Study: Public health left out of drilling decisions

January 11, 2012 by Ken Ward Jr.

We’ve written before about the work of an Obama administration Department of Energy panel examining drilling for natural gas in shale formations (see here and here).  And over at the Coal Tattoo blog, I’ve covered the problems with the fact that West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t really have staff with an expertise or focus on human health issues.

Now a new article in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives discusses the lack of input from public health professionals in studies and regulatory actions regarding shale-gas drilling:

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.

The conclusion:

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.

3 Responses to “Study: Public health left out of drilling decisions”

  1. Meto30 says:

    Not surprising in PA. The last two administrations have basically green-lighted the gas industry with little questioning. PA’s experience with the coal industry does not bode well if the current gas drilling is not as environmentally sound as industry has promised.

  2. Bruce A Essig says:

    I am having the same response with WVDEP. An illegal flare has been burning without a permit and past the thirty day limit on it since Agust 2011 near Richwood, WV. The group I am with STUNWV(Stand Up NowWV) did pressure them into issuing violation notices back in November, 2011 and its still burning. The closest air monitoring station is in the next county sixty miles away. An article did appear in the most recent Nicholas Chronicle diputing the companies claims.
    Keep up the fight.

  3. Dee Fulton says:

    The 21 journal article referenced in the 2nd paragraph of the post is worth a quick review. Also from the Conclusion section of the article: “The explanation for the lack of involvement of the environmental public health community does not appear to be a failure to recognize the importance of public health to this issue by the President or the Governors; nor is it a lack of public concern.
    Expertise in the impact of environmental factors on public health is also readily available. Political concern that evaluation of the potential environmental public health consequences of shale gas drilling may find a problem that slows down the rush to develop the Marcellus Shale may be important factor. However, we believe the most likely major cause is the failure of a relatively robust community of environmental public health experts to adequately project this expertise into the state and national debates about developing natural resources.”
    The article does not refer to the experience of public health officials in Garfield County, Colo where efforts to conduct a Health Impact Assesment were squashed before it’s conclusion by political interference.

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