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Study: Fracking Isn’t Causing Health Problems for PA School Children

June 28, 2019

A new study of natural gas production near two schools in Washington County, Pennsylvania finds no evidence emissions pose a health risk to the kids attending the schools.

A two-year analysis by the environmental risk consulting firm Gradient finds emissions from the Yonker natural gas hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) well site, located near one elementary school and one combined junior/senior high school in Washington County, Pennsylvania, pose no health risk to students attending the schools.

The wells in question are located approximately 900 yards from the schools. National and local environmental activists have long targeted the Yonker well site for closure, claiming it is harming students’ health.

No Increase in Pollution

The Gradient study concludes these claims are false and natural gas production at the site is not hurting the children’s health.

“[O]ur air quality and public health evaluation of December 2016 to October 2018 ambient air quality data collected at three sites in proximity to the Yonker well pad in Mount Pleasant Township showed that measured [particulate matter] 2.5 and [volatile organic compound] concentrations were consistently below health-based air comparison values and thus are not expected to pose acute or chronic health concerns,” the study states. “The monitoring data … indicate an absence of air quality impacts of potential health concern at the Fort Cherry School District campus associated with Yonker well pad air emissions.”

A 2011 study by Chemrisk, commissioned by the Fort Cherry School District, came to a similar conclusion.

“[T]he results … of the fracking and flaring sampling periods were similar to the results obtained from the baseline monitoring period and likewise, did not show anything remarkable with respect to chemicals detected in the ambient air,” the Chemrisk study states. “When volatile compounds were detected, they were consistent with background levels measured at the school and in other areas in Washington County. Furthermore, a basic yet conservative screening level evaluation shows that the detected volatile compounds were below health-protective levels.”

Below-Average Asthma Rate

There is no evidence fracking is causing health problems in Pennsylvania, says Tim Benson, a policy analyst with The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

“Despite the fact Pennsylvania ranks second in natural gas production, it has the fourth-lowest asthma mortality rate in the nation, helping to disprove the myth that fracking and asthma are linked,” Benson said. “Pennsylvania’s asthma mortality rate is even lower than neighboring New York’s, which banned hydraulic fracturing in 2014.

“Even as fracking has helped oil and gas production boom in the Keystone State, asthma hospitalization rates there fell from 17.6 percent in 2004 to 13.4 percent in 2014, representing a 24 percent decline in asthma hospitalization rates during a period when the number of hydraulically fracked wells in the state went from zero to more than 7,500,” Benson said. “Indeed, the state’s six largest shale-producing counties—Bradford, Greene, Lycoming, Susquehanna, Tioga, and Washington—have experienced declining asthma hospitalization rates, with all six having lower rates than the state average.”

Economic Boost from Fracking

The economic effects of the fracking revolution in Pennsylvania have been enormously positive, says Benson.

“A September 2018 Consumer Energy Alliance study found, because natural gas prices declined sharply due to fracking, Pennsylvania residents and businesses saved more than $30.5 billion in energy-related expenses between 2006 and 2016,” Benson said. “Concerning the overall economic benefits of fracking for Pennsylvanians, a 2016 Chamber of Commerce study estimated fracking in the state generated $13 billion in state GDP, $7.2 billion in wages, and created more than 117,000 jobs.

“A 2017 study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute from PricewaterhouseCoopers found the overall impact of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industries on the state’s economy was even greater, supporting more than 322,000 jobs and producing $23 billion in wages and $44.5 billion in economic impact in the state in 2015,” Benson said.

Promoting National Security

At no cost to the environment, fracking is benefitting America’s national and economic security, says Gary Stone, vice president of engineering for Five States Energy Company.

“Study after study demonstrates hydraulic fracturing of reservoir rocks more than a mile underground does not substantially contribute to air pollution or pose a risk to human health in general or children’s health in particular,” Stone said. “Fracking is boosting American's national security by increasing our energy independence and economic performance, without harming the environment.

“That’s a win—a win environmentalists should accept, but they probably won’t because they aren’t concerned about America’s prosperity but rather are blindly driven by a hatred of fossil fuels,” said Stone.

‘We Can Have Both’

Gradient’s study confirms economic growth and public health can go hand in hand says Elizabeth Stelle, director of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives.

“It’s no surprise studies continue to reaffirm the safety of hydraulic fracturing,” said Stelle. “Since the peak of the drilling boom in 2011, methane emissions have declined while production continues to increase.

“We don’t need to choose between our health and economic growth,” Stelle said. “The ever-improving technology around fracking shows we can have both.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hsburnett@heartland.org) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.

INTERNET INFO

Tim Benson, “Research & Commentary: Study Shows Natural Gas Wells Near Pennsylvania Schools Are Completely Safe,” The Heartland Institute, May 24, 2019: https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/research--commentary-study-shows-natural-gas-wells-near-pennsylvania-schools-are-completely-safe

“Public Health Evaluation of Ambient Air Near a Shale Gas Well Site and School Campus: Results from Long-Term Air Monitoring at the Yonker Well Site Nearby the Fort Cherry School Campus in Washington County, PA,” Gradient, May 10, 2019: https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/public-health-evaluation-of-ambient-air-near-a-shale-gas-well-site-and-school-campus-results-from-long-term-air-monitoring-at-the-yonker-well-site-nearby-the-fort-cherry-school-campus-in-washington-county-pa

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org