Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 9, 2013

Fracking health study results likely years off

Niagara Gazette — ALBANY — A health study cited by leading environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as pivotal in helping persuade Gov. Andrew Cuomo to hold off on plans for limited gas drilling is likely years away from conclusions about whether the technology involved is safe, according to the project's leaders.

With New York entering the fifth year of review of the process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, growing calls to wait for the Geisinger Health System study to be finished could push a final decision back several more years, frustrating landowners and the industry that had hoped to begin tapping the gas reserve that lies below parts of the state.

Preliminary results could be released within a year.

"We don't really believe that there is a fast answer here, if you're looking at the issue of health impacts," Andy Deubler, an executive vice president at Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, said in an interview. "You've got to have all the data before you can come to a conclusion."

The study, still in early planning stages with only a fraction of its necessary funding, is but one piece of a larger body of independent research just getting under way and seeking funding.

Geisinger, based in Danville, Pa., serves 2.6 million patients and operates hospitals, clinics and an insurance program in 44 Pennsylvania counties, where fracking is being done. That gives it vast troves of health care data concerning everything from cancer to car accidents to asthma attacks. The company says research has been "fundamental" to its mission since it was founded in 1915 but also says it's never done a study like this.

Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, wrote in an email that it's "extremely rare" for any single scientific or health study to resolve a difficult question. Complex issues typically require a series of incremental studies that either build on or test the suggestions from previous work, he said.

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