DC Fracking Today | Oil industry exec rips conference as 'witch hunt'

Vindy reporter Karl Henkel is in Washington, D.C. all day today for a special daylong conference on the environmental impact of fracking.

Here are his reports from the day. (At the end is a rundown of the entire event.)

Oil industry exec rips conference as 'witch hunt'

ARLINGTON, VA. — Energy In Depth, an education and outreach arm of the natural gas and oil industry, weighed in Monday afternoon regarding the public health shale forum in Arlington, Va.

John Krohn, communications director, attended the forum and called it an "organized witch hunt," in which "the natural gas industry was on trial in a closed-door meeting."

"The characterization that this is a conference of concerned professionals is false," he said.

Krohn said the event was "headed by two Cornell professors whose research has been widely and thoroughly debunked by organizations like the Department of Energy, World Watch Institute and Carnegie Mellon in a study funded by The Sierra Club."

Krohn said, however, that the industry is committed to working with those who are against fracking.

"The industry looks forward to working in areas where there are legitimate complaints as a result of our activities," he said.

Lack of training impairs detection of public health issues

 — A medical expert says it is difficult for physicians to detect public health issues that may be related to natural gas and oil exploration.

“There is a significant lack of education and training for physicians in the area of environmental and occupational health,” said Dr. Vikas Kapil of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Kapil said for physicians to determine public health exposures, greater awareness is needed of industries that use potentially toxic substances.

One of those is the fracking process, in which water chemicals and sand are blasted into shale rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil.

Kapil said that lack of awareness has led to confusion between patients and physicians.

“We don’t know what chemicals are being injected,” he said. “That creates a significant challenge.

“A lot of patients are often met with a blank stare. We’re very concerned.”

Kapil said linking fracking-related health complaints with industries like fracking, injection wells and natural gas compression is “a challenge.”

One instance of potential contamination, in Pavillion, Wyo., was inconclusive, Kapil said, because there was no baseline data.

Baseline data is information compiled prior to drilling. That data is then compared to information gathered after the start of a drilling operation.

But an instance in Medina, Ohio, found “explosive levels” of methane at two residential well heads, Kapil said, likely due to oil and gas activities.

In that instance, ATSDB recommended the sealing of a natural gas well.

Oil, gas industries exempted from federal laws

 — Most federal laws "exempt explicitly or implicitly" the natural gas and oil industry and that's unlikely to change, a legal expert said Monday.

Injection wells, a hot topic in the Mahoning Valley following a 4.0 magnitude earthquake near an injection well on New Year's Eve, are exempt from The Safe Drinking Water Act, said Kathleen Dachille of the University of Maryland Carey School of Law.

Fracking is the process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil.

Injection wells accept brine liquid used in fracking. Those wells, in Ohio, can be a few thousand to 9,300 feet deep.

Fracking wells, under The Clean Air Act, are somewhat protected against air contamination claims.

Contamination claims must be on a well-to-well basis; a claim cannot source multiple wells as a single source of contamination.

Two pending pieces of legislation, "The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act," which would require the disclosure of all chemicals used in fracking, and "The BREATHE Act," which would remove some drilling exemptions, haven't gained traction.

At the state level, legislators and regulators have taken the following actions:

• Pennsylvania last April banned wastewater treatment plants as an approved method of brine disposal.

• Ohio has not banned that method of disposal, but has said it won't issue or renew any permits.

• In Pennsylvania, there is currently a drilling moratorium on state land, though Gov. Tom Corbett said he may lift that moratorium.

• Ohio has considered whether it should allow drilling on public land.

Doctor calls for fracking ban

 — An Ithaca College professor doesn't want to see a halt to horizontal fracturing.

She wants to see it banned.

Dr. Sandra Steingraber, speaking at a shale drilling health forum Monday, said that fracking will not just cause an enviornmental crisis, but also a "human rights crisis."

Fracking is the process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil.

Steingraber urged for the rapid phase-out of all fossil fuels "to avoid human calamity" and said that mitigating fracking will only curb potential environmental risks, but not eliminate them.

"If we mitigate fracking to kill fewer people, we're still killing people," she said.

Steingraber used Dimock, Pa. as an example of fracking gone awry.

Some residents of Dimock, a small township in Northeast Pennsylvania, had their drinking water contaminated after Cabot Oil & Gas began fracking in the area in 2008.

Cabot shipped clean water to 12 homes for about three years before the Environmental Protection Agency deemed the water safe last November.

The EPA has since said it will retest the drinking water.

Steingraber said there isn't definitive scientific evidence linking fracking to water and land contamination.

She advised against waiting for that evidence to surface.

"Science is slow," she said. "When we're waiting for the results, all kinds of damage can go on."

Doctor says fracking effect on health needs more study

 — A medical professional says more research is needed to determine whether horizontal fracking can pose adverse health effects.

Dr. Jerome Paulson, George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences, called on the drilling industry to fund an independent foundation aimed at researching the health effects of shale drilling.

“It’s their responsibility to reveal the full description of all chemicals used and the quantities of these chemicals to the public,” he said.

Paulson said it is not the public’s responsibility to fund any research.

Stay tuned for more from the Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy and The Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment Shale Drilling Public Health Conference.

Does fracking pose a public health hazard?

 — Experts are torn as to whether horizontal fracking poses significant public health hazards.

Wilma Subra, president of Subra Co., an environmental consulting firm, said that fracking and its many spin-off industries pollute air and water and cause various illnesses to communities where horizontal fracking takes place.

Fracking is the process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil.

Subra said she has documented various substances, including methane, nitrate, sulfate and arsenic in drinking water near fracking sites.

Subra, however, said she does not have data to prove how much of those chemicals were present in the water, leaving some of her peers skeptical.

“The question is the dose,” said Bernard Goldstein of the University of Pittsburgh. “It’s not just whether the chemical is in there.”

Subra said that her research found that 81 percent of surveyed residents living within two miles of a well site or natural gas compression station reported respiratory problems.

Subra did not provide survey sample sizes and did not disclose if those surveyed reported those same health conditions prior to drilling.

Goldstein said that information is relevant maintain objectivity.

“These things should not be causing contamination,” he said. “We don’t know if they are, but we need to find out.”

Stay tuned for more from the Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy and The Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment Shale Drilling Public Health Conference.


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On January 9, 2012, the nonprofit Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) and the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment (MACCHE) will conduct a conference bringing together experts from various research areas to address the public health aspects of unconventional natural gas drilling (also known as “hydrofracking”).

The PSE/MACCHE conference will be open from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. to credentialed members of the news media who register in advance to attend. 

The January 9th conference arose from a suggestion made by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to investigate the methodological aspects of creating long- and short-term epidemiological studies of the health implications of hydrofracking. The January 2012 conference will address the complex methodological issues associated with the needed research, helping to coordinate studies that address industrial, geologic, toxicological, epidemiological, and health care factors. 

Conference highlights will include:

  • Welcoming and morning keynote remarks: Adam Law, MD, Weill Cornell Medical College, PSE; and Jerome Paulson, MD, George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences, MACCHE.
  • Three open morning panel sessions:  “Chemicals and Pathways of Exposure Associated with the Development of Shale Gas Plays”; “Evaluating Potential Health Impacts of Natural Gas Development in a Residential Community using Health Impact Assessment”; and "State of the Law: Federal, State and Local Regulation of Hydrofracturing.”
  • Afternoon keynote speaker: Dr. Vikas Kapil, DO, MPH, chief medical officer, National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
  • Three closed afternoon workshops: “Issues in Epidemiologic Methodology”; “Issues in Surveying Environmental and Human Health Impacts”; and “Issues in Clinical Services & Treatment”.

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