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Document Shows How Environmentalists Trick The Media Into Attacking Fracking

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A newly uncovered environmentalist memo from 2012 shows how green groups conspired to link hydraulic fracturing to health issues, despite a lack of scientific evidence.

The 2012 memo discussed how environmentalists lack evidence that fracking causes health issues. It suggests using the media to misrepresent the scientific community’s research to shut down fracking by linking it to health concerns, according to an investigation published Tuesday by the pro-industry group Energy In Depth (EID), which uncovered the memo.

The memo was prepared for the 11th Hour Project, which donates money to anti-fracking groups such as Earthworks, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, New Yorkers Against Fracking, and the Post Carbon Institute.

“For years, we have seen an onslaught of inflammatory headlines and wild accusations about fracking and its supposed impacts on public health,” Steve Everley, a senior adviser for Energy In Depth, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “This memo helps explain why: it was part of a strategy developed for a wealthy donor network that funds anti-fracking groups across the country. They wanted to prime the pump for lawsuits against the oil and gas industry, and the ultimate goal was to secure bans or other regulatory restrictions.”

The memo instructs environmentalists to focus on attacking any scientific papers that disagree with their conclusions while getting any anti-fracking research “popularized in the media.” It also suggests focusing on emotional and relatable issues, such as mandating fracking be located far away from schools.

Environmental groups took the advice to heart in tip sheets for anti-fracking activists, advising them to appeal to people’s emotions, not their rationality, as well as using babies as props.

The memo was written by Seth Shonkoff, then a doctoral  candidate at the University of California, Berkeley and now the executive director of an anti-fracking group PSE Healthy Energy.

“[T]he lack of robust, causal data that links hydraulic fracturing to health has slowed the efforts of NGOs, activists, and others focused on regulatory reform and community health protection,” Shonkoff wrote in the memo. “Academic studies can be long and arduous undertakings that fail to meet the immediate needs of impacted communities that are exposed to risks and become ill while waiting for the results.”

After failing to find evidence that fracking accuse health risks, Shonkoff set out to help generate some. In the memo, Shonkoff stated that the results of an upcoming study would link fracking to worsened asthma attacks before it even secured funding from the National Institute of Health or conducted the research.

When the research was published in July 2016 by Johns Hopkins University, Shonkoff’s media strategy was used to interpreted it as a link between fracking increased asthma attacks.  However, the study’s other authors openly stated they have no data to show fracking causes asthma or make symptoms worse.

Headlines from media outlets covering the were alarmist with the USA Today, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and CBS News all claiming the study directly linked fracking to asthma. Buried in some of the coverage was a statement that “the study doesn’t prove fracking causes asthma or makes symptoms worse” and scientists involved in the research stated that any sort of  connection “awaits further investigation.” 

“It’s important to stress that not all research on fracking and health is part of this anti-fracking strategy,” Everley said. There are scientists making an honest effort to investigate questions and public concerns. But when studies and accusations are motivated by politics, not science, it only makes it harder for the public to know who to trust.”

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