PA Health Data Report Shatters Claims Fracking Causes Asthma

Chris White | Energy Reporter

Health data show that areas in Pennsylvania heavily dependent on hydraulic fracking have far lower rates of asthma than counties with no natural gas production at all, potentially dealing a deathblow to media claims fracking causes asthma.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s 2015 Asthma Focus Report shows that asthma hospitalization rates in the state’s top five natural gas-dependent counties are dramatically lower than nine counties with no shale production.

The counties with major natural gas production — Bradford, Tioga, Lycoming, Sullivan, and Susquehanna — have between 4.4 and 9.7 asthma hospitalization rates, while areas with no shale production are all above 11.2 asthma hospitalizations per 10,000 people.

The state’s data appears to refute a Johns Hopkins University study released Monday implying that fracking causes debilitating asthma attacks.

The new study suggests those who live near shale gas wells are “1.5 to four times likelier to have asthma attacks than those who live far away.” One of the researchers, Brian Schwartz, was a fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, an anti-fracking organization.

The energy industry pushed back against media outlets mischaracterizing the study’s findings, as well as the researchers’ implications.

“News outlets were quick to link fracking to asthma even though the authors admitted they do not have the data to support it,” Dr. Katie Brown, a spokeswoman for the energy industry group Energy In Depth, told The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Andrew Follett. That important caveat was purposely buried in the study, and not part of the press release.”

The U.S. produced 79 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day in 2015, which beat the previous record by 5 percent, according to an EIA report from earlier this month. The states around the Utica shale play, which an area contributing around 35 percent of the country’s natural gas production, include Ohio, West Virginia, and yes, most of Pennsylvania.

Coincidentally, according to the state’s health data, asthma hospitalization rates in Pennsylvania plummeted from 19.2 per 10, 000 a year to 14.2 per 10,000 between 2009 and 2013, a time coinciding with the U.S.’ natural gas boom. The numbers represent a 24 percent reduction in asthma hospitalization numbers.

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