EARTHWORKS

Marcellus Gas Wells Likely Harming Public Health: Survey

Bloomberg | Jim Efstathiou Jr.

October 18, 2012
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People living near natural gas wells in Pennsylvania say drilling has triggered respiratory problems, fatigue, severe headaches and skin rashes, according to a study from Earthworks, a Washington-based environmental group.

The findings come from a survey released today of 108 residents in 14 Pennsylvania counties. Since 2009, more than 5,000 wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Marcellus Shale using hydraulic fracturing. This process requires sending millions of gallons of chemically treated water and sand underground to break shale rock and free trapped gas.

There should be ‘‘no more permitting for drilling until the health impacts can be fully understood.’’

“Many residents have developed health symptoms that they did not have before, which is a strong indication that they’re occurring because of gas development,” Nadia Steinzor, eastern program coordinator for Earthworks and lead author of the study, said on a conference call. There should be ‘‘no more permitting for drilling until the health impacts can be fully understood.’’ The group says that air samples reveal 19 volatile organic compounds, some of which can be linked to gas development.

Fracking has lowered U.S. energy prices, created jobs and enhanced national security, according to a task force formed by President Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Critics say the benefits may not outweigh the environmental and health risks. Fracking has been linked to groundwater contamination in Pennsylvania, high ozone levels in Wyoming and now to health impacts for people living close to wells. Those living closer to gas wells reported higher rates of symptoms, according to the study. The survey was distributed to both Earthworks’ existing contacts in communities where drilling has occurred and other people who were referred to the group.

‘‘We are not saying this is definitive cause-and-effect proof,” Steinzor said. “What we’re saying is there are a lot of associations that are very strong and that need to be investigated further.”

The study results are questionable because of the participants chosen for the survey may have come in with a bias against drilling, according to Steve Forde, a spokesman for the Pittsburgh-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group.

"By the ‘researchers’ own admission, their so-called methodology clearly demonstrates that this is not a work of objective scientific research, given that they relied completely upon ‘existing contacts’ and others who attended their anti-natural gas ‘public events’ for their survey," Forde said in an e-mail.

Tagged with: public health, pennslyvania, fracking

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