Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Shale Gas & Public Health Conference: We've Got Enough Compelling Evidence To Enact Health Protective Policies For Families Now

By Edward C. Ketyer, M.D., President,
Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania

These remarks were delivered at the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health 2022 Shale Gas & Public Health Conference on November 16, 2022--

So I want to thank the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania for inviting me here today. It's nice to be back. 

As we do at this conference every year, yesterday we learned about some of the recent studies showing how fracking threatens the health and safety of Pennsylvanians who live and work nearby fracking activities. 

Danger from fracking is no secret to those of us who read these studies or who live near frack gas development or have seen or experienced firsthand the illnesses, the damaged property, and the distressing polarization of residents living in small and most of the rural communities across the state where fracking operates.

It seems like every week there's a new study highlighting how fracking damages the environment and harms human health, especially the health of those who are most vulnerable, like the poor, the frail, pregnant women and their children. 

Depressing question is, is anybody surprised? And if so, why? 

It's no secret that the ingredients associated with drilling and fracking are dangerous when they contaminate the air and the water and the soil. 

And no one should be surprised when workers and residents who are exposed to fracking’s toxic chemicals and radioactive waste start getting sick with a variety of sometimes common, sometimes weird, and sometimes, often debilitating and deadly illnesses. 

Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals aren't surprised. We know how dangerous fracking is, that it's not a secret. 

The eighth edition of the Fracking Science Compendium contains more than 2,200 research studies, medical and media findings, and government reports revealing no evidence. Zero, that fracking, can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health directly, or that does not imperil climate stability upon which human health depends.

The industry knows by the way, they know how dangerous their operations are. 

Look at their annual SEC [U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission] filing where they warn investors in graphic detail about blowouts and cratering, explosions, uncontrollable flows of natural gas or well fluids polluting surface and groundwater fires, pipe and cement failures, pipeline ruptures, spills, and releases of toxic gases. 

Apparently, drilling is just the beginning. Public safety and emergency management agencies in Pennsylvania, they know how dangerous fracking is. 

Washington County's hazard mitigation report warns about catastrophic incidents and worse case scenarios from explosions and fires that could kill hundreds of people and overwhelm local EMS services and hospitals with the influx of casualties. 

They cite common accidents of blowouts, explosions, and chemical contamination with chemicals that are used in fracking that have the potential to cause a danger to health and to life itself.

And as fracking activity increases, so does the likelihood of an incident and an accident. 

As Lena [Smith, Policy and Legislation Director for Rep. Rick Krajewski (D-Philadelphia)] just told us, Pennsylvania grand jury listened to hours of testimony and learned how dangerous fracking is releasing a scathing report in 2020 about how fracking has harmed the health of Pennsylvania citizens time and again in its report.  [Read more here.]

The grand jury kept returning to the fact that fracking was injuring children the most. I don't think there's anybody left actually who thinks fracking is safe.

Eliza Griswold won a Pulitzer Prize for Amity and Prosperity. Her story of residents severely impacted in Washington County, which is Pennsylvania's most heavily fracked county where I live, and I've worked for more than 30 years. 

Her story should have been enough to make policy makers and lawmakers stop and think again about the wisdom of fracking in Pennsylvania. 

Is it surprising that contaminates detected in air and water samples near fracking sites also show up in the blood and urine of families living, learning, and playing nearby? 

Kristina Marusic’s award-winning investigation last year demonstrated exposure to dangerous chemicals and pollution in adults and children living near fracking infrastructure in Pennsylvania. 

Justin Noble spoke at this conference three years ago and told us that America's radioactive secret isn't so secret anymore.  [Read more here]

In fact, geologists have known for many decades that the Marcellus Shale is highly radioactive, and that bringing up all that radiation to the surface and allowing it to contaminate the air and water isn't such a good idea after all.

Last year at this Conference, I filled you in on Dusty Horwitt report for PSR about PFAS chemicals being used in drilling and fracking operations across the country.   [Read more here]

PFAS chemicals are also known as forever chemicals because their chemical structures are incredibly stable and they don't break down over time. Instead, they persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in all life forms, including humans. 

Very small concentrations can disrupt the endocrine system and the immune system, and it raises cancer risk in people who are exposed. 

Dusty discovered that PFAS chemicals and their precursors were used in at least 1,200 fracked oil and gas wells in six states on the Gulf Coast and out west. 

The chemicals may have been used more widely than that, but trade secret exemptions claimed by the industry make it difficult to measure the true extent of PFAS in fracking. 

Last January, PSR published another study that found that PFAS chemicals and precursors were used in more than 12,000 oil and gas wells in Colorado since at least 2008, and probably much longer than that.  [Read more here]

And then in September, PSR reported that PFAS chemicals were used in more than 100 oil and gas wells in Ohio.  [Read more here]

Another route of exposure was revealed at 245 injection disposal sites where Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania send their toxic and radioactive fracking wastewater.

 So what about Pennsylvania? The Philadelphia Inquirer did its own investigation last year and found that PFAS chemicals were used in at least eight Pennsylvania fracking wells. [Read more here]

The editorial board wrote that our findings should raise concerns for all Pennsylvanians. 

Last month, these locations in Pennsylvania, the eight fracking wells were identified by Kristina Marusic at Environmental Health News.  Four of those wells are in Washington County.  [Read more here]

We heard yesterday from Dr. Cassandra Clark [Yale Cancer Center and Yale School of Public Health] about her team's recent jaw-dropping study on acute lymphoblastic leukemia and young children having two to three times the risk of developing this rare cancer if they grow up close to fracking wells in Pennsylvania.  [Read more here]

The local media mostly ignored this story, though I don't think even they were very surprised, especially not after publishing the Human Toll series by David Templeton and Don Hopey in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from 2008 to 2018 in four heavily fracked counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania. 

The two reporters uncovered 27 cases of Ewing sarcoma, which is a very rare and frequently fatal bone cancer in childhood. And they found another 40 cases of other rare cancers for a total of 67 rare cancers in children, teenagers, and young adults. 

Now, only about 200 cases of Ewing sarcoma are diagnosed in the United States every year. In heavily fracked Washington County, six cases of Ewing sarcoma and 30 other rare childhood cancers were counted.

These numbers are far more than would be expected to occur in a similarly populated, mostly rural area over a 10 year time period. And new cases keep popping up in this region. 

Parents and pediatricians are very concerned that pollution and toxic waste from fracking operations may be to blame for this outbreak of rare childhood cancers.

In 2019, 6 months after the Human Toll was published, I had the chance to go to the state House [of Representatives] along with dozens of concerned and impacted community members, and we spoke with Governor Wolf and with other lawmakers and demanded a thorough and transparent investigation into the cause of these rare pediatric cancers. 

Four days later, Governor Wolf announced the creation of two studies that are now being conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. [Read more here]

Results from these studies are going to be released soon and more studies are ongoing elsewhere, but there's already enough evidence, much of it known beyond a reasonable doubt, for us to make other arrangements that don't cause so much damage to the environment and to the planet's climate system, damage to public health and people's lives, damage to the communities where we live, where some families have lived for generations.

We know enough now to enact health protective policies for everyone, our families, our friends, our neighbors, instead of wealth-protecting policies for the few we will never likely ever meet. 

Every adult, every parent and grandparent knows that children live in a world shaped by our choices. 

It's no secret we've got enough compelling evidence to start making better choices right now. 

Thank you for listening and I'm going to turn this back over to Jackie.

Visit the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health 2022 Shale Gas & Public Health Conference webpage for more information on the Conference.

Presentations from the Conference will be posted online in the coming weeks for on-demand viewing.

(Photo: Dr. Ketyer and examples of shale gas infrastructure.)

Dr. Edward Ketyer is a Pittsburgh-area pediatrician. Dr. Ketyer enjoyed 26 years in private practice before retiring from patient care in 2017, although he continues to write a daily blog for AHN Pediatrics called The PediaBlog

He remains a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health and Climate Change and is President of Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania

Dr. Ketyer is Medical Advisor for the Environmental Health Project bringing attention to the health impacts of fracking in the Marcellus Shale gas patch. He is also Chairman of the Education and Outreach Workgroup for the Cancer & Environment Network of Southwestern Pennsylvania

Related Articles This Week:

-- What Can We Expect From Gov. Shapiro, Lt. Gov. Davis On Environmental, Energy Issues?  [PaEN]

-- DEP Assesses $200,000 In Penalties For Drilling Wastewater Spills By CNX In Greene County  [PaEN]

-- Washington County Family Lawsuit Alleges Shale Gas Company Violated The Terms Of Their Lease By Endangering Their Health, Contaminating Their Water Supply And Not Protecting Their Land  [PaEN]

-- Center For Coalfield Justice Holds First Water Distribution Day Nov. 19 To Help Provide Families Drinking Water In Greene County Following Alleged ‘Frack-Out’ At Natural Gas Well Site In June  [PaEN]

-- Post-Gazette: Efforts To Stop A Natural Gas Leak For The Last 12 Days At A Cambria County Underground Gas Storage Area Have Failed, Gas Is Again Escaping  [PaEN]

-- YaleEnvironment360 - Jon Hurdle: As Evidence Mounts, New Concerns About Fracking And Health

-- Pittsburgh Business Times: Natural Gas Drilling Ban Supporters See Wider Effort In Allegheny County Towns

-- Shale Gas & Public Health Conference: When It Started, It Was Kind Of Nice, But What Happened Afterwards Really Kind Of Devastated Our Community - By Rev. Wesley Silva, former Council President Marianna Borough, Washington County  [PaEN]

-- Shale Gas & Public Health Conference: Living Near Oil & Gas Facilities Means Higher Health Risks, The Closer You Live, The Higher The Risk - By Nicole Deziel PhD MHS, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health  [PaEN]

-- Shale Gas & Public Health Conference: Economically, Socially Deprived Areas In PA Have A Much Greater Chance Of Having Oil & Gas Waste Disposed In Their Communities - By Joan Casey, PhD, Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health  [PaEN]

-- Young Evangelicals For Climate Action Celebrates Stronger Proposed EPA Oil & Gas Methane Standard  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Health Project Calls Proposed EPA Oil & Gas Methane Emissions Rule Good First Step [PaEN]

-- IRRC Approves Final VOC/Methane Emission Limits On Conventional Oil & Gas Wells - Federal Highway Funds Still At Risk; And First State MCL For PFOS/PFOA  [PaEN]

Related Articles - Health & Environmental Impacts:

-- 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 [PaEN]

-- DEP: PA Fracking Operations Sent Nearly 236,000 Cubic Feet Of Radioactive TENORM Waste To Low-Level Radioactive Waste Facilities For Disposal In 2021 - 811,070 since 2016  [PaEN]

-- Study: Industry Data Shows Hazardous Air Pollutants Are ‘Ubiquitous’ In The Natural Gas Transmission System; More Justification For Robust Leak Prevention Programs  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Health Project: Setback Distances And The Regulations We Need To Protect Public Health From Oil & Gas Facilities [PaEN]

-- Penn State Study: Potential Pollution Caused By Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Makes It Unsuitable For A Dust Suppressant, Washes Right Off The Road Into The Ditch  [PaEN]

-- DEP Lists 84 Townships As ‘Waste Facilities’ Where Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Has Been Disposed Of By Road Spreading; Municipalities Need To Do Their Due Diligence [PaEN]

-- On-Site Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling Waste Disposal Plans Making Hundreds Of Drilling Sites Waste Dumps [PaEN]

-- Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Dispose Of Drill Cuttings By ‘Dusting’ - Blowing Them On The Ground, And In The Air Around Drill Sites  [PaEN]

-- Creating New Brownfields: Oil & Gas Well Drillers Notified DEP They Are Cleaning Up Soil & Water Contaminated With Chemicals Harmful To Human Health, Aquatic Life At 272 Locations In PA [PaEN]

-- Gov. Wolf, Senate, House Republicans Again Fail To Hold Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Accountable For Protecting The Environment, Taxpayers On Hook For Billions [PaEN]

-- Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Reported Spreading 977,671 Gallons Of Untreated Drilling Wastewater On PA Roads In 2021  [PaEN]

-- Observer-Reporter: Ongoing Water Donation Drive Helping Dozens Of Greene County Families Who Haven’t Had Clean Drinking Water Since June Following Alleged ‘Frack-Out’ At Natural Gas Well Site  [PaEN]

-- NO SPECIAL PROTECTION: The Exceptional Value Loyalsock Creek In Lycoming County Is Dammed And Damned - Video Dispatch From The Loyalsock - By Barb Jarmoska, Keep It Wild PA [PaEN]

-- Rare Eastern Hellbender Habitat In Loyalsock Creek, Lycoming County Harmed By Sediment Plumes From Pipeline Crossings, Shale Gas Drilling Water Withdrawal Construction Projects  [PaEN]

-- Conventional Oil & Natural Gas Drilling: An Industrial Machine Moving Across The PA Countryside Leaving Behind Big Liabilities & Spreading Pollution Everywhere It Goes [PaEN]

-- DEP Issued NOVs To Conventional Oil & Gas Companies For Abandoning 55 Wells Without Plugging Them During September Alone, A Dramatic Increase In New Well Abandonments  [PaEN]

-- Republican Chair Of House Environmental Committee Believes Opponents Of Natural Gas Infrastructure Projects ‘Just Need To Be Ignored And Politically Ran Over’ [PaEN]

Impact Of Oil & Gas Industry:

-- PA Environment Digest Articles On Health & Environmental Impacts Of Oil & Gas Industry

[Posted: November 16, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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