Thursday, June 16, 2022

Oil & Natural Gas Facility Health Impacts Assessment Bill Introduced In The House

On June 14,
House Bill 1467 was introduced to establish an Oil and Natural Gas Facility Health Impacts Assessment Program in the Department of Health.

The requirements in the bill cover oil and natural gas facilities, including wells, pipelines, pumping stations, compressor stations, power plants, natural gas processing plants or plants processing waste streams from oil and gas operations.

Both unconventional and conventional oil and gas well operations are covered by the language in the legislation since, both types of wells typically use hydraulic fracturing.

The bill would establish an Interdepartmental Coordinating Task Force in the Department of Health, with the Department of Environmental Protection, to oversee the collection and analysis of baseline health and environmental data related to the impact of oil and natural gas facilities on public health and safety.

One of the major duties of the Task Force is to identify health symptoms that are connected to the health impacts from oil and natural gas facilities, and hydraulic fracturing in particular, and share that information with the public and physicians.

The Department of Health and the Task Force are also charged with investigating complaints from individuals who report adverse health effects from oil and natural gas facilities and hydraulic fracturing chemicals

For the first time, the bill would require the Department of Health to collect baseline, community-wide health data prior to the permitting of new oil and natural gas facilities-- wells, pipelines, pumping stations, compressor stations, power plants, natural gas processing plants or plants processing waste streams from oil and gas operations.

Part of the baseline assessment data required to be collected by toxicologists is focused on biomarker indicators for chemicals commonly used in hydraulic fracturing operations.

As part of the baseline data collection, oil and natural gas companies would be required to declare the health impacts expected during the development and operation of their facilities, prior to permitting.

The Department of Health is required to report on the data they collect and analyze one year after the effective date of the legislation and annually thereafter.  The data is required to be publicly available on the Internet.

Quarterly reports are also required to be submitted to the Governor’s Office, Attorney General and to various members of the Senate and House.

The Department of Environmental Protection is also required to gather baseline water and air quality data within 2,500 feet of the oil and natural gas facilities covered by the bill prior to construction and quarterly thereafter.

The Department of Health is required to establish an Oil and Natural Gas Production Health Registry to track public exposures and health impacts from oil and natural gas facilities.

[Note: The Department does have a Oil and Gas Health Registry, but limitations in existing epidemiologic studies and other issues prevent it from being as effective as it could be. Read more here.

[In its work with the existing registry, however, the Department of Health said, “epidemiologic evidence has found associations between unconventional oil and natural gas production in Pennsylvania and the following: adverse birth outcomes and increased respiratory problems.”  Read more here.]

Under the legislation, Health is required to conduct a public education campaign promoting the Registry to members of the public living, working or attending school within 20 miles of oil and natural gas facilities.

The campaign is also required to include sharing information with the public of likely health symptoms resulting from impacts by oil and natural gas facilities so they can better assess their own potential exposures and seek appropriate medial care.

Health is required to provide training to physicians on the symptoms to look for related to exposure to health impacts from oil and natural gas facilities.

The bill establishes an Oil and Natural Gas Public Health Registry Fund to provide funding for the responsibilities of Health and DEP under the bill.

A new annual Environmental Hazard Fee of $10,000 per oil and natural gas facility covered by the legislation would be assessed and deposited into the Fund.

Other provisions include--

-- Department of Health is required to develop a response plan for each incoming environmental or health compliant, including a communications plan;

-- No Liability For Disclosing Health Impacts by people with existing nondisclosure agreements confidentially reporting health information to the Department of Health as part of baseline and complaint investigations;

-- Prohibiting Nondisclosure Agreements between oil and natural gas companies restricting individuals from reporting health impacts or symptoms associated with chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing;

-- Duty Of Physicians To Report treating patients with symptoms commonly found in connection with health impacts from oil and natural gas facilities and identified by the Department of Health as a result of data collection on the legislation; and

-- DEP Coordination With Health on the health impacts of pollution events at oil and natural gas facilities.


The prime sponsors of the legislation-- Rep. Rick Krajewski (D-Philadelphia) and Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny)-- said in announcing the bill--

“The 2020 Attorney General [Grand Jury] Report called for the Department of Health (DOH) to have an active and defined role in regulating the fracking industry to protect the health and safety of Pennsylvanians above all else.”  Read more here.

“For this reason, we plan to introduce a bill that would require the DOH [Health] to coordinate with the DEP to collect, analyze and maintain updated data on the impact of fracking on public health and make this data available and easily accessible to the public. 

“In addition, my bill would require DOH and DEP to investigate all resident complaints related to fracking facilities. 

“DOH would also coordinate with local health centers and develop public education resources and training on the impact of fracking for local health officials.  

“To better facilitate data collection, DOH would ensure that affected communities are fully aware of, and have easy access to, lines of communication with the department.”

Since the 2020 Grand Jury report, both the Senate and House have held hearings on the health impacts of oil and natural gas facilities.

Most recently at a June 2 hearing in the Senate, Dr. Brian S. Schwartz said the body of evidence on negative impacts on public health from oil and gas operations is “large, growing,” “consistent” and “compelling.”  Read more here.

In April, the Southwest PA-based Environmental Health Project issued a white paper--- Pennsylvania's Shale Gas Boom: How Policy Decisions Failed to Protect Public Health and What We Can Do to Correct It-- providing an assessment of the latest information available on health impacts and recommendations for policy changes going forward.  Read more here.

In May, Penn State University released a study that found runoff from conventional oil and gas wastewater dumped on unpaved roads as a dust suppressant contains pollutants that exceed human-health and environmental standards.  Read more here.

The Penn State study follows others that found health concerns related to the naturally occurring radiation in drill cuttings and wastewater from the oil and gas industry.  Read more hereRead more hereRead more here.

Also in May, a new tool released by Earthworks and the FracTracker Alliance provides the public with an easy way to understand how close they live to natural gas wells, distribution and other facilities.  It could help individuals correlated the symptoms they are experiencing with a possible impact of a natural gas facility.  Read more here.

In January, the Department of Health announced the award of a $2.5 million contract to the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health to conduct research on the potential health effects of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania.  Read more here.

Health said the goal is to have the study finished in two years.

Last November, the PA League of Women Voters and the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health held another in their series of Shale Gas and Public Health Conferences outlining the most recent research on health impacts from the oil and gas industry.  Read more here.

The potential health impacts from oil and natural gas development surfaced immediately as a concern at the beginning of unconventional (shale) gas drilling in the state.

In March of 2013, in response to these concerns, Republican Sen. Joe Scarnati (Jefferson), President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, introduced the first legislation creating a Marcellus Shale Health Advisory Panel.  Read more here.

Under the legislation, the panel was tasked with thoroughly investigating and studying advancements in science, technology and public health data in order to provide Pennsylvania elected officials, regulators and the general public with information, analysis and recommendations regarding the safe, efficient and environmentally responsible extraction and use of unconventional natural gas reserves in the Commonwealth.

In 2015, Rep. Karen Boback (R-Luzerne) introduced the same legislation in the House.  Read more here.

However, neither bill saw real legislative action.

The creation of the Registry was one of many recommendations in the July 2011 report of the Gov. Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Commission.  Read more here.

Concerns about the health impacts of chemicals used in hydraulic fracking did make their way into the 2012 amendments to the Oil and Gas Act (Act 13).  But the provisions only dealt with disclosure to physicians and others and not an evaluation of health impacts.  Read more here.

There has been a lot of concern about health impacts and work done to collect and analyze data on the issues related to oil and natural gas facilities.

House Bill 1467 and other legislation in the Senate and House could begin a conversation-- again-- on how to build a framework to run a more comprehensive and effective health impacts assessment program to address the very real concerns of the residents living next to these facilities.

(Photos: Top- Natural gas flaring within sight of a school, Environmental Health Project, FracTracker Alliance, PennEnvironment; Filter clogged with drill cuttings from “dusting” operations; Bottom- Indiscriminate road dumping conventional drilling wastewater; 2018 explosion of brand new Revolution Pipeline in Beaver County.)

Related Articles This Week:

-- Penn State Beaver Seeking Volunteers For June 23 Focus Group On Energy Development, Groundwater Quality & Public Health In Western PA

-- EQB Adopts Part I Of Final Regulation Reducing Oil & Gas VOC/Methane Emissions; DEP Documents 80% Of Methane Emissions Come From Conventional Oil & Gas Facilities  

Related Articles:

-- Senate Hearing: Body Of Evidence Is 'Large, Growing,’ ‘Consistent’ And 'Compelling' That Shale Gas Development Is Having A Negative Impact On Public Health; PA Must Act

-- New Penn State Study Finds Runoff From Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Dumped On Unpaved Roads Contains Pollutants That Exceed Human-Health, Environmental Standards  

-- Now On Demand: Videos From 2021 Shale Gas & Public Health Conference; Including Preliminary Results Of A Penn State Study On Health Risks From Road Spreading Conventional Drilling Wastewater

-- Dept. Of Health Awards $2.5 Million Contract To University of Pittsburgh To Research Health Effects Of Hydraulic Fracturing In PA

-- New Pitt-Duquesne Study Shows Higher Exposures To Radiation In Road Dumping Of Drilling Wastewater When Appropriate Exposure Scenarios Are Used 

-- Preliminary Results From New Penn State Study Find Increased Cancer, Health Risks From Road Dumping Conventional Drilling Wastewater, Especially For Children 

-- The Science Says: Spreading Conventional Drilling Wastewater On Dirt & Gravel Roads Can Harm Aquatic Life, Poses Health Risks To Humans - And It Damages The Roads  

-- Physicians For Social Responsibility Release 8th Compendium of Scientific, Medical, Media Findings On Risks, Harms Of Fracking And Oil & Gas Infrastructure

-- Earthworks, FracTracker Alliance Release New Online Oil & Gas Threat Map; Find Natural Gas Facilities, Wells Near You

[Posted: June 16, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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