Essential Pittsburgh
5:11 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

Silence On Shale Drilling

Over the past six years, more than 6,000 Marcellus Shale wells have been constructed in Pennsylvania, making the Keystone State the fastest growing natural gas producer in America.

But the economic advantages of drilling are counterbalanced by health concerns.

Two retirees from the Pennsylvania Department of Health recently said its employees were silenced on the issue of Marcellus Shale drilling. The two retirees, a community health nurse and a staffer in the Bureau of Epidemiology, say that staff at state health centers and district offices were instructed not to return calls from residents who expressed concerns about natural gas development.

Katie Colaneri of StateImpact Pennsylvania has been covering the story. She believes that the Department of Health’s policy came from higher up.

“The nurse, from her experience, she said she received her list of buzzwords and her instructions about the calls from her supervisor, but she said that was something her supervisor wouldn’t have had the authority to do, that it must have come from higher up in the chain, someone in Harrisburg or even the governor’s office.”

Colaneri said the Department of Health denied that there was a list of buzzwords and denied that staffers were not supposed to call them back. The governor’s office declined to comment for this story.

Colaneri said that Pennsylvania should seek to emulate states like Maryland and Colorado when dealing with these issues.

“Maryland … is funding a study of what the potential impacts would be, that study is coming through the University of Maryland, and looking at the potential health impacts on the Marcellus Shale gas drillings in the western part of the state. Colorado has its own sort of protocol for dealing with complaints. They actually have a database that you can go to on their Oil & Gas Commissions website where you can see actually every environmental or health complaint related to drilling.”