Researchers call for health study on fracking
Concerns about increased truck traffic and water pollution highlight the conference about hydraulic fracturing.
Mon, Jan 09, 2012 at 01:04 PM
HEALTH QUESTIONS: Tower for drilling horizontally into the Marcellus Shale Formation for natural gas in Pennsylavania in 2009. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
ARLINGTON, Virginia - The public health effects of shale gas development need to be rigorously studied as production rapidly spreads in the United States, public health professionals and advocates said on Jan. 9.
Advances in a drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing have revolutionized the U.S. natural gas industry, but researchers said more needs to done to evaluate what the shale boom means for the those living near wells.
"We are leaping before we are looking," said Jerome Paulson, of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children's Health and the Environment, at a conference focused on shale gas and public health.
"Those who are drilling and extracting ... have not done the human health research and ecological studies to assure that the process and chemicals they use are the least hazardous possible," Paulson said.
The Mid-Atlantic center and Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy sponsored the conference with hopes of setting up a consortium to collect and assess scientific data on the effects of shale development on the public.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting water mixed with sand and chemicals into shale formations at high pressures to extract fuel.
The recent spread of fracking has raised concerns among environmentalists, public health and some neighbors of shale wells who worry about issues such as water pollution and increased truck traffic. Some have also linked earthquakes to disposal of waste water from shale wells.
Industry groups say fracking has been done safely for decades and that drillers have worked diligently to minimize effects of drilling.
Adam Law, a physician with Weill Cornell Medical College, which helped organize the conference, said the industry has not upheld its responsibility to ensure that its practices are safe and to examine the consequences for public health.
The conference "was conceived not to be activist," Law told Reuters on the sidelines of the forum. "This is an attempt to bring the evidence-based community into dialogue."
While Law said the conference was not "anti-fracking," he said he believes authorities should "push the pause button" on shale drilling in new areas until thorough studies can be completed.
(Editing by David Gregorio)
Copyright 2012 Reuters Environmental Online Report