Study Finds That People Who Don't Like Drilling Say That Drilling is Bad

If you interviewed 33 people in the Marcellus shale region, roughly half of whom were reportedly suing the oil and gas industry, and asked them if they were experiencing stress and health problems due to the shale drilling activity in the area, do you think the majority would respond that they were?  And if none of these people underwent any sort of medical examination to determine if they really had any health problems, and further, whether any health problems they were experiencing had any relation to oil and gas drilling, would the statements of these people really carry much scientific weight?

I'm guessing not.  However, a group of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health are publishing a study in the May issue of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health which appears to consist of basically what I've outlined above.

Here are some excerpts from the press release about this study:

“Scientific literature shows that if people do not trust companies doing work in their communities, or believe that the government is misleading them, there is a heightened perception of risk,” said Dr. Goldstein, also a member of the National Academies’ committees to investigate shale gas drilling in the U.S. and Canada. “Community disruption and psychosocial stress have been well-documented as a result of environmental issues like oil spills and superfund sites. A strong response by the Pennsylvania Department of Health to address concerns about health impacts of hydrofracturing could reduce observed stress and resulting symptoms.”
From May through October 2010, members of Pitt Public Health’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities conducted in-depth interviews with 33 people concerned about fracking in their communities. Three- quarters of the residents resided in five of the seven most heavily drilled counties in Pennsylvania.
Follow-up interviews were conducted from January through April 2012 and included 20 of the initial 33 participants. The remainder could not be reached or declined to participate.
“Our study shows that perceptions of health may be affected by fracking regardless of whether this health impact is due to direct exposure to chemical and physical agents resulting from drilling or to the psychosocial stressors of living near drilling activity,” said lead author Kyle Ferrar, M.P.H., a doctoral student at Pitt Public Health. “Comprehensive epidemiological studies of all potential adverse consequences of fracking need to be performed, and they should include a close look at psychosocial symptoms, including stress, which cause very real health complications.”
Participants reported 59 unique health issues that they attributed to Marcellus Shale development. In addition to stress, these perceived health issues included rashes, headaches, shortness of breath, nausea and sore throats.
“Exposure-based epidemiological studies are needed to address identified health impacts and those that may develop as fracking continues,” said Mr. Ferrar.

So the big takeaway from this study appears to by that some people in shale drilling regions claim that they have had health problems as a result of drilling (especially when they're suing the industry), and those claims should be examined through actual medical and environmental testing.  Maybe it's just me, but this doesn't exactly seem like groundbreaking research that has led to earth-shattering conclusions.

Notice, too, a couple of other interesting things.  The interviews were conducted with 33 individuals who were "concerned about fracking in their communities."  That indicates that apparently if one was not concerned about fracking then they would not be part of this study.  It would seem to me that this sort of predetermines the outcome of the study, doesn't it?

Also interesting is that only 20 of the original 33 were reached for follow-up interviews.  So now the sample size is reduced even further?  A call for action from the Pennsylvania Department of Health based on unsubstantiated claims from 20 people, some of whom reportedly have financial motivation to make such claims?  Flimsy is a word that comes to mind.

Environmental studies and actual medical testing of individuals who legitimately feel that drilling is hurting their health are important.  If there are any dangers associated with drilling, scientific proof is the only way that any action will be prompted to make things safer.

This sort of study, though?  A study with no environmental or medical testing, and thus no actual scientific proof?  While qualifying my statement by noting that I'm going off of the press release and have not yet read the entire report, the premise of the study makes it seem worthless to me.  After all, I'm sure that I can find 33 people who will claim that they've seen Big Foot, but I don't think that this would be accepted as proof that Big Foot exists.

Although I have to say that reading about these things gets me to thinking.  Over the past 6 months or so all of the above symptoms have been experienced by my family.  The doctors told us it was just cold, flu, and in one case an allergic reaction to a medication.  And I thought that my stress was related to having a very busy schedule and a lot of bills to pay.  But now I'm thinking...maybe it's all the oil and gas industry's fault.

You can read the press release in its entirety here.

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