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Ohio Utica Shale

Health study of Pennsylvania drilling still gathering data

By Bob Downing Published: January 3, 2014

From the Associated Press:


Almost two years after it began, a much-publicized plan to study possible health impacts from gas drilling is still in the process of collecting data.

Geisinger Health Systems, of Danville, began seeking partners for the long-term project in early 2012. It’s secured at least $1.3 million in funding and has attracted a wide range of medical, environmental and academic partners. For now, the main goal is to build a data warehouse available to researchers.

Geisinger spokeswoman Patti Urosevich said in an email that the project has collected Pennsylvania data on traffic and accidents, air pollution emissions, and the locations of thousands of gas wells and more than 600 compressor stations, which feed the gas through pipelines.

Urosevich wrote that once the data warehouse is complete, researchers will be able to identify and investigate trends by merging health information with data such as geography, traffic, or the environment.

Guthrie Health, of Sayre, and Susquehanna Health are other major partners in the study, and as a group they have access to detailed health histories of hundreds of thousands of patients who live near wells and other facilities that are producing natural gas from the underground Marcellus Shale formation.

The Marcellus lies under large parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York. While the boom in drilling has generated jobs and billions of dollars in revenue for companies and individual leaseholders, it also raised health concerns.

One public health expert welcomed the Geisinger work but said a bigger problem remains: the state of Pennsylvania isn’t doing enough to fund even basic research into possible health impacts of gas drilling.

It’s the state’s responsibility to collect public health data, said Bernard Goldstein, a professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health who is not part of the Geisinger project.

Goldstein noted that a state commission suggested two years ago that the Department of Health be given $2 million to create a statewide health registry to track illnesses potentially related to gas drilling. But representatives from Gov. Tom Corbett’s office and the state Senate cut the funding.

Alan Krupnick, an energy and risk management expert who’s on the Geisinger project executive committee, wrote in an email that health care providers "are sitting on a treasure trove of health data" that could be compared to shale gas development "to find out if and the extent to which these activities are affecting health."

Krupnick is a researcher at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C. think tank.

In early December, the Geisinger project was awarded a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Geological Survey to survey and test 72 private water wells in Lycoming County, which has seen heavy drilling activity. Urosevich said that work should provide insights "into the possible effects of natural gas drilling, agriculture, leaking septic systems and industries on the groundwater."

Geisinger researchers say they plan to study rates of asthma, premature births, and motor vehicle injuries in areas with heavy drilling activity, but there’s no specific schedule for publishing.

In a recent newsletter that discussed the project, lead researcher David Carey said timing is critical. "If we wait too long, it will be hard to get baseline data," Carey said, adding that they need to move toward "doing some analysis."



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Utica and Marcellus shale web sites

Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.

Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.

Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.

Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.

No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.