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Pennsylvania Considers Fracking Health Registry

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Pennsylvania wants to be the first state to create a registry for tracking illnesses related to hydraulic fracturing. Department of Health Secretary Eli Avila says the agency needs additional resources to create a system that will address public concern about health risks associated with gas drilling. The Department of Health made the request to the Marcellus Shale Advisory Committee, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, as the panel finalizes its recommendations for a July 22 report. Secretary Avila said the department has received “several dozen” phone calls from residents who believe their health is deteriorating due to unsafe drilling practices. In order to evaluate these concerns, the agency needs a “comprehensive and scientific approach,” said Avila. At the moment, the department is investigating the claims individually and would like to “put them all together, to get to the root cause, if there is a rook cause or linkage,” said Avila. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, although the panel has yet to find a link between gas drilling and any reported illnesses, having a larger sample size to identify health-related trends would improve the agency’s investigations. Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping a mixture of chemicals, water and sand thousands of feet underground to release trapped oil and gas. The Marcellus Shale is a massive formation that lies beneath Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio and is estimated to be one of the richest sources of natural gas on the planet, reported the Associated Press. Pennsylvania is at the height of gas drilling, having drilled more than 3,000 wells in the past three years. The registry is estimated to cost $2 million and would require outside assistance from other agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), to assist with the analysis. Avila believes the registry will assist other states who practice gas drilling. “We’re really at the frontiers of this, and we can make an example” for other states, he said. The registry would compile data and compare incidents in areas with heavy drilling to a control group of random residents, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The goal is to determine if reported illnesses occur naturally or are related to nearby drilling sites. DEP Secretary Michael Krancer questions how the database will determine what chemical(s) used during the drilling process are causing an illness. Avila claims the registry is beneficial because it will show statistical significance if conditions are more prevalent in a

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particular region. The panel also discussed the issue of “pooling” plots of land which is another controversial subject surrounding gas drilling. The process of pooling will allow gas companies to drain gas from unleased property, providing the companies lease a certain percentage of surrounding land, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Lawmakers oppose the practice citing property right concerns, while environmentalists say the process increases gas removal without creating additional wells. Terry Engelder, a geologist with Pennsylvania State University, said allowing a single property owner to block land access that could be leased for gas drilling is not economically or environmentally efficient.

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