Pennsylvania's Poor Exposed to the Worst Effects of Gas Drilling

By: Joe Minott, Clean Air Council Executive Director

Former Governor Tom Corbett once called fracking “extremely important” to Pennsylvania’s economy, arguing that the “Marcellus has reached into some very old corners of our economy and our state and brought them back to life.” A new study shows that this optimistic view completely overlooks the fact that drilling is actually making life worse for vulnerable populations in those very old corners of the state. 

A research team from Clark University examined air and noise pollution in the Marcellus Shale region and found that poor rural communities are exposed to a disproportionately large share of the unhealthy impacts of unconventional gas wells. According to Scientific American, the study makes clear that “poverty levels are strongly associated with active fracking wells in Pennsylvania.”

We have more than 60,000 unconventional gas wells in Pennsylvania, and the people living in their vicinity have a much higher rate of poverty than those living farther away. The industry claims this is a good thing, since people in poor communities need jobs. Even if that were true, what good are jobs if they are shortening your life expectancy or keeping you saddled with doctors’ bills? And what about the people trying to make a living in another part of the rural economy like agriculture? 

Giving the natural gas industry unfettered access to places to drill is not good public policy, and it certainly doesn’t mean we also have to give them a license to pollute. We must require the industry to limit air pollution. One way to do that is to set rules limiting methane emissions across the natural gas supply chain. Preventing methane leaks would also limit emissions of the pollutants that make the air hard to breathe. 

It’s not okay that Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents are shouldered with the worst effects of natural gas drilling.     

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