Study Suggests Sinus, Migraine Symptoms May be Associated with Unconventional Well Development



Unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) may affect the environment due to chemical pollutants such as diesel exhaust, volatile organic compounds, combustion products, fugitive emissions, and fracking chemicals that are used or emitted during the site preparation, drilling, and fracking processes. More than 8,800 unconventional gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania in the past decade.


Researchers have studied the health impacts of natural gas development in Pennsylvania. Unconventional well information was obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and SkyTruth.


Unconventional well information was obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and SkyTruth.


A UNGD activity metric was developed to quantify the UNGD activities associated to each participant based on their residential proximity to UNGD wells, well phase, location, total depth, daily gas production, the well sizes and the well activities. The final UNGD metric was divided into quartiles for ease of interpretation during analysis.


The survey was designed to study general CRS and did not mention UNGD. Questions were designed to collect the occurrence frequency of CRS symptoms, migraine headache symptoms and fatigue symptoms each patient experienced in a preset three-month period. Rules and scoring methods were designed to identify patients with current CRS, migraine headache and/or higher levels of fatigue.


Several methods were used in order to avoid bias. The results demonstrated UNGD activity was associated with nasal and sinus symptoms, migraine headache, and higher levels of fatigue, either alone or in combination. In addition, there may be a minimum threshold in the relationship between UNGD and symptoms because associations were present only among participants in the fourth (highest) quartile of UNGD activity.


Due to the location of the Marcellus Shale, participants in the fourth quartile of UNGD activity lived farther north than those in other quartiles. This suggests that residents close to high amounts of UNGD may be at increased risk of developing the aforementioned symptoms.


There have been few studies in this area and this one was one of the largest to date. Further research is suggested to evaluate whether there is an association. With these findings, recommendations can be then made to establish future locations of UNGDs that are sufficiently far from residential neighborhoods as well as zoning regulations for development. Additionally, targeted medical services catering to nasal and sinus symptoms, migraine headaches, fatigue, and other associated medical issues could be provided to residents in the vicinity of high UNGD activity.

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