Geisinger spokeswoman Patti Urosevich said in an email that the project has collected Pennsylvania data on traffic and accidents, air pollution emissions, and the locations of thousands of gas wells and more than 600 compressor stations, which feed the gas through pipelines.
Urosevich wrote that once the data warehouse is complete, researchers will be able to identify and investigate trends by merging health information with data such as geography, traffic, or the environment.
Guthrie Health, of Sayre, and Susquehanna Health are other major partners in the study, and as a group they have access to detailed health histories of hundreds of thousands of patients who live near wells and other facilities that are producing natural gas from the underground Marcellus Shale formation.
The first phase of the study is expected to be completed over the next three to five years. Last March, the Associated Press reported New York’s decision on whether to allow natural gas drilling may hinge on Geisinger’s results.
It is one of a few privately-funded research projects focused on whether natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania is having an impact on public health, including the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project and a study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology. Funding for state-led public health research was cut from Act 13, the 2012 overhaul of the Pennsylvania’s drilling laws.