreover, the piece included a “Clean. Destructive. Job-Creating. Unsafe.” banner suggesting this would be the mother of all studies on how Marcellus Shale development was effecting health, implying there must be some impacts or the study would be so focused on this one industry.

Members of the industry decided, for this reason, among others (not the least of which was a concern with credibility in the case of a study funded by the industry), not to fund the study. There was too much focus  on the Marcellus Shale as the prospective cause of heath care problems in the region, contrary to what was stated in the meeting, where the need to avoid such appearances was acknowledged by all. Studying the overall health of patients throughout the targeted area in a manner should not presume potential causes of problems before they are investigated, they stated. They also said they were hopeful statements made in the meeting indicating the study would, in fact, be a  “collection of data looking at the population in general” would be fully realized as the work goes forward.

geisinger 047_wide-96c89e9957168fc38550ba18ea9fe54a209aabc1-s800-c85

A typical image associated with the Geisinger health study; this one from NPR with the explanation “William Reigle has fibrosis, a disease that may be aggravated by nearby fracking.” No bias intended, of course.

None of that was to be. Geisinger got no money other than the small support of the Degenstein Foundation. The direction of the study obviously had to change and it became a series of junk science studies everyone in the industry feared and Geisinger had promised wouldn’t happen. It was predictable. Geisinger’s Research Connections newsletter soon reported Brian S. Schwartz had become a member of their team (emphasis added):

Brian Schwartz, MD, MS is Professor of Environmental Hea1th Sciences, Epidemiology and Medicine, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Director and Senior Investigator of the Environmental Health Institute, Geisinger Center for Health Research. His research applies the methods of occupational, environmental, and molecular epidemiology to studying the health,effects of chemicals. Recently he has studied how land use and energy use are contributing to global climate change, ecosystem ~ degradation, biodiversity and species losses, and ultimately, posing important risks to individual and population health.

That last sentence, of course, was the tip-off but, even so, it greatly understated things. Schwartz had previously been quoted in a 2008 Baltimore Sun article entitled “The Coming Black Plague” (proudly linked on the Geisinger site) saying the US faced a peak oil problem:

To plan for this inevitable downturn, nations must quickly shift toward renewable fuels, including solar energy and wind, Schwartz said. The United States must start to conserve energy and change living patterns so that people no longer commute from sprawling suburbs. People need to walk to work, use mass transit and start eating food from local farms so they don’t depend on fish and fruit flown in from Asia and South America, he said.

“Countries are not prepared for this at all,” Schwartz said. “And because they are not prepared, they will tend to go toward temporary solutions like burning more coal and oil shale that will only make climate change worse.”

This is the radical Geisinger hired to help with its unbiased study; a renewables utopian already committed to the idea shale was bad and oil and gas a contributor to poor health. He’s a peak oil fellow, a member of the Post Carbon Institute who, as we noted earlier, is a shale hater. He’s also produced one junk science study after another using Geisinger’s data irresponsibly to suggest a host of calamities might caused by drilling and/or fracking although he offers no causation evidence whatsoever. There was the low birth weight study, debunked here. There was the radon study, the migraine study and the asthma study – all 100% junk.

It’s one hit job after another from Geisinger, in fact, as the health system descends into irrelevancy as a research outfit. Everything it promised wouldn’t happen with its data has happened. Call the Geisinger embarrassment but it’s much worse than that. Geisinger has sacrificed its integrity for advocacy and cheap publicity. It was intentional.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *