Marcellus Shale

An Unhealthy Obsession with Fighting Natural Gas

The upstate New York anti-natural gas crowed has run out of options!  They are now going to the district offices of New York State Senate members who support natural gas exploration and advocating still more study, this time of health impacts that are already well known.  While they think such gimmicks will somehow change minds, supporters of natural gas stubbornly stick with the facts.  It’s a tortoise and hare thing, as I see it.  The usual suspects are running around at breakneck speed trying to gin up a story on health impacts that simply do not exist with natural gas development while the pro-natural gas side quietly, but steadily, wins the race by simply telling the true story.

How many times do we have to see my neighbor in the hazmat suit protesting on some sidewalk to know many of these individuals do little else?  How many failed protests by this dwindling band of natural gas malcontents does it take for our leaders to see they represent only the tiniest minority among upstate New Yorkers?  Not many more, I suspect.  The game is up and the unhealthy obsession the other side has with fighting natural gas is wearing thin.

The Dwindling Band

A small group of anti-natural gas activists protested in Binghamton this week outside of Senator Tom Libous’s office. They only had a turnout of about 30 people – the exact same individuals we see everywhere, although my neighbor dropped the yellow suit for blue street clothes this time.  It’s difficult to make a statement when only 30 people show up to protest and they are the same 30 people showing up in other areas across the state.

Small Group of Usual Suspects Protesting at Senator Libous Office

Your News Now (YNN) in Binghamton was there reporting on the protest.  They interviewed some individuals who said they want a public health study before New York opens its doors to natural gas development:

Members from several anti-drilling organizations are calling on the State Senate to fund a study of the potential health impacts of hydrofracking. The rally took place outside Libous’ office in Binghamton. Similar demonstrations took place outside the offices of other State Senators across New York.  The residents suggest an independent study be conducted outside of the government in order to ensure no conflict of interest. Considering the chemicals used in the drilling process, protesters argue that hydrofracking cannot be practiced safely until all health impacts are addressed. (

Does New York State really need a health impact study, or is this just another delay tactic?  Well, given the evidence, the answer is pretty clear – it’s all about the delay.

Let’s, for instance, take a look at a study done in Dish, Texas by that state’s Department of State Health Services.

In response to community concerns about potential health effects of natural gas drilling, DSHS collected biological samples from 28 Dish residents in late January to determine whether the levels of Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, in their blood were higher than those measured in the broader population.

“In Dish, we found no pattern to our test results indicating community-wide exposure to any of these contaminants,” said Dr. Carrie Bradford, the DSHS toxicologist who led the investigation. “We were looking to see whether a single contaminant or a handful of contaminants were notably elevated in many or all of the people we tested. We didn’t find that pattern in Dish.”

Although a number of VOCs were detected in blood from some of the participants, the pattern of detection is consistent with exposures to consumer products (e.g., cigarette smoke and home maintenance products). Three of the compounds found in a few of the participants were disinfectant by-products associated with chlorinated drinking water systems. All of these participants obtained their drinking water from the same public drinking water system which uses chlorine as a disinfectant to remove harmful infectious agents. Additional information on disinfectant by-products is presented with the tap water results.

Texans are likely experiencing better health now, following natural gas development, because they can now afford health care and one of the most important contributors to good health is economic opportunity. With more people moving into the area, doctors are also now able to justify staying in the area.

“Biological test results from a Texas Department of State Health Services investigation in Dish, Texas, indicate that residents’ exposure to certain contaminants was not greater than that of the general U.S. population.” (DSHS report, May 12, 2010).

They would go on to mention that, “DSHS paid particular attention to benzene because of its association with natural gas wells. The only residents who had higher levels of benzene in their blood were smokers. Because cigarette smoke contains benzene, finding it in smokers’ blood is not unusual.”

Take a look at these two maps.  The one on the left illustrates the location of the Barnett Shale.  The one on the right rates health outcomes based on a study by the University of Wisconsin, the lighter colored counties being the healthiest.  Notice anything?  I thought you might.  I’d say these maps pretty much tell the story.  New York doesn’t need another study and more delay – it needs to get on with natural gas development.

Barnett Shale vs. Health Outcomes

Spoiler Alert!

Obviously, our obsessed friends aren’t yet ready to surrender.  The hare thought he was winning until the end, too.   The next targets of the anti-development crowd are Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Senator John Bonacic, Senator James Seward, Senator John DeFrancisco and the New York State Department of Health. The group will continue to push the idea of a health impact study based on nothing but pure hysteria and the speculation that virtually defines them.  Pardon me, if I’m skeptical.  The evidence of health issues with natural gas development isn’t just poor – it’s non-existent.  It looks to me like this is another case of natural born protestors seeking a cause.  If you asked me I’d say they ought to concentrate on getting healthy themselves.  Natural gas is good for our health and obsession with fighting it is just plain unhealthy.



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