"Public health advocates and doctors on the front lines of Pennsylvania's natural gas-drilling boom are attacking the state's new Marcellus Shale law, likening one of its provisions to a gag order and complaining that vital research money into health impacts was stripped at the last minute.
Doctors say they don't know what to tell patients who suspect their ailments are related to nearby gas industry activity because of a lack of research on whether the drilling of thousands of new wells — many near houses and drinking-water supplies — has made some people sick.
Yet when legislative leaders and the governor's office negotiated the most sweeping update of the state's oil and gas law in a quarter century, they stripped $2 million a year that included funding for a statewide health registry to track respiratory problems, skin conditions, stomach ailments and a host of other illnesses potentially related to gas drilling.
Studies are urgently needed to determine if any of the drilling has impacted human health, said Dr. Poune Saberi, a University of Pennsylvania physician and public health expert. "We don't really have a lot of time," said Saberi, who said she's talked to about 30 people around Pennsylvania over the past 18 months who blame their ailments on gas drilling."