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Pa. fracking health study stirs debate on numbers

Published: Mon, August 26, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.


Associated Press


A project examining the local health impacts from natural-gas drilling is providing some of the first preliminary numbers about people who may be affected, and the results challenge the industry position that no one suffers but also suggest the problems may not be as widespread as some critics claim.

The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project has been trying to help people who feel they’ve been sickened by natural-gas drilling or processing for about 18 months in one county south of Pittsburgh.

The work is potentially important because it’s one of the first long-term attempts to monitor drilling-related health impacts, and it could help other groups identify possible symptoms.

The project found 27 cases where people in Washington County believe they were hurt by nearby drilling — seven cases of skin rashes, four of eye irritation, 13 of breathing problems and three of headaches and dizziness. The skin exposures were from water and the other cases were from air. The numbers don’t represent a full survey of the area, just cases so far with plausible exposures.

The EHP group is trying to help those who have been exposed to drilling-related air or water pollution, toxicologist David Brown told The Associated Press, adding that they’re finding “an array of symptoms” in some people who live close to either wells or processing stations.

There are some surprises: Air pollution seems to be more of a threat than water pollution, and the huge processing stations that push gas into national pipelines may be more of a problem than the drilling sites themselves. The processing stations can handle large volumes of gas from hundreds of wells.

Washington County has a population of about 200,000, and about 700 natural-gas wells have been drilled there in the past six years. It’s also home to large gas processing operations.

Some experts not involved with the findings praised the general program but said the debate over fracking and health often neglects a crucial point.

“There’s a strong case that people in the U.S. are already leading longer lives as a consequence of the fracking revolution,” said Michael Greenstone, a professor of environmental economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That’s because many power plants have stopped burning coal and switched to natural gas, which emits far less fine soot, nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide.

Greenstone said more work needs to be done to confirm that Washington County residents were affected by natural-gas activity and not by other factors.


1handymandave(575 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

Those two headed fish you've been finding in the creek where they've been dumping the frac water have always been there. It's only coincidence that they're surfacing now. Perfectly safe, go ahead and eat one.

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2kurtw(1755 comments)posted 2 years, 10 months ago

My math is a bit shaky- but I think I'm close here: 27 people in a population pool of 200,000 factors out to One-hundredth of one Per cent. That's not even statistically significant.

For the AP to come out with this kind of story and play it up- front page, upper right- shows a bias of some kind- definitely not objective reporting.

I'm not trying to make excuses for the Natural Gas Industry- but until I see some solid evidence- and not a bunch of hysteria whipped up by lunatic fringe leftists- I'm going to assume that the only problem with this industry is in the heads of the people who hate it.

P.S. The best reporting in the whole piece came from Michael Greenstone, an MIT professor, who pointed out: "There's a strong case that people in the United States are already leading longer lives because of the fracking revolution..." but in typical AP fashion that part of the story was put in at the very end (most people don't finish reading news stories). He concluded by pointing out that work needs to be done to determine if Washington County residents were affected by natural gas activity and not by other factors.

That conclusion- coming from a named authority- should have been put closer to the beginning of the story and not as the last sentence.( More Liberal- media bias at work?) By the way, what are the scientific credentials of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project? I'd really like to know.

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