Marcellus Shale Drilling – Citizen Experiences

Photo Left: Fire that erupted on a drill pad in Hopewell Township PA. Photo courtesy of local resident. Atlas Energy drilling site. 3-31-10

CHEC’s Marcellus Shale Documentary Project


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

One of the exciting tasks that we are working on right now is a documentary project surrounding gas extraction activities in the Marcellus Shale region. This project aims to collect & share citizens’ experiences that they have had with the industry. As an environmental public health entity, we are of course interested in the potential health & environmental impacts that this type of drilling may cause. However, CHEC researchers are documenting all types of stories from people living near gas extraction activities, including: road degradation, privacy concerns, social or cultural changes in nearby towns, environmental threats, water contamination, & even positive leasing experiences. Learn more about the process of drilling for methane gas in this region.

The project’s scope focuses on the stories of people living in Western PA, but we have started to make contacts in Central & Northeastern PA lately, as well. Soon there will even be a dataset in the data tool that lists all of the documentaries we have done so far & shows geographically where they have taken place (along with key words & dates). We will be following the project’s progress on this blog, so check back often. If you have an experience with drilling that you would like to share with CHEC, please contact us at 412-624-9379 or

Check out one of the audio/visual recordings we have done:
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Field Researchers

The fantastic researchers currently working on this endeavor are:

  • Kyle Ferrar, MPH
  • David Higginbotham
  • Shannon Kearney, MPH
  • Dolores Kirschner
  • Marah Kvaltine

Now for the technical part: The Methodology

Working through local key informants in Washington, Greene, Bedford, & Fayette Counties, who are trusted contacts in the affected community, the Center for Healthy Environments & Communities will recruit residents, local authorities, law enforcement officials, business owners, & farmers in regions impacted by the Marcellus shale gas extraction industry. The recruiter will inform the potential project participant of the purpose of the project, the process of the documentation procedure, the voluntary nature of their participation, & that their responses may be anonymous if they desire. Once the potential participant agrees to be interviewed, the interviewer will obtain written informed consent, which includes an agreement to have the interview videotaped or digitally recorded, along with consent for the ability to publish the interview on the Center’s website & publications. Once the interviewer has obtained written informed consent, a date, time & place will be established for the formal interview. The interview will take place then in a mutually agreeable manner with the participant agreeing to either be videotaped or digitally recorded. If there is documentation the participant has already obtained, the interview will request copies.

CHEC Philosophy & Practice

By Charles Christen, DrPH, MEd – CHEC’s Director of Operations

The philosophy of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) is to conduct environmental public health research utilizing both a bottom-up & top-down approach. This approach is rooted in the philosophy of public health practice, which emphasizes prevention. The bottom-up approach identifies the concerns & problems affecting the health & quality of life of a community. A community can be a group of people with a shared interest or shared geography. A conceptual model, the first step in exposure assessment, is created to determine the most significant pathways of exposure to the contaminants related to these problems & concerns. The purpose of this bottom-up approach is to generate hypotheses for more advanced research. The top-down approach utilizes the hypotheses generated through community involvement. Research design & methodology are developed in order to test these hypotheses potentially providing insight into the potential risks to health from exposure to the identified contaminants. This philosophy provides the foundation for the mission of CHEC, which is to advance a community-based participatory environmental agenda comprised of exploratory, applied & translational research for the purpose of developing outreach & environmental health programming, as well as policy guidance to improve the environmental public health of the diverse populations in the region of Southwestern PA.

Currently CHEC is involved in a bottom-up approach to environmental public health research by conducting a project to document the perceived impacts of people who live in proximity to industrial operations related to gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale. The purpose of this project is to create a database of these impacts & ultimately a map associating these impacts with active well sites connected with Marcellus Shale gas extraction in order to better comprehend the big picture of how this industry is affecting people throughout the state of PA & in fact across the entire Marcellus Shale region. Examples of impacts that have been reported by individual citizens & groups include well water contamination, air quality problems & odors related to off gassing of volatile organic compounds from fracking ponds & condenser units, & road degradation related to increased truck traffic.

This bottom-up approach informs the top-down work that CHEC is launching to scientifically evaluate if perceived impacts are due to Marcellus Shale gas extraction operations. For example, one of the most reported problems of people living in the vicinity of Marcellus Shale drilling operations is private well water contamination. CHEC’s initial conceptual work certainly indicates that there is potential for exposure through ingestion of water to elements like strontium & barium, organic compounds such as benzene, inappropriate disposal of flowback & produced fluids, & even radionuclide’s of uranium & radium from faulty drill casings, spills & leaks, To scientifically evaluate the connection between gas drilling & extraction operations & private well water contaminants, CHEC must state a null hypothesis that there is no effect on any of the potential contaminants in well water versus a research hypothesis that there is an effect. Testing this set of questions then involves sampling enough wells for the contaminants of concern to rule out any contaminant specific results that could be due to chance (we will use a probability of .05 or 1/20 to reject the null hypothesis & accept the research hypothesis).

CHEC is working on a novel spatial statistical design to carry out this research. Please check back in the near future for information on the study design. If you would like to volunteer to have your private well water sampled as part of this study please write us at or email us to enlist. Since this is a scientific study, please be aware that you may or may not be asked to participate in the study dependant on the study design. However, CHEC will let all volunteers know if they are selected for the study, & all study participants will be notified of the concentrations of contaminants of concern in their well water.