Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Frack, if you love babies

 I picked this provoking headline by borrowing a page from the sensationalism of the Bloomberg articleStudy Shows fracking is bad for babies.” What I did was take an actual working paper that was released in January 2013  Air Pollution and Infant Mortality” and oversimplify it to prove a point. The Bloomberg article offers journalism at its best (urgent, gripping and moving) and at the same time at its worst (no actual facts).

And because of the media attention, the study's researchers referenced in Bloombergs article, have come out and said the headline was premature (Revkin’s Tumblr). What most in the science community is seeking is not a dismissal of the research, but merely an attempt to put brakes on an ill-conceived news story hidden behind a sensational headline. If Dr. Currie establishes a verifiable correlation between baby’s birth weight and gas development, the scientific community will do what it does; systematically work towards determining verifiable causes. What we know so far is that the study ruled out drinking water.  

Air emissions from hydraulic fracturing – have been ruled out by several studies including these linked here-- Eastern Research Group, Monitoring Emissions from Barnet Shale, and various studies listed on the TCEQ website.

If Dr. Currie stays on par with her previous studies, then air quality from traffic may be her focus.  We also learn from her past research (Traffic congestion and Infant Health), that traffic related air quality problems can be averted by changing traffic patterns. Changes in technology can also have a similar effect (Port of Oakland Air Quality).

Solid unbiased studies further our understanding of complex technical challenges. They help us develop safer and more responsible practices and regulations. It is with this in mind, that those in the scientific community look forward to reading Dr. Janet Currie and Dr. Michael Greenstone’s paper when it is made public.

To get back to the headline, I will summarize it like this: Researchers found that by utilizing natural gas in developing countries, you could save babies lives. If you feel that my summation is not offering you enough information, I did it deliberately. My suggestion is to read the paper and draw your own conclusions and if a study paper isn’t available, then maybe we shouldn’t draw conclusions.

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