The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

February 18, 2013

$1 million grant for state gas drilling health study

DANVILLE — A Pennsylvania health company says it has gotten a $1 million grant to study possible health impacts of natural gas drilling on the Marcellus shale.

Geisinger Health System said Monday that the Degenstein Foundation had awarded the money to help underwrite what it called a "large-scale, scientifically rigorous assessment" of the drilling.

Most of the money will be used for data-gathering, and some will go toward developing studies of the data. Officials said they expect other funders to come forward.

The study is to look at detailed health histories of hundreds of thousands of patients who live near wells and other facilities that are producing natural gas from the Marcellus shale formation thousands of feet underground. The boom in drilling has generated jobs and billions of dollars in revenue for companies and individual leaseholders, but it also raised health concern.

Geisinger Health Systems of Danville, Guthrie Health of Sayre and Susquehanna Health will collaborate on planning and execution of the study, including developing a health surveillance network aimed at assessing and reporting on the patient data gathered from electronic health records.

"The goal is to create a cross-disciplinary, integrated and sharable repository of data on environmental exposures, health outcomes and community impacts of Marcellus shale drilling — the first systematic longitudinal study to do so," the announcement said. "Some of the potential health effects that are likely to be investigated first include asthma, trauma and cardiovascular disease."

Preliminary results could be available within the next year, while other findings are expected in five years and over the next two decades.

Many federal and state regulators say hydraulic fracturing is safe when done properly, and that thousands of wells have been drilled with few complaints of pollution. But environmental groups and some doctors assert that regulations still aren't tough enough and that the practice can pollute groundwater and air.

A decision earlier this month by state regulators in New York to delay a decision on shale gas development pending a more in-depth health study in that state drew praise from environmental groups but protests from landowners eager to reap profits from their mineral resources and frustrated at another delay in a rulemaking process that has kept drilling on hold for 4½ years.

Health Commissioner Nirav Shah cited Geisinger's planned study as one of several that have been initiated or published by the scientific community. Also cited was an EPA study on potential impacts of fracking activities on drinking water that is due to be completed in 2014 and a study recently announced by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with scientists from Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of North Carolina.

 

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