Fact Check: Physicians for Social Responsibility is an unbiased source of information on oil and gas development.

Out of Gas


Matt Mauro

Media Publication:


Originally Published On:

October 17, 2018


Out of Gas

Claim #1: Physicians for Social Responsibility is an unbiased source of information on oil and gas development.

Fact: PSR is an anti-fossil fuel group and not an impartial, independent source of “health professionals,” as portrayed. In fact, the group states on their website that it wants to “ban fracking” and supports 100 percent renewables. PSR has also endorsed Proposition 112. The group receives "institutional support" from the Park Foundation (which gives money to Earthworks, Food & Water Watch, Earthjustice and The Sierra Club, among others) and the Rockefeller Foundation (which provides funding to the Environmental Defense Fund). Both foundations oppose fossil fuels and support fracking bans.  PSR is also supported by the Energy Foundation, which gives money to The Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council. FOX31 failed to disclose any of this information or define the group as anti-fracking and anti-oil and gas.

Rating: Out of gas.  

Claim #2: Barbara Donachy is a public health professional who belongs to PSR.

Fact: Barbara Donachy’s bio says she was a residential counselor with the Coalition for the Homeless while studying for a master’s degree in public health. There is no mention of what she did or does in public health. More importantly, she is only identified as a public health professional.  In fact, she is a board member of 350Colorado.org, one of the groups pushing to pass Proposition 112. That group’s mission is to ban fracking.  In her own words, she has “devoted her time to trying to put the brakes on climate change through working on ballot initiatives, lobbying, doing research, distributing flyers, and showing up.”

Rating: Sputtering.

Claim #3: A number of studies – noted by Donachy – show health issues with oil and gas development. One study says that oil and gas development, including fracking, can lead to "a greater prevalence of CHD," or coronary heart disease (this phrase is an error as the study is on congenital, not coronary, heart disease).

Fact: This study was so flawed – for instance it claims increased risks while also showing a decrease risk of pre-term birth with greater exposure to oil and gas operations – that Dr. Larry Wolk, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director at the time was forced to issue a statement before it was officially released in order to warn the public.

“[W]e disagree with many of the specific associations … [and] a reader of the study could easily be misled to become overly concerned,” Wolk said in a January 2014 statement.

The health department also found researchers used “minuscule” statistical differences to claim a connection.

Additionally, one of the study’s co-authors admitted to Rocky Mountain PBS: “It’s certainly not a conclusive study, and it doesn’t demonstrate that pollutants related to shale development have caused birth defects.”

Rating: Out of gas.

Claim #4: A different study in Pennsylvania says oil and gas development is "associated with increased odds of mild, moderate and even severe asthma."

Fact: As Reuters noted: “The study doesn’t prove fracking causes asthma or makes symptoms worse, and it also doesn’t explain why asthma flare-ups appear more likely when people live closer to fracking sites.

One limitation of the study is that researchers didn’t know where patients worked or what they did for a living, both of which might influence their proximity to fracking sites. And the analysis was based on patients’ most recent address, which didn’t account for residential moves during the study period.”

Additionally, state health data actually showed asthma-related hospitalizations were lower in shale counties than in counties with no oil and gas development.

Rating: Sputtering.

Claim #5: Yet another study cited found that current "setbacks may leave the public vulnerable to explosions, radiant heat, toxic gas clouds, and air pollution from hydraulic fracturing activities."

Fact: One, this study relied on studies from Lisa McKenzie that have been debunked by the Colorado health department. Two, the study does not claim that the wells caused the health problems.

“It’s more of an association than a causation," one of the study’s authors told The New Haven Register. “We want to make sure people know it’s a preliminary study. … To me it strongly indicates the need to further investigate the situation and not ignore it.”

FOX31 mostly ignores that last year, CDPHE published the results of its research into the health impacts of oil and gas development, finding the risk of harmful effects “is low for Coloradans living near oil and gas operations.” CDPHE evaluated health risks from certain substances emitted from oil and gas operations and reviewed other studies of health effects possibly associated with living near oil and gas operations. 

And in 2016, CDPHE looked at Weld County, which produces 90 percent of the state’s oil.  It found Weld County does not have significantly more, and in many cases, it has fewer, instances of asthma, cancer, birth defects, infant mortality and low birth weights than other Front Range counties. This shows “there's no reason to believe that there is a causal relationship between oil and gas operations and chronic diseases or cancers," Wolk said.

The reporter does mention in the very last line in the story that the “Colorado Department of Health and Environment has also looked at studies about the oil and gas industry.  Its conclusion: the risk of harmful health effects is low for residents living near oil and gas operations."

Rating: Sputtering


Reviewed On:
October 22, 2018