Confused about fracking? Easy to see why

First of all, let me be perfectly clear about one thing: fracking is bad news for the environment. Even if there wasn’t such a thing as global warming and climate change, fracking would still be insanely reckless, dangerous, polluting, unnecessary, and ridiculously resource intense (so much water is wasted). Having said that, I’d like to illustrate how confusing media coverage can be about this extreme form of extraction using a report recently cited in USA Today.

If someone were to casually skim the article below, chances are they’d think that researchers are still unsure about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on the environment. Again, to be clear, NO ONE thinks fracking is safe except those who have “skin in the game.”

A new study suggests that the significantly higher levels of radon in homes in Pennsylvania may correspond to an increase in fracking in that state. When you read the article, just think about what statements are coming out of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Here’s a challenge for you (without you having to actually read the Pennsylvania DEP report): WHAT stands out as misleading, or confusing in this USA Today piece?

Hint: it has nothing to do with the fracking graphic.

Here is the text of the article (if the text is too small to read, click the link to the actual article here) without me giving any clues:

Penn_Page_1 Penn_Page_2 Penn_Page_3

Okay, now I’m going to put a marked up copy of that same article for you to see how the facts are being thrown into a blender of confusion:

Penn 2_Page_1 Penn 2_Page_2 Penn 2_Page_3

The DEP report on radon, which is hundreds of pages long (and can be read here) has an entirely unrelated intent. First of all, the DEP report is about samples taken primarily from OUTSIDE where radon can dissipate, not in a house, which is sealed. The DEP report samples are mainly acquired from places which would be ventilated. They have NOTHING to do with the report referenced in USA Today.

Now, I’ll tell you that irrespective of the USA Today article, that DEP report blatantly and concisely states throughout nearly the entire thing that virtually every measurement level of radioactivity related to fracking wells is indeed elevated…we’re talking soil samples around fracking sites, filter cake samples, water used in the fracking process (and then transported away from sites), ROADWAYS used around fracking sites (which are then covered in brine to keep radioactive dust from becoming more aerated), landfills used for fracking by-products…literally everything has elevated levels of radiation. In some cases, it’s over 20 times the normal amount of radiation.

Here are just a few examples from the DEP report. I took screenshots of a couple of references to better illustrate my point:

In 3.6.3, please note that “unconventional” oil and gas well sites means fracked wells:

DEP -1

Again, unconventional means water used in fracked wells and you can see the numbers are HUGE compared to water used in conventionally drilled wells. This water then gets transported to different facilities, where it further emits radioactivity along the way, like in the tanks, exposing the roads, the truckers, the workers, etc.:

Dep 2

In we see that the liquids that are by-products, essentially, of fracking which are then sent to Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) have high radiation levels in 29 out of 32 samples taken. By the way, this study also looked at by-products which had been “filtered vs unfiltered” (for radiation levels) and it’s not surprising that radiation doesn’t really “care” about filters:

dep 3 -water

In paragraph we see that every single filter cake sample had elevated levels of radioactivity. Here is a definition of filter cake:

filter cake

And here is the DEP reference to it’s radioactivity:

dep 4 filter cake

In we have Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) worker’s exposure to radioactivity. ZLD is the process of lessening the harmful chemicals or components that are by-products of various industrialization processes.

As you can see, the ZLD workers are exposed to nearly double the normal level of “background” indoor radon:

dep 5- air workers

In the DEP report, which is somehow (bizarrely) being used to cast doubt on the work of two scientists who looked at over 800,000 elevated radon level readings in Pennsylvania homes, you can see how the one “bullet point” out of the whole darn thing which didn’t SCREAM “danger” was a line about how using tracked natural gas didn’t harm anyone. They were referring to people using natural gas to heat their homes and to cook, etc. Keep in mind that this one little, teeny point was ALL they hung their proverbial denier’sd”hat” on; however, when I looked a bit closer at the math used to arrive at that conclusion, it became clear that the one “positive” thing may possibly be horribly incorrect.

I’ll have to research this further, but to me, it looks like their equation is based on a) less usage than is typical, b) an average adult body size (which would be much larger than a child’s body). In fact, a baby or child’s body would receive elevated radon levels and process that exposure much differently than an adult. Same goes for a pregnant woman, who might be significantly harmed by such elevated levels of exposure, c) and the adult they are using as an average sample size works outside the house using that fracked natural gas, for many hours of the year (so, again, that wouldn’t apply to children or stay-at-home moms or retired persons who would be exposed to more time with the natural gas). And they not only took the residents of homes using fracked gas out of homes to work, but they did that on TOP of a statistic saying that people are only home 70% of the time, in general. In this way, they’ve significantly diminished the end amount of radiation received because residents appear to spend less time being exposed to indoor contaminants. Moreover, I find serious math errors in their calculations. And one of the 6 peer reviewers flat out says that a) they didn’t read or review most of the report. Only one section. Why? Because they don’t know the subject matter well enough and they didn’t have enough time. I’m serious. Here’s a screenshot of THAT one:

DEP-reviewer comment

If I’m correct, then the reference and reliance on that DEP report is even more misleading than I initially suspected. Stay tuned for more details…