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Pennsylvania Needs to Monitor Fracking Health Impacts, Official Says

Jun 17, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

Pennsylvania's health secretary says the state needs to set up a registry to track possible health impacts from Marcellus shale drilling.  Eli Avila of the Pennsylvania Department of Health told the state’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission that such a registry would help determine whether or not fracking was making people sick.

The Marcellus Commission,
which was appointed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, is set to release a final report detailing recommendations for regulating the state's burgeoning natural gas industry drilling next month.  Fracking is booming in Pennsylvania, with more than 3,000 wells drilled in the past three years and thousands more planned in the coming year. Avila was testifying at the commission's fourth hearing. 

Avila told the panel that his department has received “several dozen” calls over the past year from people who believe shale gas drilling has made them sick.  At present, the department looks at each case individually, but a more scientific and comprehensive approach is needed, he said.  Among other things, Avila said a registry would allow the Department of Health to make its findings public, in contrast to the privacy that surrounds its investigation into individual health complaints and the findings that may result.

“We investigate them all individually now,” Avila told the commission, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It would be great to put them all together, to get to the root cause, if there is a root cause or linkage.”

Avila also said his department expects health complaints related to drilling to increase as more natural gas wells come on line in Pennsylvania.

"As 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," Avila said.

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