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Proposed Registry to Track, Respond to Fracking-Related Health Complaints

In 2011 the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission recommended a registry to collect health data from people living nearing fracking operations. Three years later that registry has yet to be created, and a state Senate panel says such a database is an important step toward tracking and responding to public health complaints related to gas drilling.

State Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) says individual health studies are fine, but the state needs to develop data that covers all parts of the commonwealth.

“An individual group or an individual institution of higher education or health care while they may be doing studies, those studies will be limited and not give us that comprehensive picture that we need,” Yudichak said.

The Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing this week prompted by complaints this summer that the Department of Health ignored calls about possible health problems connected to drilling and fracking. Committee Chair Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) said it’s about establishing a baseline of data. 

“Trying to encourage that information just empowers families, empowers the state to actually figure out what to do when it comes to the health of our state and our community when it comes to fracking,” Boscola said.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale told the committee that his office’s audit of the Department of Environmental Protection concluded that the DEP does not have enough inspectors for Marcellus Shale drilling and that the department’s IT resources are “antiquated.”

Yudichak is co-sponsoring legislation (SB 790) that would set aside $3 million from current gas drilling impact fee revenue to create a registry of health data, conduct a comprehensive study on the impact of fracking on air quality and health, and help health care providers receive training on environmental medicine.

“Pennsylvania needs to step up,” Yudichak said. “There’s tremendous opportunity, tremendous economic opportunity in the Marcellus Shale play, but there are also risks and consequences to industrial activity.  There always is and we need to manage in a responsible way those risks and consequences.”

Boscola, who is also a co-sponsor of SB 790, ways the statewide database will help give citizens peace of mind. 

“A lot of people are frightened when it comes to fracking, but they’re frightened because the information isn’t out there to give them the knowledge and power to make these kind of decisions, and even at the state level we need that information to make decisions to help people statewide,” she said.

The legislation awaits action by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm