Studies Show Shale Development is Protective of Public Health
A recent article by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s PowerSource swings and misses in its claim that health studies on shale development have been sparse. Not only does the article, “Funding for health studies near drilling sites loosening,” completely disregard existing reports, but it ignores comments recently made by the current secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
However, the article paraphrases a comment from the previous Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, who left the position two years ago. The PowerSource story states:
“And former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health Eli Avila was quoted saying the state did not study the potential health impacts of shale gas exploration.”
That’s an interesting statement, considering the fact that Avila had a completely different viewpoint while he was office. In a letter penned to Public Opinion in April 2012, Avila stated:
“The Department of Health is not aware of any evidence to suggest that hydraulic fracturing practices have a negative impact on our residents’ health. However, we will continue our due diligence as the state’s public health officials to ensure that all environmental health concerns reported to the department are investigated thoroughly. The health and safety of Pennsylvanians is our top priority.”
PowerSource also failed to include the views of current Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health Michael Wolf. In a recent letter penned to The Patriot News, Wolf wrote:
“The department will continue to carry out related monitoring activities under Act 13 of 2012, working with other state resources and public health stakeholders across the state in our collective efforts to better understand the potential effects of Marcellus Shale drilling. This includes participation in initiatives such as the Marcellus Shale health outcomes study from Geisinger Health System’s Research Institute, which is a large-scale, detailed look at health histories of hundreds of thousands of patients who live near natural gas wells and facilities.”
Furthermore, the PowerSource article references a series of Geisinger studies, with which the Pennsylvania Department of Health is also assisting. The state’s involvement in these health studies is hardly indicative of a “loosening” of funds.
Something else worth noting in the PowerSource article is the sources used and their connection to the Heinz Endowment, a well-known anti-shale development organization. Two of the sources used are currently or have been affiliated with the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC). The CHEC was founded in 2004 with initial funding by the Heinz Endowment.
The Pittsburgh-based Heinz Endowment is well known for its views opposing domestic shale production. Back in 2013, Heinz even cleaned house of those that didn’t share its same view on shale development. Take, for example, a story that ran yesterday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette regarding the Center for Sustainable Shale Development and the Heinz Endowment’s comment about the organization:
“We disagree with the position suggested by the organization’s name that fracking can be made environmentally ‘sustainable’ and, given the pace of shale development, we do not believe that the goals of protecting environmental and public health are best served at this point by standards that are voluntary and unenforceable.” (emphasis added)
With these sources receiving money from an organization that believes fracking can ever be done safely (contradicting the experience in dozens of states) it’s easy to see why their comments would side with their funders. This is something the PowerSource article should have, at the very least, disclosed to its readers.
Previous Health Studies
After reading the PowerSource article one would assume research on the health impacts of shale development is incomplete or inadequate. This is simply not true.
- The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection conducted air quality monitoring surrounding natural gas wells in the Marcellus Shale. The DEP’s report concluded that, “when looking at the individual operations, the emissions do not seem to create ambient air pollution conditions where acute adverse health impacts are expected.”
- The EpidStat Institute and David Garabrandt PLLC conducted a peer-reviewed study in July 2013 that examined rates of childhood cancer in areas surrounding natural gas wells in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The study found that there were no elevated rates of cancer amongst children in the area.
- The Colorado Department of Public Health tested air quality at a well site in 2012 and found: “The monitored concentrations of benzene, one of the major risk driving chemicals, are well within acceptable limits to protect public health, as determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The concentrations of various compounds are comparatively low and are not likely to raise significant health issues of concern.”
In addition to studies conducted here in the United States, there has also been research completed in other countries assessing risks. Take a report by Public Health England (PHE), an executive agency of the UK’s Department of Health, which concluded that the public health risks from shale development are low:
“The currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health from exposure to the emissions associated with shale gas extraction are low if the operations are properly run and regulated” (p. iii-iv; emphasis added).
Specifically referencing emissions during shale development, the study states:
“…these emissions are relatively small, intermittent and certainly not unique to shale gas extraction and related activities” (p. 7; emphasis added).
Finally, Energy In Depth has already aggregated a list of even more health studies compiled in the last few years related to shale development.
To suggest that the health impacts of shale development have not been studied is a disservice to the readers of PowerSource. And, while additional data are never a bad thing – especially when dealing with public health – it’s clear that this subject has indeed been studied extensively.