In this photo from June 25, 2012, a crew works on a gas drilling rig at a well site for shale based natural gas in Zelienople, Pa. Some experts say the evidence surrounding questions that gas drilling could be ruining the air and polluting water and making people sick is sketchy and inconclusive, but a lack of serious funding is delaying efforts to resolve those pressing questions and creating a vacuum that could lead to a crush of lawsuits. AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
(AP)—Is gas drilling ruining the air, polluting water and making people
sick? The evidence is sketchy and inconclusive, but a lack of serious
funding is delaying efforts to resolve those pressing questions and
creating a vacuum that could lead to a crush of lawsuits, some experts
House committee in June turned down an Obama administration request to
fund $4.25 million in research on how drilling may affect water quality.
In the spring, Pennsylvania stripped $2 million of funding that
included a statewide health registry to track respiratory problems, skin
conditions, stomach ailments and other illnesses potentially related to
almost as if it’s a secret, that they don’t want to know about people
who are affected,” said Janet McIntyre, who lives near a drilling area
about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. “There’s a lot of people in my
neighborhood that have rashes and little red spots.”
officials say the air and water in the community is safe, and doctors
haven’t confirmed that drilling caused illnesses. But without a
full-scale medical review or other research in such cases, the worries
now, the kind of comprehensive research that’s needed just hasn’t
started,” said Bernard Goldstein, professor emeritus at the University
of Pittsburgh School of Public Health.
drilling boom has come about because of advances in hydraulic
fracturing, or fracking, that have made enormous reserves of gas
accessible, leading to more jobs and profits and lower energy costs. But
there are also concerns about pollution. The gas is pulled from the
ground through a process in which large volumes of water, plus sand and
chemicals, are injected deep underground to break rock apart and free
claim that the fluids associated with drilling could rise and pollute
shallow drinking water aquifers, and that methane leaks cause serious
air pollution. The industry and many government officials say the
practice is safe when done properly, and many communities welcome the
jobs and the royalty payments landowners receive. But there have also
been cases in which faulty wells did pollute water.
residents and even some energy companies agree on one thing: Without
credible answers, the fears and lawsuits over possible public health and
environmental impacts are likely to grow.
over possible effects on drinking water have already led to lawsuits in
Pennsylvania, Texas and other states. In June, Oklahoma-based
Chesapeake Energy agreed to a $1.6 million settlement with Pennsylvania
families who say their wells were ruined, though the company didn’t
acknowledge any fault.
national law firm has created a “fracking-lawsuit.com” website to
attract clients, while another has “frackinginjurylaw.com.”
federal Environmental Protection Agency has drafted new rules to better
control air pollution from gas drilling, and officials in Pennsylvania
and other states have tightened regulations on well construction and
related issues. But critics say public health effects are being
literally hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on environmental
health and human health research every year,” Goldstein said, yet
virtually none of that is going to gas drilling research.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in January that
research into fracking “should include all the ways people can be
exposed” to fumes or tainted water. Yet more than half a year later, “we
don’t have any new initiatives” regarding shale gas and public health,
said Bernadette Burden, a CDC spokeswoman.
In this July 27, 2011 file photo, workers stand near the rig that drills into the shale at a gas well site in Washington, Pa. Some experts say the evidence surrounding questions that gas drilling could be ruining the air and polluting water and making people sick is sketchy and inconclusive, but a lack of serious funding is delaying efforts to resolve those pressing questions and creating a vacuum that could lead to a crush of lawsuits. AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File
a lack of government funding, there are some embryonic attempts to fill
the gap. For example, the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund has
said, without elaborating, that it is partnering with major universities
and eight natural gas companies on ways to address environmental and
also say the industry isn’t doing much to help the situation,
especially given the enormous amounts of money shale gas is producing.
shale gas fields generated more than $20 billion in gross revenues in
2011, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal energy data.
That figure is projected to grow steadily over the next 10 years, even
with wholesale prices that are near historic lows.
Porter, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, the leading
industry lobbying group, said he wasn’t aware of any API donations to
public health research.
who has more than 40 years’ experience working in public health,
predicted that ignoring health concerns could ultimately be used by
trial lawyers seeking big payments from a deep-pocketed industry.
somebody in your community tells you that they’re sure that they’re
sick, that their kids are sick, and at the same time the industry is
saying, ‘It ain’t us,’ who are you going to believe?” Goldstein said.
Energy companies can look at to at least one successful model for industry-supported research.
Health Effects Institute, founded in 1980, is a Boston-based
partnership between the EPA and the auto industry. Each contributes half
of the yearly $10 million budget, said director Dan Greenbaum, but the
industry has no say on what research projects get chosen.
research done by Health Effects has “been instrumental in our learning
about exhaust emissions and possible health effects” and supported
technology that has led to reductions in vehicle and engine pollution,
said John Wall, chief technical officer for Cummins Inc., an Indiana
Effects is “exploring the possibility” of helping shale gas drilling
research, but ultimately that would require contributions from the gas
drilling industry, Greenbaum said.
industry groups say they’re ready to consider new approaches. Patrick
Creighton, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said it has
partnered with a number of institutions to advance original research. He
didn’t provide details.
Some recent research, though, has been tainted by industry money.
University of Texas at Austin recently said it would create a group of
outside experts to review the school’s Energy Institute, which issued a
report on environmental effects from gas this year without disclosing
that the lead researcher was also being paid hundreds of thousands of
dollars by an energy company.
May, a report from New York’s University at Buffalo generated similar
controversy because of the researcher’s ties to the gas industry.
oil and gas companies and researchers who don’t disclose their industry
ties “just don’t get” that a loss of credibility can cost more in
lawsuits than funding tough, nonpartisan research, Goldstein said.
“Human nature,” he said, “will not trust industry.”
Source: The Associated Press