PF Nav/HeadImage

PennFuture Facts :: brief, interesting looks at topical environmental issues PennFuture Facts :: brief, interesting looks at topical environmental issues

Monday, December 7, 2015

Shale & Public Health: A conversation that's not fading away

The League of Women Voters of PA presented its third annual Shale & Public Health Conference in Pittsburgh on November 18, and what's abundantly clear is that the nexus of natural gas drilling and public health in Pennsylvania is a subject of continued interest and debate.

A packed room at the University of Pittsburgh's University Club heard a succession of speakers weigh in on impacts to public health from fracking activity in the Marcellus Shale region ranging from compromised air quality to poor outcomes in newborns.

Dr. Bruce Pitt, department chair, University
of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health
Dr. Bruce Pitt, department chair of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, is participating in leading research to better assess perinatal outcomes for mothers in natural gas drilling regions. He noted that there is a fetal basis for adult diseases that can be traced back to the environmental experiences of the mother. Dr. Pitt's current studies are focused on Washington, Butler and Westmoreland counties in southwestern PA -- a heavily-fracked region -- and are showing an increased incidence of babies that are small for gestational age as well as premature births. Dr. Pitt further noted that we need more studies over "an extended period of time" to better assess the public health impacts of natural gas development, and that a 30-year cycle of study makes sense to allow for a full life cycle of fracking plus longer-forming diseases such as certain cancers.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project's Dr. Jill Kriesky reiterated the need for a registry on the health impacts of fracking in PA. "We need a [fracking] health registry since researchers have determined that there are public health impacts from this activity," said Kriesky. "The goal is for Pennsylvania to have a robust health registry other states would want to replicate so we have this data across the country."

Dr. Brian Schwartz of Johns Hopkins University is the lead on the much-discussed Geisinger study of health impacts in the fracking regions of northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA). The Geisinger Health System, which has a large presence in NEPA, has an abundance of well-tracked data, making it a good candidate for study. "By using Geisinger data, we're studying the data of people in [fracking] impacted counties," noted Schwartz, adding that the National Institutes of Health is funding three studies to date that are looking at environmental issues and associated health outcomes. One study's key takeaway: An association between fracking and pre-term birth that is 40 percent higher, "conservatively," in fracking regions. Schwartz's continuing research includes studying asthma exacerbation in drilling regions (the disease's latency is short, making it an ideal vehicle to assess fracking impacts) as well as the study of certain cancers including leukemia and tumors.

Dr. Bernard Goldstein, emeritus dean and
professor, Pitt Graduate School of Public Health
Dr. Bernard Goldstein, the emeritus dean and professor of the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health, touched down in Pittsburgh the night before the conference after spending the fall teaching in Cologne, Germany. Consequently, he honed in on the differences in how fracking is viewed in the U.S. and the EU. While European countries with large shale reserves are keen to drill, their public is largely opposed. That's in stark counterpoint to the U.S., where it's unlikely that we'll completely abandon fossil fuels, thereby making it ever clearer that we have to get drilling right for the sake of public health and the environment. Dr. Goldstein continued: "We have not had the oversight we need in Pennsylvania [on shale gas development]. No one on Gov. Corbett's Marcellus Shale Advisory Committee had a public health background."

It was clear after a full day of speakers and breakout sessions that the conversation in PA on shale gas drilling is fluid. However, much more has been learned, especially about the harmful air pollution related to fracking that is leading to negative health outcomes for Pennsylvanians, including our most vulnerable populations.

Consequently, we should continue to push for the strongest possible rules to address air pollution from natural gas drilling including methane emissions from both new and existing sources. Absent strong protections and strict enforcement, we will not be able to ensure good public health and a safe environment.

Elaine Labalme is strategic campaigns director for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @NewGirlInTown.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

All across the U.S., the talk is about "existing sources"

I had the pleasure, and privilege, of participating in a national methane fly-in on November 4-6 in Washington, D.C. Lest you think we flew methane-spewing drones over our nation's capital, this was actually a collection of 35 advocates from 10 states who met to discuss the issue of harmful methane pollution from the oil and gas sector. We also met with our elected leaders to urge them to support the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recently proposed rule to cut methane emissions from new and modified sources in the oil and gas sector including oil and gas wells and compressor stations.

The Pennsylvania delegation on its way to a White House meeting, from L-R: Patrice Tomcik, Western Pa. Field Organizer, Moms Clean Air Force; Dr. Evelyn Talbott, University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Marsha Haley, UPMC; Lois Bower-Bjornson, parent-activist, Washington County, Pa.; Matt Walker, Community Outreach Director, Clean Air Council; and Elaine Labalme, Strategic Campaigns Director, PennFuture.

And there's the rub. While we applaud the EPA for taking this important first step -- and it's certainly a step in the right direction -- the bulk of the methane pollution problem is from existing sources of emissions, or oil and gas wells that are here today, not waiting to be drilled tomorrow. By 2018, it is expected that 90 percent of methane pollution in the oil and gas sector will come from existing sources of emissions. In Pennsylvania, the second-largest natural gas producing state in the nation, that numbers thousands upon thousands of wells.

It was validating to hear that environmental advocates from as far away as New Mexico, Montana and North Dakota are just as concerned as we are in Pennsylvania around existing sources of methane pollution. These harmful emissions contribute to negative public health outcomes such as asthma attacks in children and lung and heart disease in seniors and those in under-served communities; are a wasted natural resource in that the $1 billion of methane emissions in 2013 could have heated five million U.S. homes and returned revenue to local communities; and exacerbate climate change as methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas with 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after its release into the atmosphere.

Forget the triple bottom line -- methane pollution is a disastrous triad for public health, the economy and the environment.

Here in Pennsylvania, we continue to call on Gov. Tom Wolf to launch a rulemaking for the direct regulation of methane emissions in Pennsylvania from new, modified and existing sources in the oil and gas sector.

In Washington, D.C. last week, our 10-state group of advocates -- which included representatives from labor, faith, parent and environmental groups along with passionate members of the Native American community -- had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the EPA's Bureau of Air Quality and urge the agency to expand its proposed methane rule to cover existing sources as well.

This is a fight we must win, and I was honored to stand alongside like-minded individuals in our nation's capital who were unafraid to sound the call for comprehensive, essential methane rules to protect our citizens and communities.

Elaine Labalme is strategic campaigns director for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @NewGirlInTown.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Let's do this: Time to enact proposed revisions to PA oil and gas rules

While Pennsylvania's Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board (TAB) said YES on October 27 to moving proposed revisions to the state's oil and gas rules on to the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (EQB), it wasn't before asking for even more time to review a suite of standards that has been in the works for almost five years and already been subject to two public comment periods that generated over 30,000 comments.

The five voting members of the TAB, several of whom have ties to the oil and gas industry, floated a resolution after an exhaustive, five-hour briefing on the proposed rules by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The resolution would allow TAB to present a report to the EQB on the proposed rules at a later date, a report which will not incorporate comments from the TAB's four non-voting members, who represent community and environmental groups and other non-industry constituencies.

Are you keeping up? We can't blame you if you're not as the process to revise the state's oil and gas rules has been fraught with the threat of industry-backed lawsuits, needless delays, and the flat-out dismissal of the public interest by oil and gas industry lobbyists -- this despite strong public support for updated rules to cover everything from leaky centralized wastewater impoundments to the proximity of drilling activity to public resources that would include schools and playgrounds.

Oh yeah, did we say that these rules need to be finalized by March 2016 or the whole MULTI-YEAR-LONG process starts all over again?

The oil and gas industry, and those who are enabling its misguided efforts around these rules in Pennsylvania, need to stop delaying what has been a thorough and exhaustive process and move forward in support of updated standards that will help ensure clean air and water for Pennsylvanians while helping to protect public health and the environment.

Elaine Labalme is strategic campaigns director for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh.

Still time to weigh in on state forest planning

There's still time to make sure officials know your thoughts on future management of Penn's Woods. Why are public lands important to you? 

Rock Run stream, Loyalsock State Forest
As we posted in a recent blog, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is taking citizen input on how it manages our state forests in twelve public meetings -- happening now -- on the Draft State Forest Resource Management Plan (SFRMP). 

The draft plan, last revised in 2007, is the main tool the Bureau of Forestry uses to manage Pennsylvania's approximately 2.2 million acre state forest system. 

At each public meeting, DCNR staff will take input in a small group setting and record your comments. In our previous blog post you'll find more details and a full meeting schedule through November 18.

Do you camp, fish, or hike in PA's forests? Are you concerned about the environmental impacts of unconventional gas development? What kinds of conservation issues are important to you in preserving our state forest system and its natural and recreational treasures? 

This is your chance to be part of the public process and help protect these special places -- like the Clarence Moore Lands of the Loyalsock State Forest, pictured above -- for future generations.

Upcoming meetings include October 29 in Clarion, November 3 in State College, November 10 in Carlisle, and November 12 in Williamsport. All meetings take place from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. and we have the full details and locations

Can't make a meeting? Written comments are also accepted through November 30 at

Kate Gibbons is Northeastern PA outreach coordinator and is based in Wilkes-Barre.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Make it happen: sustainable solutions for Philly

This event is part of Young Involved Philadelphia's State of Young Philly Week, an annual event series held that brings together over 50 organizations and 1,000 young professionals, elected officials, and organizational leaders to examine the current state of young Philadelphia and to ask what we can all do to improve our city. 

Are you frustrated by the amount of trash on Philadelphia’s streets and in its waterways? Do you wish that we had safer streets for bicyclists and pedestrians? Have you thought about how the city might reduce its carbon footprint? Most importantly – have you done something about it?

Clean Water Action and PennFuture are hosting an “advocacy 101” training session for those who notice problems in their neighborhoods and want to be an active participant in identifying and executing a sustainable solution. We’ll provide the framework and guidance for how to build out an advocacy campaign with an emphasis on real-life sustainability challenges in Philadelphia.

While the focus in this session will be on local sustainability issues, the skills being taught and practiced will be applicable to advocacy campaigns around any issue and on any level.

Event Details

When: Monday, October 19, 2015 from 5:30PM to 7:30PM
Where: SERC 108AB, Science Education and Research Center, Temple University, 12th Street and Polett Walk
Who: Hosted by Clean Water Action and PennFuture

Katie Bartolotta is southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Citizen feedback sought as PA revises forest management plan

It's the public's chance to weigh in on how the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is managing our state forests. DCNR has released the fall 2015 public meeting schedule for the public to comment on the Draft State Forest Resource Management Plan. 

The draft plan, last revised in 2007, is the main tool the Bureau of Forestry uses to manage Pennsylvania's approximately 2.2 million acre state forest systemShale gas and water resources in state forests are among the numerous areas covered in this draft document

How does this affect you? 
You should attend a meeting and be prepared to express your concerns if you:
  • use trails on state forest land; 
  • are troubled about gas development on these lands; 
  • like to camp or fish along streams that run through state forestland; 
  • treasure Pennsylvania's vast expanses of forests; and 
  • care how they will be impacted by climate change.
Because public lands matter now and for generations, it is important that you plan to attend and provide input at the meetings. The first meeting is on Tuesday, October 6 in Wilkes-Barre, with a total of 12 meetings across Pennsylvania through November 18. All meetings take place from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. Written comments are also accepted through November 30 at Visit DCNR's website for additional information on the process. 

This is a key opportunity to provide input to the commonwealth. Watch for information about how to submit written comments with links to key issues and talking points coming soon from PennFuture. 

Tuesday, Oct. 6
The Woodlands Resort
1073 Hwy 315
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702
Wednesday, Oct. 7
Stroudsmoor Inn
257 Stroudsmoor Rd
Stroudsburg, PA 18360
Thursday, Oct. 8
Fairmount Park Horticulture Center
100 N Horticulture Dr
Philadelphia, PA 19131
Wednesday, Oct. 21
Bucktail High School Cafeteria
1300 Bucktail Ave
Renovo, PA 17764
Thursday, Oct. 22
Pennsylvania Lumber Museum
5660 US-6
Ulysses, PA 16948
Tuesday, Oct. 27
Bedford Travelodge
4517 US-220 BUS
Bedford, PA 15522
Wednesday, Oct. 28
Double Tree Hotel, Pittsburgh - Monroeville
101 Mall Blvd
Monroeville, PA 15146
Thursday, Oct. 29
Park Inn by Radisson
45 Holiday Inn Rd
Clarion, PA 16214
State College
Tuesday, Nov. 3
Ramada Inn: Nittany Room 1450 S Atherton St
State College, PA 16801
Tuesday, Nov. 10
Comfort Suites
10 S Hanover St
Carlisle, PA 17013
Thursday, Nov. 12
Genetti Hotel: Terrace Room
200 W 4th St
Williamsport, PA 17701

Kate Gibbons is Northeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Wilkes-Barre. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What’s the state of Pennsylvania's air?

This is the second post in a four-part blog series on air quality.

Now that you have a solid understanding of air pollutants it’s time to look at what is in the air you (yes, you) are breathing at home. We compiled data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for eight cities throughout Pennsylvania and put it into an interactive infographic. Check out how your region stacks up!

If you don’t live in Pennsylvania or are just curious to see how other cities in the USA compare, our friends at the Breathe Project (based in Pittsburgh) have created an interactive Breathe Meter. As you can tell, there’s still a lot to clean up in order to make sure the air we’re breathing isn’t harming our health.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series to find out who makes the standards and how they were established.

Nicole Catino is Penn Future’s 2015 Student Conservation Association Green Cities Sustainability Fellow and is based in Pittsburgh.