A recent study claims to show a link between shale gas drilling and increased hospitalization rates for heart failure patients who live near drill sites in Pennsylvania. The study, published in December in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, concluded that heart failure patients living in areas tied to shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing have significantly increased odds of hospitalization.
The paper comes from researchers at Drexel and Johns Hopkins universities and refers to the drilling as part of unconventional natural gas development (UNGD). The research team said no previous epidemiological studies have looked at the link between heart failure outcomes and UNGD. They conclude that heart failure patients who live near fracking operations were more likely to be hospitalized than those who live farther away.
The study concluded that three of four phases of UNGD activity were associated with hospitalization for heart failure in a large sample of patients with heart failure in an area of active UNGD. Researchers also concluded that older patients seem particularly vulnerable to adverse health impacts from UNGD activity.
The study looked at just over 12,000 heart failure patients and identified just under 6,000 who were hospitalized for heart failure between 2008 and 2015. It then compared their proximity to associated phases of gas development such as well pad preparation, gas stimulation and production. The study’s authors claim the association between the two are plausible given environmental impacts including air pollution, water contamination, noise, and traffic.
Critics of the research counter that the study did not take into account other factors including diet, physical activity, or alcohol use among those hospitalized.
A study posted on the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s website by researchers at the independent non-profit Health Effects Institute casts doubt on some studies that link negative health impacts to natural gas fracking. It concludes some studies tying shale development to negative public health impacts used imprecise measures, failed to consider other possible factors and were poorly designed.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration ranks Pennsylvania as the country's second-largest natural gas producer behind only Texas. The Pennsylvania Department of Health is currently studying health impacts related to UNGD.