Fracking, Shale Gas
and Health

Fracking and Health Awareness Project

Gas Patch Roulette: How Shale Gas Development Risks Public Health in Pennsylvania


Gas Patch Roulette is one of the few studies to date documenting patterns of illness in people living close to shale gas development. The report was released in October, 2012 by Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP.) A summary report and support documentation including the health survey form used by residents, and an odor and symptom log form are also available.

From the Introduction:

Where oil and gas development goes, health problems often follow.

… From a growing number of stories told by individuals nationwide to conferences held by academics and public agencies, the “dots” between health symptoms and gas facilities are very slowly but surely being connected.

… Between August 2011 and July 2012, Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) investigated the extent, types, and possible causes of health symptoms experienced by people living in the gas patches of Pennsylvania.

The findings of this study stand in strong contrast to statements—often made by industry representatives and policymakers seeking to expand drilling—dismissing claims of health impacts as “personal anecdotes” and isolated incidents.

Some highlights from the report:

The 25 most common symptoms reported by participants ranged from increased fatigue, suffered by 62% of the participants, to dizziness experienced by 34%. After fatigue, the next most prevalent symptoms, all experienced by over half the respondants, were nasal irritation (61%), throat irritation (60%), sinus problems (58%), eyes burning (53%), shortness of breath (52%), joint pain (52%), feeling weak and tired (52%), severe headaches (51%) and sleep disturbance (51%).

In general, the closer to gas facilities the respondents lived, the higher the rates of symptoms they reported. However, when facilities were further away than 4001 feet, the rates of some symptoms increased including throat irritation, sinus problem, and nasal irritation. The report notes that it is possible that the chemicals that bring on these types of symptoms travel over much longer distances than would normally be expected, or that other factors were at play.

The youngest respondents (15-16 years old), had conditions not typically associated with children(e.g., severe headaches, joint pain, lumbar pain, and forgetfulness. In the subset of this young age group living 1500 feet or closer to a facility, the percentage of respondents with symptoms increased.

Main conclusions:
  1. Contaminants associated with oil and gas development are present in air and water in many communities where development is occurring.
  2. Many residents have developed health symptoms that they did not have before—indicating the strong possibility that they are occurring because of gas development.
  3. By permitting widespread gas development without fully understanding its impacts to public health—and using that lack of knowledge to justify regulatory inaction—Pennsylvania and other states are risking the public’s health.
Real people, real lives:

The report concludes with profiles of some of the survey participants, describing how living near a gas field had has affected their lives. (Real people, real lives, starting at page 39)

Gas Patch Roulette Full Report

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