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UC Study Claiming Air Pollution from Fracking Quietly Retracted Due to Bad Data

Posted By Seth Whitehead, Energy In Depth, Monday, July 11, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The University of Cincinnati (UC) has yet to publish the results of a now year-old study that found no water contamination from hydraulic fracturing in a scientific journal, despite scrutinymedia attention, and numerous calls from groups and elected officials to do so.

This indefinite delay is all the more interesting considering that UC couldn’t wait to publish the results of its 2015 study that claimed fracking was causing significant air pollution in Carroll County. That study appeared in Environmental Science & Technology just three months after it was completed.

But the UC researchers’ urgency has apparently come back to bite them as they have just retracted the study due to “errors” and “incorrect” calculations:

Retraction

UC’s rush to publish its air study while it dawdles for a year in publishing its groundwater study finding no harm from fracking is even more interesting considering the results of both studies were first announced at events hosted by Carroll County Concerned Citizens (CCCC), a well-known anti-fracking group. The same professor that presented the air quality study results to CCCC, study co-lead author Dr. Erin Hayes, has also participated in other anti-fracking events.

The retraction of the Carroll County air study comes as no surprise to Energy In Depth, which pointed out its many flaws last May. Not only were the study participants recruited by an anti-fracking activist group, the researchers did not use random testing, did not account for sources of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) other than oil and gas activity, and assumed worst case scenarios in their cancer hazard assessments. A Carroll County landowner also informed EID that some of the highest PAH levels detected by the researchers were collected on his property, which is more than 10 miles from the nearest shale gas well. This completely refuted the researchers’ summation that high PAH levels correlated directly to close proximity to shale gas wells.

The authors even admitted that the sample size used for their study was too small and that the chief assumption used for their research model was “totally impractical,” according to media reports.

That didn’t keep several media outlets from accepting the authors’ conclusions as gospel with such headlines as: “Fracking may cause air pollution, respiratory issues” and “Fracking could increase risk of cancer, new study finds.” This is a prime example of a rushed study, designed to scapegoat fracking, that fails to fully vet the data collected — yet garners media coverage anyway.

Making matters worse is the fact that the Carroll County air study was 100 percent taxpayer funded. UC’s Center for Environmental Genetics (CEG) received federal tax dollars for this study in the form of a grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)for $47,910.

Of course, the authors of the study do not disclose whether their revised calculations show much lower emissions – but considering this background and the fact that the researchers just omit that data in their retraction, it’s difficult to imagine their corrected results show anything other than a repudiation of their original conclusions. Regardless, the real problem is this: By not providing that information UC is not being forthcoming with data again, just as it has by refusing to release its groundwater study.

Ohioans deserve a full explanation as to why a study that generated numerous alarmist headlines by promoting fear was retracted. It will also be interesting to see if the retraction gets as much media attention as the flawed study generated.

But, considering Ohioans are still waiting for UC to release its groundwater study (which cost taxpayers $400,000, by the way), it might not be a good idea to hold your breath on that.

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