Frack This

About a year ago there was the usual fanfare about a new study that purported to show that hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas led to unsafe levels of local air pollution and increased cancer risk. Newsweek covered it, for example:

Living near to active fracking sites could increase the risk of cancer as the process harmful chemicals into the air, a new study has found.

Researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) and the University of Cincinnati found that hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, releases polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are linked to cancers and respiratory diseases.

The study found that moving just one mile away from active sites reduced the levels of the dangerous chemicals in the air by up to 30%.

Well guess what, mom? The study has been retracted. Not corrected or revised, but fully retracted because a “spreadsheet error” resulted in completely incorrect findings.

The good people at the indispensible Retraction Watch have the full story, along with a second study by the same authors about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that has also been retracted because of errors:

The authors of two environmental papers, including one about the effects of fracking on human health, have retracted them after discovering crucial mistakes.

One of the studies reported an increased level of air pollution near gas extraction sites, and the other suggested that 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico contributed to air contamination. . .

In the case of the fracking paper, the conclusions have been reversed — the original paper stated pollution levels exceeded limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for lifetime cancer risk, but the corrected data set the risks below EPA levels.

The fracking paper received some media attention when it was released, as it tapped into long-standing concerns about the environmental dangers of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which extracts natural gas from the earth. A press release that accompanied the paper quoted Anderson as warning:

“Air pollution from fracking operations may pose an under-recognized health hazard to people living near them.”

Both papers, published in Environmental Science and Technology, were retracted on the same day (June 29), both due to mistakes in reported levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pollutants released from burning oil, gas, and other organic matter.

Let’s see how much media coverage these retractions get. This episode definitely gets a Green Weenie Award.