Fudg­ing the facts about frack­ing

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists’ claims of threat to drink­ing wa­ter prove un­sup­ported

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - Richard Ber­man is the pres­i­dent of Ber­man and Com­pany, a pub­lic af­fairs firm in Washington, D.C. By Ed Feul­ner Ed Feul­ner is founder of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion (her­itage.org).

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.

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