Orange County Register's Silver Bullet Study Promoting Fracking Has Holes

The Orange County Register advocated for expanded use of the controversial drilling technique known as fracking by citing an industry-funded study -- peer-reviewed by an expert with industry ties -- that concluded fracking is safe for California. From the editorial, titled “No need to fear fracking”:

But the center [for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute] and its co-plaintiffs ignore the result of a recently released fracturing study, which was required as part of a 2011 legal settlement between community and environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Plains Exploration and Production Co., owner and operator of the Inglewood Oil Field in Los Angeles County.

The 206-page study, the first of its kind in the state, examined the threats fracturing posed to air and water, not to mention risks of increased seismic activity caused by drilling. It concluded there was no danger to public health and safety.


Indeed, the weight of objective scientific evidence suggests that fracturing is a safe technique. Properly regulated, there is no reason for California to restrict it.

Despite the Register's ringing endorsement of the findings, experts have challenged the study on several fronts. First, critics of the study voiced concern that the study did not look at the long-term impact of fracking and instead focused on the near-term impacts. Second, the study was conducted by the company with a financial stake in the outcome. As Damon Nagami of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote in a blog:

We also are keenly aware that this study was funded by PXP, an oil company, and peer reviewed by at least one expert, John P. Martin, with ties to the oil and gas industry. Therefore, we need additional review from independent experts who have no financial stake in the study's outcome. We will be seeking our own experts, but I also would recommend that California agencies with the appropriate expertise take a close look at this study and provide the public with their comments.

As noted, the expert, John P. Martin, has a questionable history surrounding his role as an independent peer reviewer. Martin, who runs JP Martin Energy Strategy, has worked in various sectors of the oil industry and is tied to the controversial SUNY Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute, which came under fire last year when it published a study that had ties to the oil industry. The Institute closed in November.

In addition, far from being the conclusive silver bullet study the OC Register purported it to be, the study was viewed by public officials in California as a step, not a solution. The Los Angeles Times notes:

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes the communities around the field, advised caution.

“The point is, we have more than one peer reviewer here,” Ridley-Thomas said. “It's hardly done; it is up for further examination, further discussion and this is an important step in the process, but hardly a conclusive one.”

As Media Matters has previously noted, experts have linked fracking to earthquakes and groundwater contamination and  believe the practice could have a negative impact on California's agriculture and wine industry.