Research & Commentary: Study Shows Natural Gas Wells Near Pennsylvania Schools are Completely Safe

Published May 24, 2019

A two-year analysis by Gradient, an “environmental and risk sciences consulting firm renowned for [their] specialties in Toxicology, Epidemiology, Risk Assessment, Product Safety, Contaminant Fate and Transport, Industrial Hygiene, Geographic Information Systems, and Environmental/Forensic Chemistry,” finds the Yonker natural gas hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) well site in Washington County does not “pose any acute or chronic health concerns” to the nearby Fort Cherry Elementary School and Fort Cherry Junior/Senior High School.

The wells in question, located approximately 900 yards from the schools, have been the target of attacks from local and national activists seeking to get the wells shut down based on claims they are harming the health of nearby students. However, the Gradient study concludes “our air quality and public health evaluation of December 2016 to October 2018 ambient air quality data collected at three sites in proximity to the Yonker well pad in Mount Pleasant Township showed that measured [particulate matter] 2.5 and [volatile organic compound] concentrations were consistently below health-based air comparison values and thus are not expected to pose acute or chronic health concerns.”

This is not the first study of the Yonker well site that came to a similar conclusion. A 2011 study by Chemrisk, commissioned by the Fort Cherry School District, found “the results … of the fracking and flaring sampling periods were similar to the results obtained from the baseline monitoring period and likewise, did not show anything remarkable with respect to chemicals detected in the ambient air. When volatile compounds were detected, they were consistent with background levels measured at the school and in other areas in Washington County. Furthermore, a basic yet conservative screening level evaluation shows that the detected volatile compounds were below health-protective levels.”

There is no evidence fracking causes various health problems in Pennsylvania or elsewhere in the country. In fact, the Keystone State ranks second in natural gas and total energy production, yet has the fourth-lowest asthma mortality rate in the nation, helping to disprove the myth that fracking and asthma are linked. Pennsylvania’s asthma mortality rate is even lower than neighboring New York’s, which banned hydraulic fracturing in 2014.

Further, asthma hospitalization rates in Pennsylvania have decreased from 17.6 percent in 2004 to 13.4 percent in 2014, the most recent year for which data are available. This represents a 24 percent decrease in asthma hospitalization rates during the same period the number of hydraulically fracked shale wells in the state increased from zero to more than 7,500. The state’s six largest shale-producing counties—Bradford, Greene, Lycoming, Susquehanna, Tioga, and Washington—have experienced lower asthma hospitalization rates during the same period, and all six counties have lower rates than the state average.

The economic effects of the fracking revolution in Pennsylvania have been enormous. A September 2018 Consumer Energy Alliance report found declining natural gas prices due to fracking saved Pennsylvania residents and businesses more than $30.5 billion from 2006 to 2016.

Furthermore, a 2016 Chamber of Commerce study estimated Pennsylvania’s fracking revolution generated $13 billion in state GDP, $7.2 billion in wages, and more than 117,000 jobs. Additionally, the oil and natural gas industries supported more than 322,000 jobs in Pennsylvania in 2015, producing $23 billion in wages and $44.5 billion in economic impact, according to a 2017 American Petroleum Institute study prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In light of the immense number of studies showing fracking is relatively safe and provides substantial economic benefits, Pennsylvania lawmakers should not seek to ban fracking, place a moratorium on, or place onerous regulations on drilling activity.

The following documents provide more information about hydraulic fracturing.

Debunking Four Persistent Myths about Hydraulic Fracturing
This Heartland Institute Policy Brief by Policy Analyst Timothy Benson and Linnea Lueken, a former Heartland communications intern, outlines the basic elements of the fracking process and then refutes the four most widespread fracking myths, providing lawmakers and the public with the research and data they need to make informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing.

Everyday Energy for Pennsylvania
This report from the Consumer Energy Alliance examined how the shale revolution across the Marcellus region has provided benefits to Pennsylvania’s energy consumers by boosting disposable income and revitalizing communities, saving residential users $13.3 billion, and commercial and industrial users $17.2 billion.

The Local Economic and Welfare Consequences of Hydraulic Fracturing
This comprehensive study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research says fracking brings, on average, $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including a 7 percent increase in average income, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.

Impacts of the Natural Gas and Oil Industry on the U.S. Economy in 2015
This study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, shows that the natural gas and oil industry supported 10.3 million U.S. jobs in 2015. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage paid by the natural gas and oil industry, excluding retail station jobs, was $101,181 in 2016, which is nearly 90 percent more than the national average. The study also shows the natural gas and oil industry has had widespread impacts in each of the 50 states.

What If … Hydraulic Fracturing Was Banned?
This is the fourth in a series of studies produced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. It examines what a nationwide ban on hydraulic fracturing would entail. The report’s authors found by 2022, a ban would cause 14.8 million jobs to “evaporate,” almost double gasoline and electricity prices, and increase natural gas prices by 400 percent. Moreover, cost of living expenses would increase by nearly $4,000 per family, household incomes would be reduced by $873 billion, and GDP would be reduced by $1.6 trillion.

What If … America’s Energy Renaissance Never Happened?
This report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy examines the impact the development of shale oil and gas has had on the United States. The report’s authors found that without the fracking-related “energy renaissance,” 4.3 million jobs in the United States may not have ever been created and $548 billion in annual GDP would have been lost since 2009. The report also found electricity prices would be 31 percent higher and gasoline prices 43 percent higher.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Lindsey Stroud, Heartland’s government relations manager for Pennsylvania, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.