Two Papers Claiming High Pollution Near Fracking Sites Retracted

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Two papers published in Environmental Science and Technology with easily noticeable errors in reported levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pollutants released from burning oil, gas, and other organic matter, have been retracted.

The corresponding author for both papers is Kim Anderson at Oregon State University, a chemist since 1981, who insists the errors were due to an honest mistake on a spreadsheet, though in the press release Anderson said, "Air pollution from fracking operations may pose an under-recognized health hazard to people living near them" but now concedes the studies showed just the opposite.

Both papers have four authors in common, from the same school, and both claim to have been peer-reviewed, though no one seemed to check the data.

It instead fell on pro-fracking groups to fact-check the counter-intuitive results - they engaged in critical thinking when the scientists involved and the media reporting on it did not, noting that the hand-picked volunteers for the paper were from a known anti-fracking group, that the study chose to ignore higher-than-normal emissions from other sources, and that the samples were not chosen randomly or of large enough size to be legitimate.

Natural gas extracted using hydraulic gas fracturing has led to a decline in greenhouse gas emissions because it creates less pollution and coal. It has also led to lower costs for consumers. Nonetheless, environmental activists have created numerous fundraising campaigns promoting concern that it causes more pollution, and media outlets jumped on the paper. Only one, UPI, has noted the retraction, according to the site Retraction Watch.