Pennsylvania Representative Karen Boback is resurrecting a long ago defeated proposal for a state health registry, throwing a bone to her fractivist friends.
Pennsylvania State Representative Karen Boback, Republican of Luzerne County, has never been a friend of natural gas and she loves to posture on it. Eight years ago, in fact, she introduced legislation asking for “a comprehensive study of the Commonwealth’s current laws and regulations … to ensure that we are effectively protecting our citizens and our environment from the potentially harmful impact of natural gas drilling.” claiming shale drilling was “deeper than was possible when many of the laws regulating the industry were written.”
That was false—Pennsylvania had numerous deeper wells long before the shale revolution—and the legislation went nowhere but Boback got her desired press and now she wants more. She’s introduced another bill to establish “a health registry for collection of health-related data associated with unconventional gas well drilling” within the Department of Health. It’s another version of a bill that failed in 2012. Designed to grab more press, the legislation, in the unlikely event it were ever enacted, would simply become another tool in the fractivist arsenal. Boback is simply throwing them an old bone..
Boback, who has a doctorate in “organizational leadership” from the University of Pennsylvania, represents the 117th Legislative District of Pennsylvania, which includes the upscale Back Mountain area of Luzerne County. There is little to no drilling in the Back Mountain area (depending on how it’s defined) but there is lots of it in adjoining Wyoming County, so she walks the fence line by avoiding coming out directly against natural gas while adopting a skeptical position for the refit of her friends and neighbors in Harvey’s Lake.
Organization leadership would seem to encompass more than fence walking, but that’s what’s going on here. Worse, her bill, HB2055, starts out with an anti-gas premise. Here’s the purpose language (emphasis added):
The purpose of this act is to assess and evaluate the potential adverse health consequences associated with the drilling of unconventional gas wells in this Commonwealth.
The bolded words, of course, serve no purpose other than to signal Boback’s implicit support for fractivists. If she was truly interested in the health impacts associated with shale development there would be no need for the “potential adverse” qualifier. There are, after all, clearly positive health impacts from the higher incomes and greater access to health care that economic development spurred by the shale revolution offers. Collecting data with no specific agenda is one thing, but gathering to only document “potentially adverse” impacts its simply a witch hunt.
This also raises the question of why the registry should be restricted to “unconventional” gas wells. Why not all gas wells? Why not all oil and gas wells? Why not all industries? Why not the activities of entire communities? The answer is patently obvious; the intent here is target one very specific industry and that isn’t the way health data should be collected.
It takes me back to a meeting several years ago in Bradford County when the Geisinger Health System met with numerous representatives of the gas industry to discuss a possible major contribution to a $25 million study Geisinger and others proposed. Unfortunately, Geisinger folks and media outlets, prior veto the meeting, kept referring to the research as the “Marcellus Shale Health Study” with almost total focus on the Marcellus Shale as the prospective cause of heath care problems in the region.
This problem was candidly discussed, with everyone agreeing any research should be conducted by examining the region or state as a whole and not focusing on any one specific industry. Geisinger and company, in fact, agreed studies should focus on the overall health of patients throughout the targeted area in a manner not presuming potential causes of problems before they were investigated.
Geisinger then left the meeting and almost immediately resumed the same problematic media messaging with the result that no industry funding was forthcoming. The health system simply proceeded down the path of junk science using some limited foundation money, which I wrote about here. The whole health study, such as it was, predictably turned into a fiasco.
Boback proposes what would be another fiasco. Her bill would:
The department shall establish, by January 1, 2018, a population-based health registry for the collection of health-related data associated with unconventional gas well drilling. The registry shall consist of health-related data collected and provided by health care practitioners…
All cases of health concerns that have been diagnosed or treated by a health care practitioner and may be associated with unconventional gas well operations must be reported to the department on forms furnished by the department or through the use of a health information exchange.
Notice how reporting to the registry presumes causation without any research to back it up. If a health care practitioner imagines a health problem might have been caused by unconventional gas well operations, he or she must report it. It takes little imagination to understand how that would work and how fractivists would misuse the reports by assuming causation never, in fact, established. This is the entire premise of the phony “List of the Harmed” and Heinz’s junk science outfit, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. The latter regularly pitches fractivists and political sympathetic doctors to participate in its charade of prejudice, as this appeal illustrates.
This is what Boback proposes to further with a health registry. No one, of course, is opposed to a real health registry that accumulates data across all spheres without such prejudice. Moreover, if Geisinger had pursued a study of that sort and hadn’t tried to milk ginned-up controversy to feather its own nest, it might have received funding to do it. As it was, they chose poorly and tried to have it both ways. Boback is doing the exact same thing. Her proposed health registry is a bad idea precisely because of the way she has formulated it—on a premise of harm—and it’s going nowhere. But, then again, she knew that. This was just an act of political signaling.