Friday, January 6, 2012

CDC scientist: Tests Needed on Gas Drilling Impact

One of the government's top scientists says much more research is needed to determine the possible impacts of shale gas drilling on human health and the environment.

"Studies should include all the ways people can be exposed, such as through air, water, soil, plants and animals," Dr. Christopher Portier wrote to The Associated Press in an email.

Portier is director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

While other federal and state regulators are already studying the impacts of gas drilling on air and water, Portier said research should also include "livestock on farmed lands consuming potentially impacted surface waters; and recreational fish from potentially impacted surface waters."

Portier made clear that the science on the issue isn't settled yet.

"We do not have enough information to say with certainty whether shale gas drilling poses a threat to public health," he wrote. "More research is needed for us to understand public health impacts from natural gas drilling and new gas drilling technologies."

He also suggested pre- and post-testing of private drinking water wells near drilling sites.
Another prominent scientist said the answers won't come quickly.

"I think it will take three to five years to sort through this," Duke University researcher Rob Jackson told AP in an email.

Jackson said that doesn't mean there isn't evidence of water contamination by drilling in some communities— Wyoming, for example, or Dimock, Pa.

"On the other hand a handful of cases of contamination is not enough to shut down an industry," he said.

Jackson was part of a team behind a much-discussed study last spring on possible water well contamination from drilling in Pennsylvania. Environmentalists hailed the study, while others, including the head of the state Department of Environmental Protection, criticized it.

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