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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Argument from ignorance, part 3: the willful kind

An argument from ignorance is a conclusion that a proposition is false because it has not been proven to be true. When it comes to the impacts of unconventional natural gas development, Pennsylvania is suffering from an acute case of such arguments that grows in severity with each new revelation.

The first Pennsylvania instance of this faulty reasoning was a study that found no evidence of water contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania's Marcellus region - because monitoring infrastructure and technology have not kept pace with drilling.

The second Pennsylvania instance was a revelation last year that the state does not track - or event count - the number of letters it issues as a result of investigations of water quality damage complaints. This was despite the fact that, as it later came to light, oil and gas development in the state contaminated water supplies at least 243 times since 2007.

The latest Pennsylvania instance comes in a story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that's profoundly troubling. What the P-G reports is that this third instance is the most egregious of all - a case of willful ignorance:

Three widely cited state studies of air emissions at Marcellus Shale gas development sites in Pennsylvania omit measurements of key air toxics and calculate the health risks of just two of more than two dozen pollutants.
State regulators and the shale gas drilling industry over the past four years have repeatedly used the regional studies to support their positions that air emissions from drilling, fracking wastewater impoundments and compressor stations don’t pose a public health risk...
Not only did the DEP not calculate the vast majority of chemical hazards, but its determination that public health would not be harmed was not made by anyone with training in medicine, toxicology or environmental or occupational health...
This apparently willful ignorance is intolerable.  It places lives potentially at risk.  It must be corrected immediately - and investigated thoroughly.  Those responsible for such willful ignorance must be held to account.

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