State should help fund study
State lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett have shaken the tree of the natural gas industry for several million dollars worth of campaign contributions, but they won't do the same thing to determine the industry's impact on public health.
A coalition of the Geisinger, Guthrie and Susquehanna health systems plans to conduct a comprehensive study of drilling's health impact throughout the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania, a project that would cost about $25 million. So far, the Dagenstein Foundation of Sunbury has contributed $1 million while the state government - which should have a profound interest in the industry's impact on public health - has contributed nothing.
Act 13, the law that regulates drilling and the "impact fee" paid by natural gas companies, does not include funding for a health registry.
This isn't a case of the state government claiming a lack of resources; it's either a lack of curiosity or a case of not wanting to know.
Lawmakers and the governor infamously have refused to establish the same sort of tax on the industry that is used in most other gas-producing states, thus shortchanging state residents for the benefit of the industry. But even so, the impact has generated about $200 million in each of its first two years. If state officials really wanted to know whether drilling has affected public health, it would be a relatively easy legislative matter to dedicate a fraction of the tax to the study.
Pro-industry lawmakers state, as an article of faith, that gas extraction is safe. They just don't want to submit the claim to independent professional inquiry.
Many of those state lawmakers bristle at the Delaware River Basin Commission for its ongoing drilling moratorium, which is based partially on unknown health concerns. A Pennsylvania study validating the safety assertions would be compelling evidence to lift the moratorium.