Skip Navigation

Event in Pittsburgh set to discuss potential health impacts of oil and gas production

  • Sarah Boden/WESA
In this April 23, 2010 photo, a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site is seen near Burlington, Pa., in Bradford County.

Ralph Wilson / AP Photo

In this April 23, 2010 photo, a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site is seen near Burlington, Pa., in Bradford County.

Ralph Wilson / AP Photo

In this April 23, 2010 photo, a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site is seen near Burlington, Pa., in Bradford County. So vast is the wealth of natural gas locked into dense rock deep beneath Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio that some geologists estimate it’s enough to supply the entire East Coast for 50 years. But freeing it requires a powerful drilling process called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,”using millions of gallons of water brewed with toxic chemicals that some fear threaten to pollute water above and below ground, deplete aquifers and perhaps endanger human health and the environment.

Health and environmental scientists who specialize in the potential impacts of oil and gas production will discuss their work on Tuesday at the annual Shale & Public Health conference, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania.

Among the presenters is public health expert Lee Ann Hill of the non-profit research institute Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy. Hill found that 80 percent of the waste produced by oil and gas development in Pennsylvania remained in the state.

Lisa McKenzie of the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado will also present. This summer, McKenzie found that mothers who live in areas with higher levels of oil and gas development were more likely to give birth to babies with congenital heart defects.

“We need to do more work to understand exactly why, but it is an indication that health is potentially being impacted,” she said.

Other researchers will discuss possible effects on drinking water, fracking’s influence on maternal anxiety and depression and the climate.

The oil and gas industry has long ​attempted to discredit research that links fracking with public health problems ​by criticizing the results of studies and what it says are their limitations. The industry also cites its efforts to protect public health.

For example, in response to a 2016 study that showed an association between living near heavy gas drilling activity and common ailments like chronic nasal and sinus symptoms, severe fatigue and migraines, the American Petroleum Institute said, “Safety is a core value for the industry, and the men and women in our industry are committed to protecting the communities in which they operate. ”

The League of Women Voters, which has dubbed this year’s event “The Straight Scoop on Shale,” said presenters will describe how they conducted their research and address any methodological issues.

“I think that the more information that the public can have, local organizations, as well as policy makers and decisions makers, the more information that’s out there,” said Hill. “The more effective and scientifically robust policy can be put forward.”

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next
Energy & Environment

What the latest science says about oil, gas and human health