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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Lisa Song and Jim Morris, InsideClimate News

A new study has underscored just how little is known about the health consequences of the natural gas boom that began a decade ago, when advances in high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and directional drilling allowed companies to tap shale deposits across the United States.

“Despite broad public concern, no comprehensive population-based studies of the public health effects of (unconventional natural gas) operations exist,” concluded the report published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Last week, InsideClimate News, the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel reported on the health data gap in the Eagle Ford Shale, where a lack of air monitoring and research is aggravated by a Texas regulatory system that often protects the gas and oil industry over the public.

Scientists interviewed for the series said the uncertainties persist across the country. In the words of one expert, scientists “really haven’t the foggiest idea” how shale development impacts public health.

Gas and oil production releases many toxic chemicals into the air and water, including carcinogens like benzene and respiratory hazards like hydrogen sulfide. While residents near drilling areas in Texas reported symptoms that are known to be caused by these chemicals, including migraines and breathing problems, it was impossible to link them to the drilling boom because no studies could be found that prove cause and effect.

The new study, led by John Adgate at the Colorado School of Public Health, examined available research on the environmental, social and psychological impacts of shale gas drilling. It was the first time anyone had tried to tackle the question in a systematic way, Adgate said.

The researchers found that much of the existing work “isn’t explicitly tied to health.” Many studies analyzed the level of pollutants in the air or water, but didn’t track how the exposures are connected to local health trends. Other studies used health surveys, but didn’t compare the respondents’ results with the health of the larger surrounding community.

What’s needed, Adgate said, are comprehensive studies that examine possible connections between chemical exposures and community health trends. But these types of studies require substantial funding and good baseline data, both of which are hard to obtain.

“You’re not going to find anything if you don’t look, and some people think we shouldn’t be looking, or that it’s not worth looking,” he said. “We do know a lot of these things are hazardous, and we just need to develop a system … (that) provides people with a reasonable level of certainty (on the) effects, or lack thereof.”

Health impacts will vary based on local geology, weather patterns, operator practices and other factors, Adgate said, so it would make sense to set up a study that tracks people from different parts of the country.

Regulators are well aware of the knowledge gap. In 2012, the Government Accountability Office — the investigative arm of Congress — reviewed more than 90 studies from government agencies, the industry and academic researchers and concluded that oil and gas development “pose inherent environmental and public health risks, but the extent of these risks … is unknown, in part, because the studies GAO reviewed do not generally take into account the potential long-term, cumulative effects.”

On the issue of air pollution, the GAO said the studies “are generally anecdotal, short-term, and focused on a particular site or geographic location. … (They) do not provide the information needed to determine the overall cumulative effect that shale oil and gas activities have on air quality.”

Bernard Goldstein, a professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh and a co-author of the paper, pointed to a need for well-designed studies in large populations. Scientists could analyze a community before, during and after drilling begins, or compare the health of residents in communities close to and far from a shale play, he said.

Both Adgate and Goldstein cited major barriers in funding. “There hasn’t been a lot of money thrown at this problem,” Adgate said. “It’s a contentious issue as everybody knows, and nobody’s stepped up to say we’re going to fund independent research.”

Goldstein said the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences — part of the National Institutes of Health — has started to fund some studies, but the results won’t emerge for years. Adgate suggested more public-private partnerships like the Health Effects Institute, an independent research organization that studies vehicular air pollution. It is jointly funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the auto industry.

Photo: Greensefa via Flickr

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]