When Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project started working in Pennsylvania, we heard reports from people who said they got sick after gas drilling came to town or had problems that became worse. About children getting nosebleeds every night. Adults in the prime of life who were constantly fatigued. Rural residents surrounded by chemical odors and fumes. Tap water that foams and dizzy spells after showering.
And we heard a lot of frustration and anger that, despite how widespread these problems have become, the gas industry, regulators, and elected officials dismiss them as isolated “personal stories” and “anecdotes.” In other words, nothing that would warrant less drilling, better oversight and enforcement, or tougher regulations.
Today OGAP (in association with ShaleTest) released Gas Patch Roulette, a report showing that decisionmakers with this attitude are gambling with public health and treating people like guinea pigs in a big (and rapidly expanding) laboratory known as shale gas development.
Over several months, the project collected more than 100 surveys from across Pennsylvania—the largest set from the Marcellus Shale region to date—and more than 30 air and water samples. Our data and analysis very clearly show that:
- Contaminants associated with oil and gas development are present in air and water in many communities where the development is occurring.
- Many residents have developed health symptoms that they did not have before—indicating the strong likelihood that they are occurring because of gas development.
Importantly, we found that rates of commonly reported symptoms—such as throat irritation, headaches, and sinus problems—generally increase the closer survey respondents live to gas facilities and regardless of age. And to a high degree, symptoms reported at particular locations matched the scientifically established effects of exposure to chemicals that were detected at those same locations.
The report also discusses the wide gaps in science, testing, and policy that leave many questions about the health and environmental impacts of gas and oil development unanswered. Pennsylvania (like many other states) is exploiting these gaps to justify inaction that, in turn, increases the risk to public health through ever-more drilling.
Preliminary research and the experiences of directly impacted people have often been dismissed and ignored, only to be proven quite accurate years or decades later—such as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War; toxic chemicals at Love Canal; benzene in drinking water at a North Carolina military base; and exposure to airborne contaminants on 9-11. We truly hope that history will not repeat itself when it comes to oil and gas development in Pennsylvania and the United States. Gas Patch Roulette shows that steps can, and must, be taken without delay to safeguard public health. That’s one bet with high stakes that is very worth making.