A recent study links high-volume hydraulic fracturing, better known as "fracking," to higher pre-term birth rates.
But the conclusion isn't really warranted. The study found an 11 percent early birth rate among mothers near the drilling sites, while the CDC proclaims that the national pre-term delivery rate is 11.5 percent.
That's not really a meaningful difference when we consider variables such as genetic factors, history of prior pregnancy issues, drug/alcohol use in the parents, etc. None of those confounding issues - other exposures of influences on the course of pregnancy and delivery not related to that fracking score - could be properly considered.
The data were drawn from retrospective record reviews obtained from the Geisinger Health System over the period 2009-2013, including the pregnancy and birth statistics of just under 11,000 neonates in fracking-rich areas of Pennsylvania. They write: "Multilevel linear and logistic regression models to examine associations between activity index quartile and term birth weight, preterm birth, low 5-minute Apgar score and small size for gestational age birth, while controlling for potential confounding variables" but it still left correlations far too simplistic for the complexities of birth weights.
And the conclusion is in defiance of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which can hardly be considered sympathetic to mainstream energy companies. Their assessment determined that there's basically nothing going on with fracking the drilling is two miles underground - and that comports quite well with ACSH's own scientific study.
The study failed to do any measurements on any putative toxicants in the environment or in the mothers or babies how could they, in retrospect? Nor is there a hint as to any biologically plausible hypothesis to explain their fracking-related premature birth scenario.
I am far less kind to the authors on my Science 2.0 column, where I can show that the same logic might lead scholars with an agenda to find fracking actually improves birth outcomes. You can read that here.