Childhood Cancer Smear, Funded by Heinz, Wiped Away with Facts

Jim Willis
Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)

Childhood cancer shouldn’t be a political plaything but the Heinz Enmdowments is funding a smear campaign against shale, playing the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper has engaged in a months-long smear campaign to imply the shale industry in southwestern PA is guilty of causing a “cluster” of rare childhood cancers–even though there’s an old uranium dump in the same vicinity as those cancer clusters. It’s apparent the Post-Gazette is trying to sell newspapers. Taking down the shale industry would be a bonus for the Post-Gazette.

The Post-Gazette continues its drumbeat of “fracking may be causing cancer” faux “stories,” including a demand that PA Gov. Wolf investigate and (preferably, from the Post-Gazette‘s viewpoint) shut down all shale drilling while that investigation happens. The shale industry has had enough.

Childhood cancer

Yellow Journalism is nothing new as this cartoon by L. M. Glackens illustrates.

Earlier this week the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania, Marcellus Shale Coalition, and Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association (PIOGA) sent a joint letter to Gov. Wolf to counter the false claims being made by the Post-Gazette–calling out the Post-Gazette by name!

The letter includes information from previous health studies and other statistics and facts that show the shale industry in PA is committed to following regulations, and committed to the health and safety of everyone, whether workers or people living near fracked wells. Chapter and verse the letter debunks the false claims made by the Post-Gazette. To which we say it’s about time someone (other than us) pointed out the extreme bias and lies coming from Post-Gazette reporters like Don Hopey and David Templeton.

Here’s the letter:

July 23, 2019

The Honorable Tom Wolf
Governor of Pennsylvania
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Dear Governor Wolf:

As you know, several recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette articles are reporting an inaccurate narrative around strongly regulated natural gas development in Pennsylvania.

The stories misrepresent the efforts of tens-of-thousands of hardworking Pennsylvanians who work diligently to protect the environment and communities in which they work, live and proudly contribute to the natural gas industry – including many in our union building trades and countless other small family-owned businesses. While this inaccurate reporting is disappointing, the record can be corrected.

Pennsylvanians deserve fair and objective information based on independent research and science. This is especially true on matters related to the scientific evidence associating potential health outcomes in communities living near natural gas and oil operations.

Unfortunately, the Post-Gazette continues to lack the important fact-based information required to make science-led and weight-of-evidence determinations for causality.

To be clear, our industry is deeply committed to protecting the health, safety and environment of our communities and our workforce. We support your administration’s efforts for further, objective scientific research. Health and safety are core values of this industry. We are committed to protecting the safety and health of our employees, our contractors and the people of the communities in which we operate. The combination of proven engineering technologies, industry risk management practices and world class standards, coupled with a comprehensive matrix of federal and state regulatory programs, ensure that operations are performed and managed effectively.

Particularly on matters involving public health, a strong combination of unbiased science, robust research, active air and water monitoring, and health surveillance data trends demonstrate that natural gas development is well-regulated, well-managed, and conducted in a responsible way. State regulatory programs have protocols requiring operators to identify all fresh water zones, provide for casing and cementing (zonal isolation) of those zones and well construction requirements that provide assurance that the targeted production zones will not impact shallow potable water supplies.

It is important for the public to hear the conclusions and findings of unbiased, independent science and numerous in-depth reports and analysis from the career professionals and experts within both the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Health (DOH).

The Post-Gazette series may support the agenda of anti-natural gas activists, but it is a disservice to the career and professional regulators within your administration, as well as the tens-of-thousands of hardworking women and men who help produce clean, affordable Pennsylvania energy.

“We have very good oil and gas regulations,” DEP Sec. Patrick McDonnell confirmed last year, and reinforced the fact that Pennsylvania has “some of the most protective regulations in the nation [that] ensure safe development of this important resource.”

As evidence of our commitment to environmental protection, unconventional operators demonstrated a 98.3 percent regulatory compliance rate last year, following a record 19,617 DEP inspections.

Importantly, comprehensive literature reviews, public health surveillance data trends of cancer cases, asthma and birth effects do not support the narrative that the paper and anti-energy activists are promoting.

  • In June of 2019, the DOH, along with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, released a comprehensive systematic review of existing epidemiologic literature and concluded that the majority of studies claiming to link health impacts to oil and gas development were rated “low certainty” and limited in study design. Most of the studies, the state health agencies concluded, had “conflicting evidence (mixed), insufficient evidence, or in some cases, a lack of evidence of the possibility for harmful health effects.”
  • Further, an April 2019 DOH investigation into cases of rare childhood cancers concluded that “incidence rates for the Ewing’s family of tumors and childhood cancers in Washington County and Canon-McMillan School District were not consistently and statistically significantly higher than expected in all three time periods analyzed.”
    Further, Dr. Kelly Bailey – an expert in Ewing Sarcoma with UPMC Children’s Hospital – has said that “it is important to remember that at this time, nothing could have been done to prevent these cancers,” adding: “We have no data right now showing that there’s any environmental exposure…that would leave to one developing Ewing Sarcoma.” This expert medical analysis reflects the views held by the American Cancer Society, National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic, among others.
  • Asthma hospitalization rates in the counties with the most shale wells, according to state health data, declined as shale development significantly increased. Statewide, asthma prevalence in children dropped 4.2 percent from 2013-2015, the most recently available year.
  • In response to a study funded by the Heinz Endowments (an organization that finances anti-energy activism, as the Associated Press reported) that attempted to link natural gas development to low-infant birth weights, the Magee Women’s Research Institute stated that such studies “are not rigorous enough to generate firm, action-guiding scientific conclusions.”
  • The globally-recognized children’s and women’s health institute within UPMC’s network continued:

    “The study found no significant and consistent associations between residence near unconventional gas development wells and either preterm birth or fetal abnormalities. … The results do not rely on the most stringent criteria for clinically relevant fetal growth abnormality, and do not support a conclusion that the proximity to the unconventional gas development wells caused reduced birth weights or a higher incidence of small for gestational age fetuses.”

These opinions from professional medical experts and conclusions from objective and thorough research aligns with the progress tied to the rigorous air and water quality monitoring by state regulators, reflecting the well-understood fact that natural gas development is well-managed and does not threaten public health. Among those examples:

  • DEP’s long-term ambient air monitoring project of facilities in Washington County, released in 2018, found “few health risks” and noted “little risk of healthy residents getting sick from breathing the air nearby.” A recent comprehensive air quality analysis conducted by Gradient, a Boston-based environmental and risk sciences consulting firm, found that natural gas operations in the Ft. Cherry School District “do not pose any acute or chronic health concerns” and the data – which was taken from three site monitors over a two-year period and encompassed all stages of well development – “showed no air quality impacts of public health concern.”
  • Air monitoring results from a 2015 Drexel University study and a separate 2016 Ft. Cherry School District air quality study came to similar conclusions.
  • Importantly, Pennsylvania – as confirmed by independent environmental organizations – has modern below-ground regulations regarding well construction to protect freshwater resources. Natural gas development in the Susquehanna River Basin, an area with significant active operations, has had no impact on water quality or quantity, according to continuous water monitoring.

Objective, science-based evidence reflects the well-understood fact that natural gas development and strong environmental and public health protection are not mutually exclusive.

Like virtually all industries, we recognize there are risks associated with natural gas development – and continue to work with all stakeholders, including regulators, to ensure these risks are effectively managed.

We constantly strive to improve operations, become more efficient, and deploy the latest technology that allows us to continue safely unlocking more of America’s natural gas that is demonstrably improving our environment and the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians.

We have no higher responsibility than the protection and improvement of our environment and the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians. The natural gas industry’s workforce is overwhelmingly comprised of Pennsylvanians, and our commitment is exceptionally personal to us in order to ensure our kids and grandkids, and fellow community members, are safe and healthy.

We appreciate your support for the safe, responsible development of clean Pennsylvania energy, and look forward to continuing to work closely with your administration on achieving that shared goal.


David J. Spigelmyer, President – Marcellus Shale Coalition
Stephanie Catarino, Executive Director –  Associated Petroleum Industries of Pa.Wissman
Daniel J. Weaver, President & Executive Director – Pa. Indep. Oil & Gas Assn.


Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary, Department Health
Patrick McDonnell, Secretary, Department of Environmental Protection

You can read the original here.

Editor’s Note: I take special offense, for personal reasons, at the trash produced by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a failing newspaper already reduced to publishing in print three days a week and that we can hope will disappear within five years. I reserve the greatest contempt, though, for the Heinz Endowments. Heinz isn’t mentioned in this story but Jim noted, in his previous article on the subject that Food & Water Watch a/k/a Hoof & Mouth Watch here at NaturalGasNOW and the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project are the big talkers pushing this story with no foundation.

Food & Water Watch has been paid $511,000 since 2016 to, among other shale-relate activities, “provide additional community education and awareness in shale areas,” which is code language for feeding the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, et al as much junk science as it will take. Given the Post-Gazette has no money to do real investigation and desperately needs some drama to report, it is an easy sell for Food & Water Watch.

Likewise, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, queen of the river when it comes to junk science, has received $1.4 million from the Heinz Endowments to “inform health protective policies and decision-making at local and state levels regarding public health impacts from oil/gas development,” more stealth reporting of what is purely an attack on oil and gas.

Yes, the Heinz Endowments is the real smear machine here, having invested almost $2 million in laying the foundation for this yellow journalism.

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