Lenient Drilling Regulatory Recommendations Threaten the Public Health of Pennsylvanians

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The Marcellus Shale, a geologic formation stretching from Tennessee northwards into New York, contains a large subterranean repository of natural gas—enough natural gas to supply the United States for two years. Pennsylvania drilling regulations have not been updated in many decades. Hydraulic Fracturing, a drilling method involving sand, water, and (often proprietary) chemical admixtures delivered deep into the shale containing the natural gas, is currently employed to extract the gas in Pennsylvania.  There is controversy about the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the safety of aquifers, as the extraction process may leave behind radioactive wastewater as well as residual chemicals used in the ‘fracking’ process.  Recently, a commission comprised of elected officials, industry representatives, concerned citizens, and representatives from environmental groups in Pennsylvania delivered an extensive set of recommendations designed to address some of these concerns. Unfortunately, the recommendations for long-term monitoring and surveillance of aquifer quality and safety are insufficient. Specifically, the Commission recommendations in sections 9.2.37 (engagement of Commonwealth Graduate Public Health Schools in surveillance), 9.2.39 (soil, water, and air monitoring by Commonwealth agencies), and 9.2.40 (creation of public health surveillance database by the Department of Health), in conjunction with an extension of contamination liability for commercial drillers from 6 to only 12 months, is inadequate.  The commercial drillers, rather than PA taxpayers, should bear the cost and responsibility for an aggressive—not passive—surveillance program, as well as long term liability well beyond 12 months given the unknown long term health effects of hydraulic fracturing.

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4 Responses to “Lenient Drilling Regulatory Recommendations Threaten the Public Health of Pennsylvanians”

  1. mbc46 Says:

    Thanks for this post. We are facing this issue in Ohio as well. I have not been able to keep up on the science behind the worries, but have read related news articles on the subject. We have advocacy groups trying to raise awareness on this issue in Ohio, but I’m afraid their voices are being drowned out in the minds of our policy makers.

  2. Agnes Says:

    Living in Pennsylvania, we hear a lot about the adverse health effects of Marcellus Shale like asthma, especially in children. I do agree that there needs to be an aggressive surveillance program so that the long term health of Pennsylvanians is maintained. At the policy level, according to the report, several unique environmental and regulatory challenges have been encountered. There seem to be a lot of stakeholders including various state agencies and commissions, organizations like STRONGER, PennFuture, Clean Water Action, PennEnvironment, Pennsylvania Sierra Club, Responsible Drilling Alliance and EARTHWORKS. This is a resource which affects land, water and air- quite complex to monitor but with health in mind priorities have to be set.

    • prm321 Says:

      I will be out of the office between August 15th and 21st. I will be checking email intermittently. For clinical questions, please contact Liz Wright at 271-6393; for research questions please contact Lori Bordner at 214-8688.

  3. tshowalt Says:

    Thank you for this post. It seems that, in looking for creative options for providing energy for the US, we have also found creative options for releasing previously-hidden toxins. Since this is such a politically charged issue, and since it is often linked to discussions of the US economy, this is a difficult challenge. Efforts to mine the Marcellus Shale should be closely monitored with mechanisms to cease activities if public health concerns are realized.

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