A Colorado-based researcher partnered with an anti-fracking group to publicize the results of her new research linking energy development to childhood cancer. She conceded, however, that research suggesting adverse health impacts from oil and natural gas development, including her team’s own work, is not actually sufficient to make that conclusion.

Yesterday, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), a Paonia, Colo.-based activist group that has called oil and gas operations “cancer-like,” hosted a conference call for Lisa McKenzie, an assistant researcher professor at the Colorado School of Public Health whose team published a new research paper on the health impacts of oil and natural gas development earlier this year. But the discussion of the paper’s findings included a huge disclaimer.

Lisa McKenzie (photo credit: University of Colorado)

“[The findings] cannot tell us that oil and gas caused any of these health outcomes,” McKenzie said yesterday on a conference call. “They’re not sufficient to make that temporal connection.”

Discussing the limitations of her research, McKenzie noted the lack of health and environmental data preceding energy development. “First of all, we don’t have studies out there that tell us what the baseline exposures were, so what were the levels of air contaminants and water contaminants before oil and gas development came into the area.”

“We also are lacking data on what the actual exposures to people are,” McKenzie added. “So we have concentrations in ambient air, we have some information on water, but we have very little information on what people living in oil and gas development areas are actually being exposed to.”

McKenzie’s paper drew criticism from state health officials upon its release, with Dr. Larry Wolk, chief medical officer and executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), calling the study’s conclusions “misleading in that the study questions a possible association between oil and gas operations and childhood leukemia; it does not prove or establish such a connection.”

CDPHE’s head of environmental epidemiology, occupational health, and toxicology, Dr. Mike Van Dyke, said in an interview with The Colorado Independent that McKenzie’s study was “not research that definitely links oil and gas exposure to cancers in this age group” due to “significant limitations,” and “there are a lot of alternative explanations that could be proposed to explain this same relationship.”

In March, McKenzie and her team wrote in an opinion piece published by the Denver Post that their research does not actually “provide enough evidence to say” that living near oil and gas wells causes health problems.