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Public health advocates push for Marcellus Shale registry


Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

More than seven years into the drilling boom, health advocates continue to push the state to track drilling-related complaints.

Public health advocates continue to urge the state to do a better job of tracking health complaints related to natural gas development. The state Department of Health and Department of Environmental Protection are discussing ways to work together to better monitor Marcellus Shale related health issues. But so far, there’s no money for those efforts.

Governor Wolf has proposed $100,000 to the health department in his budget plan, but it’s not guaranteed to make it through the legislature. Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley says he takes the issue seriously.

“If that doesn’t pass, we’ll have to look for Plan B. This is an issue that’s not going away,” he says. “There are questions. They need to be dealt with in a transparent way.”

Health advocates say $100,000 is not enough money to fund a health registry, but they’re encouraged the state is taking steps to investigate complaints.

Raina Rippel directs the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, which tracks drilling related complaints. She spoke to DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council Wednesday about the benefits of monitoring health issues.

“We truly believe this is a timely, urgent issue,” says Rippel. “We want to see action on this as soon as possible. We understand the political machine is such that it could take some time to see this fully up and running.”

In 2012, when Pennsylvania updated its oil and gas law, $2 million was set aside for the health department to track the issue—but the funding was ultimately cut from the legislation.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, some people who live near gas infrastructure believe their ill health is linked to drilling, but doctors say they simply don’t have the data or research – from the state or other sources – to confirm that.

Over the past four years the state health department says it has received 86 complaints from people who believe their symptoms are associated with gas development.


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