New Report Finds Marcellus Shale Development Unrelated to Pa. Mortality Rates
Mortality rates in the six Pennsylvania counties with the most Marcellus Shale development have declined or remained stable since shale production began in the region, according to a new Energy In Depth-commissioned report. The findings directly refute accusations from anti-energy groups that the fracking boom is a threat to public health.
Key findings include:
- “There was no identifiable impact on death rates in the six counties attributable to the introduction of unconventional oil and gas development. In fact, the top Marcellus counties experienced declines in mortality rates in most of the indices.”
- “The proportion of elderly-to-total population increased significantly in the top Marcellus counties compared to the state. Based on this fact, death rates in these six counties would be expected to increase, but this expected increase did not occur.”
- “Unconventional gas development was not associated with an increase in infant mortality in the top Marcellus counties, as the mortality rate significantly declined (improved), even surpassing the improvement of the state.”
- “Unconventional gas development was not associated with an increase in deaths related to chronic lower respiratory disease (including asthma) in the top Marcellus counties, as the overall chronic lower respiratory disease mortality rate declined (improved) or was variable for the six-county area. The only exception was Greene County where the increased mortality rate was consistent with the increase in the elderly population.”
- “During the period that unconventional gas development was introduced to these counties, the trends reflected a positive economic change in the area. Therefore, any increases in the death rates in the top Marcellus counties cannot be associated with negative changes to the economic viability of the population.”
- “Unconventional gas development was not associated with an increase in deaths related to cancer, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, influenza or pneumonia, nephritis or nephrotic syndrome, or septicemia in the top Marcellus counties, as the mortality rates significantly declined (improved).”
The report analyzed Pennsylvania Department of Health data for the state as a whole and the counties of Bradford, Greene, Lycoming, Susquehanna, Tioga, and Washington from 2000 to 2014. The report explains the significance of using the state’s data, noting,
“Pennsylvania has a comprehensive database and a decades-long history of reporting this data, providing the reviewer a consistent, reliable and sanctioned independent database to draw from for this study. Most importantly, the source of the data is the Pennsylvania State Health Department, as part of the National Center for Disease Control reporting system, and therefore is not data generated by the researcher. This protects the conclusion from bias and ensures that the study can be replicated when peer-reviewed.”
According to the report, these counties were chosen because of the level of Marcellus activity they have seen – more than 900 wells in each – since 2004, when the first Marcellus shale well was developed in Washington County.
Study author Sue Mickley explains,
“In all six counties that had the highest development activity in Pennsylvania, the death rates declined or remained stable despite a significant increase in the elderly population. This indicates that health and longevity did not decline as some have said would happen, and in fact, longevity increased as the average household income and employment in these counties improved. None of the categories saw a negative impact on health from natural gas resource development.” (emphasis added)
The Marcellus Shale industry has been operating in Pennsylvania for more than a decade now – an ample amount of time for health trends, both positive and negative, to show in a community. Mickley explained that to EID, stating,
“It has been common knowledge in the field of public health that the economic health of a community influences the status of its citizens.”
While the report did not specifically evaluate whether the shale industry has been responsible for the decline in mortality rates, Marcellus development has increased tax revenues, saved consumers money, and spurred economic development in these counties and the state as a whole.
As EID Executive Vice President Jeff Eshelman said,
“The oil and gas industry has been operating in the Marcellus for a decade now, turning Pennsylvania into the second largest natural gas producing state in the country. This report confirms what we have been saying for years: The shale industry has an overwhelmingly positive impact in the communities in which it operates. The ‘Keep It In the Ground’ movement has tried to destroy jobs and economic growth in parts of the Commonwealth that desperately need both, arguing that oil and natural gas development is a threat to public health. Everyone should welcome the release of this report, which confirms those anti-energy claims are without merit.”