Correction appended: March 12, 2013.
The local research branch of Geisinger Health System is partnering with two other health companies to study the effects of fracking, as part of a $1 million grant that was awarded to Geisinger Health System last week by the Degenstein Foundation, said Stephen Sellers, administrative director of the Marcellus Shale research project.
Fracking is the process of drilling the Marcellus Shale rock formation — that lies under much of western and central Pennsylvania — for natural gas. The research branch of Geisinger, centered in Danville, is partnering with two other health companies, Guthrie Health System in Sayre, and Susquehanna Health System in Williamsport, to complete the study, Sellers said.
Sellers said that the study is still in its preliminary stages.
“Most of the grant money will go toward funding what we call ‘pilot projects,’ ” Sellers said. “We’re basically establishing the means by which researchers can conduct studies looking at the health effects of environmental factors.”
While the companies hope that the project will eventually broaden its scope, Carolyn Handrick, Guthrie Health spokeswoman, said that this particular grant is just a small part of what is needed.
“The project will need a lot of funding,” Handrick said. “We’re just in the beginning stages.”
The study will only focus on health effects in Pennsylvania and southern New York, and the research could hit home for many Penn State students. One former student, Braden Crooks, Class of 2011, has a personal experience with fracking.
Crooks founded Groundswell, a student environmental advocacy group that has protested this type of drilling in the past, due to its potentially health-threatening effects.
“My main concerns are things like the potential for spills and leaks and also the social consequences,” Crooks said. “It’s really worrisome.”
In November 2011, Crooks led Groundswell in its efforts to ban fracking in State College. He said a year later, in November 2012, he helped nearby Ferguson Township to do the same, he said. However, Crooks does not only have experience with drilling through Groundswell.
“My grandparents own a family farm near Clarion,” Crooks said. “It’s fracking country out there. It’s a beautiful place, but now there’s been earthquakes and such from the fracking.”
Crooks said that he is sometimes skeptical of health studies like these and expressed concern that they tend to benefit the natural gas industry more than the individuals that they study. However, an August 2012 news release of this particular study promised to provide a “scientifically rigorous assessment” of the health effects of fracking.
“We are not approaching this with any preconceived notions,” Sellers said. “We’re just trying to do scientifically-based research to see if there’s a correlation between the drilling and health problems. And there may or may not be.”
Sellers said the preliminary stages of the project will likely take less time than later stages, which he projects to be very long-term.
“We envision the whole initiative taking 20, 30, even 40 years,” he said.
Once the study is completed, the companies hope to make the information accessible to other companies for research purposes.
An earlier version of this article stated incorrect information about a study on the effects of fracking. Geisinger Health System is partnering with two other health companies to study the effects of Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania and southern New York. The above article reflects the correct information. The Daily Collegian apologizes for this error.