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Guest Viewpoint: Drilling opponents not able to stick to objective science

Commentary, Press Connects by Robert Tiberio

As I read anti-gas opinions, I often think, "There you go again."

Drilling opponents with little apparent knowledge of the gas industry, geology or health statistics ignore science-based studies and constantly repeat discredited anecdotes and scary news reports about "possible" health effects. Predictably, they just assume that drilling will contaminate water supplies. But assumptions aren't facts.

Starting at the earth's surface, New York's proposed SGEIS regulations require drilling return water be contained in water-tight tanks, not in open pits as some assume. Looking deeper, Don Siegel, an experienced hydrogeologist at Syracuse University and recognized expert in Marcellus underground water flow, emphasizes that for several reasons, "fracking" fluids have virtually no chance of rising through thousands of feet of dense rock into fresh-water aquifers. Speaking recently in Binghamton, John Hanger, former head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, confirmed that this has never happened in Pennsylvania. Indeed, the independent Duke University study found no evidence of fracking chemicals in Pennsylvania well water, despite false assumptions from a few non-geologists in academia.

Hanger also pointed out that 34,000 people a year die prematurely of illnesses related to pollutants from burning coal and oil. Natural gas produces almost none of these chemicals and its increased use has already saved the lives of thousands of men, women and children. As trucks and buses convert to natural gas, many more lives will be saved. Even the liberal Union of Concerned Scientists finds that the drop in emissions of sulfur, mercury and nitrogen oxides from increased use of natural gas "translates into public health benefits, as these pollutants have been linked to asthma, bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease."

Yet Sandra Steingraber, an anti-gas ecologist from Ithaca College, assumes without actual evidence that gas drilling will cause everything from asthma to cancer. She fails to consider Marcellus geology, modern drilling technology or regulatory safeguards that all prevent environmental contamination.

Conclusions from recent scientific studies include: "Health records indicate that while [gas] production increased, fewer residents were diagnosed with serious illnesses such as cancer, respiratory disease, strokes and heart disease" (Community Health Status Indicators, Denton County, Texas) and "[the report] did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities" (DEP air quality report for northeast Pennsylvania).

If assumptions about negative health effects of hydrofracking were true, gas workers who spend long hours near wells should be suffering the worst effects. But U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show their illness rates are not even close to the top 25 for U.S. industries.

In study after unbiased study, the false assumption that drilling will contaminate the environment and cause illness is shown to be unproven or false. With inexpensive shale gas now driving economic recovery all over the nation, it's time those suffering from insufficient knowledge about safe natural gas drilling stop assuming and learn the facts.

Tiberio is a Vestal resident.

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