Above: A shale gas drilling rigs stands on the landscape in western Pennsylvania. Click the photo to download a larger version. Photo credit: "University of Pittsburgh Center for Healthy Environments and Communities"
Conference Focuses on Health Effects of Shale Gas Extraction
PITTSBURGH, Nov. 17, 2011 – Policymakers and scientists have said there is a lack of critical research on a number of public health issues associated with natural gas extraction – especially hydraulic fracturing – from shale deposits, a concern that will be addressed at a second-annual conference hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH).
Environmental health experts from around the world will meet at the Health Effects of Shale Gas Extraction Conference on Friday, Nov. 18, at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum to explore scientific and methodological approaches to understanding the entire industrial process and its health effects. Scientists and policymakers will discuss the impact of extracting natural gas from shale deposits such as the Marcellus Shale and will attempt to establish a research agenda focused on the evolving industry and its effect on public health issues.
“This conference will address what is known about the health impacts of extracting, refining and delivering natural gas from shale deposits, including the Marcellus Shale. The conference will identify issues for which timely research studies can be used to support sound policy decisions,” said Donald S. Burke, M.D., dean of GSPH and UPMC-Jonas Salk Professor of Global Health. “It is essential to bring together experts to share information and shape the focus of future research.”
Many policymakers believe natural gas plays a key role in the nation’s clean energy future and energy independence. Over the past few years, several key economic and technological developments have spurred increased gas extraction and the use of hydraulic fracturing to recover gas over diverse geographic regions and geologic formations.
However, as with any technology that involves management of potentially toxic substances, questions have been raised about the impact of increased hydraulic fracturing and other gas extraction procedures on drinking water resources, air quality, public health and the environment in the vicinity of gas extraction facilities. Research is needed to determine whether the use of new technologies and exposures to novel chemical combinations during hydraulic fracturing pose occupational hazards to drill-site workers and first responders to industrial accidents.
“Hydraulic fracturing is a narrow technical process that happens thousands of feet below ground, but there’s a long chain of activities above ground that occur before and after hydraulic fracturing happens. We need to know more about the overall process and we need more research identifying exposures, epidemiology of potential disease outcomes and community health risks,” said Bernard D. Goldstein, M.D., emeritus professor of Environmental and Occupational Health. The former GSPH dean will deliver a luncheon address at the conference.
The daylong conference will include presentations by Aaron Barchowsky, Ph.D., GSPH professor of Environmental and Occupational Health; Robert Jackson, Ph.D., Nicholas Professor of Global Change at Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment; and Charles Werntz, D.O., M.P.H., associate professor of clinical emphasis at West Virginia University School of Medicine. Robert Boulware from the Marcellus Shale Coalition will speak about industry’s role in emergency preparedness.
For more information, visit www.shalegas.pitt.edu. Presentations will be made available on the website after the conference.
Note to Media: Registration has closed, but reporters who wish to attend should contact Allison Schlesinger at 412-523-6922 or SchlesingerAP@upmc.edu.
The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH), founded in 1948 and now one of the top-ranked schools of public health in the United States, conducts research on public health and medical care that improves the lives of millions of people around the world. GSPH is a leader in devising new methods to prevent and treat cardiovascular diseases, HIV/AIDS, cancer and other important public health problems. For more information about GSPH, visit the school’s Web site at http://www.publichealth.pitt.edu