Friday, September 27, 2013

Review of The Social Costs of Fracking by Food and Water Watch

Food and Water Watch released a study on the negative consequences of fracking.

This study asks some good questions.  However, any study done by an organization called "Food and Water Watch" obviously isn't objective.  This organization actually would like to ban fracking.  I've only done a quick review, but I have a couple questions/concerns:

The authors claim:
1. "Fracking is associated with more social disorder arrests: Disorderly conduct arrests increased by 17.1 percent in heavily fracked rural counties, compared to 12.7 percent in unfracked rural counties."
Is this percentage increase controlling for the increase in population?  Heavily fracked counties would have greater population growth. With a greater population, you'd expect more disorderly conduct arrests.  Especially when they're young men.

That being said, I've heard anecdotal information of more bar fights in towns where there is a lot of fracking, so this wouldn't shock me if it holds, even after controlling for the population.  We don't have enough information yet to know, however.

The authors also claim:
2. "Fracking is associated with more cases of sexually transmitted infections: After fracking, the average increase in chlamydia and gonorrhea cases was 62 percent greater in heavily fracked rural counties than in unfracked rural counties."
Once again, does this control for the population of younger people of young men in the areas?  More younger people, more STIs, right?  Further, this seems to be a cost that is mainly borne by the individual who contracts the STI, right?  It really doesn't concern me whether a person has an STI, as that doesn't impose a cost upon me. Economists would call this a private cost.

Without controlling for the population, it could be that the percentage of these cases, while increasing, is increasing at a smaller rate than the population of young people!  It could be that fracked counties actually have a lower STI/population rate!  Further, what does a 62% increase mean?  It could mean three more people, right?  Or does that mean an additional 0.02% of the overall population?  The report doesn't explain.

Related to this, the authors of this study use actual numbers at times (reporting on driving crashes), but only display the percentages at other times (STIs).  This weakens their credibility.

I would also like to know what other factors the authors examined but found no social costs in "fracking counties"?  In theory, if the authors assess 40 items (like health outcomes, property values, etc.), and they could only find two or three where there were negative consequences, the social "costs" of fracking, might actually be better labeled as the social "benefits" of fracking.

I respect that this organization is attempting to answer tough questions.  Objective research on the costs/benefits is needed.  This organization isn't creating objective research, however.

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