Rob Jackson, Duke University, Nicholas Professor of Environmental Sciences, Center on Global Change, Director
This presentation examines recent research examining the possible health effects of shale gas extraction and hydraulic fracturing. We will discuss potential interactions with water quality, air quality, and worker exposure.
Kevin Teichman, U.S Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, Senior Science Advisor
On April 13, 2012, the Department of Energy, the Department of Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency signed a memorandum on “Multi-Agency Collaboration on Unconventional Oil and Gas Research.” In this memorandum, the three agencies committed to developing a multi-agency program to address the highest priority challenges associated with safely and prudently developing unconventional shale gas and tight oil resources. The foci of these multi-agency efforts are: (a) coordinating timely, policy-relevant science directed to research topics where collaboration among the three agencies can be most effectively and efficiently conducted, and (b) providing results and technologies that support sound policy decisions to ensure the prudent development of energy sources while protecting human health and the environment. These efforts will be captured in a draft Multi-agency Research Plan scheduled to be released for public comment in October 2012 and finalized in January 2013.
Aubrey Miller, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Senior Medical Advisor
Presented by Scott Masten, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Toxicology Program, Office of Nominations and Selection, Director
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), along with sister Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies including the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), continue to make efforts to understand the human health impacts of hydraulic fracturing. Given the rapid growth, and lack of exposure and health information, there has been increasing concern among the medical, academic, worker, and the lay community regarding the health implications of natural gas extraction and hydraulic fracturing activities. Some of the reported health issues and effects include headaches, eye and skin irritation, exacerbation of respiratory conditions, such as asthma, air and water pollution, increased radiation exposures, and psychosocial community impacts. Additionally, NIOSH and OSHA have recently released a Hazard Alert concerning worker exposure to crystalline silica during hydrofracking operations. This discussion will highlight the current HHS Agency efforts, along with increased focus on NIEHS activities, to assess exposures and health effects at hydrofracking sites, as well as identifying and promoting needed human health research.
Dennis Devlin, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Senior Environmental Health Advisor
Natural gas will play a key role in ensuring that we are able to meet our future energy needs, and is currently at the center of policy debate on energy, security and climate issues. The most recent developments in natural gas production involve shale gas formations. While shale gas has been produced by hydraulic fracturing since the late 1940’s recent combining of that technology with directional drilling have opened up substantial new resources. This rapid increase in development of shale gas resources has raised concerns about potential impacts on community and worker health. The speaker will provide an industry perspective on the potential benefits and risks associated with shale gas extraction, and the focus on responsible operations. He will also address the concern for water resources and disclosure of chemical components of hydraulic fracturing fluids, air monitoring, worker health and the need for evidence-based science to effectively address health concerns.
Hope Taylor, Clean Water for North Carolina, Executive Director
Efforts to monitor and collect health impact data have been quite limited, but a wide range of potential exposure pathways from gas development are being identified and episodic reports of significant health and community impacts have occurred. In cases where some evidence of harm has been found, and there is inadequate knowledge to be assured of preventing further harm, application of the Precautionary Principle provides a rational approach to decision-making, including establishing, and preserving statutes and regulations based on public health protection. This is especially appropriate when cost-benefit analysis fails to capture the differential effects on more vulnerable populations, in order to prevent environmental injustices. Several actions taken recently by the North Carolina General Assembly have been counter to this approach.
John Snawder, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Research Toxicologist and Biomonitoring Research Team Leader
NIOSH is conducting research to assess potential chemical exposure risks to Gas and Oil Workers. Prior to this work, little was known regarding the variety and magnitude of chemical exposures to these workers. To determine if risks are present, NIOSH is developing partnerships with the oil and gas industry to meet the strategic objectives of identifying possible exposures and determining risks by: 1) identifying processes and activities where chemical exposures could occur; 2) characterizing potential exposures to vapors, gases, particulates and fumes (e.g., solvents, diesel particulate, crystalline silica, acids, metals, aldehydes, and possibly other chemicals identified during the study); and 3) recommending safe work practices and/or proposing and evaluating exposure controls (including engineering controls, substitution, and personal protective equipment).
Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Exposure Research Laboratory, Director
In the FY10 Appropriations process, Congress encouraged EPA to undertake a study of the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources. The purpose of EPA’s study is to assess whether hydraulic fracturing can impact drinking water resources and to identify driving factors that may affect the severity and frequency of any impacts. This presentation will provide an overview of EPA’s study and highlight exposure research that is being conducted as a part of this study.
Mark Smith, Bradford County Pennsylvania, County Commissioner
Bradford County, Pennsylvania began experiencing natural gas development in 2008. Now with thousands of gas wells permitted and drilled, the county has been the bearer of both the positive and negative impacts of rapid growth and change. At the local government level the county continues to learn, debate, and stay engaged on all issues affecting both our government infrastructure and the lives of our residents.
When activity began, the commissioners office made a decision to investigate the process of drilling and its effects on the economy, environment and overall quality of life. In 2008 the commissioners office organized interested parties in making a trip to the Barnett Shale region in Texas to visit another county that was similar in size to Bradford County. During the trip the group visited well sites, met with government officials, economic development organizations and conservation groups.
Upon returning from the Barnett Shale the commissioners formed a local Natural Gas Task Force. The group included key stakeholders throughout the county, such as business owners, educators, landowners, conservationists, other local government officials who could help guide county government through the transition from a simple agricultural and manufacturing community to a community striving to meet the demands of natural gas development while struggling to retain its heritage.
Natural gas development has proven to be both challenging and enlightening almost five years from the county’s initial exposure. The same challenges have arisen in our county as in other places of natural gas development. Increases in the need for local government services in our courts and corrections, emergency response, and a shortage of affordable housing have become part of the daily challenges for local governments. Economic benefits such as employment, local business growth and charitable giving have been positive factors.
Barbara Taylor, West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, Office of Environmental Health Services, Director
West Virginia is a state whose history has been defined in many ways by natural resource development and extraction. With the onset of Marcellus Shale drilling, the economy of West Virginia has seen growth in hotel occupancy, restaurant patronage, and increases in sales/customers for other local businesses. West Virginia has weathered the nationwide recession with not only a balanced budget, but with budget surpluses. Unlike many states, no budget reductions or staff reductions have occurred among state agencies. Farmers that could no longer support their families by farming are suddenly millionaires. Property owners that own mineral rights are getting $2,500 – $3,500 per acre for a 5 year rental from the gas companies and some of the lucky few are getting $20,000 – $30,000 a month in royalties from a producing gas well on their property. Landowners renting their land may receive $500 – $1,200 per campsite from the transient gas industry workers following the well drilling and pipeline jobs that yield six figure incomes to families from Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Arkansas, Idaho, and Montana to name a few. Local and state tax revenues have increased.
However, many in the state do not own mineral rights but yet hold title to the surface. The landscape that many people have known has been changed by the well drilling pads, the collection and distribution pipelines and activities on the surface of their property. Roadways are deteriorating faster than they can be repaved (or graveled). Streams receive the effects of chemical spills as well as water withdrawal. Some residents allege ground water wells that produced for decades have gone dry where drilling and fracking have taken place. Large vehicles and heavy equipment travel country roads barely wide enough for two cars to navigate.
Public health agencies have significant amounts of technical capabilities that are underutilized or not utilized in managing shale drilling activities to improve outcomes for the public and the workers.
John Villanacci, Texas Department of State Health Services, Environmental & Injury Epidemiology and Toxicology, Director
Background: The Barnett Shale, a large onshore natural gas field in North America, is a geologic formation spanning 5,000 square miles over 24 North Texas counties, populated by over 5.7 million people. Since 1993 there has been an exponential rise in the number of wells from 150 wells in 1993 to 15,870 wells in 2011. Citizens’ concerns have increased along with the increasing number of gas wells and associated compressor stations. In 2009, as a result of benzene levels reported by a consultant to a community, the state environmental agency and local officials asked the state health department to aid in the investigation of benzene and other volatile organic compound (VOC) exposures related to natural gas production in the community.
Methods: State health department staff met with citizens and obtained concerns which included respiratory problems, itchy and watery eyes, odors, and noise. Exposure to benzene was of particular concern as it has been widely publicized as a known human carcinogen. Homes were randomly selected; blood, urine, and tap water samples were collected and a brief exposure questionnaire was administered. Blood samples were tested for a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylenes (BTEX). Urine was tested for metabolites of selected VOCs including benzene and toluene. Tap water was tested for the BTEX compounds, disinfectant byproducts, and other compounds.
Results: In general, blood levels of the analytes tested were consistent with those reported by NHANES for the general population. Analytes found to be elevated could be explained by household, occupational, or other exposures; for instance, elevated BTEX compounds were found in smokers. Metabolite levels found in the urine were similar to those reported in the literature and measured in our staff pre and post visiting the site. For the compounds measured the results were not consistent with significant community wide VOC exposures. During the investigation numerous complaints of odors and noise were received with odors described as “propane”, “gas”, “rotten eggs”, “sulfur”, and “sewage”. Descriptions of noise included “sounds like a jet engine” and “wells blowing sounds like an airplane”.
Conclusions: Limitations associated with the investigation were identified. Quality of life issues such as exposure to odors and noise was a consistent complaint in the area we investigated; however, these types of issues may vary by area, population density, and proximity to facilities. Our ability to address quality of life issues is limited. Better tools are needed to address long-term quality of life issues.
Judith Argon, Geisinger Health System, Chief Administrative Officer, Research
Activity related to Marcellus Shale gas extraction in Pennsylvania is in the early stages, and in New York State has not yet begun. This makes a study of the region of particular cogency. As the major health care provider and largest employer in the region, Geisinger Health System, an integrated health care delivery system, is vitally interested in the health and vitality of the Central Susquehanna region. Because there is insufficient data to understand what the short- and long-term health effects of gas extraction might be on the region’s population, Geisinger has initiated a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional, multi-stakeholder collaborative to develop a longitudinal dataset that could be used by the research community to examine the possible health effects of natural gas mining in the Marcellus Shale region of central Pennsylvania and southern New York State. The coalition includes stakeholders and experts from academia, health care systems, state and federal government and other partners. The data and samples to be collected will include health, environmental, community, and occupational data. While much of the data will be collected by team members prospectively, the project will also use data routinely collected through existing state and federal mechanisms. Health data will be collected from multiple sources, including electronic health records of major health care institutions in the region (Geisinger Health System, Guthrie Health System, and Susquehanna Health), through an interactive web-site, and in some cases directly from patients. Mechanisms to aggregate health data from the electronic health records of providers in the region are already in place, using infrastructure previously developed for a regional health exchange. Data obtained will be made available to researchers to investigate multiple aspects of the health impact of gas extraction activities in the Marcellus Shale region.
Roxana Witter, Colorado School of Public Health, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Assistant Research Professor
Public and private projects, policies and programs are often implemented after considering a variety of possible impacts (economic, political, foreign policy, environmental), but potential public health impacts are frequently not considered. A primary aim of health impact assessment (HIA) is to provide decision makers the information necessary to include public health in their decision making processes. Because natural gas development may potentially impact health by a variety of chemical, industrial and community exposures, HIA can be a useful tool for public health practitioners tasked with addressing health concerns in this context. This presentation will briefly discuss the methodology and steps needed to conduct a HIA for natural gas development projects, policies or programs.
Donna Womack, RTI International, Research Chemical Engineer, Risk Assessment Program, Manager
Natural gas exploration and development is an important part of the United States energy policy. In 2012, North Carolina passed legislation that could lead to the exploration and potential extraction of shale gas resources in the state through the use of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques. Key stakeholder groups include communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry, legislators, and regulators, each with a different perspective and each with a different value system with which to weigh risks/costs and benefits. Therefore, decisions related to shale gas and oil development must be based on a transparent, rigorous approach that allows stakeholders to consider tradeoffs among potential health outcomes, environmental impacts, and the economic benefits associated with these operations from inception to closure (i.e., across the full lifecycle). The development of data sets to support predictive modeling approaches and retrospective studies is crucial to building consensus; lacking agreement on what information to use and how to use it, we simply have insufficient information to have a meaningful discussion of the values represented by community, industry, and government stakeholders. Recognizing the need for a science-based framework (i.e., models and data) to support decisions related to hydrofracking, RTI invested in the development of a prototype Web-based decision support system that explicitly considers a range of decision attributes that covers public health, environmental integrity, and economic interests. The Hydraulic Fracturing Health, Environmental, and Economic Assessment Tool (HF-HE2AT) is a predictive model designed to characterize potential outcomes associated with different types of decisions/strategies of interest to decision makers. For example, HF-HE2AT can be used to evaluate siting options, project changes in water availability, or evaluate the impacts on public health and engineering costs associated with different management requirements (e.g., setback distances). As a “proof-of-concept” demonstration, RTI performed a hypothetical case study on health and environmental impacts associated with different flowback water management options. In developing supporting data (e.g., geospatial, process information) for this hypothetical study, we noted a number of gaps and challenges to building the necessary data sets, particularly on the chemical composition of the flowback water. The identification of these data gaps underscores the need for tools like HF-HE2AT that can be used to explore and characterize the uncertainty in predicted risks to health and the environment.
Environmental Protection Agency
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University
North Carolina State University
Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science
UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources
North Carolina Division of Public Health
Social & Scientific Systems, Inc.
Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina
North Carolina Biotechnology Center
The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences
Triangle Global Health Consortium
North Carolina State University Center for Human Health and the Environment
Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
Fleishman Hillard International Communications