PITTSBURGH — In the debate over natural gas drilling, the companies are often the ones accused of twisting the facts. But scientists say opponents sometimes mislead the public, too.
Critics of fracking often raise alarms about groundwater pollution, air pollution, and cancer risks, and there are still many uncertainties. But some of the claims have little — or nothing— to back them.
For example, reports that breast cancer rates rose in a region with heavy gas drilling are false, researchers told The Associated Press.
Fears that natural radioactivity in drilling waste could contaminate drinking water aren’t being confirmed by monitoring, either.
And concerns about air pollution from the industry often don’t acknowledge that natural gas is a far cleaner burning fuel than coal.
“The debate is becoming very emotional. And basically not using science” on either side, said Avner Vengosh, a Duke University professor studying groundwater contamination who has been praised and criticized by both sides.
One expert said there’s an actual psychological process at work that sometimes blinds people to science, on the fracking debate and many others.
“You can literally put facts in front of people, and they will just ignore them,” said Mark Lubell, the director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Behavior at the University of California, Davis.
Lubell said the situation, which happens on both sides of a debate, is called "Motivated Reasoning"
Rational people insist on believing things that aren’t true, in part because of feedback from other people who share their views, he said.