More states tracking possible health impacts of fracking

The way states track the possible health impacts from oil and gas drilling varies greatly, according to an analysis by Inside Energy, a nonprofit journalism group similar to PublicSource that focuses on energy issues.

PublicSource has written about Pennsylvania lack of a comprehensive health registry. And a recent story from StateImpact Pennsylvania revealed that two former state health-department employees said they were silenced on drilling issues. One employee said she was instructed not to return phone calls from people complaining of health concerns about fracking.

According to Inside Energy, Colorado seems to be doing the best job at tracking health complaints. State employees respond to complaints and log them into a publicly available database. In North Dakota, complaints are logged and addressed but the information isn’t available to the public. In Wyoming, the news outlet found that state health officials aren’t systematically tracking complaints at all.

More from Inside Energy:

Eric Ewing lives near Gilcrest, in Weld County, Colorado, with his wife and two young kids. It’s an area surrounded by drilling activity. He said sometimes, when the wind is low, the air gets socked in and his family has been experiencing nausea, sore throats, dizziness, and rashes.

Ewing said it was difficult to find out how to file health complaints with the state. Some issues needed to be filed with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, others with the health department or county planners. But, once he figured out the system, he said he was generally satisfied with Colorado’s response.

“My impression is that they’re working very hard,” he said, “and they’re working very long hours to try to address some of these issues.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has received 51 health complaints from fracking-related issues since 2011. The state does make these complaints available to the public. Spokespersons for both the governor’s office and the health department told PublicSource in April they haven’t “seen a direct link” to negative health outcomes related to drilling.

State governments in Maryland and New York are funding public-health impact studies. In Colorado, Inside Energy said, there are two large-scale state-funded studies looking at air-quality issues as a result of fracking.

To date, Pennsylvania has not funded any studies looking at the potential health impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling.

Reach Natasha Khan at 412-315-0261 or nkhan@publicsource.org.