This is the first report I've seen talking about shale not from the view of geology, economics, water or carbon. When it comes down to it does shale make people sick? Let's recall that a fondly and longly held theory among gas antis is that court sealed documents prevent us knowing the full impact of shale. But if there was a wide impact, 99% of us would trust doctors to find those impacts and report them to state health authorities:
Last month, the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health sponsored a conference on the health impacts from Marcellus Shale gas extraction, with speakers from a range of disciplines.
The take-away messages from the conference:
- A few people have had clearly documented health problems related to the Marcellus gas boom, but these were occupational exposures in rig workers.
- Some aspects of gas drilling and production release toxins into the environment, but the level of exposure to the public is uncertain and no links to specific instances of disease have been confirmed, and may never be.
- The most likely impacts are not those typically highlighted in media coverage.
Did Fracking Cause My Son's Cancer (or Autism)?
Werntz said the known fracking additives include a range of compounds with well-known effects on the skin or respiratory system with direct exposure. But outside the occupational setting, such exposures are virtually unknown.
The most likely routes would be underground leakage from well casings or escapes from the backflow ponds into groundwater or surface streams, to which a well site's neighbors might be exposed.
But in that scenario the fracking chemicals would presumably be highly diluted. Rob Jackson, PhD, of Duke University, said preliminary results from a study he and his colleagues conducted in northeastern Pennsylvania showed no evidence of fracking fluids or brine in well water sampled from more than 200 sites.
Jackson said the study did identify higher concentrations of methane in drinking water in sites near drilling activities compared with control sites. But the concentrations were below levels known to be toxic, and he stressed that there was no baseline data from before Marcellus Shale gas operations began -- a common theme in nearly all the research conducted so far.
Few rural homeowners have had their well water tested in a scientifically acceptable way, so it may never be known what, if anything, gas drilling might have added to it.
One of the clinical points I picked up during my time at the UK Department of Health included the widely misunderstood role of clusters:
Bernard Goldstein, MD, former dean of public health at Pitt, reminded attendees at the conference that, because gas drilling is so common in the region, it is certain that disease clusters will occur in places where drilling has occurred -- "whether causally related or not."
Trust me, I'm not a doctor, but these guys are and they appear to have exhaustively studied the Marcellus:
But he noted that the vast majority of injuries to drill-rig workers have been the mundane sorts of falls, fractures, and sprains that occur whenever people work outdoors in high places and with powerful tools.
What's more, he said, all the chemical-related injuries he's seen occurred more than two years ago. Since then, he said, drilling companies have adapted their equipment to the local roads so that their chemical trucks can drive to drilling sites, eliminating the need for hand-mixing.
Notably the MDs come to the same conclusion as what petroleum engineers have been saying all along:
Goldstein said he expects the industry to get cleaner over time because it's in the companies' economic interest. Accidents and spills cost money. And gas that is vented, flared, or lost through defective well casings represents lost revenue.
But this will be the must read part as far as I'm concerned
This is part one of a two-part story. Part two will address mental health effects associated with the drilling boom