Energy. Environment. Economy.

Governor’s office denies involvement with health department drilling policies

A spokesman for Gov. Corbett said the governor's office was not involved in the Department of Health's policies on handling drilling-related health complaints.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

A spokesman for Gov. Corbett said the governor's office was not involved in the Department of Health's policies on handling drilling-related health complaints.

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Governor Tom Corbett refused to answer questions about allegations state health department employees were silenced on the issue of natural gas development.

A StateImpact Pennsylvania investigation has revealed that in 2012, employees were sent a list of drilling-related “buzzwords” as part of a guidance for how to handle drilling-related health complaints. The words and phrases included drilling, fracking, Marcellus Shale, skin rash, and cancer cluster. The list was accompanied by instructions to send complaints to the Bureau of Epidemiology.

Two department staffers — now retired, but active when the guidance was sent out — said employees were also instructed orally not to discuss symptoms and other information with callers who mentioned words or phrases on the list. The retired workers claim they were also told not to personally to return phone calls from people who used the words.

Documents obtained by StateImpact Pennsylvania also show that starting in 2011, community health employees were required to get high-level permission to attend meetings and forums on Marcellus Shale topics.

The Health Department initially denied the existence of both the drilling “buzzwords” list and the employee permission form. A spokeswoman called the two retired employees’ claims “erroneous.”

The department later acknowledged the existence of the documents, but said these policies were meant to guide–not silence– employees in responding to complaints.

After the press conference, Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni initially refused to comment on the matter, but later said the Governor’s office was not involved in creating the policies.

“The Department of Health shared, as information to us, that they sent these documents as a means to inform staff of an emerging public health issue,” he said. “If you get a question that involves something that has to do with natural gas drilling, know that it’s a public health issue, and report that up the chain through your supervisor. That’s it.”


  • paulroden

    The Governor refuses to answer questions about the policies of the Department of Health in regards to public health concerns of the public of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Why am I not surprised? The arrogance, insensitivity and clear violation of his oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is astounding. The $1.4 million campaign contributions from the gas drilling industry shows us where his real allegiance really lies. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you. When you order the DEP inspectors to send any position citation for violations of a well driller to his office before citing for a violation, the actions and cover up of the Department of Health practices is not surprising at all. You can add that to the DCNR permits to drill in an under PA State Parks and Forests for “revenue enhancements” not TAXES to balance the budget then I think you have a case for impeachment. Remember to vote him out if they don’t impeach! He is not protecting the environment of Pennsylvania for present and future residents of the state. It is a clear violation of his oath of office.

  • Julieann Wozniak

    Were his pants on fire? Of course, nobody but his minions believes this.

  • kenneth weir

    of course little tommy corporate has nothing to do with any policy issued by his hand picked lock steppers. Little tommy is a feaster at the table of big egos, a sure path to loser status.

  • crystalpoint

    The Governor has a tremendous responsibility in running this State, and the complaint from those retired people from the former Health department employees represent petty complaints. Further, wouldn’t know a gas well if they saw one, nor would they realize the benefits of such. On behalf of the Governor, I am please the way he handled such matters as he did
    Many, detailed studies have been done regarding Marcellus gas development by EPA, and DER, regarding the health effects on such drilling, proving that there are no serious effects on such drilling here in Pa,.So whats the Beef?
    God bless Governor and his actions!
    Ray P. Smith Sr.

    • The_White_Rabbit

      Actually USEPA (FOIA one) stated that there is NO FINAL REPORT for Dimock. This contradicts the claims that USEPA said there is no problem at Dimock. FOIA two noted that the leaked EPA staff power point presentation stating there was short and long term groundwater problems was not admitted by their Regional Counsel to be an official document.

      Franklin Forks report (note Hanger remarks) was stated to be CONFIDENTIAL since it contained residential data. Almost every PADEP report in the public file has residential data, the names and addresses are redacted.

      Harvard Law Center commented several years ago on the potential effects of Marcellus wastewater being used for “beneficial reuse”. The former Deputy Secretary (Dan Laputo) for External Affairs stated that no Marcellus wastewater was used on public roads. It was pointed out to him that the Harvard correspondence (never addressed by PADEP) had PADEP forms that showed eight locations (from only one company and one well pad) that used wastewater with over 10,000 times normal radiological background, and high concentrations of heavy metals in analysis. He had nothing to say on this but now Dan Laputo is Executive Director (after not waiting one year like most former Department employees) of the American Gas Association in DC.

      With no public input, an estimated over 100,000 tons of treated Marcellus wastes have been placed at the Hazleton Creek Properties site from Clean Earth in Williamsport. There is a proposal to PADEP to take UNTREATED Marcellus wastes (without any public comment) to this unlined mine reclamation site.

      Bottom line is your claim there is no proof is bogus. While there are some areas where natural gas has appeared in wells prior to any drilling is real, the claim that this is normal background is total bullshit. Find one PA licensed professional geologist that will confirm this ridiculous argument.

      I have seen many gas wells BTW, as well as residential wells and monitoring wells. How about you crystalpoint?

  • xmin

    Note that the current secretary of health is not a medical.professional but worked for phizer pharmaceuticals

  • Gene Pershing

    Simple solution. Require anyone advocating fracking to maintain a residence in the area they are fracking, and forbid any type of filtering on their tap water. If they are convinced it is safe, they should have no objection.

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