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Ohio Utica Shale

New York group weighs in on Pennsylvania health study

By Bob Downing Published: August 28, 2013
 

 

 
Press Releases
by Larysa Dyrszka, MD; Kathleen Nolan, MD, MSL; and Sandra Steingraber, PhD
Early results from an on-the-ground, public health assesment in Washington County, Pennsylvania, indicate that environmental contamination is occurring near natural gas drilling sites and is the likely cause of associated illnesses. We are alarmed by these preliminary findings. They show that—after only six years of drilling—human exposure is occurring and people are getting sick. The presence of any sick people gives lie to industry claims that high volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is “safe.”
Focusing on the early low numbers from this ongoing study, however—as does a recent Associated Press story—is misleading. The 27 cases documented by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project team are not a surveyed sample of the region’s population, nor were they recruited to be part of a study. They are patients from a single rural clinic who came in seeking help. As such, these early figures could easily be the leading edge of a rising wave of human injury.
Furthermore, these 27 people represent only those suffering acute problems. Chronic illnesses can take years to manifest. Mesothelioma from asbestos, thyroid cancer from radiation, mental retardation from lead poisoning; birth defects from the rubella virus: all these now-proven connections began with a handful of case studies that, looking back, were just the tip of an iceberg. We know that many of the chemicals released during drilling and fracking operations—including benzene—are likewise slow to exert their toxic effects. Detection of illness can lag by years or decades, as did the appearance of illnesses in construction workers and first responders from exposure to pollution in the 9/11 World Trade Center response and clean-up.
The early results from the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project study implicate air contamination as the likely cause of three-quarters of the associated illnesses so documented. In some cases, starkly elevated levels of fracking-related air pollutants were found in the air inside of people’s homes. This is an unacceptable problem: breathing is mandatory and, while a drinking water source might be replaced, air cannot.
A minority of cases suffered from likely exposures to tainted water, but these low numbers are not reassuring. Many exposures related to natural gas extraction increase over time. First come airborne exposures, as seen in Washington County and around the country where drilling and fracking is taking place. In a small percentage of communities near drilling operations, water contamination also takes place immediately due to failure of the well casings. But, more often, water contamination is a delayed response. Well casings continue to fail as they age—up to 60 percent over 30 years—and, as they do, we expect health effects from waterborne contaminants to rise and spread to more communities.
Thus, each well is potentially the center of an expanding circle of illness. At first there are only a few cases, but the ultimate result may be widespread contamination.
In the AP story, the gas industry argues that lives are saved by cleaner burning natural gas. Even if there is any truth in that claim, saving U.S. lives from emissions from shamefully antiquated coal plants should not require sacrificing unconsenting children and families to contaminated air and water from fracked wells and the transportation of gas. Creating new health hazards to replace the old is unethical when clean, safe, renewable forms of energy exist.
Given that exposures and illness increase over time and given that many instances of contamination and illness related to fracking never come to light due to non-disclosure agreements with the industry, we cannot accurately quantify the extent of our problems with gas drilling. We do know they are here, and we have every reason to expect that they are not yet fully visible and they are growing.
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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.