Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pennsylvania Lags in Studying Health Risks

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pennsylvania Lags in Studying Health Risks

Article excerpt

New York and Pennsylvania share a border, but on shale gas policy the states are separated by a gulf.

The breach widened last week when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration announced that the state will ban fracking, citing uncertainty about the health risks posed by the oil and gas extraction process.

In Pennsylvania, where elected officials from both parties embrace shale gas development, government leaders are still debating whether to fulfill a three-year-old recommendation on how to study the potential impacts of shale gas development on public health.

Gov. Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission urged the state Department of Health in 2011 to create a health registry to track the well-being of people who live near natural gas drilling sites over time.

The project was not funded, and the registry was never created.

Could the starkness of New York's warning influence policy in Pennsylvania?

"I don't put a lot of stock in the New York analysis," said Drew Crompton, chief of staff for state Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, the senate president pro tempore.

Mr. Scarnati introduced legislation last year to create a Marcellus Shale health advisory panel to review research and make recommendations about gas development.

That bill died without much movement, but Mr. Crompton said Mr. Scarnati is still willing to advance the proposal in a new legislative session.

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf, a Democrat, wants to create a health registry to monitor health issues related to shale development, his spokesman said.

But Mr. Crompton said proposed funding for a health department registry was withheld in the past out of fear that regularly testing residents who live near wells would be "improperly unnerving" for communities.

"We have always been careful about this subject because we don't like a study or some sort of analysis done under the premise that it's unsafe," Mr. Crompton said.

A state health department spokeswoman said the agency tracks and responds to all Marcellus Shale-related health complaints, which now number 76 since 2011. …

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