The Pennsylvania Department of health wants to start tracking any possible health impacts from Marcellus shale hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. According to a report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pennsylvania health secretary requested resources for such a registry from the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which is slated to release its final recommendations for regulating shale drilling in the state next month.
The Marcellus commission was appointed by the Pennsylvania Governor to study the economic, environmental and public health impacts of natural gas drilling. But according to an Associated Press report, during a commission panel hearing last month, Health Secretary Eli Avila said the Pennsylvania Department of Health lacked a systematic approach to investigating gas drilling health concern.
According to the Post-Gazette, Avila requested resources for a health registry during the fourth meeting of the Marcellus commission last Friday. 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. While the department investigates such calls individually, Avilla said a more “comprehensive and scientific approach” to the cases would be helpful in determining their root cause. 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.
Such a registry was estimated to cost about $2 million and could require outside groups or other agencies, like the Department of Environmental Protection, Avila said. He also pointed out that no other state has such a registry.
“We’re really at the frontiers of this and we can make a speedy example for all the other states,” Avila told the commission.
The Marcellus Shale formation, which underlies parts of Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio, is one of the largest-known deposits of natural gas in the word. 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.
In hydraulic fracturing, fracking fluids are injected into the ground at high pressure to shake loose gas and oil deposits. It is believed that fracking fluids contain some toxic chemicals. Some of the fluid returns to the surface as brine, which may contain metals like barium and strontium and even small amounts of radioactivity