Researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington say there are elevated levels of arsenic and other heavy metals close to natural gas extraction sites in the Barnett Shale area of North Texas, according to a news release from the school Friday.Hmmm, me thinks to meself, I wonder what they found? So, I go to UTA's web page where I am told this:
The results of the North Texas well study were published online by the journal Environmental Science & Technology Thursday. The peer-reviewed paper focuses on the presence of metals such as arsenic, barium, selenium and strontium in water samples. Many of these heavy metals occur naturally at low levels in groundwater, but disturbances from natural gas extraction activities could cause them to occur at elevated levels.The UTA web page then states:
“This study alone can’t conclusively identify the exact causes of elevated levels of contaminants in areas near natural gas drilling, but it does provide a powerful argument for continued research,” said Brian Fontenot, a UT Arlington graduate with a doctorate in quantitative biology and lead author on the new paper.Cool, a powerful argument for continued research. That would, at least to me, indicate that they found something to support their hypothesis that "disturbances from natural gas extraction activities could cause them to occur at elevated levels."
That's all I knew at tha point. We have a peer-reviewed, elevated levels of arsenic, barium, selenium and strontium, and the statement that "disturbances from natural gas extraction activities could cause them to occur at elevated levels."
Okay, so you can probably tell by the title of this post that I beg to differ with them on their "powerful argument." Right now, I am leading you, the reader, to have doubt. I can do that because it is my blog and I can say anything I want. The authors of this paper get to do the same thing. But, they get the seal of approval when the trumpet blasts "peer-reviewed!"
Anyone can rip anything apart using common lawyer tricks. That's not what I want to do in these posts. I want to explain why I take issue but more importantly I want to show evidence as to why my taking issue is warranted.
These next posts - and I have no idea as to how many it will take - are going to look at the "powerful evidence" that they report. The reason I keep the quotation marks on is to drive the point that there must be powerful evidence to support the claim that "disturbances from natural gas extraction activities could cause them to occur at elevated levels."
The authors want to go down this path for a whole slew of reasons. The main one, i suspect, is that "continued research" requires more funding. Now I am all for that. I think we need to look into all nooks and crannies simply for curiosity sake, to look at correlation and causation, and to further our understanding of the natural world.
So let's get down to it shall we. First off, let's look at the hubbub this paper causes. Right at the top, UTA makes the statement that this paper adds support to the claim that Natural Gas drilling and extraction (hydraulic fracturing) causes water quality issues:
A new study of 100 private water wells in and near the Barnett Shale showed elevated levels of potential contaminants such as arsenic and selenium closest to natural gas extraction sites,They then tell the reader:
Many of these heavy metals occur naturally at low levels in groundwater, but disturbances from natural gas extraction activities could cause them to occur at elevated levels.The paper (which you will need to register to view) is titled "An evaluation of water quality in private drinking water wells near natural gas extraction sites in the Barnett Shale Formation" and contains right at the top this graphic:
So let's look at that graphic for a bit. Now ask yourself what does the color "red" indicate? Not what the legend states, but what does it convey? Now look at the other color they used. What does yellow convey in a color series of red, yellow, and green?
Yellow, we are informed, is "Below Contamination Limit" and green is "No Concern."
Wait? What? If we are below the contamination limit aren't we also in a situation of no concern?
According to the paper's abstract:
Analyses revealed that arsenic, selenium, strontium and total dissolved solids (TDS) exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) in some samples from private water wells located within 3 km of active natural gas wells.Surely the authors must be aware that the MCL for arsenic is 10 μg/L (10 ppb). They must also be aware of what the "MCL" they are comparing their results to means:
Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL): The threshold concentration of a contaminant above which water is not suitable for drinking. In the Safe Drinking Water act, an MCL is defined as "the maximum permissible level of a contaminant in water which is delivered to any user of a public water system."Apparently, the authors and those that "peer-reviewed" this paper see no difference between "Below Contamination Limit" and "No Concern." But I do.
If the authors claim that "0 - 5 μg/L" is "No Concern" then they are saying that water with 5 μg/L or less arsenic is safe. Which means that water above that threshold is...???
Where did the authors get that threshold of 5 μg/L as "No Concern" when the MCL that we have established is 10 μg/L? Is this a case of lower is better?
It's not lying, or being untruthful, or a misstatement, to claim that "0 - 5 μg/L" is "No Concern" and "6 - 10 μg/L" is ""Below Contamination Limit." Both those statements are true. But what do they convey to the reader? What does "No Concern" mean and what does the color yellow indicate when looking at their graphic - which is the first thing you see after the abstract?
If you have read any of my previous posts you will understand why I take issue with this type of manipulation. It leads readers to conclude that the data shows more than what it does and forces scarce resources to look further into it.
Next Post: Part 2