Drilling Health Concerns and Research Covered at IOM Event

By Samantha L. Malone, MPH, CPH – Communications Specialist, FracTracker & DrPH Student, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health department

Last week I attended the Institute of Medicine’s Workshop on The Health Impact Assessment of New Energy Sources: Shale Gas Extraction in Washington, DC. This was part of a larger research initiative to understand the potential health impacts of shale gas extraction as a whole. The meeting involved very balanced discussions among presenters and attendees, not on whether gas drilling should occur, but how it will impact health and how the effects can best be studied. For those of you who could not attend in person, here are some key points that were raised:

  • Dr. Aaron Wernham of Pew Charitable Trusts discussed the advantages of incorporating a Health Impact Assessment into the decision making process for drilling, highlighting an HIA’s ability to address local concerns and data gaps. For example, he mentioned that data has indicated there was a jump in syphilis rates in Ft. McMurray, Canada where drilling is heavy. Learn more about where HIA’s have been used in the U.S. here.
  • Traffic problems associated with drilling activity have been documented in many parts of the country, including Sublette County, WY. Learn more»
  • Dr. Charles Groat from the University of Texas at Austin discussed his research that suggests that most of the problems (violations/incidents) related to shale gas drilling are not those unique to unconventional natural gas extraction such as hydraulic fracturing, but to the more conventional processes and shale gas drilling’s surrounding infrastructure. He felt that many if not all of these are preventable if the entire industry implemented best practices. He posits that it is the intensity of drilling that has actually been the biggest contributor to the incidents and public concern about the safety of this process.
  • Dr. Allen Robinson from Carnegie Mellon University found that if the air emissions from active well sites were aggregated, they would be a significant contributor to regional air pollution. Emission are dependent on the composition of the gas (wet vs. dry).
  • Three quarters of the sand used for shale gas operations comes from Minnesota and Wisconsin (which could mean long transportation distances depending on the shale play where it is used). There is a significant amount of water used to clean the sand prior to transport, as well.
  • Research by Eric J. Esswein, M.S.P.H. of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) indicates that respirable silica, found in the sand used for hydraulic fracturing, is the greatest exposure hazard to workers on shale gas drilling sites. Silica is often released into the air when the sand is mixed into the frac fluid. Part of this risk is due to the lack of awareness about how long term exposure to it could result in irreversible lung damage and because half face respirators do not fully protect the workers from silica. This exposure can be significantly reduced by installing special technological controls on the mixing equipment. While hydrogen sulfide (H2S) can be present on sites, Mr. Esswein reports that workers are well informed and prepared for this hazard. The second most concerning exposure on the work site is diesel particulate matter.  Mr. Esswein emphasized that presently the most worker incidents are still related to mechanical problems/falls/traffic, not chemical exposures.
  • Dr. Timothy Kelsey discussed economic and community impacts in PA, noting that a significant challenge to the local economy presents when the drilling trend begins to slope downward. He also briefly mentioned that he has not seen significant community impacts being felt in northeastern PA that are normally associated with boom and bust cycles of resource extraction. However, there was some contention about that statement from attendees. For example, according to PennFuture, National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported that a group of churches in northern Tioga County opened the area’s first-ever homeless shelter to feed persons displaced by the influx of natural gas industry employees. Individuals working at a nearby drilling site reportedly made donations to help the work of the Jemison Brethren in Valley Christ Church. The establishment of this shelter was necessitated by the unintended impact of the shale gas industry on those in need of affordable housing — the poor and under-employed. In Williamsport, for example, the influx of industry workers caused moderately priced $400-per-month apartments to skyrocket to $1200. This set off a cascade of effects that ended with the lowest income persons being forced out of available housing.
  • Dr. Michael Honeycutt from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality suggested that regulatory agencies in states where drilling is heavy should be actively monitoring ambient air (see map below) and periodically conducting fly overs of gas facilities with infrared cameras to detect fugitive emissions into the air.

This map displays the sites where TCEQ collects air sampling data and areas of non-attainment or near non-attainment for air quality standards. Click on it to be taken to TCEQ’s dynamic version.

Select slides from all of the presentations from this meeting are available for download here. Under the Other Meeting Resources tab on the right, click Presentations.

Shale Health Office Available for Southwest PA Residents

It isn’t often that you personally know the personnel responsible for a project prior to its launch, but those of us at FracTracker had that benefit with regard to the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, or SWPA-EHP for short. (Oh how we love our complex acronyms.) Raina Rippel, the project’s director, spoke at the second annual Health Effects of Shale Gas Extraction conference hosted by the Graduate School of Public Health about this very topic. Raina and her team are fantastic resources, enabling us to better understand localized concerns and impacts and providing an outlet through which we can share the information we gather during our data analyses.

SWPA-EHP is being funded by The Heinz Endowments, the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Claneil Foundation because people were concerned about shale gas drilling affecting their health and the lack of data available to address those concerns. Interestingly, that is also why CHEC initially became involved with shale gas drilling several years ago – of which FracTracker is a primary result. Recently, SWPA-EHP announced that they are the opening the first-recorded shale health office where area residents can schedule medical evaluations, get help understanding their health problems and learn how to limit their exposure to hazardous substances associated with the industry. In response to the critical, unmet need for access to accurate, timely and trusted public health information, as well as the need for appropriate health care in the communities of southwestern Pennsylvania, the Project has committed itself to the following:

  • Purpose: The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) is a nonprofit environmental health organization created to assist and support Washington County residents who believe their health has been, or could be, impacted by natural gas drilling activities.
  • Resources: The office also serves as a resource center for information on the potential routes of exposure to hazardous substances, as well as strategies for limiting the risk of health effects. Our staff will be available by appointment in the office and by phone to address concerns residents have about their environmental conditions. We will answer questions, provide guidance and steer people toward other resources when possible.
  • Features: SWPA-EHP has an on-site nurse practitioner who is available by appointment for home or office visits, exams and consultations with people who think their health may be compromised by nearby gas drilling activities. She will also provide referrals, help clients navigate the health care system and consult with environmental health specialists about residents’ medical conditions.
  • Project Goals:
    • Establish a community environmental health center in SWPA to identify, document and respond to residents’ health concerns related to natural gas extraction;
    • Conduct a community health needs assessments of Washington County communities to evaluate public health risks and resources and determine the actions necessary to address immediate public health problems;
    • Provide the services of a nurse practitioner who can offer support, assist residents in understanding their health problems, and help them navigate the health care system as needed;
    • Establish clinical resource networks to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of individual patients;
    • Establish technical resource networks to obtain, analyze, develop and disseminate timely and accurate information to community members with respect to their health and environmental risks; and
    • Initiate a planning process for comprehensive actions.

The SWPA-EHP office is located at 4198 Washington Road, Suite 5, in McMurray. The office is open Tuesday-Friday. Nurse Practitioner services are available by appointment only.

Find SWPA-EHP’s new office or add additional community resources to this editable dataset on by clicking on the map below:

Public Health - Prevent. Promote. Protect.

Barriers to Public Health in HB 1950

By Jerome A. Paulson, MD, FAAP – Professor of Pediatrics & Public Health, George Washington University; Medical Director, National & Global Affairs, Child Health Advocacy Institute; and Director, Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health & the Environment, Children’s National Medical Center

Public Health - Prevent. Promote. Protect.I feel very strongly that the language of Pennsylvania’s HB 1950 (found below this commentary) is detrimental to the delivery of personal health care services and contradictory to the ethical principles of medicine and public health.

This legislation blocks health care professionals and public health professionals from collecting information in a timely fashion to treat workers or others who may have been exposed to hazardous chemicals and from gathering information about public health hazards. There is no medical or public health rational for imposing these cumbersome and time consuming restrictions; and, conversely, there is every medical and public health reason for making this information available to medical personnel and the general public.

This legislation will also likely block any attempt at gathering information for research purposes, although, I’m certainly not a lawyer and would defer to the expertise of someone with a background in public health law.

Irrespective of one’s personal or organizational perspective on unconventional natural gas extraction, access to this information will protect individuals who have been exposed, health care workers called upon to treat these individuals, and the general public. I hope that the Pennsylvania Medical Society, the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the state family medicine and public health associations, with appropriate support from their national bodies, take notice of this legislation and follow up appropriately.

(This commentary was written prior to the passing of HB 1950 and has been slightly revised to reflect the current status of the bill. Learn about additional concerns related to this bill in a previous FracTracker post.)

Dr. Marilyn J. Heine, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, recently wrote an op-ed regarding this issue, as well.

Snippet of HB 1950:

18 (10) A vendor, service company or operator shall
19 identify the specific identity and amount of any chemicals
20 claimed to be a trade secret or confidential proprietary
21 information to any health professional who requests the
22 information in writing if the health professional executes a
23 confidentiality agreement and provides a written statement of
24 need for the information indicating all of the following:
25 (i) The information is needed for the purpose of
26 diagnosis or treatment of an individual.
27 (ii) The individual being diagnosed or treated may
28 have been exposed to a hazardous chemical.
29 (iii) Knowledge of information will assist in the
30 diagnosis or treatment of an individual.

1 (11) If a health professional determines that a medical
2 emergency exists and the specific identity and amount of any
3 chemicals claimed to be a trade secret or confidential
4 proprietary information are necessary for emergency
5 treatment, the vendor, service provider or operator shall
6 immediately disclose the information to the health
7 professional upon a verbal acknowledgment by the health
8 professional that the information may not be used for
9 purposes other than the health needs asserted and that the
10 health professional shall maintain the information as
11 confidential. The vendor, service provider or operator may
12 request, and the health professional shall provide upon
13 request, a written statement of need and a confidentiality
14 agreement from the health professional as soon as
15 circumstances permit, in conformance with regulations
16 promulgated under this chapter.
17 (c) Disclosures not required.–Notwithstanding any other
18 provision of this chapter, a vendor, service provider or
19 operator shall not be required to do any of the following:
20 (1) Disclose chemicals that are not disclosed to it by
21 the manufacturer, vendor or service provider.
22 (2) Disclose chemicals that were not intentionally added
23 to the stimulation fluid.
24 (3) Disclose chemicals that occur incidentally or are
25 otherwise unintentionally present in trace amounts, may be
26 the incidental result of a chemical reaction or chemical
27 process or may be constituents of naturally occurring
28 materials that become part of a stimulation fluid.
29 (d) Trade secrets and confidential proprietary
30 information.–

1 (1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter,
2 a vendor, service company or operator shall not be required
3 to disclose trade secrets or confidential proprietary
4 information to the chemical disclosure registry.
5 (2) The following shall apply:
6 (i) If the specific identity of a chemical, the
7 concentration of a chemical or both the specific identity
8 and concentration of a chemical are claimed to be a trade
9 secret or confidential proprietary information, the
10 vendor, service provider or operator may withhold the
11 specific identity, the concentration, or both the
12 specific identity and concentration, of the chemical from
13 the information provided to the chemical disclosure
14 registry.
15 (ii) Nothing under this paragraph shall prohibit any
16 of the following from obtaining from a vendor, service
17 provider or operator information that may be needed to
18 respond to a spill or release:
19 (A) The department.
20 (B) A public health official.
21 (C) An emergency manager.
22 (D) A responder to a spill, release or a
23 complaint from a person who may have been directly
24 and adversely affected or aggrieved by the spill or
25 release.
26 (iii) Upon receipt of a written statement of need
27 for the information under subparagraph (ii), the
28 information shall be disclosed by the vendor, service
29 provider or operator to the requesting official or entity
30 authorized under subparagraph (ii) and shall not be a

1 public record.
2 (e) Disclosure prevented.–The department shall prevent
3 disclosure of trade secrets or confidential proprietary
4 information under this section pursuant to the requirements of
5 the Right-to-Know Law or other applicable State law.

Author Contact Information:
Jerome A. Paulson, MD, FAAP

  • Professor of Pediatrics & Public Health, George Washington University
  • Medical Director, National & Global Affairs, Child Health Advocacy Institute
  • Director, Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health & the Environment, Children’s National Medical Center

2233 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite #317
Washington, DC 20007

Where is public health at the Marcellus table?

Missing from the Table: Role of the Environmental Public Health Community in Governmental Advisory Commissions Related to Marcellus Shale Drilling

Below is the abstract for an article submitted by Goldstein, Kriesky, and Pavliakova to Environmental Health Perspectives, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal about today’s most pressing environmental health issues. Or, download the entire article (PDF).  Note: As of 6-25-12, the EHP link above is not working because their website is down. The link to the full PDF will be provided as soon as possible.

This is Public Health stickerThe Marcellus Shale is a vast natural gas field underlying parts of Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland. Rapid development of this field has been enabled by advances in hydrofracking techniques that include injection of chemical and physical agents deep underground. Response to public concern about potential adverse environmental and health impacts has led to the formation of state and national advisory committees.

We review the extent to which advisory committees formed in 2011 by the US Department of Energy and the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania contain individuals with expertise pertinent to human environmental public health. We also analyze the extent to which human health issues are of concern to the public by reviewing the presentations to the public meeting of the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board Natural Gas Subcommittee.

At a public hearing held by the President’s Natural Gas Subcommittee 62.7% of those not in favor of drilling mentioned health issues. Although public health is specified to be a concern in the executive orders forming these three advisory committees, we could identify no individuals with health expertise among the 52 members of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission; the Maryland Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission; or the Secretary of Energy’s Natural Gas Subcommittee.

Despite recognition of the environmental public health concerns related to drilling in the Marcellus Shale, neither state nor national advisory committees selected to respond to these concerns contained recognizable environmental public health expertise.

Read more»

Full Citation: Goldstein BD, Kriesky J, Pavliakova B. 2012. Missing from the Table: Role of the Environmental Public Health Community in Governmental Advisory Commissions Related to Marcellus Shale Drilling. Environ Health Perspect :-.  Received: 07 October 2011; Accepted: 10 January 2012; Online: 10 January 2012

2nd Annual Health Effects of Shale Gas Extraction Conference

Pitt GSPH LogoHosted by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health
Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, Grand Ballroom (3rd floor), Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Friday, November 18, 2011 — 7:30 AM – 5:00 PM

There is no cost to attend. Refreshments and lunch will be provided during the event. A light reception will follow.

Registration is required. Visit the conference website for more information.