Shale Health Office Available for Southwest PA Residents

It isn’t often that you personally know the personnel responsible for a project prior to its launch, but those of us at FracTracker had that benefit with regard to the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, or SWPA-EHP for short. (Oh how we love our complex acronyms.) Raina Rippel, the project’s director, spoke at the second annual Health Effects of Shale Gas Extraction conference hosted by the Graduate School of Public Health about this very topic. Raina and her team are fantastic resources, enabling us to better understand localized concerns and impacts and providing an outlet through which we can share the information we gather during our data analyses.

SWPA-EHP is being funded by The Heinz Endowments, the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Claneil Foundation because people were concerned about shale gas drilling affecting their health and the lack of data available to address those concerns. Interestingly, that is also why CHEC initially became involved with shale gas drilling several years ago – of which FracTracker is a primary result. Recently, SWPA-EHP announced that they are the opening the first-recorded shale health office where area residents can schedule medical evaluations, get help understanding their health problems and learn how to limit their exposure to hazardous substances associated with the industry. In response to the critical, unmet need for access to accurate, timely and trusted public health information, as well as the need for appropriate health care in the communities of southwestern Pennsylvania, the Project has committed itself to the following:

  • Purpose: The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) is a nonprofit environmental health organization created to assist and support Washington County residents who believe their health has been, or could be, impacted by natural gas drilling activities.
  • Resources: The office also serves as a resource center for information on the potential routes of exposure to hazardous substances, as well as strategies for limiting the risk of health effects. Our staff will be available by appointment in the office and by phone to address concerns residents have about their environmental conditions. We will answer questions, provide guidance and steer people toward other resources when possible.
  • Features: SWPA-EHP has an on-site nurse practitioner who is available by appointment for home or office visits, exams and consultations with people who think their health may be compromised by nearby gas drilling activities. She will also provide referrals, help clients navigate the health care system and consult with environmental health specialists about residents’ medical conditions.
  • Project Goals:
    • Establish a community environmental health center in SWPA to identify, document and respond to residents’ health concerns related to natural gas extraction;
    • Conduct a community health needs assessments of Washington County communities to evaluate public health risks and resources and determine the actions necessary to address immediate public health problems;
    • Provide the services of a nurse practitioner who can offer support, assist residents in understanding their health problems, and help them navigate the health care system as needed;
    • Establish clinical resource networks to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of individual patients;
    • Establish technical resource networks to obtain, analyze, develop and disseminate timely and accurate information to community members with respect to their health and environmental risks; and
    • Initiate a planning process for comprehensive actions.

The SWPA-EHP office is located at 4198 Washington Road, Suite 5, in McMurray. The office is open Tuesday-Friday. Nurse Practitioner services are available by appointment only.

Find SWPA-EHP’s new office or add additional community resources to this editable dataset on by clicking on the map below:

A New Day for FracTracker

By Brook Lenker, FracTracker Director

Like the public’s comprehension of the impacts of the shale gas industry, FracTracker is growing and evolving. We’re becoming better suited to expand that comprehension and nurture more inquiry into this game-changing period in energy development.

Our innovative website was launched by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities who passionately and skillfully managed its maturation.  Like a college student setting out on his or her own, the time has come for FracTracker to seek its independence and more fully develop its own identity.   In December 2011, I was hired as director of the FracTracker Fund at the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies to shepherd this transition and to foster partnerships that will help FracTracker blossom, benefit public awareness, and synergistically energize our partners.  We’re doing this one deliberate step at a time.

Another critical task is to improve the functionality of the data tool – to make it easier to use and navigate and offer other features that attract users to it. We are working with Rhiza Labs and taking additional measures to reach those objectives. We’ll keep you posted about all our enhancements.

My past 15 years – at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and then PA DCNR – were spent in professional roles where I facilitated dialogue, interpreted natural and scientific phenomena, encouraged stewardship practices, and tapped communication tools of many kinds. I intend to judiciously and vigorously apply these skills in my new position.  I believe deeply in conservation and environmental justice and am weighted by worries about many facets of the shale gas boom. I’m equally buoyed by the power of people and the transparency of science, however. Truth conquers deception.

The dedication and acumen of my FracTracker colleagues – Samantha and Matt based in Pittsburgh and Karen based near Ithaca, NY – inflate my outlook. We’re a strong team. The league we cavort with is collectively even more impressive. From accomplished grassroots warriors to cutting-edge scientists, connecting and collaborating, sharing data and information, we’re an unequaled force for good.

Gas companies aren’t inherently evil, and the jury is divided on the pros and cons of their primary product, but the stakes are big, enormous, titanic.  If drilling occurs, it must be done in a manner that is truly sustainable – for everyone and everything. Sustainability only prevails through thorough, comprehensive, ongoing research and an absolute commitment – by government and industry – to the public interest.

FracTracker resolves, with the help of other teams in our league, to be a broker of reality – to what’s really happening on the ground, in the air, to our water, to our health, to public policy – wherever and whenever gas extraction occurs. Ideally, this service will eventually become unnecessary, unjustified. In the meantime, we’re glad to be “in” the field defending our common future and, as they say, a good defense always wins.

Contact Information:
Brook Lenker
Director, FracTracker

PA Oil and Gas Inspection Data Available

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has updated their delivery mechanism of violation data, and it is now possible to search all inspections, including those that do not result in violations. To test it out, I downloaded all oil and gas inspection data from January 1, 2011 to January 16, 2012. Here is a summary of the results from that query:

While the vast majority of instances where no violations were issued were recorded in Column F, it seemed likely to me that no violations would have been issued for any category in rows D through I, so I aggregated those columns and divided by the total number of inspections.

According to the report instructions, the report was intended to include only those violations that resulted in a violation, but the final compliance report does allow for seeing all results. This is a very good thing, a it provides us with another way to evaluate the various operators within industry.

Before I present that data for the Marcellus Shale operators, I should point out a source of skew: When an inspection yields more than one violation, there are multiple entries for the actual inspection. For example, if one inspection yielded ten violations, this analysis would look at it as ten inspections, each of which yielded one violation. Clearly, that would distort the actual number of inspections with violations downward, resulting in more favorable scores for any operator with multiple violations on any one inspection. That in mind, let’s consider the following results to be preliminary.  Still, it is useful in combination with the violations per well and violations per million cubic feet of production metrics to triangulate in on the operators’ culture of compliance.

Update from US EPA on Hydraulic Fracturing Study

US EPA Proceedings of the Technical Workshops for the Hydraulic Fracturing Study

In its Fiscal Year 2010 Appropriations Report, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriation Conference Committee identified the need for a focused study on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources. EPA scientists, under this Administration and at the direction of Congress, are undertaking a study to better understand any potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing (HF) on drinking water resources.

The scope of the proposed research includes the full lifespan of water in HF, from acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and actual fracturing, to the post-fracturing stage, including the management of flowback and produced water and its ultimate treatment and disposal.


EPA held four technical workshops from February through March 2011 to explore the following focus areas:

The goal of the technical workshops was three-fold:

  1. Inform EPA of the current technology and practices being used in hydraulic fracturing,
  2. Identify research related to the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, and
  3. Provide an opportunity for EPA scientists to interact with technical experts. EPA invited technical experts from the oil and natural gas industry, consulting firms, laboratories, state and federal agencies, and environmental organizations to participate in the workshops.

EPA will use the information presented in these abstracts and presentations to inform research that effectively evaluates the relationship between HF and drinking water.  Learn more»

Op Ed – So what’s the rush to drill for gas?

Reposted from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (August 17, 2011)

A seasoned environmental health professional looks at the Marcellus Shale
By Bernard D. Goldstein, M.D.

Haven’t we learned anything from our past mistakes?

Public health and the environment have been my life since 1966. I have been a U.S. Public Health Service officer stationed in Los Angeles, our most polluted city; an assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Reagan administration; and the director of an academic environmental health program in New Jersey, arguably our most polluted state.

Before the Marcellus Shale issue, I believed we had learned from past mistakes to approach potential environmental health risks intelligently. But now I’m not so sure.

Let me start by saying I’m in favor of extracting Marcellus Shale gas — but not yet. For reasons that include air quality and global climate change, natural gas is a better energy source than coal. At the risk of offending my environmentalist friends, I don’t believe that conservation measures combined with alternative energy sources will eliminate our need for fossil fuels within the next few decades.

I also agree it is in our national interest to decrease our reliance on fossil fuel imports. The gulf oil commission recently supported a return to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico because if we do not get this oil, Cubans, Venezuela or China will. But unless the Canadians can horizontally fracture under Lake Erie, the gas in the Marcellus Shale is ours for the taking.

The Marcellus Shale’s fixed location and limited amount of gas provides many reasons to go about it thoughtfully. Whenever we begin, we still will have at least the same amount of gas extracted over the same duration of time. In contrast, delaying allows us to prepare for three certainties…  Read more

Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission Report Released

Yesterday, the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, lead by Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley, released a 137 report of their recommendations, which is available at the Post-Gazette website. The Commission, composed of industry and state government officials, came up with almost a hundred recommendations, including some controversial items such as a drilling “impact fee”, as well as forced pooling.

Take a look at the document linked above, and let us know what you think about it.

Paid Marcellus Programming to Play in West Virginia

Who doesn’t love a good half hour commercial? But it’s not just for OxiClean and musical compilations of 70’s disco tunes anymore–the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association is getting in on the act too.

In addition to the half hour weekly episode of “Inside Shale”, in which callers ask questions of industry insiders, there will be a “Marcellus Minute” that airs 10 to 20 times per day. Both programs are scheduled to launch on 49 radio stations throughout West Virginia.

Talking about the Marcellus Shale on the radio is certainly not off limits, but the industry sponsored call in show does sound questionable, in that the format mimics a news format, and it could be confused as such.  It’s a shame that the industry didn’t push for actual moderated discussions, with guests arguing from a variety of perspectives.  That is something that there’s a real need for, not just in West Virginia, but wherever shale gas extraction is occurring.

There are real impacts of drilling.  Some people are giddy with prospective royalty checks.  Others are bitter with the presence of compressors, condensers, and fouled water wells on property that they own, but not the mineral rights for.  There’s a lot to talk about, and communities that might be affected by the industry deserve to hear both sides.

Dr. Christen to serve as Executive Director of PATF

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Charles Christen for his appointment as Executive Director of the Pittsburgh AIDs Task Force (PATF). PATF, the oldest and largest AIDS service organization in Southwestern Pennsylvania, is dedicated to supporting and empowering all individuals living with HIV/AIDS, as well as preventing the spread of infection. PATF is a leader in providing comprehensive support services that improve the health and quality of life for those living with HIV/AIDS in the following counties: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Fayette, Indiana, Washington, and Westmoreland.
Dr. Christen joined the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) as the Director of Operations in 2008. He has a doctoral degree from the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and a certificate in LGBT Health Research. Dr. Christen has an extensive background in HIV service, as well as a developing expertise in community based environmental health practice.

The Pittsburgh Aids Task Force is very fortunate to have Dr. Christen as their new leader. During his time at CHEC, Dr. Christen has demonstrated superb skills, most importantly the manner in which he develops close working relationships with community organizations. While it will be difficult to replace Dr. Christen as a dedicated employee, his responsiveness to environmental health issues and passion for fulfilling the University’s role in supporting community needs will be a legacy upon which we will build.

Dr. Christen’s last day with CHEC will be July 15, 2011. An active search for his successor is under way.

Update from US EPA on Hydraulic Fracturing Study

EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Study to Include Sites in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale

As a part of its study on potential effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has selected seven sites to study in two distinct categories, three of which are in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale.

The EPA will conduct five retrospective case studies nationwide, two of which are from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, including one site in Washington County, and another in Susquehanna and Bradford Counties. The other three retrospective case studies, in which water contamination is either confirmed or suspected include one site each from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, the Barnett Shale in Texas, and the Raton Basin in Colorado.

The other two sites are considered prospective, where the EPA will monitor the hydraulic fracturing process at future drill sites. As with the retrospective sites, one of the prospective sites is a Marcellus Shale well in Washington County, PA, while the other is from the Haynesville Shale in Louisiana.

Press Release: CPNY – Attorney General’s Lawsuit Recognizes Dangers of Fracking

AG’s Action Compels Feds to Protect Public Health

WATKINS GLEN, NY – A lawsuit by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman toforce the federal government to conduct a full environmental impact study of natural gasdrilling is a recognition of the considerable risks posed by hydraulic fracking, say membersof the grassroots Coalition to Protect New York.

“It’s regrettable that our attorney general has to go to court to force the federal governmentto do what it’s required to do under current law – protect the health and safety of itscitizens,” said Jack Ossont, spokesman for CPNY, which opposes the destructive process offracking. “We have no doubt that any rational, independent analysis of fracking will clearlyshow that the dangers far outweigh any short-term economic gains, which will benefit onlya very few anyway.”

Yesterday, Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against the federal government for its failure tocommit to a full environmental review of proposed regulations that would allow drillingfor shale gas – including the harmful technique known as fracking – in the Delaware RiverBasin.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to conduct a full reviewof actions that may cause significant environmental impacts. But, ignoring this law, theDelaware River Basin Commission– with the approval of its supporting federal agenciesincluding the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency –proposed regulations allowing gas development in the Basin without undertaking any suchreview.

The proposed regulations allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing combined withhorizontal drilling (fracking) within the Basin. Fracking has been proven to pose graverisks to the environment, health, and communities. It involves the withdrawal of largevolumes of water from creeks and streams, frequent contamination of drinking watersupplies, the generation of millions of gallons of toxic waste that has to go somewhere,increased noise, dust and air pollution, and potential harms to community infrastructureand character from increased industrial activity.

“We want to thank the attorney general and all the groups involved in this matter, for pushing for an environmental impact study on fracking that should have beendone long ago,” said Ossont.

Kevin Bunger, a member of CPNY, said the attorney general’s lawsuit should allow for a full,independent, peer-reviewed study of the impacts of fracking.

“It’s irresponsible that we’ve allowed fracking to take place throughout the Northeastwithout any non-industry-funded, comprehensive analysis of its impacts on theenvironment and human health,” he said. “Of course, it hasn’t been done because a multi-state, multi-institutional, large-scale study would prove what we already know from avast array of evidence: that fracking contaminates drinking water and leads to wide-scale,probably irreversible pollution.”

CPNY members’ awareness of the destructive effects of fracking is also behind the group’sopposition to a landmark water withdrawal bill (S3798) now under consideration inthe state senate that would give away billions of gallons of New York’s waters to largeindustrial users, including the methane gas industry which requires vast amounts of waterfor its fracking operations. The assembly has already passed its version of the bill.

“There is considerable pressure on our elected officials to open our state to widespread,unregulated fracking,” said Ossont. “It’s up to the citizens of New York to tell our senatorsand representatives to do the right thing: stop and consider all the impacts. We’re beingtold that the methane gas beneath our feet presents a golden opportunity for our state andour country. But it’s fool’s gold. Fracking would ruin our environment and literally destroyour way of life.”

Contact: Jack Ossont, Coalition to Protect New York, (607) 243-7262