Pennsylvania Health Department Has Collected Just 160 Complaints on Oil and Gas Production in Nearly a Decade

Credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli/Flickr Commons.
A Marcellus shale gas-drilling site is seen in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.

Despite a natural gas boom and health concerns over drilling from environmentalists, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has received just 160 complaints related to drilling over the last decade.

On 17 October, Stephanie Hasanali, of the department’s Bureau of Epidemiology, briefed a state oversight committee charged with approving environmental regulations on the data the agency has collected since 2011. 

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), meanwhile, received 9,000 complaints about environmental issues between 2004 and 2016, Hasanali told the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee, which is part of DEP.

At least early on, the Department of Health wasn’t responding to complaints, according to StateImpact, an NPR project covering natural gas development. 

The outlet found in June 2014 that department managers under former Gov. Tom Corbett advised employees not to talk to anyone who called and mentioned hydraulic-dracturing-related keywords.

The process was updated soon afterward to send return letters to complainants acknowledging their call.

Hasanali added that next steps for the department could include outreach to increase awareness of the complaint process.

The air quality committee, according to its bylaws, is tasked with “the technical and economic or other social impacts of existing, new, or proposed revisions to pollution control regulations, policies, and new control techniques or technologies affecting air.”

It is made up of county air quality officials, environmentalists, public health advocates, engineers, and industry representatives, among others.

Complaints to the health department mostly referenced water contamination, air pollution, noise, truck traffic, light, radiation, and general stress, according to handout from Hasanali. The complaints are administered over the phone by department staff, who then file an electronic form of the concerns.

All were self-reported. Some members of the panel, which approves new regulations including those restricting greenhouse gases, raised concerns about selection bias.

But the complaints, as part of wider concerns the board has heard around natural gas production, caused others to ask for more and better data.

”I understand the concerns,” Joe Duckett, a retired environmental engineer from SNC-Lavalin America, said. But he added that he doesn’t think the data collected justifies the level of worry.

Read the full story here.

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