Comments on Marcellus Shale Public Health Study, Maryland’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative
Published: November 15, 2013
Dear Drs. Milton, Sapkota, Wilson, and Sangaramoorthy and Ms. Dalemarre and Ms. Boyle:
On behalf of Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project, I am writing to express appreciation for the launch of the Marcellus Shale Public Health Study, part of Maryland’s Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative. Since I was unable to attend recent public meetings on the study, I offer the following comments and information based on our many years of work with communities impacted by oil and gas development nationwide.
As you are surely aware, investigation of the health impacts of shale gas development lags far behind the expansion of the industry. For many years, industry has based assertions that this development is safe on the absence of scientific studies showing otherwise. Fortunately, the health, medical, and environmental research community, responding to widespread anecdotal evidence of negative health impacts, is increasingly engaged in studies that are already yielding vital information. We are pleased that your study will likely add to this growing body of work.
We are particularly encouraged that the University of Maryland’s study scope includes a full assessment of both direct and indirect causes of health impacts. As both previous and emerging research indicates, the toxicity and risks of many of the substances and chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, and the types of pollution that result from gas production and processing, are well-‐ established. For example, a 2011 review by The Endocrine Disruption Exchange concluded that many of the hundreds of chemicals known to be used in gas operations cause short-‐ and long-‐term health impacts.1
However, causal research that explicitly “connects the dots” from a gas well, compressor station, or other facility to a home or illness is still relatively new. It was this information gap that motivated Earthworks to conduct a community-‐based health impacts project in Pennsylvania in 2011-‐2012. The health complaints we heard from people in the midst of the Marcellus Shale boom were remarkably similar to those reported for years in states with much longer histories of drilling, such as Colorado, Louisiana, Texas, and Wyoming.
The resulting report, Gas Patch Roulette: How Shale Gas Development Risks Public Health in Pennsylvania, details the results of our air and water testing and more than 100 health symptom surveys—the largest such set of information from residents in the Marcellus Shale region to date.2 2 A summary of the report is enclosed, as well as a peer-‐reviewed paper based on the study published earlier this year in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy.3
In sum, our analysis showed that:
- Contaminants associated with oil and gas development are present in air and water in many communities where the development is occurring;
- Members of households located closer than 1500 feet to gas facilities have statistically significant higher rates of several symptoms than those living farther away;
- The symptoms most frequently experienced by study participants were consistent across study areas; and
- Symptoms reported at participating households closely match the scientifically established effects of exposure to chemicals detected in the air and water at those locations.