The second part of an extensive study conducted by a bipartisan agency of the Pennsylvania General Assembly shows no clear link between Marcellus Shale development and increased demand for health care services in areas most affected by the boom.
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania set out to determine if health status indicators and demand for health care services changed in the study counties during a time in which Marcellus drilling activity increased between 2000-2010. The counties included Bradford and Lycoming in the northeast part of the state and Greene and Washington in the southwest part of the state, as well as surrounding areas.
Based on data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, those four counties account for about half of all unconventional wells drilled in the state. In all, just seven counties account for 90% of all unconventional wells in the state, according to the study.
Inpatient hospitalizations in the study counties and surrounding areas increased only slightly in the northern regions and decreased slightly in the southwest, but the study's authors said "it is not possible to directly connect this to Marcellus Shale drilling."
The percentage of uninsured residents, meanwhile, was at or above 10% during the study period, which researchers said was consistent with the general level of uninsurance in the state at any given time during the period.
Researchers also said they found no "overall trends for injuries in the four counties or across the two regions." Noticeable increases in injuries associated with falls, motor vehicle accidents and accidents involving motorcycles were recorded, but researchers said such injuries could be related to any type of large-scale construction activity and not necessarily Marcellus Shale drilling.
While no injury trends were reported in the study regions, the study did find a substantial increase in calls for ambulances, which in some cases spiked by more than 3,000% over the study period. Again, the researchers said little data exists on the exact nature of the injuries and the authors said "complaints cannot be tied directly to drilling activity."
The author's acknowledged that little is generally known about the unconventional industry's effects on human health.
"A challenge with accessing and analyzing these kinds of data is that data are not collected by health care delivery systems on the employment status of patients and if those data are collected, it is not done so in a consistent, systematic way and is not reported in any publicly available format that is useful for analysis."
In the first part of the study, which examined population trends, authors found that they varied notably across the regions studied, suggesting population increases and decreases were not linked to the level of economic activity created by Marcellus Shale development (see Shale Daily, Nov. 25, 2014).
Some lawmakers in the state, meanwhile, are once again pushing for a bill that would create a long-considered Marcellus Shale Health Advisory Panel to study the impacts of the unconventional natural gas industry with the explicit purpose of helping to inform public policy decisions and gather more concrete data on the topic (see Shale Daily, Jan. 2).