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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 IngentaConnect.com. 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

1 reply
  1. Anna
    Anna says:

    Clean Energy Foundation from Poland ensure sustainability of investments related to exploration of conventional, unconventional gas & oil, renewable energy sources in an environmental, social and legal context in Europe. Our mission consist primarily on monitoring development of extraction projects.

    European shale gas extraction is only in its infancy and Poland is now at the beginning on track for better methods in gas extraction but is one of a few country from the UE in which work goes on continuously.

    With respect to the explorations and the extraction of various minerals we are the only organization of such type in Poland.

    Clean Energy Foundation prepared also the Report about Unconventional Gas in Poland Report, concerning legal, environmental and social aspects in Poland.

    In order to more information about the mission and objectives of the Foundation, please visit website at http://www.czystaenergia.org.pl and Facebook profile http://www.facebook.com/Fundacja.Czysta.Energia

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