Public Health Impacts of Shale Gas Industry are Very Detrimental to Local Residents

by admin on July 29, 2019

Gas industry operations can be seen beyond local school building

The Human Toll Part 2 – Interactive Photos Article

From an Article by David Templeton, Don Hopey and Andrew Rush, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 18, 2019

[NOTE: The Human Toll — Part 1, Interactive Photo Article, May 14, 2019 ]

Two gas-compressor stations in the Cibus-Imperial complex sit less than a half mile southwest of the Washington County home of Tim and Brenda Ann Warner that also is surrounded by three shale-gas well pads. They said foul air from truck traffic and the compressor stations has forced them to remain inside their own home most of the time. Brenda Ann and her daughter Savannah stand outside the family house in Robinson.

The industry says otherwise, but studies identify specific harms that shale-gas pollution can cause for fetuses, newborns, children and teenagers.

People desiring open space, fresh air, green vistas and solitude frequently seek out rural areas, and that’s what Tim Warner and his family were looking for when they moved to Washington County in 1999. As a bonus, their blue frame house with a big backyard in Robinson, north of McDonald, is a stone’s throw from the Montour Trail. But some of what they were fleeing when they left their apartment in Moon is even worse, particularly the heavy truck traffic and foul air.

Goose hunting and walks on the trail ended for them in about 2016 with the drilling and fracking of three nearby shale-gas wells and construction of two gas-compressor stations in the Cibus-Imperial complex less than a half mile southwest of their house.

Family members say they’ve become prisoners in their own home — a bunker sealing them off from truck noise and exhaust and other forms of pollution that triggers asthma attacks, nosebleeds, headaches and other health problems.

PHOTO — Serena Warner, 15, with her mother Brenda Ann, outside their home in Robinson, Washington County. Serena has severe asthma and Von Willebrand disease, a blood-clotting disorder. They live on Route 980, across the street from two compressor stations in the Cibus-Imperial Compressor Station Complex.

The Post-Gazette wrote extensively in the spring about high numbers of cancer cases, many of them rare types, diagnosed in children and young adults in the Canon-McMillan School District and in rural counties with shale-gas operations. While no study shows a direct link between cancers and shale-gas drilling, that is not the case with some of the other ailments affecting children in the region.

The link between the Warners’ health problems and pollution is reflected in a recent compendium of 1,778 peer-reviewed studies about shale-gas industry operations. It found that “90.3% of all original research studies published from 2016-2018 on the health impacts of fracking show a positive association with harm or potential harm.”

Released in June, the sixth edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction) also found that a majority of the studies show potential for, or actual evidence of, water contamination and significant air-pollutant emissions. The compendium, compiled by Concerned Health Professionals of NY and Physicians for Social Responsibility, is updated regularly with new studies.

But, in response to Post-Gazette inquiries about the health impacts of shale oil and gas operations, David J. Spigelmyer, president of The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, said in an eight-page statement that “protecting and improving our environment is our industry’s top priority.” Pennsylvania’s shale industry “has a demonstrated track record of safe, responsible and highly compliant operations,” he said.

Coalition spokesman John Sutter said Mr. Spigelmyer declined to be available for an in-person interview.

“Shale development is a safe, tightly regulated process that’s governed by nearly 70 federal, state and local regulations and monitored by 30 state and federal agencies,” the coalition said, claiming emissions below “health protective levels” with “no credible link to cancer.”

“We are disappointed that some activists choose to sensationalize tragedy and make inflammatory suggestions that run counter to the views of respected medical experts, top environmental and health regulators, and because of scientific data and research as an industry made up of tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians, protecting and enhancing the health and safety of our environment and communities where we’re privileged to work is a top priority.”

PHOTO: A caravan of trucks leaves a shale gas facility in Smith Township, Washington County.

The Warners, however, say they are are convinced that their health troubles are linked to pollution, including that from truck traffic and shale-gas operations.

Tim, 58, had to give up goose hunting and often stays inside because he can’t breathe outdoors.

“He’s getting worse,” said his wife, Brenda Ann, 51, who said she is the only one in the family without asthma. “He can’t be on the porch, especially with trucks going by with that smell of fuel.”

Their major concern, though, is the health of their daughters.

Savannah, 21, developed asthma while attending Fort Cherry High School. So did her sister, Serena, 15, who still has trouble breathing what they describe as “the heavy air” whenever she steps outside their home or goes to school. The Fort Cherry campus also is surrounded by shale-gas-well drilling and fracking operations.

The Fort Cherry School senior high school in Mt. Pleasant, Washington County, is surrounded by shale-gas operations. The Chiarelli well pad is visible in this photo just above the silo. Several Fort Cherry parents say their children have had asthma attacks, headaches and nosebleeds, sometimes severe and often while at school. (Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette)

Serena began having headaches and nosebleeds in 2016, mostly at school, leading to her diagnosis of Von Willebrand disease — a disorder in which the blood-clotting protein known as the Von Willebrand factor is defective or absent. The disease can be genetic, but Ms. Warner said she has found no cases of it in their family history. There’s also an acquired form of the disease.

A 2009 German Research Center for Environmental Health study, among others, found that “the Von Willebrand factor antigen showed a consistent decrease,” indicating a reduction in clotting ability, “in association with almost all air pollutants.” Other studies have shown that pollution can impact the factor but not cause the disease.

Parents of several other Fort Cherry students told the Post-Gazette that their children also have had sudden and unexplained asthma attacks, headaches and nosebleeds at school. One student, in addition to asthma, has joint problems and lab results show levels of benzene in her blood that her guardian said are elevated. Benzene is a pollutant generated by shale gas operations.

Serena’s mother says medication for her blood disorder has helped, but added that the main reason for her improvement is that she stays indoors.

For the entire family, the rural lifestyle amid shale-gas operations have become “just stressful,” Ms. Warner said.


About this project

Pollution science is clear even if the skies are not. For every ton of airborne pollution, there’s a well-defined impact on human health, and more specifically, mortality.

In 2010, the Post-Gazette published its own epidemiological study of pollution’s impacts that showed 14 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania had 14,636 excess deaths from 2000 through 2008, when compared with the national average.

Many of those additional deaths showed up in municipalities downwind from pollution-spewing, coal-based power, coke and steel plants.

As part of the Post-Gazette’s effort to update the 2010 “Mapping Mortality” project, Nicholas Muller, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University, was asked to study current air pollution and related mortality, and that review predictably — given the closure of many coal-fired power plants — shows pollution-related deaths in decline.

However, the Muller study also shows that deaths from locally generated pollution were in decline from 2008 until 2011, but then increased by about 100 deaths from 2011 to 2014. He said this reflects increases in locally emitted pollution — most likely from increases in local economic activity and the shale gas industry.

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Columbus Dispatch July 31, 2019 at 11:47 pm

Vigilance needed to protect health and nature from fracking

Editorial Essay of Columbus Dispatch, July 31, 2019

“Fracking” and “cracking” have become well-known terms as eastern Ohio communities have witnessed boom times with the discovery of natural gas and oil under two shale layers.

What’s less certain and deserves continued scrutiny is whether the developing gas and oil economy in Belmont and nearby counties could be inadvertently hijacking residents’ health.

As Beth Burger reported on Sunday, the fracking industry has produced instant wealth for some residents who leased their land for drilling rights. Now the cracking industry holds promise for hundreds of high-paying new jobs.

Fortunately, the industries also are drawing interest from researchers who want to determine the health and environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing to extract gas and oil and then converting byproducts for plastics.

Arguably, there is no area of the state that has been more in need of robust economic development. This part of the Appalachian Rust Belt lost jobs as coal mines and steel mills closed in the late 20th century, taking hopes of family- and community-sustaining jobs with them.

In recent years, renewed hope for a strong local economy and a bright employment future came with an influx of companies using fracking technology to extract rich reserves of oil and gas under stubborn rock known as the Utica and Marcellus shale layers.

Unlike conventional drilling of oil and natural gas wells, fracking goes deep under the shale and then drills sideways for distances as far as a mile. Water, sand and chemicals are injected far below ground under high pressure to fracture the shale so the oil and gas can be retrieved.

The process creates chemical-laden wastewater and stirs up concerns about possible environmental effects, including a potential for earthquakes induced by wastewater disposal.

There also are concerns about possible pollution of air and groundwater from oil and gas spills and from emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and chemical compounds that could cause respiratory and other health issues.

While fracking retrieves the oil and gas, even greater economic potential comes with plans for “cracker” plants that would turn fracked oil and gas into ethylene, which is used to produce plastics and could, in turn, attract plastics manufacturers to the area, introducing new health and environmental concerns.

While economic development interests such as JobsOhio are right to promote the potential fiscal benefits of fracking and cracking in the area, it is important for other government agencies, including the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Health Department, to safeguard residents’ health and environmental interests just as zealously.

The Ohio EPA, for instance, allows companies to hire their own contractors to conduct emissions testing and submit results to the state. We hope this is not a fox-guarding-the-henhouse scenario and that companies are properly incentivized to report accurately by a strong follow-up state inspections system, as professed by Bryon Marusek, the agency’s manager of ambient air operations for air pollution control.

A Yale study last year found 92% of 66 Belmont County residents interviewed by researchers reported at least one health concern. It did not find a clear link to drilling activity but recommended continued monitoring.

Vigilance for health and environmental impacts is a small price to make sure the costs of these new industries are not too much to bear.


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