Fudging the facts about fracking
Environmentalists’ claims of threat to drinking water prove unsupported
Why do we treat the driver who drank a glass of wine with dinner differently than the driver who just left the late movie after a long day of work? Driving after a single drink has come to be regarded as a moral failure. Yet new research suggests drowsy driving is more dangerous. New data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows drivers who have gotten only five hours of sleep crash just as frequently as a legally drunk driver. Although it may not seem as though a sleepless or restless night could severely endanger one’s health, drowsy driving is responsible for more than 70,000 injuries each year.
You need not fall asleep at the wheel to create a hazard (although one in 10 Americans admit to having dozed off while driving in the past year). Getting just one less hour of shut-eye than usual impairs a driver enough to affect reaction time and decision-making processes. With the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimating 35 percent of American adults don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep, that translates to tens of millions of sleep-impaired drivers on the road.
AAA reports up to one in five fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver.
The public should be up in arms demanding state and federal dollars be dedicated to eliminating such a pervasive threat from our roadways. Yet only New Jersey has legislation on the books specifically allowing law enforcement to penalize drowsy drivers before they’re involved in a crash.
Instead, advocacy groups have successfully promoted the stigma against driving after a single drink without regard to other statistically equal risks. Accordingly, you can happily contribute to Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s $35 million bank account while ignoring other real risks to highway safety. That includes cell phones, texting and GPS navigation screens as well as driving after a late-night movie.
In reality, drunk driving isn’t the threat it used to be. Despite every state having expanded its definition of what constitutes a “drunk” driver, drunk driving fatalities have plummeted 48 percent since the 1980s.
A full 70 percent of those drunk driving fatalities are committed by hardcore drunks whose blood alcohol content (BAC) is roughly twice the legal limit or higher. And much of that foolish risk is borne by the driver who is the one most often killed in single car crashes. These aren’t your average adults having a glass of wine with dinner. At twice the legal limit, the driver would exhibit severe motor impairment, blurred vision and lack of balance. Yet activist groups and legal systems want to treat them the same as someone one sip over the limit.
Some even advocate lowering that limit — a move that would disproportionately affect millions of lawabiding people. Even drinking two glasses of wine would not raise the average American woman’s BAC enough to impair her as much as texting does. And if we’re discussing specific risk, drowsy drivers are actually estimated to kill more people than those who drive after a drink or two.
Yet with a lower legal limit, our archetypal drinker would face jail time, increased insurance rates, heavy fines and mandatory installation of an in-car breathalyzer for a decision less dangerous than glancing at her phone or driving on limited sleep.
Rather than supporting methods that will get the worst offenders off our streets — be they drunk, drowsy, distracted or drugged — safety stakeholders have allowed anti-alcohol messaging to blind them to today’s worst threats. They continue to define drunk driving down in an age when the rates of other dangerous behaviors are going up.
Highway fatalities caused by “human choice,” a category which includes such factors as distraction and drowsiness, increased by more than 7 percent last year. And as more states legalize marijuana, drugged driving rates are skyrocketing. The percentage of traffic deaths where at least one driver tested positive for drugs has nearly doubled over the last decade.
As a nation we must question the efficacy of focusing on drunk drivers as the seemingly sole problem on America’s roadways. But until law enforcement and lawmakers take issues like fatigue and distraction seriously, their fixation on “the alcohol problem” leaves the public vulnerable to a number of other growing threats.
If we want to make a real impact on the number of lives saved, new problems shouldn’t be addressed by doubling down on old solutions. Economist John Maynard Keynes reportedly (and famously) said, “When the facts change, I change my mind.” It’s an observation so basic but so often ignored.
Groups such as the Sierra Club have long claimed that fracking is an environmental hazard. The revolutionary drilling process “has contaminated the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Sierra says on its website. The statement must rest on some pretty sound science, right? Guess again.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)last year wrapped up one of the most comprehensive studies of hydraulic fracturing done to date. “We did not find evidence that these [fracking] mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States,” it concluded.
And an EPA report released earlier this month notes that “the number of identified cases of drinking water contamination is small” compared to the total number of hydraulically fractured wells.
You can be sure that the EPA is not soft-pedaling any genuine environmental impacts. The agency is quite sympathetic to the viewpoints expressed by Sierra and other environmental groups. If EPA officials could nail fracking to the wall, or credibly damage its reputation at all, they would.
As it is, they’ve been doing everything they could to downplay the lack of risk. They claimed “gaps and uncertainties” made it difficult for the agency to draw any broadscale conclusions. They deleted the “we did not find evidence” line from the final report.
“Even the agency’s admission that the number of contamination cases was small was omitted from the EPA’s press release,” writes Steve Everley, a spokesman for North Texans for Natural Gas. “It had to be pried out of the agency from the media.”
But the EPA’s report isn’t the only one that exonerates fracking. Officials at the U.S. Department of Energy, and at the U.S. Geological Survey have also said that there simply is no evidence of widespread contamination due to fracking.
Contamination has occurred in some places, yes, but fracking isn’t the culprit. A 2014 National Academy of Sciences report found that the contamination of water resources in Pennsylvania and Texas was due to well leaks, not fracking.
But that hasn’t stopped members of the “Keep It In The Ground” crowd from falsely claiming that fracking is dangerous. Their multimillion-dollar campaign rests on little more than a knee-jerk aversion to fossil fuels.
They carry on and on about nonexistent, negative environmental impacts of fracking, while completely ignoring its very real, positive impacts.
The economic benefits are undeniable. It provides Americans with jobs. It creates an economic boom for communities near fracking wells. And it has helped bring all of us cheaper energy prices.
According a recent Energy Information Administration report: “Wholesale electricity prices at major trading hubs on a monthly average basis for on-peak hours were down 27 to 37 percent across the nation in 2015 compared with 2014, driven largely by lower natural gas prices.” Thanks, fracking.
This doesn’t just mean less expensive fill-ups at gasoline stations (as welcome as that is). Cheaper energy ripples throughout the economy, resulting in less expensive goods and services in other sectors of the economy. Even so-called environmentalists are better off.
Fracking especially helps low-income families, who bear the brunt of higher energy prices the most. With good reason did The Wall Street Journal call fracking “America’s best anti-poverty program.”
Some regulation is needed, sure. But it shouldn’t come from Washington. “Antifracking rhetoric not only conflicts with experience and science, but ignores the effective state-based regulatory system in place,” writes energy expert Nicolas Loris. “The process has been regulated successfully at the state level for decades.”
Environmental groups will probably never acknowledge the scientific reality that fracking is safe, let alone give it credit for helping people. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to listen to their scare-mongering.
We know the truth. We don’t need their anti-fracking lies.