Science

Internal Documents Reveal Extensive Industry Influence Over EPA's National Fracking Study

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an ambitious and highly consequential study of the risks that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, poses to American drinking water supplies.

This is about using the best possible science to do what the American people expect the EPA to do – ensure that the health of their communities and families are protected,” Paul Anastas, Assistant Administrator for the agency's Office of Research and Development, said in 2011.

But the EPA's study has been largely shaped and re-shaped by the very industry it is supposed to investigate, as energy company officials were allowed to edit planning documents, insisted on vetting agency contractors, and demanded to review federal scientist's field notes, photographs and laboratory results prior to publication, according to a review by DeSmog of over 3,000 pages of previously undisclosed emails, confidential draft study plans and other internal documents obtained through open records requests.

Company officials imposed demands so infeasible that the EPA ultimately dropped a key goal of the research, their plans to measure pollution levels before and after fracking at two new well sites, the documents show.

All told, the documents raise serious questions about the study's credibility and they highlight a certain coziness between the EPA and Chesapeake Energy, one of the most aggressive oil and gas companies in the shale gas rush.

“[Y]ou guys are part of the team here,” one EPA representative wrote to Chesapeake Energy as they together edited study planning documents in October 2013, “please write things in as you see fit”.

Chesapeake took them up on the offer.

Willie Soon's Climate Science Denial Wasn't Ever Credible: Climate Scientists

Willie Soon climate science denial

“The science that Willie Soon does is almost pointless.” - NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, to the New York Times

Recent revelations regarding Smithsonian scientist Willie Soon's financing and coordination with fossil fuel companies for studies undermining the science of climate change has received quite a bit of attention. Our friends at the Climate Investigations Center have links to source documents, letters to the IRS and Congress, letters to journals that Soon appears to have mislead, and some of the press covering all of this.

The drama has largely outshone the main point among most scientists: Willie Soon's work is vastly discredited. For those who aren't familiar with Willie Soon's fossil fuel company contracting over the last fifteen years, there is probably a legitimate question of whether or not this guy deserves to be in his current pinch.

Frankly, he had it coming.

Scientists and science reporters have often had to waste their time addressing the interference of Soon and his cohorts, who take advantage of the public's general unfamiliarity with scientific nuance. 

But scientists too are talking about Dr. Soon's work and what it means for the troubled peer-review process that the most stringent journals usually adhere to. Here is a summary of some of the most interesting conversations in science publications about Willie Soon's #Fakexpert scandal.

Junk Science? Report Finds Shale Industry Cited 'Retracted and Discredited' Studies

Since the beginning of the shale gas rush, the drilling industry has insisted that the process is relatively benign, arguing that its critics are simply fear-mongering and that a sober scientific review of the data fails to prove, for instance, that fracking has ever contaminated water supplies.

In the wake of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's decision to disallow fracking in that state, for example, one of the most active boosters of the shale drilling rush, the industry-funded Energy in Depth, issued a statement labeling the ban “'Junk Science' and 'Political Theater.”

In the wake of news reports, academic publications, or policy decisions that it opposes, Energy in Depth often circulates lists of sources that it describes as debunking “junk science.” But how reliable is the science that EID cites?

A report issued today by the Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) reviews a list of over 130 studies cited by Energy in Depth (EID), testing its sources for markers of credibility.

How often was the research cited peer-reviewed? Was it accurately labeled? Was the research funded by the oil and gas industry, and if so, was that funding properly disclosed or was it concealed? Were any of the papers cited revoked or rescinded?

The answers, found in the report titled “Frackademia in Depth,” are striking.

“Of the 137 unique studies on EID's list that could be located, only 19 were peer-reviewed,” the PAI writes. “This suggests that there is a significant shortage of serious scholarly research supporting the case for fracking.”

EPA Offers New Standards For Oil Spill Dispersant Use; Still Won’t Ban Toxic Agents

After years of ignoring the dangers of the oil dispersant Corexit, the Environmental Protection Agency has finally decided to enact stricter standards for how dispersants are used during offshore oil spills… Sort of.

According to Truth-Out reporter Dahr Jamail, the EPA has proposed a slew of new standards that would better govern the use of dispersants for future spills. But, as Jamail points out, American doctors and scientists are concerned that the agency is not doing enough to protect the public and the environment from the dangers of the dispersants:

Robert Mathis, an M.D. and doctor of environmental medicine in Santa Barbara, California, described how several of the chemical ingredients of the dispersants that are regularly used on oil spills remain unknown because they are “trade secrets,” but that even the known chemicals in the dispersant cocktails are extremely dangerous to humans; they contain an “emulsifier that allows chemicals deeper penetration into tissues and cells.”

“Dispersants disrupt both bacterial and human cell membranes,” Mathis explained. “Damage disrupts cell functions, leading to cell failure, and may cause cancers and death. All living things are damaged, including groundwater.”

The new guidelines proposed by the agency would give the public broader access to the rules that govern the use of dispersants, the available dispersants for the type of spill, and the risks of using each particular dispersant, sometimes including a list of ingredients.

Evangeline Lilly: It’s My Job To Stand Up For Canadian Scientists

evangeline lilly desmog canada, war on science

You may know the Canadian actress for her tough-girl roles in Lost or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. But Evangeline Lilly has a battle – besides those with orcs and island smoke monsters – to fight: the battle for Canada’s scientists.

Lilly first heard about the defunding and muzzling of Canada’s federal scientists when she was reading DeSmog Canada just over a year ago. In a spate of funding cuts, the federal government eliminated some of Canada’s most prestigious scientific institutions, to the dismay of scientists and Canadians across the country. And since the Harper government has been in power, strict communications protocols have prevented scientists from speaking with the public about their research, limiting public awareness of taxpayer-funded science.

Lilly, who now lives in the U.S., said she keeps an eye out for stories about her homeland. And it always concerns her when she stumbles across something so disheartening.

I think it’s always a little bit scary and astounding when as a citizen of what you consider to be a free nation you discover one day for various reasons…that something awful has been going on under your nose and you didn’t know,” she told DeSmog Canada. “And that happens to me a little more often than I’m comfortable with nowadays.”

Lilly was dismayed to learn that “all over Canada right now scientists are having all their funding pulled,” she said, “especially scientists who are speaking about climate change.”

Gulf Of Mexico: Open For Dirty Energy Exploitation Again

It has been nearly four years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and neither the dirty energy industry nor politicians in Washington, D.C. have learned anything from that tragedy.  Even with new evidence showing that the entire ecosystem in the Gulf has been disrupted as a result of the oil spill, companies are about to receive a massive gift in the form of new oil drilling leases.

Both the Interior Department and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) have agreed to lease 40 million acres of water space in the Gulf of Mexico next month to support President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, which is quickly beginning to look more like a “drill, baby, drill” policy.  The leases will be good for five years’ worth of exploration in the Gulf.

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington Post, Bloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility: Only 1 of 9,136 Recent Peer-Reviewed Authors Rejects Global Warming

This is a guest post by James Lawrence Powell.

I have brought my previous study (see here and here) up-to-date by reviewing peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals over the period from Nov. 12, 2012 through December 31, 2013. I found 2,258 articles, written by a total of 9,136 authors. (Download the chart above here.) Only one article, by a single author in the Herald of the Russian Academy of Sciences, rejected man-made global warming. I discuss that article here.

Science On Trial In America As Courts and Congress Grapple with Industry Pollution

Both the science behind climate change and the efficacy of life-saving safety standards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had a trying week in Washington, D.C., as industry-backed lawsuits and politicians attempted to undermine the entire scientific community.

The EPA is currently battling two major legal obstacles in the courts over the agency's authority to enact and enforce provisions of the Clean Air Act.  This is a power that the U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled was not only within the agency’s jurisdiction, but a duty that it had to perform for the American public.

One of the legal battles took place at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where the EPA defended its work to limit the amount of mercury and arsenic that energy companies are allowed to release into the air.  According to NRDC, these health standards that are under attack from the dirty energy industry have the potential to save as many as 45,000 lives a year.

Based on the D.C. Circuit’s previous rulings regarding the Clean Air Act, it is likely that the EPA will be the victor in this case. 

Tea Party Holding GOP Back On Climate Change

The Republican Party has always been a little reluctant to side with science and accept things like global climate change, but recently, polls have shown that the Grand Old Party is actually evenly split on accepting climate change science. 

That may not seem like a reason to celebrate, but considering the fact that just a few years ago the vast majority of Republicans denied the science of climate change, it is a massive step forward.

But there is still one faction of the Republican Party that largely refuses to accept scientific findings:  The Tea Party.

According to recent polling by the Pew Research Center, Republicans in general are evenly split, with 46% saying that climate change is real, while 46% say that there is no solid evidence.  However, 70% of self-described “Tea Party members” say that there is no solid evidence of climate change, and only 25% accept the science. 

This puts the entire Republican Party, including the Tea Party, at odds with the American public at large - 67% agree that climate change is real and that human beings are making the problem worse.

The problem with these numbers is that those in charge of the Republican Party continue to pander to the minority within their own party, and of course to the heavyweight campaign donors like the Koch brothers, who don’t want any legislative action to tackle climate change.

Pandering to the minority becomes a more serious problem when that pandering leads to stalled nominations for environmental posts, lax regulations on the country’s worst polluters, and huge cash giveaways to companies that already pull in tens of billions of dollars in profits every year.  These minority policies harm consumers, the environment, and our economy.

America cannot afford any more policies that are designed to appeal to a fraction of a fraction of citizens, especially when the views of that particular faction are being dictated by the dirty energy industry itself.

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