Journalism in the Public Interest

Doctors Ask New York to Study Health Impacts Before Allowing Fracking

Medical professionals and environmentalists sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying the state should study the health effects of gas drilling before allowing more of it.


Medical professionals and environmentalists sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying the state should study the health effects of gas drilling before allowing more of it (Photo by Nathaniel Brooks-Pool/Getty Images)

A group of doctors, nurses and environmentalists is calling on New York officials to study the health risks of gas drilling before allowing hydraulic fracturing in the state.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the group said New York’s plan for regulating fracking ignores growing evidence that gas drilling harms public health. The group asked the state to assess disease rates in potential drilling areas to establish a baseline, identify specific risks from drilling and propose steps to mitigate those risks.

Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said state officials had taken health effects into consideration in drafting the new regulations for high-volume fracking that were released last week.

“Because New York has developed the most rigorous requirements in the nation to protect the public health and the environment,” she wrote in an email, “a comparison of health impacts in other states is inappropriate.”

New York put a hold on fracking three years ago, just as drilling into the Marcellus Shale formation was taking off in neighboring Pennsylvania. As ProPublica has reported, intense gas drilling in Pennsylvania and elsewhere has been accompanied by mounting complaints about health problems around drilling sites. Neither states nor the federal government currently track or study such reports systematically, however.

On Monday, Pennsylvania’s Gov. Tom Corbett proposed a fee on drilling that would provide the state health department $1 million to $2 million a year to compile and investigate health complaints. The move followed a proposal from the state’s secretary of public health to create the nation’s first drilling-related health registry.

The New York letter, which was signed by more than 250 health professionals and environmental groups, called for the state to conduct a health impact assessment similar to one started last year in a western Colorado community.

In the initial draft of the Colorado study, researchers concluded that new drilling in the area would likely affect residents’ health, but it came under criticism from drillers, and county officials ended the work before a final draft was released.

Bernard Goldstein, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health, has criticized officials in Pennsylvania for approving new drilling without adequately studying public health in drilling areas. While he didn’t sign the New York letter, Goldstein said he supports the group’s demands, adding that New York should learn from Pennsylvania’s experience and properly assess health risks before drilling begins.

“To me, the idea of rushing ahead basically refutes all we’ve learned in environmental health science over the last 40 years,” he said.

Wow! A letter signed by a couple hundred “scienticians” warning about undocumented tales of largely anecdotal “health consequences” from gas drilling …. truly groundbreaking work. I believe this logical fallacy is better known as an Appeal to Authority.


One needs to follow up on anecdotal reports. Many of them, coupled with contaminated water justify delving into before large scale fracking begins.  Also, I can foresee that when the gas is extracted the result will be like the legacy of coal mining. Massive envirionmental pollution.


Mike - How can you claim ‘a couple hundred “scienticians” warning about undocumented tales of largely anecdotal “health consequences” from gas drilling ….’ from all those signatures with MD, PhD, and RN after their names? If you were - as I am - a scientist living in SW Pennsylvania, you would realize that the “tales” are neither undocumented nor anecdotal. I only wish that PA leaders had shown the intelligence and ethics shown by those in NY on this issue.

Barry Schmittou

Oct. 6, 2011, 4:10 p.m.

If I remember correctly Mike H wrote that he works for a State regulatory agency, or he has worked in the oil or gas industry for twenty years.

(I think he was one of two people who responded about six weeks ago when I wrote that people should let us know if they have a job related to their comment)

Mike H. consistently writes in favor of the oil and gas industry.

In my experience, corporate employees and State and Federal regulators often have a very unjust favoritism for the businesses they work for or regulate.

Often the government regulators formerly worked for the business they are regulating.

Here are four examples of regulators protection of dangerous crimes:
ProPublica wrote these quotes about insurance companies destroying injured war zone contractors lives :

“Workers fought long battles for medical care, including such things as prosthetic devices and treatment for post-traumatic stress. The Labor Department seldom took action to enforce the law. One official called the system a “fiasco.”

“Labor officials can recommend cases for prosecution to the Justice Department–but have only done so once in the past two decades, according to Labor officials.”

(end of ProPublica quotes)

This quote about Federal government enforcement of health care laws was written by Joseph Belth, Professor Emeritus for Insurance at Indiana University :

“They’ve turned Erisa on its head,”  “It was supposed to protect employees, and it’s being used to protect insurers.”
(end of quote)

Here’s a quote from WFAA’s Peabody Award winning series about Workers Comp :

“Several stories detail possible fraud or questionable actions practiced by at least several major insurance carriers, but ignored and unpunished by regulators. A remarkable number of Texans committed suicide because they could no longer endure the pain caused by their injuries and they had been repeatedly turned down for worker’s comp care. Some insurance companies send peer review doctors medical files “stripped” of records important to the possible approval of workers’ comp claims.”

WFAA also wrote the following regarding criminal prosecutions of insurance companies in Texas:

“the number of insurance companies referred since 2000? Zero.”
I personally challenged the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Special Workers Comp Fraud Unit failure to post employer convictions on their press release web pages. Here is an exact quote from a letter I received from the T.B.I.‘s Karen Alexander :

” The other question that you asked is why there are only press releases on employees who have been prosecuted. So far, only employees have been successfully prosecuted.”

Please go to to see many examples of Obama and Bush’ regulators protecting criminal acts, including Wachovia laundering $378 BILLION dollars of drug money for mass murdering Mexican drug cartels !!

Barry Schmittou’s point is well-taken. If Mike H is indeed a public employee, his extreme bias disqualifies him and he should resign or be fired immediately. The job of state regulators is to protect the public against any harm caused by business, industry or some other large entity, because individuals or communities can’t protect and defend themselves against rich, unprincipled corporations. That’s why they exist.

As the comment period ticks away before New York’s DEC turns its latest fracking Environmental Impact Statement into regulations and starts signing permits, it makes perfect sense for health professionals to raise this issue. In fact, no such study has been done anywhere, yet health studies are a routine part of EIS studies when hazardous materials are involved. New York is not the oil patch, where drillers and producers are intermarried with state legislatures and court systems. And unless New York wants to look like the oil patch, the time to take a hard, cold look at the downside of the fracking process is now. (The upside, while slightly to grossly exaggerated, can be easily found in plenty of full-page ads and on websites from the likes of Exxon Mobile, Energy from Shale, the American Petroleum Institute . . .

Mary E Gherardi

Oct. 6, 2011, 7:22 p.m.

There have been medical studies in my neighborhood recently (Dallas area) because people suspected higher rates of cancer due to drilling. It turned out there were no elevated levels of cancer.  In yesterday’s(Oct.5, 2011) Dallas Morning news there was an article about Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s natural gas advisory board, and a report they gave to the Senate energy committee.  It seems the old wells pose more of a problem than the new wells being drilled.  Apparently there are ‘tens of thousands’ of old wells with casing and cementing problems. Also, they went on to report, the “toxic chemicals” referred to all the time in drilling articles are small concentrations of ingredients in products such as “dishwashing detergent” and “bactericides similar to Clorox.”  The former secretary of environmental protection for PA. agreed that, “frack fluids per se are very unlikely to contaminate drinking water.” 

I’ve read enough material on drilling to accept the fact that no matter what the evidence, anti-drillers and nimbys will always discount and dismiss any positive evidence regarding drilling to further their agenda.

Drilling in my area is discreet (for the most part) and you hardly know it’s there, but it does wonders for the economy, not to mention the good that’s spread around by the personal wealth of landowners.

There’s so much misinformation and propaganda from people who have nothing better to offer New York.  Drill, but drill carefully and you’ll see it can be done safely and profitably.

I can see environmentalists protesting this type of practice.  However, when you throw doctors and nurses into the mix, the concern loses all credibility.  Thanks to Pro Publica’s reporting, we now know that Doctors and Nurses concerns usually focuses around the pocket book.  Since we have half of our american population hoped up on meds, you really have to wonder if they are just trying to kill us off for their profit.  Of course, you could also look at Germany during WW II and realize they really don’t have much credibility as they ran concentration camps…

Mike H’s claim of “Scienticians” doesn’t really hold much either, he should have called them what they are, poisoners…

Edmund Singleton

Oct. 7, 2011, 2:46 a.m.

Adding a chemical to ground water cannot be a good thing…

I don’t have much to say about Cuomo himself, but it’s a good sign that any politician is willing to study an issue before making a decision, instead of blindly listening to either the corporate or environmental lobby.

In New York, the way this story usually runs is (a) we don’t hear about the issue until the company has made all the money it possibly can or (b) the sources are all people who work for the same environmental office with the obligatory photo of Adrienne Esposito giving a speech somewhere trying to spread irrational fear.

Putting both sides to the test is a shocking and novel approach…

I completely disagree with Mike for many reasons, but particularly one a very simple one: those working in the health field would only stand to gain from an increase in clientele, aka more sick individuals. If they are coming forward and warning that fracking is going to cause people to suffer and require treatment, they are doing it precisely because they are NOT looking to gain financially from this.

It would be like auto-repair guys warning that a new road system is going to damage cars. They are qualified to comment on the impact on the car because they know cars; similarly, doctors and nurses commenting on the impact these new measures would have on the body and equally credible.

I’m so, so tired of all of this corporatism disregarding human rights/safety.

a blogger is publishing a list of healthcare providers and suggesting that pro-drillers may want to ” re-think whether or not they continue using the services of these people given their activist stance against drilling.”

A copy of the list of “health care professionals” which includes doctors, nurses, psychologists, veterinarians, dentists, professors, students and others is listed below in case those who support drilling might want to re-think whether or not they continue using the services of these people given their activist stance against drilling.

Wonder what that blogger will do when/if he or a member of his family is in need of medical services?

A truly ‘small concentration’ (one bottle?) of dishwashing liquid in an underground water basin might arguably not be a disaster, but 0,5% (a small concentration indeed) of say 10 million litres of the water-cum-sand that is forced underground at every single drilling site, equals 50.000 or more litres of a mix of various chemicals ...
And one underground water supply, can be drilled through by any number of wells, which each will add 50.000 odd litres of chemicals.  Even if we believe that none of them is harmfull in itself (which is rather doubtful, for why would their contents then be such a highly guarded secret?), that can add up to an awful lot of chemicals, part of which tends to leak, particularly with waste water from the drilling coming back to the surface and can easily contaminate the ground water it passes through.

I live south of Syracuse where, I am told, there are many old gas wells. Most are not being used anymore with many of these off the record books. If these are not found and plugged properly fracking fluid can travel up these well pipes to the surface or into the water table on the way up. Will the gas companies take care of these wells properly???

If anyone is looking for a doctor, I would suggest picking one from the list of health care professionals who oppose fracking. As someone else here has pointed out, these are the doctors and nurses who are not looking for the extra business that drilling and fracking would provide—they are genuinely concerned about public health.

Note, by the way, that the list of signatories to the letter includes several county-level medical societies. This is a mainstream issue.

Word is spreading quickly. The gas industry can no longer cover up its mistakes with nondisclosure agreements. The industry is operating in heavily populated areas where its mistakes are quite visible to all.

In reply to Mike H:  The only ones who call the reports of contamination and health problems “anecdotal” are the drilling companies and some of their paid-off regulators and you probably misquoted the data from  However, this says that “The drilling industry and some state regulators described some of these cases as “anecdotal” and said they were either unconnected to drilling activity or were an isolated problem.”  Note “some of these cases,” not “largely.”

Indeed, if anyone needs proof that these are NOT anecdotal, the following list of links should cover that nicely.

And if that’s not enough, foreign countries are banning or putting moratoriums on fracking as well.  New South Wales; Quebec, Canada; France; South Africa and Lancashire, UK. 

Ah, how the loco right loves their lying propaganda.

Speaking of nondisclosure agreements, is anybody looking into the seemingly-growing world of, for lack of a better term, “judicial privatization”?  I’m hearing an increasing number of stories where companies are issuing gag orders, essentially, by pushing NDAs through their terms of service and/or demanding company-run arbitration to determine whether their customers are allowed to sue.

It seems to me that a lot of bad things are happening under contractual gag orders, from the infamous poor privacy protections at Sony to pollution coverups like this to sexual abuse in companies like KBR.  Given that, it seems like the practice itself would be newsworthy, with crimes and neglect occurring in plain sight that nobody’s allowed to talk about.

the drillers tell you you will be rich.
-if you express doubt or health concerns.
the drillers say that many jobs will come, infinite jobs; with unicorns; rainbows, children’s laughter.
-if you express doubt-
the flag is solemnly invoked, with the holy phrase “energy independence”
-if you are un-american enough to express doubt even after the holy phrase has been invoked-
the drillers call you a terrorist, who hates freedom, etc.
-if you decline this slander-
hired goons come to your home to physically intimidate you.

ain’t democracy great?

Look, geology is a somewhat imprecise science, and it’s POSSIBLE that in a few cases, a well casing leaked, contaminating a water layer above, or that unknown faults/fissures connected the layers when fracking opened small fissures to allow oil/gas production.

Fracking fluids are largely recovered and yes, maybe some folks ise benzine, diesel oil, or something like it….  But oil and gas wells DO already contain these items as fractions of the oil in the drilled oil/gas layer. 

(Where do you think diesel and benzine come from?  Crude oil.They’re just adding some of the same chemicals that are already there! )

Suggestion:  lace the fracking fluid with an easily identifiable tracer that doesn’t occur in the area.  Do before and after tests of wells in the immediate area of the well - say 1/2 mile, and see if there’s contamination BEFORE drilling, or if contamination including the tracer show up after.  Then argue who’s to blame.  If it happens often enough, then propose rules.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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