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Widely Cited Study Claiming Negative Health Impacts From Oil, Gas Was Funded By Anti-Oil, Gas Groups

A new study that claims oil and gas activity contributes to thousands of premature deaths was widely reported as fact, including by Wyoming media organizations. The problem is, the study was paid for by anti-fossil fuels organizations.

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Kevin Killough

May 22, 20235 min read

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A new study says oil and gas activity contributes to thousands of premature deaths, but critics say the study has questionable methodology, ignores the overall benefits of petroleum and was paid for by anti-fossil fuel groups. 

The study was published in the scientific journal Environmental Research: Health and concludes that in 2016, the oil and gas industry in the U.S. made 410,000 cases of asthma worse, caused 2,200 new cases of childhood asthma and killed 7,500 people from ozone, fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide pollution stemming from their products.  

The research was paid for by the High Tide Foundation and the Environmental Defense Fund. The High Tide Foundation calls for “urgent and unprecedented actions” to reduce methane emissions, according to its website. The organization has been involved in million-dollar efforts to push for a transition away from fossil fuels. 

The Environmental Defense Fund is a nonprofit that fights oil and gas projects worldwide. According to Guidestar, the nonprofit had more than $385 million in gross receipts in its latest reporting year. 

Improving Lives

Critics of the study point out that the study examines only the negative impacts of oil and gas production and ignores any benefits that come from the use of fossil fuels. 

Besides providing energy, petroleum is the basis for thousands of products, including aspirin, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers and refrigerators.

The study concludes that reducing emissions from the industry can have substantial health benefits and estimates savings based on reduced health care costs. It also treats these efforts as if they have no cost and makes no mention of how these policies might increase the cost of all the products made from petroleum or the cost of energy. 

Ryan McConnaughey, spokesperson for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, told Cowboy State Daily the study doesn’t consider what the alternative is to producing oil and gas. 

“The study ignores the fact the oil and gas industry has done more than most in improving the quality of our lives — everything from heating homes, providing transportation and pharmaceuticals and other products in the health industry,” McConnaughey said.

McConnaughey said the methodology relies on tentative connections between pollution and health impacts. For example, it claims that cities like Washington, D.C., have seen significant impacts from the production of oil and gas, but the nearest facility of any kind to the city is hundreds of miles away. 

No Comment

Cowboy State Daily contacted the lead author of the study, Dr. Jonathan Buonocore of the Boston University School of Public Health, to ask why benefits to economic development and quality of life from increased fossil fuel use, as well as the negative health impacts of increased energy poverty, weren’t considered in the study. 

Buonocore also was asked if the nonprofits funding the study influenced why it didn’t explore these questions. The researcher didn’t respond to the requests for comment. 

Rick Whitbeck with Power The Future told Cowboy State Daily that research like this depends on lining up conclusions with its funders’ interests. 

Power The Future is a nonprofit advocating for reliable and affordable energy, which includes oil and gas development. 

“Biased studies are nothing new. This study’s predisposition is to ignore the benefits to society that traditional energy has brought to America and the world at large,” Whitbeck said.

Raising Lifespans

While the study concludes that increased production of fossil fuels is causing deaths, data doesn’t show decreasing lifespans as fossil fuel use increases, a correlation that would likely show up if fossil fuel use was inherently dangerous to human health. 

Over the last 110 years, average human life spans doubled, according to U.N. data. During that period, total global fossil fuel consumption increased more than 14 fold, according to BP Statistical Review of World Energy. 

This effect has been seen in developing countries as well. The average lifespan in China increased from 53 in 1960 to 78 in 2021. Per capita fossil fuel consumption grew by 1,250% in the same time period. 

The average lifespan in India increased from 45 in 1960 to 67 in 2021. Per capita fossil fuel consumption there grew by 556% in the same time period. 

Forced Transition

Whitbeck said that the study’s policy implications are in line with the energy policies of countries like Germany, which has pursued extensive electrification and a transition away from fossil fuel electrical generation. 

Today it faces crushing energy costs, he said, which is destroying the country’s industry and leaving residents unable to afford their electricity bills. 

“Unless we want a world where blackouts and exponentially higher energy costs are the norm, Americans must reject a forced transition from reliable, low-cost sources,” Whitbeck said. 

Kevin Killough can be reached at: Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

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Kevin Killough

Energy Reporter