Health industry makes plea to gas drilling lobby to embrace methane controls

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Don Hopey

February 27, 2017

A group representing thousands of Pennsylvania doctors, nurses and other health care professionals has sent a letter to the Marcellus Shale Coalition, requesting that it stop legal challenges and lobbying against regulations aimed at controlling drilling air emissions and safeguarding public health.

The one-page letter to the shale gas drilling industry’s major Pennsylvania lobbying organization states that drilling operations can have deleterious impacts on public health, especially children, seniors and people with existing lung problems, and urges the industry to abide by emissions controls proposed for methane, volatile organic compounds and other pollutants.

“Reducing this pollution will have a positive impact on Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable communities,” the letter says. “As health care and public health professionals, we are asking that you stop attacking these reasonable safeguards for the Pennsylvanians we are committed to protecting.”

Read enough? Click here to take action to #CutMethane.

The letter, scheduled for release Monday, is signed by about 40 individual doctors, nurses and health care workers, and organizations representing more than 40,000 doctors, nurses, researchers, and health professionals, including the Philadelphia and Harrisburg/ Hershey chapters of Physicians for Social Responsibility; the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a nonprofit that addresses health concerns in the state’s gas patches; and SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the state’s largest health care workers union.

Ned Ketyer, a physician who is consultant to the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project and a leader of the letter writing coalition, said that in addition to asking the shale gas industry not to oppose methane capture regulations, the letter is an opportunity to educate the public, medical professionals and their patients about the negative health impacts caused by drilling industry emissions.

He said drilling emissions — including more than 110,000 tons of methane a year in the state — can exacerbate asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other respiratory conditions, and cause additional emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and missed school and work days.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people, many patients and families, whose health has been negatively affected in the gas patches,” Dr. Ketyer said.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition released a written statement attributed to spokesperson Erica Clayton Wright that said gas producers and pipeline operators “already do an outstanding job of limiting methane emissions.”

“Without question, the increased production and use of natural gas has led to historic environmental and air quality improvements and this important progress should not be threatened by unnecessary and costly new requirements that provide little if any benefit. The MSC remains ready and willing to continue to work collaboratively with DEP and our elected officials to ensure that Pennsylvania adopts commonsense policies that protect our environment, boost our economy and further our nation’s energy security,” the coalition statement said. 

The release of the health care workers’ letter was timed to coincide with the DEP’s consideration of new regulations that would tighten controls on methane emissions and other health harmful pollutants. On Thursday, the DEP extended its public comment period on two general permits aimed at tightening methane emissions controls from well sites and gas compressor stations from late March to June 5.

Monday’s letter is not the first time health care workers have sought to influence state policy on shale gas drilling. Four months ago, the Pennsylvania Medical Society called for a statewide moratorium on new shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing and urged the Wolf administration to establish an independent health registry and start studying fracking’s public health impacts.

Dr. Ketyer, a pediatrician who recently retired from clinical practice, said the drilling emissions controls are both affordable and readily available and would also benefit the industry by capturing more of the methane it’s drilling for. The controls would also help reduce emissions of a potent greenhouse gas.

“This is the low-hanging fruit in terms of addressing climate change,” Dr. Ketyer said. “It’s a key first step in driving down emissions of greenhouse gases that have a great effect on climate.”

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