Geisinger Health System has been awarded a $1 million grant from the Degenstein Foundation to help complete a study on the health impacts from Marcellus Shale gas drilling, a report eagerly anticipated by officials in at least two states.

Last August, Geisinger announced that it was partnering with another health care system, Guthrie Health, to conduct what it called “the first large-scale, scientifically rigorous assessment of the health effects of” natural gas production (see Shale Daily, Aug. 21, 2012). A third health care system, Susquehanna Health, joined the project in November.

The three health care systems plan to pore through their electronic health records to determine what impact Marcellus Shale gas drilling has had on the public’s health. All three networks are headquartered and have a significant customer base in northeastern Pennsylvania.

“The Degenstein Foundation’s support of this research project comes at a critical time for the residents of Pennsylvania who live in the Marcellus shale region,” said Geisinger CEO Glenn Steele Jr. “The establishment of reliable and valid data regarding the potential health impacts of Marcellus shale gas drilling is essential for informed policy decisions.”

Geisinger said the majority of the funds from the Degenstein grant would be used to underwrite the data gathering portion of the program. Money would also be allocated toward developing strategic studies of the collected data.

Policymakers in New York and Pennsylvania have indicated that they want to use the results of the Geisinger study for possible inclusion in their regulations governing oil and natural gas development, and particularly with hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Last week, New York State Department of Health Commissioner Nirav Shah said the results from the Geisinger study and two others would be used by his team of analysts to complete their own health impact analysis of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) in New York (see Shale Daily, Feb. 13). Shah is also awaiting another HVHF study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, with collaboration from scientists at Columbia, Johns Hopkins and the University of North Carolina.

Meanwhile, a lawmaker in Pennsylvania has called for the Keystone State to empower a similar panel of health experts, who may decide to look at Geisinger’s findings for regulations in that state (see Shale Daily, Oct. 1, 2012).

“The landscape surrounding our neighbors is in a state of immense change,” said Jeffrey Apfelbaum, co-trustee of the Degenstein Foundation. “This project will make a difference in our region as we seek to better understand the shifts occurring around us.”

Preliminary results of the Geisinger stidy may be released this year, but other results won’t be available for five, 10 or 15 years.