PA environmental issues need CMU attention

PA environmental issues need CMU attention (credit: Eunice Mok/) PA environmental issues need CMU attention (credit: Eunice Mok/)

The use of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale deposit in Western Pennsylvania has proven to be an extremely controversial issue. This controversy is poised to intensify with the results of a Yale University study concluding that residents living close to Marcellus Shale drilling wells in Washington County, Pa. have more health problems than those living farther away.

Specifically, the study, conducted in 2012, found that out of 492 people living within half a mile of a shale gas site, 39 percent reported upper respiratory symptoms, as opposed to 18 percent living more than a mile away. It should be noted that this study only establishes correlation between geographic location and health outcomes, and does not provide any insight into direct causes of these health problems.

Regardless, advocacy groups against hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in Western Pennsylvania will likely use this evidence in their case against gas and drilling companies, adding further fuel to a continually fiery debate. While there is a debate surrounding the use of hydraulic fracking to obtain natural gas in the Marcellus Region, there is a need for academic studies to analyze the effects of this practice with as great a degree of certainty as possible.

This recent Yale study only suggests a correlation between health outcomes and proximity to a fracking well, a relationship that could be attributed to socioeconomic status or other factors. Uncertainty such as this underscores the need for institutions such as Carnegie Mellon to conduct thorough academic analyses of such local issues as hydraulic fracturing.

Particularly with the creation of the Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation, the university should continue to focus on studying important energy and environmentally-related topics such as hydraulic fracturing and their public health impacts.

As our university continues to expand, creating new institutes and building new buildings, we must also remember that academic research should be one of our foremost priorities and that local issues deserve our attention.