By Julia Bell, Energy In Depth
Alec Baldwin – yes, that Alec Baldwin – recently took to the Huffington Post to explain what he deems to be “The Truth” about hydraulic fracturing. There was only one problem: Baldwin’s claims, like most of his movies and his persona as Jack Donaghy in “30 Rock,” are not exactly based on or in reality.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in his decision to uncritically reprint what Gasland star Josh Fox emailed him to say – which unfortunately didn’t include any mention of what state regulators have said about hydraulic fracturing, or what US EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said on multiple occasions. Heck, even President Obama – for whom Baldwin has a strong political affinity – has given high praise to developing natural gas from shale.
Nonetheless, we decided to highlight and debunk (yet again) the items Josh Fox suggested he repeat:
Baldwin: “This 2009 piece from ProPublica that refers to a Garfield County, Colo., study that contradicts certain gas industry assertions about methane in drinking water.”
Fact: The first summary conclusion listed in that study (which can be found here) states quite clearly: “Impacts from petroleum activity are not currently present at levels that exceed regulatory limits.” Why is this line important? Because it is indicative of what opponents routinely try to hide from the public: Namely, that the presence of a particular substance does not necessarily indicate a threat.
As any expert or regulator would acknowledge, it’s the exposure or concentration that determines whether something is toxic or unsafe. For just one example, hydrochloric acid would burn someone’s skin if applied directly, yet it’s one of the most common chemicals added to swimming pools – and we’re pretty sure Baldwin is doing fine.
Baldwin: “This 2011 report from Scientific American that describes significant aquifer contamination from fracking fluids in Wyoming.”
Fact: The report listed here is actually a reference to EPA’s testing in Pavillion, Wyo., the same testing that produced a shoddy “draft report” for which peer review had to be suspended so EPA could re-test its wells, a decision made after experts identified significant flaws with EPA’s sampling procedures. And just weeks after releasing that draft report, EPA’s Region 8 administrator Jim Martin told a Congressional panel:
“We make clear that the causal link [of water contamination] to hydraulic fracturing has not been demonstrated conclusively, and that our analysis is limited to the particular geologic conditions in the Pavillion gas field and should not be assumed to apply to fracturing in other geologic settings.”
So, even if the EPA had somehow linked contamination to hydraulic fracturing (which it didn’t, but Baldwin and Fox want us to believe it did), extrapolating its findings to other parts of the country would be inappropriate – precisely what Mr. Baldwin was attempting to do by mentioning it in his column!
Also, as a point of fact, this “report” was actually just a cross-posting of an article on ProPublica. Anyone who reads through the entire piece would see this italicized disclaimer at the bottom: “From ProPublica.org (find the original story here); reprinted with permission.” Baldwin apparently didn’t want to use the same source twice, so he pretended that another source (which has a more official sounding name, Scientific American) reported those details.
Baldwin: “A 2011 New York Times article that refers to the potential “first crack in the armor” of Rex Tillerson’s claims about fracking-related contamination.”
Fact: The Times’ piece was at one point heralded by opponents of hydraulic fracturing as a sort of silver bullet, as it supposedly provided an example of the process contaminating ground water. To reach this conclusion, the New York Times teamed up with the Environmental Working Group to highlight a well drilled in Jackson Co., W.V., in 1982 that was linked to water contamination. But the West Virginia-based laboratory commissioned to investigate the well said that it “did not conclude that hydraulic fracturing caused the contamination…” Even EWG admitted “it is possible that another stage of the drilling process [other than hydraulic fracturing] caused the problem.”
It’s also worth noting that the report of the incident was written by an EPA contractor in the 1980s, several years after the alleged incident occurred. Why is that important? Just a few months ago, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson stated publicly: “In no case have we made a definitive determination that [hydraulic fracturing] has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” If the EPA’s report actually said what Baldwin and Fox think it says, then why would Lisa Jackson state that her agency has never made such a conclusion? Perhaps that’s why the example is barely mentioned anymore – except by those like Baldwin who are ideologically committed to The Cause.
Baldwin: “This article from Food and Water Watch in April of 2012.”
Fact: First of all, it’s interesting that Baldwin would italicize “Food and Water Watch” as if it’s a news outlet. F&WW is an activist organization, funded by the Park Foundation, and wholly committed not to safe natural gas development, but to an outright ban on hydraulic fracturing.
Second, and more importantly, the “article” referenced is document where FWW claims that developing natural gas from shale isn’t really creating that many jobs, and the economic growth associated with development is a fantasy. While it’s odd that an organization would attack hard-working men and women in a particular industry by pretending they don’t simply exist, it’s also completely false. A report from IHS-CERA noted that, in 2010, natural gas development from shale supported one million jobs throughout the economy. In the Barnett Shale in north Texas, natural gas development has generated nearly $6 billion in tax receipts for the state. In 2011, the Eagle Ford Shale in south Texas supported 47,000 jobs and generated more than $3 billion in salaries and benefits to Texas workers and their families. Realtors admit that shale development is strengthening the housing market, and state data from Pennsylvania shows that Marcellus Shale development supports more than 238,000 jobs across the Commonwealth.
Baldwin: “And this article from a March, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.”
Fact: This is the same Rolling Stone article that not only regurgitated debunked talking points from opponents, but also used others’ content without citing them. The author, Jeff Goodell, even misattributed quotes from “experts” in order to advance a convenient narrative.
But the most significant problem with the Rolling Stone piece was its willingness to ignore or even deliberately contradict clear and well-understood scientific facts. Goodell claimed a 2011 study from researchers at Duke University provided “the first clear evidence that [hydraulic fracturing] was contaminating drinking water” – even though the researchers stated clearly that “we found no evidence for contamination of the shallow wells near active drilling sites from deep brines and/or fracturing fluids” (emphasis added).
Goodell even went so far as to claim, based on a New York Times story, that operators were “dumping millions of gallons” of radioactive wastewater into rivers and streams, “largely without regulatory oversight.” But former Pennsylvania DEP secretary John Hanger said that “testing of drinking water at the tap and in stream totally debunked the main radiation narrative of the New York Times article.” Hanger later wrote that there is “no radionuclide pollution of drinking water in Pennsylvania. Zero. None…But that truth will never catch up to the lie cleverly spread and repeated.” (You can read Hanger’s full dismantling of the Rolling Stone article here.) Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell (D) suggested the purpose of the original New York Times piece was nothing more than to “gratuitously frighten Pennsylvanians,” and on the facts it was “a mighty swing and a miss.”
Baldwin: I’ve got more if you want it.
EID: Please, humor us!
Baldwin’s article was not intended to form a scientific basis for future study, or even to use available science to prove a point. To his credit, Baldwin actually admitted as much, stating: “I am quite certain that not many minds will be changed here.” Instead, the article was – like so much written by activists who oppose hydraulic fracturing – designed to spread fear and foment doubt in the public’s mind about what most would consider settled science. Creating that kind of uncertainty doesn’t require a factual or even a scientific basis; it only requires appeals to emotion, some targeted headlines, and a manufactured assumption of guilt for the industry.
In short, what Baldwin presented in his short column is nothing new, and the information he presented has been and remains debunked. That Baldwin, as a Hollywood actor, has a major megaphone to repeat those claims does not make them true. But, repeating those claims does have the unfortunate effect of shifting the public debate away from facts and science – exactly the opposite of what you’d expect of someone claiming to state “the truth” about anything.
But then again, if your goal is to undermine the clear safety record of hydraulic fracturing, facts and science must be absent by necessity, because relying on them would contradict your preconceived narrative.
And by the way: Isn’t there a photographer somewhere Baldwin can be assaulting rather than writing ridiculous columns like this?
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