June 17th, Gov. Tom Corbett\’s top health adviser said that he wants to make Pennsylvania the first state to create a registry to track illnesses in communities near heavy drilling in the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation. The registry could determine if fracking imposes a public health risk.
Shale drilling requires blending huge volumes of water with chemical additives and injecting it under high pressure into the ground to help shatter the thick rock, a process called hydraulic fracturing or fracking. In addition to the gas, some of that water returns to the surface tainted with metals like barium and strontium.
Health Secretary Eli Avila told Corbett\’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission that creating such a registry is the timeliest and most important step the Department of Health (DOH) could take, and that his agency is not aware of anything like it in other drilling states. â€œWe\’re really at the frontiers of this and we can make a speedy example for all the other states,â€ Avila told the commission at its fourth meeting.
Collecting information on drilling-related health complaints, investigating them, centralizing the information in one database and then comparing illnesses in drilling communities with non-drilling communities could help refute or verify claims that drilling has an impact on public health, he said. The aggregation of data and information also would allow the DOH to make its findings public, in contrast to the privacy that surrounds its investigation into individual health complaints and the findings that may result.
The Marcellus Shale formation is considered to be the nation\’s largest-known natural gas reservoir. Pennsylvania is the center of activity, with more than 3,000 wells drilled in the past three years and thousands more planned in the coming years. The rapid growth of deep shale drilling and its involvement of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, chemicals, and toxic wastewater are prompting health concerns in Pennsylvania.
â€œAs drilling increases, I anticipate, at least in the short term, a proportionate increase in concerns and complaints which the department must be prepared to address,â€ Avila said. In the past year or so, the Department of Health has received several dozen or so health complaints, he said.
Such health registries are common, and in the past have been created to track measles and influenza, Avila said. To set up a drilling-related registry and fully investigate drilling-related health complaints would require another $2 million a year for the department and possibly require the help of the state\’s schools of public health, Avila said.
Posted At: Examiner.com