A World Without Research

When times are economically demanding, the first tendency of regulators is to suggest cutting non-essential programs. Unfortunately, many of those ‘non-essentials’ include public services and research, which are pivotal to the progress of our nation. Mostly as a mental exercise, I’d like everyone to ask themselves where we would we be if we did not fund such research:

  • You would not be reading this article on the internet, as it was pioneered by those that developed the Large Hadron Collider.
  • The paths of hurricanes and tornadoes would be terribly difficult to predict.
  • One out of every ~nine babies worldwide would be claimed by smallpox.
  • Medical MRI technology would not exist – pioneered by a chemist and a physicist.

DCNR Changes

DCNR Lands & Active Permits

Located more close to home are Pennsylvania’s recent funding cuts on ecological projects. Those in power have claimed that their regulatory decisions regarding unconventional natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale layer are based on science. However, the funding for the Commonwealth’s Department of Conservation of Natural Resources (DCNR) to provide data on the health of PA’s ecosystem is aggressively being cut by those same individuals. On January 18, 2012, NPR reported that documents obtained by StateImpact Pennsylvania (among others) suggest that the funding for scientific endeavors within DCNR currently focusing on drilling-related issues is actively being slashed by the state. The agency’s wildlife research program has been cut by almost 70%, specifically impacting the projects dealing with understanding the impacts of drilling. The rationale for why some projects were cut and not others has not been provided, nor was the reason for failing to involve the conservation team in such funding decisions. Also recently, the director of DCNR’s citizens advisory committee was fired by the Corbett administration. The committee has oversight of the state’s parks and forests. These significant changes could significantly affect the accountability of Marcellus Shale gas drilling in PA’s forests.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a major budget deficit to deal with, no doubt. However, in the face of financial crises compounded by overlapping priorities on a policy level, it is even more crucial that we use real evidence – science – to create policies and make decisions. How can we do that when we are cutting the very channels that provide us with the data? Without access to reliable data and information about how PA’s ecosystem is dealing with drilling, our policy-makers will find it more difficult to make well-informed decisions. Without programs that provide up-to-date and reliable impact data, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes that lead to today’s legacy pollution sites – for which tax-payers are now encumbered to remediate!

Read more about the DCNR cuts in NPR’s full article.

Cuts as Pace of Drilling Intensifies

Inadequate access to quality data is an issue that is only going to become more concerning as the pace of the shale gas industry intensifies. (There were 785 Marcellus wells drilled in 2009; 1,461 in 2010; and 1,920 in 2011.) Forty percent of PA’s state forests are already leased out for shale gas drilling, and there has also been some discussion about the likelihood of lifting the moratorium (ban) on further drilling. Learn more here.

As another point of reference regarding the scale of shale gas drilling in PA, below is a map of all of the Marcellus Shale wells drilled in the state as of 1-12-12 created with data from the PA DEP using Data.FracTracker.org

Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH is a doctorate student in the Environmental and Occupational Health department of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health and the Communications Specialist for FracTracker.org. She can be reached at: malone@fractracker.org  |  412-648-8641