Negative Health Impacts & Stressors Perceived to Result from Marcellus Shale Activity

Identified by Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

By Kyle Ferrar, MPH – DrPH Candidate, Environmental and Occupational Health Department, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh

The potential for negative health impacts to result from unconventional natural gas development activities, such as hydraulic fracturing (deemed “frac’ing”) occurring in the Marcellus Shale basin, is a highly debated and contentious issue.  To resolve this issue public health and medical professionals will need to conduct a large-scale epidemiological study – one that monitors the lives and health of a large sample of people for an extended period of time.  Such a study should test to see if proximity, or closeness to unconventional natural gas development, such as frac’ing, causes negative health impacts.  Such a study has not yet been officially proposed in Pennsylvania, much less funded, but researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) believe such a study will be conducted in the future.

New peer-reviewed research released by the CHEC provides background data for that kind of study.  The research documented 59 unique health impacts, or “symptoms,” and 13 “stressors” perceived to result from Marcellus Shale development.  Over time, symptoms and perceived health impacts increased for the sample population (p<0.05), while stressors resulting from Marcellus Shale activity remained consistent (p=0.60).  The study group was a biased sample population, meaning the participants were not randomly selected.  Rather, the participants were already concerned by or interested in issues associated with this industrial activity.

Using community based participatory research methods, researchers from CHEC, along with researchers from FracTracker while it was still a project at CHEC, engaged community members with in-depth interviews.  Mail surveys have been conducted by other researchers in Colorado and Wyoming, but this is the first research to use an ethnographical, in-person approach.  Furthermore, this is the first peer-reviewed and published research that describes symptoms in those who believe their health has been affected.  The six most reported symptoms are reported in Table 1, with stress being the most commonly reported health effect.

The article contributes several new findings to this field of research, including evidence about what people report as stressors.  Contributions of stress to negative health effects are well documented in the literature, known as allostatic loads.  The six most commonly reported “stressors,” or sources of stress, are reported in Table 2.  Particularly notable is the very high percentage of the group that report issues such as being lied to that presumably would be corrected if the industry became more transparent and responsive.  The article also reports on the longitudinal nature of the perceived health impacts and stressors. Longitudinal refers to the fact that the data were collected over time, not just once. Follow-up interviews conducted 19-22 months after the initial interviews showed that the number of perceived health impacts reported by participants actually increased over time, while the number of stressors reported remained consistent.  This contradicts industry’s argument that the problems are mainly caused by seeing and hearing drilling activity, and that as the intensity of activity diminishes over time so will the symptoms and stressors. While this research does not answer the larger question of whether negative health effects are associated with Marcellus Shale development, it demonstrates a need for future studies to be conducted within these particular communities and supports the more difficult task of embarking on a broader epidemiological study.

Table 1. Most reported symptoms with the percentage of participants reporting said symptom.

Symptoms Session 1 (n=33)
Stress 76%
Rashes 27%
Loss of sleep 27%
General illness 24%
Headaches 24%
Diarrhea 24%
Shortness of breath 21%
Line Table 2. Most reported “stressors” participants associated with Marcellus Shale development, with the percentage of participants reporting said stressor.

Stressor Session 1 (n=33)
Denied or provided false information 79%
Corruption 61%
Concerns/complaints ignored 58%
Being taken advantage of 52%
Financial damages 45%
Noise pollution 45%


About the Journal Article

Assessment and longitudinal analysis of health impacts and stressors perceived to result from unconventional shale gas development in the Marcellus Shale region <-- Note: This link is presently not connecting to the article on We will update the link once the article becomes available again on their site. Authors: Kyle J. Ferrar; Jill Kriesky; Charles L. Christen; Lynne P. Marshall; Samantha L. Malone; Ravi K. Sharma; Drew R. Michanowicz; Bernard D. Goldstein Source: International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health

Unconventional Shale Drilling: What we know, What we don’t know, What we need to know to move forward


This post has been archived.

By Ted Auch, PhD – Ohio Outreach Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

A Conference Retrospective

Communities, NGOs large and small, local governments, and even next door neighbors and/or families are dealing with long-term potential and realized environmental, economic, health*, and social equity damage from the activities of the gas industry in Ohio and beyond. These impacts were vetted at a conference (PDF) recently convened in Warren, OH by FreshWater Accountability Project Ohio, The FracTracker Alliance, and the Buckeye Forest Council. The title of the conference was “Unconventional Shale Drilling: What we know, What we don’t know, What we need to know to move forward.” The premise was to bring together a forum of diverse subject matter experts from academia, industry, government and private organizations to discuss and prioritize – using a knowledge-based approach – the various major issues relating to energy extraction that are facing local, state and national agencies and private citizens.

Conference attendees heard from a variety of researchers and community activist about their successes and failures, data needs, and expectations for how to leverage the conference gathering into a relatively cohesive and largely ego free movement. One highlight was a presentation and informal discussion with Deborah Rogers, former Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney investment banker, Dallas Federal Reserve Advisory Council member, current U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (USEITI) advisory committee member, and the woman behind the Energy Policy Forum. Ms. Rogers’ keynote presentation “Shale and Wall Street: Was the Decline in Natural Gas Prices Orchestrated?” focused on the regulatory and high finance parallels between the early aughts real-estate bubble and the current US shale bubble’s red queen predicament (what’s this?) forcing industry to acquire shale assets and repurchase shares in an illusory attempt to inflate their balance sheets and placate Wall Street expectations (while simultaneously overestimating reserves by 400-500% and experiencing 6.5% recovery efficiencies). Ms. Rogers pointed to the fact that the US is home to 181,000 oil and gas jobs Vs. 183,200 renewable energy jobs, however, they account for 45% and 15% of total energy generation capacity, respectively, with the latter “providing significantly more jobs per kilowatt capacity than oil and gas.”

Ms. Rogers was followed by University of Pittsburgh professor Dr. Bernard Goldstein, Biological Mimetics, Inc. President and CEO, Peter Nara, with public health and environmental concerns presentations, respectively. Julie Weatherington-Rice, an OSU adjunct faculty geologist, delivered an Ohio- focused talk on the legal and public policy implications of drilling in public water well fields. Dr. Weatherington-Rice gave an encore performance the following day focusing on shale gas waste, public water supplies, Ohio EPA’s September 2012 advisory regarding disposal of fracking waste in the Great Lake’s waste landfill facilities, and the dangers associated with technologically enhanced radioactive material (TENORM). Dr. Rice was followed by presentations on sustainable communities via “Local Self-Government and the Rights of Nature” by Tish O’Dell of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and Matt Nisenoff exploring the non-binary nature of Ohio advocacy. Mr. Nisenoff addressed the need for persistent organizing and “entering the political ring as candidates rather than voters.”

One of the most novel components of the conference was the presentation by Rumi Shammin, an environmental studies professor at Oberlin College who brought to the floor the concepts of ecosystem services and ecological economics or the monetization of ecological pattern and process [1]. These two lines of research are new to the hydraulic fracturing conversation and potentially integral to policy formulation, community outreach and academic-citizen scientist collaboration in Ohio.

Bowling Green State University professor Andrew Kear offered the final presentation titled “Unconventional Politics of Unconventional Gas: Environmental Reframing and Policy Change.” The presentation highlighted his PhD dissertation work focusing on unlikely bedfellows in the mountain west shale plays and the types of lessons he thought applied to Ohio’s shale fracturing discussion.

The conference closed with attendees coming together to identify the explicit knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns in Ohio relative to economic, environmental, social integrity, and health issues. The results of these break-out groups and discussion will be made available to the public in the next two weeks.

Next steps include crafting two to three white papers, writing a peer review publication, implementing effective collaboration strategies, planning future conferences, and developing policy recommendations. The ultimate goals are to promote fact-based transparency, best in class technologies, and create healthy and sustainable energy resources.

In the face of industry and regulatory inertia that continues to push back against transparency and local control, the conference underscored the need for more education, data, and far more research – all issues of special interest to the FracTracker Alliance – while bridging rifts and fortifying existing bonds.

Contact Information

For more information and notices as to resulting products, please contact:

  1. Leatra Harper, FreshWater Accountability Project Ohio,
  2. Ted Auch, PhD, The FracTracker Alliance, Ohio Program Coordinator
  3. Peter Nara, PhD, Biological Mimetics, Inc.
  4. Julie Weatherington-Rice, PhD, Adjunct Faculty The Ohio State University and Bennett & Williams
  5. Nathan Johnson, Buckeye Forest Council

* Keynote speaker Deborah Rogers cited health impact costs in the Barnett, Fayetteville, and Marcellus Shale of $73, 33.5, and 32 million per annum.

[1] Arrow et al., 1995; Costanza et al., 1997; Costanza et al., 2000; Costanza, Wainger, Folke, & Mäler, 1993; Daily et al., 1997; Krantzberg & Boer, 2006; Ruhl, 2006

A Year in the Life of Ohio’s Utica Play

The Ohio Utica play has taken off in the last calendar year, jumping from 160 permitted wells as of March 2012 to 453 since then. This equates to 1.24 permitted wells per day. (Note: The state’s less exploited Marcellus shale had 13 permitted wells a year ago with an increase of 7 since then.) A year ago Ohio was home to 50 “drilled” wells and is now home to an additional 80 “drilled” wells (Figure 1). Meanwhile 0.65% and 1.14% of permitted wells are what Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) calls “Inactive” or “Not Drilled” with the latter being relatively similar a year ago vs. today with 3 and 4 “Not Drilled” wells, respectively. According to the latest ODNR data 54 Utica wells were permitted as of 4/1/2012 vs. 342 since then. Plugged wells constitute 1.63% of all Ohio Utica wells although the industry appears to be increasing efficiency with respect to plugging having experienced 7 “Plugged” wells as of 4/1/2012 and only 3 since. Conversely, wells that are “Producing” have declined from 25.63% (41 “Producing” wells) of all permitted wells to 1.32% (6 “Producing” wells) of all permitted wells since then with the latest reported producing well being a Mountaineer Keystone well in Windham Township, Portage County.

The permitting process has continued along its exponential path since permitting began September 28, 2010 (Figure 2). The gross average number of permitted Ohio Utica wells per month in the last five months is 39 with a total of 195 permitted since November 2012. The quarterly permit average has increased by an order of magnitude of 4.2 permits per month between September 2010 and 2011 to 39 per month since September 2012. In recent months Washington county was added to the list of Ohio counties home to Utica hydraulic fracturing permits, while Carroll remains the state with the most Utica permits followed by Harrison, Columbiana, Guernsey, and Jefferson/Noble with the average number of Utica well permits across the 22 counties home to at least one permit being 28 per county with six counties above and sixteen below this mean (Figure 3). In the last year the four counties that have entered the Utica conversation are Trumbull, neighboring Holmes and Wayne, and Washington, with 4, 3, 1, and 1 Utica permit as of April 1st, respectively. Meanwhile five other counties have seen no increase in Utica permits including Muskingum, Knox, Ashland, Geauga, and Medina. Conversely Belmont County has seen a 21-fold increase in Utica well permits followed distantly by Harrison, Guernsey, Noble, and Coshocton counties all of which have experienced ≥5-fold increases.

The average number of people per Utica well across the aforementioned 22 counties is 31,808, while the average number of wells per square mile is 0.066. The range is quite broad for both variables ranging from 0.0018 wells per square mile in Wayne – home to the Wayne National Forest – to 0.59 wells per square mile in Carroll County, with the one recent Washington County well placing it 13th out of 22 counties. The inverse is the case for people per well with Medina County, home to the highest number of people relative to Utica well permits with 172,332 people per well (vs. 124-563 people per well in Carroll, Harrison, Noble, and Monroe counties).  Since last we conducted this type of analysis in late January the valuation of Ohio’s major Utica players has actually increased by 11.7%. This is a particularly complex situation considering that Atlas Noble the owner of 6 Utica wells has actually gone private for a variety of reasons and Chesapeake Energy has ousted its CEO Aubrey McClendon due to “philosophical differences and a pending SEC investigation. Meanwhile, Wall Street-types:

… expect well results to vary greatly, given 2012 drilling activity across many fringe areas of the play. We believe weak results from other operators are likely to validate that Gulfport remains the most exposed operator. Source

Additionally, the repeated delay in 2012 production numbers scheduled for the 1st of April is creating layer upon layer of uncertainty leaving everyone guessing and relying on 2011 production numbers. This leaves public sentiment worried about the unsustainability, uncoordinated, and unbalanced nature of both Ohio’s regulatory framework and highly Utica exposed and/or leveraged balance sheets. Meanwhile Wall Street analysts are contemplating whether market forces, expectations, reality, or collusion is to blame. Our current model of potential Utica production in the form of barrels of oil equivalent speaks to small and discrete highly productive zones in Belmont, Noble, Guernsey, Morgan, and Muskingum counties, rather than the originally estimated zones of highest production in Carroll and Columbiana. An additional hotspot appears to be located in Fairfield, Perry, and Hocking counties. However, due to insufficient data quantity, quality, and methodology, and transparency from ODNR and industry, the opportunities to conduct such exercises are still accompanied by substantial uncertainty in the form of high signal-to-noise resulting from scant and unreliable data. The hope, herein and on Wall Street, is that ODNR and industry will begin to make their production data available in real-time.

This is an especially important consideration given that the aforementioned regulatory environment here in Ohio – as well as the relatively generous severance taxing system[1] – has reached a point that even industry/supply-side think tanks like The Fraser Institute in Canada have determined “the extent of investment barriers (based on All-Inclusive Composite Index values)” are as good as they are ever going to get; Ohio trails only Mississippi in a global investment barrier ranking of 146 countries, US states, and Canadian provinces. Furthermore, in one year the conditions for doing largely hydrocarbon-related business in Ohio improved so much between 2010 and 2011 that Ohio jumped up the league tables from 12th to 2nd, according to the institute’s 2011 “Global Petroleum Survey.” This loosening of regulations, combined with decreasing data quality and availability, is the primary concern of The FracTracker Alliance in Ohio.

Utica Permit activity by status to April 1, 2013

Figure 1: Utica Permit activity by status to April 1, 2013

Figure 2. Cumulative and Per Month Utica Permits to September 2010 through March 2013

Figure 2. Cumulative and Per Month Utica Permits to September 2010 through March 2013

Figure 3. Utica Permit Count by County from September 28, 2010 to April 1, 2013

Figure 3. Utica Permit Count by County from September 28, 2010 to April 1, 2013

Figure 4. Utica Permits Per Square Mile and People Per Well by County from September 28, 2010 to April 1, 2013

Figure 4. Utica Permits Per Square Mile and People Per Well by County from September 28, 2010 to April 1, 2013

(Note: This model was constructing utilizing the Geostatistical Analyst Tools “Empirical Bayesian Kriging” tool in ArcGIS)

Figure 5. A map of the current Ohio Shale and Tight Gas Plays, hydraulic fracturing permits in Ohio as of 4/1/2013, and a generalized model of potential production from with light green representing 20 Barrels of Oil Equivalent (BOE) and red approximately 10,000 BOE

Table 1. Distribution of Ohio Utica Shale wells across companies (#, %), Date of First Permit (DFP), and the valuation of the publicly funded companies at their DFP at the close of business 4/9/2013.


Company Valuation





Share Price DFP

Share Price 4/9/2013

% Change












Atlas Noble††












Chesapeake Energy







Chevron Appalachia







Consol Energy







Devon Energy







Eclipse Resources


















Gulfport Energy














Hall Drilling




Hess Ohio







HG Energy




Hilcorp Energy




Mountaineer Keystone




PDC Energy







R E Gas Development




Sierra Resources








XTO Energy













DFP = Date of First Permit; “—“ not a publicly traded company

†† Atlas Noble has since gone private

Corporations that have reported production numbers as of this post: 1) Anadarko – 3, 2) Chesapeake – 14, 3) Consol Energy – 1, 4) Enervest and PDC Energy – 2, 5) Gulfport – 10, R E Gas Development – 4.

[1] Ernst & Young in a 2011 report found that Ohio’s hydrocarbon taxing rates were the most favorable of the eight states they investigated with a total state and local tax of 1.8% vs. 10.9-11.0% in neighboring West Virginia and Oklahoma, respectively. The average across the seven other states was 9.2% or 5.12 times that of The Buckeye State.

US Pipelines Incidents Are a Daily Occurrence

Recently, there has been a lot of attention focused on the Mayflower, Arkansas pipeline failure that resulted in a massive oil spill, particularly as it comes at a time when discussions of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project are once again heating up.  However, the situation is far from unusual.  In fact, according to data downloaded from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), there were 1,887 incidents in the nation’s gathering and transmission, distribution, and hazardous liquids pipelines between January 1, 2010 and March 29, 2013, or an average of 1.6 incidents per day.

Pipeline incidents from 1/1/2010 through 3/29/2013.

Pipeline incidents from 1/1/2010 through 3/29/2013. Data Source: PHMSA.

Obviously, not all of these failures are on par with the massive spill in Mayflower, and it should be noted that there are a variety of reasons for these lines to fail.  Some of these reasons, such as excavation activity in the vicinity of a pipeline, are not necessarily the fault of the pipeline’s operator.  The fact that these incidents are commonplace, however, is not one that can be dismissed.

Pipeline incidents in the United States from 1/1/2010 through 3/29/2013. Source: PHMSA.  Red Triangles represent incidents leading to fatalities, and yellow triangles represent those leading to injuries.  To access the legend and other controls, click the “Fullscreen” icon at the top-right corner of the map.

It is clear from the map that there a few data entry errors, as a few of the data points draw in locations that aren’t even in the jurisdiction of the United States. However, each entry also contains a city and state that the incident is associated with, and for the most part, the data seem to be fairly reliable.

Unconventional oil and gas wells in the Chesapeake Basin

A Fresh Opportunity in the FRESHER Act

By Tanya Dierolf, Choose Clean Water Coalition

Love him or hate him, there’s no arguing that Stephen Colbert can grab a headline. Recently he’s had a lot to say about environmental protection, energy and water. Last week he reported on the Pegasus Pipeline Spill in Arkansas and reminded us that what’s “out of sight” and “out of mind” might still be in our drinking water. Those of us in Pennsylvania familiar with Talisman Terry have yet to forget his exposé on the children’s coloring book that attempts to teach kids about hydraulic fracturing through the expertise of a friendly Frackasaurus. This leaves me wondering if Colbert might ask Congressman Matt Cartwright about his legislative attempts to apply stricter federal protections to oil and gas development when the Pennsylvania Congressman appears on Stephen’s “Better Know a District” segment in early May.

In March 2013, Congressman Cartwright (PA-17) introduced the “Focused Reduction of Effluence and Stormwater runoff through Hydrofracking Environmental Regulation Act” or FRESHER act. Because of expanding development of oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania and exploration, construction, and operations in almost 30 other states, Mr. Cartwright introduced legislation aimed at fixing a federal Clean Water Act loophole to control stormwater runoff from for oil and gas operations. Under the Clean Water Act, industrial facilities are required to obtain a permit to discharge stormwater from their sites and develop “Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans” if disturbing more than one acre of land. However, Congress exempted oil and gas operations from both of these requirements. By closing the loophole, the FRESHER Act would provide for stronger oversight as both regulators and the public would be aware of industry plans to control pollution. The bill would also require a federal study of stormwater impacts in areas that might be contaminated by stormwater runoff pollution from oil and gas operations.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Many of us working in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are often asked about the impacts that increasing natural gas activity may have on our local waters and the larger Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Considering the ongoing challenges we have with sediment impacts to our local waterways in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and the pollution limits we now have in place to bring the Bay back to health, many are asking how we quantify these impacts. In addition to increased sediment pollution largely carried by stormwater runoff, others are also asking what impact a change in our land use might have as we convert farm fields and forests to well pads. Furthermore, many are asking about roads and pipelines and cumulative impacts. All good questions – and these are just related to natural gas development and its relationship to existing pollution limits and cleanup plans. There are a host of additional questions being asked about drinking water, emissions, groundwater contamination, methane migration, and health and safety.

Mapping a Better Picture

Unconventional oil and gas wells in the Chesapeake Basin

Unconventional Oil and Gas Wells in PA’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Click here to view dynamic, PA map of unconventional wells

To get an idea of the impacts of the oil and gas industry in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we turned to our colleagues at the FracTracker Alliance. FracTracker is committed to working with partners – citizens, organizations, and institutions – in a quest for objective, helpful information to perpetuate awareness and support actions that protect public health, the environment, and socioeconomic well-being. FracTracker collects, interprets and shares data through a website and mapping tool. When it came time to understand impacts, we asked for and received some numbers.

In the portion of Pennsylvania that has waterways draining to the Chesapeake Bay, there have been 5,137 oil and gas wells drilled since 2005*. This number includes both conventional and unconventional wells and vertical and horizontal wells (see map on right). Pennsylvania defines an “unconventional well” as one that is drilled into an unconventional formation, which is defined as a geologic shale formation between the base of the Elk Sandstone or its geologic equivalent where natural gas generally cannot be produced except by horizontal or vertical well bores stimulated by hydraulic fracturing. In short, the definition does include wells drilled within the Marcellus Shale formation. We are continuing to work with FracTracker to obtain similar information on West Virginia.

In Practice

I don’t want to leave the impression that oil and gas development, specifically gas development because of hydraulic fracturing, is an unregulated industry. For example, Pennsylvania already requires erosion & sediment permits for activities involving earth disturbance activities over five acres. I’m also not attempting to get into the patchwork of state-by-state regulations of the oil and gas industry, but Congressman Cartwright’s legislation would ensure that oil and gas companies have stormwater-related permits and pollution prevention plans in place prior to well pad development. The lack of oversight and permitting represents a significant threat to our waterways in places without adequate accountability mechanisms. It’s a fresh opportunity to address an ongoing challenge. We hope Mr. Colbert might just ask Mr. Cartwright about his efforts as we get to know PA’s 17th district. We think he might just say the FRESHER Act is good for his Congressional district and the region.

Written by Tanya Dierolf, Choose Clean Water Coalition

*For those who prefer to read statistics in a table format, see below:

Number of PA Drilled Wells in Chesapeake Basin 1/1/05 – 3/20/13

Well Type Conventional Unconventional Total
Vertical 1197 461 1658
Horizontal 5 3474 3479

Total 1202 3935 5137
Update from US EPA on Hydraulic Fracturing Study

Update from US EPA on Hydraulic Fracturing Study

Update from US EPA on Hydraulic Fracturing StudyThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) released Federal Register Notices announcing a public meeting and a teleconference where the Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel will provide feedback on the Study of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources: Progress Report. The public will also have the opportunity to provide comments for the Panel’s consideration.

Information on how to view a webcast of the meeting will be posted on the SAB website prior to the meeting. More information on the Science Advisory Board’s Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel and its activities is available here.

In addition, EPA’s Federal Register Request for Information to Inform Hydraulic Fracturing Research Related to Drinking Water Resources will be closing on Tuesday, April 30, 2013.