Health care providers Guthrie Health and Geisinger Health System have formed a partnership to study the health impacts of Marcellus Shale gas drilling, saying it will be “the first large-scale, scientifically rigorous assessment of the health effects of” natural gas production.

“As Geisinger and Guthrie both serve patient populations that live in areas affected by Marcellus Shale gas drilling, it is appropriate that we join forces to investigate the effects of this industrial activity,” said David Carey, director of Geisinger’s Weis Center for Research.

A team from Guthrie and Geisinger will lead the effort to utilize their electronic health records to investigate the health effects of Marcellus gas drilling. The study will look at detailed health histories of hundreds of thousands of Geisinger and Guthrie patients who live near the Marcellus Shale.

Geisinger and Guthrie will collaborate in the planning and execution of the study, including the development of a health surveillance network intended to capture, assess and report on the patient level data secured by the health care providers, via electronic health record, and make this data available for research purposes.

“This health surveillance network will be the first systematic longitudinal study to evaluate the effects of Marcellus Shale drilling within the community. We anticipate additional institutional partners,” said Dr. Joseph Scopelliti, Guthrie CEO. “Our aim is to create a cross-disciplinary and sharable repository of data on environmental exposures, health outcomes and community impacts. The analysis of this data will further allow for the development of appropriate interventions.”

Some of the health effects that will be investigated first may include asthma, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Preliminary results of data analysis may be released within the next year, Carey said, while other aspects of the research will unfold over five, 10 or 15 years.