DENVER — No Colorado health study has found that living near oil-and-gas operations increases the risk of birth defects, but you wouldn’t know that from glancing at the anti-fracking movement’s campaign literature.
“Colorado investigates spike in fetal abnormalities near natural gas site drills,” reads an ominous post on the Facebook page of Local Control Colorado. “With health concerns like this, shouldn’t all Coloradans be empowered to decide IF, WHEN and WHERE they allow Oil and Gas Development to take place their in neighborhoods?”
What Local Control Colorado doesn’t say is that the investigation, conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, found no common underlying cause for the uptick in fetal birth defects detected by ultrasounds at two Glenwood Springs clinics late last year.
The study examined a host of variables, including proximity to oil and gas development, along with age, ethnicity, weight, location, and lifestyle factors such as the mothers’ use of marijuana, illicit drugs, tobacco, caffeine and alcohol.
“While some may have expected the investigation would identify one or two risk factors that link these cases, no such link was found,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, Colorado’s chief medical officer, in a statement. “It is natural to look at even a single birth anomaly and ask why. But sadly, birth anomalies do occur.”
The results of the investigation were released May 2, but a week later, Local Control Colorado had not posted the findings or removed the sinister-looking Facebook item. Same with Protect Our Loveland, which posted a link to a story about the investigation but not the findings.
“ARE THE UNBORN SAFE???” said the April 29 post on Protect Our Loveland’s Facebook page, adding, “If you can’t answer this question with 100% positive accuracy, then you MUST VOTE FOR A 2 YEAR MORATORIUM (time out) to study the health effects on the unborn/children/adults!”
Protect Our Loveland is pushing for a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the June 24 election. Business and industry advocates have argued that the campaign is being driven by fear-mongering and threatens the city’s economic well-being.
Anti-fracking groups took the same approach with a Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH) study released in January, trumpeting the research as proof of the dangers of fracking when in fact the results only “suggest a positive association” between birth defects and proximity to oil and gas wells in Garfield County.
Even that was a little strong for Dr. Wolk, who released a statement calling the results inconclusive and potentially misleading in that they “showed only association, not causation, and the statistical differences in birth defects were miniscule.”
“While this paper was an attempt to address those concerns, we disagree with many of the specific associations with the occurrence of birth defects noted within the study. Therefore, a reader of the study could easily be misled to become overly concerned,” Dr. Wolk said.
He noted that the CSPH study actually found that mothers living near oil and gas operations were less likely to give birth prematurely.
“This seems counterintuitive, and again, makes the study difficult to interpret,” said Dr. Wolk.
The recently released Glenwood Springs study noted that the mothers’ homes were spread throughout Garfield County and that most did not live near oil and gas operations.
“The majority of the cohort did not live near an active oil and gas well and none of the drinking water sources presented with any exceeded levels of disinfection by-products (DBPs) containing elevated trihalomethanes,” said the study, “Glenwood Springs Prenatal Report.”