The AP's Kevin Begos has on the wire today a discouraging report on the near-absence of reliable research into hazards from hydraulic fracturing for gas recovery. Not even industry is doing very much if any such research and, his story assures readers, few outside the business itself would trust an industry report anyway.
In the third paragraph is a quote from a woman who lives near a Pennsylvania drilling area. He quotes her to say, "There's a lot of people in my neighborhood that have rashes and little red spots."
One is tempted to blast the piece for prominently using such testimony. The expertise of its source is ignored. But its placement so high in the story puts a tilt on the account. It immediately encourages readers to imagine the terrible complexions to be found anywhere near a fracking rig. That is a vision hard to shake. But I'll give it a pass this time. The story overall is splendid. Its theme is well bolstered. Which is that government regulators, labs, and legislators are doing next to nothing to investigate health effects of the expanding fracking industry. In this context a citizen's suspicion is to be fully understood. Begos quickly turns to an experienced professor of public health for his opinion - which is that the absence of research by both public and private sectors only opens the door to lawsuits.
It's easy to believe that health worries are in fact, as industry says with a shrug, a minor sideshow in the larger spectacle of a nation's hasty embrace of this new way to get oodles of natural gas. The bigger hazard may be a false sense of greening the economy. The smarter thing to do, one strongly suspects, is to get serious about increasing efficiency while reducing dependence on fossil fuels of all kinds. But it's only a hunch that fracking itself poses few inherent public perils. AP has done a public service to report how little is being done to put facts and data behind such assertion Maybe, just maybe, pimples and rashes are but a tiny sampling of bigger threats?
Note from a previous post that Begos brings a balanced stance to such issues. Last month he wrote a story that hit hard at a few fracking opponents who go well beyond science and common sense.
- Charlie Petit