No matter how much our world changes, one saying reminds every generation about what matters: “If you have your health, you have everything.” Which is why for so many people living in the nation’s oil and gas patches, so much is at stake when air and water quality decline and a mix of symptoms set in.
Reports of health problems from these communities keep increasing—alongside the wells drilled, impoundment pits, and equipment like compressor stations. There’s a big timing mismatch underway, with the pace of oil and gas activities far outstripping the science, regulations, and policies needed to safeguard communities and the environment.
Yesterday in Albany, New Yorkers gathered to demand that the state finally—after a multi-year review of the impacts of high-volume shale gas development—conduct a full Health Impacts Assessment before making a decision. Renewed calls for this step came on the heels of the announcement by the Department of Environmental Conservation that it would conduct some sort of health analysis—welcome news but also a cause to demand that this work focuses not only on information about problems, but also strategies to prevent them.
New science and case studies now exist showing clear connections between gas operations and health. Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project has surveyed Pennsylvania residents, and found the same patterns that have emerged in Texas, Wyoming, and other places: people who live near facilities often suffer from respiratory, skin, joint, and other problems; many say they were fine before and feel better away from home.
As we gear up to release our latest health report, the words of Janet McIntyre in Butler County, PA—where residents are still waiting for the state to act after many water wells went bad—ring strong: “Can I put my finger on it and prove the precise cause beyond a doubt? No, but the only thing that’s changed around here is gas drilling.”