Environmental Health Project An Example of Unhealthy Community Organizing

Environmental Health ProjectTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.




The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project is no objective research organization and its recently announced health study isn’t anything of the sort.  Rather, it’s a community organizing project – against natural gas development.

If I issued a research report proclaiming that natural gas development only rarely resulted in cases of methane migration, what do you think the chances are the news media would report the results without mentioning my long-standing role as an advocate  for the industry? If you said they were on par with the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series, you’d be generous in the extreme.  Yet, this is how propaganda put out by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project last week was treated in much of the press.

The Associated Press (AP), for example, in an otherwise reasonably balanced story, never addresses what the real nature of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, only describing it as follows:

The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project has been trying to help people who feel they’ve been sickened by natural gas drilling or processing for about 18 months in one county south of Pittsburgh.

The work is potentially important because it’s one of the first long-term attempts to monitor drilling-related health impacts, and it could help other groups identify possible symptoms.

The story goes on to indicate “the project found 27 cases where people in Washington County believe they were hurt by nearby drilling — seven cases of skin rashes, four of eye irritation, 13 of breathing problems and three of headaches and dizziness.”  It is, in other words, little more than a collection of a handful of anecdotes from people who believe natural gas development is to blame, with absolute no data on causation to back up any of it.  Talk about a sham report!  Yet, it got AP play, albeit with some balancing comments from critics.

Unfortunately, though, AP failed to indicate the bias of the source.  The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project is anything but objective or scientific.  The Project Director is an individual named Raina Rippel (pictured below).  One might expect an enterprising journalist to ask who exactly Rippel might be, but it didn’t happen and it’s hard to believe AP’s reporter hasn’t heard of Facebook.

Environmental Health Project Rippel

Yes, Rippel, like most of us, has a Facebook page and, while it lacks a timeline and some of the other information normally found on such sites, it is, nonetheless, revealing.       Is it not relevant that one of her 22 “Likes” (and one of her three groups) is Marcellus Protest, an organization that describes itself as “an alliance of western PA groups & individuals building a broad movement to stop the destruction of our environment and communities caused by Marcellus Shale gas drilling.”  Then, there are the others, which include Clean Water Action, 1,000,000 Strong Against Offshore Drilling, the Center for Coalfield Justice and various other anti-gas, anti-oil, anti-coal sites.  Do these choices not indicate an advocate, rather than a scientist or anything close to an objective researcher?

Facebook isn’t the only source a journalist might have checked out, however.  Rippel is on YouTube with this video displaying her total bias against natural gas development and offering some not so subtle advice to the New Yorker interviewing her not to let it happen there (49:35).  Moreover, her enterprise is funded by the Heinz Endowments, which has been behind numerous anti-gas initiatives throughout the Northeast.  Rippel previously served as Executive Director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, another Heinz-funded industry attack dog and, significantly, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project website describes her as  “Trained in community organizing, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies from the University of Pittsburgh.”

That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?  What has been ballyhooed in the press as “one of the first long-term attempts to monitor drilling-related health impacts” is just another community organizing gimmick, a pseudo-scientific collection of stories without substance, prepared under the direction of an urban studies graduate.  So, what else is new?

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7 thoughts on “Environmental Health Project An Example of Unhealthy Community Organizing

  1. Excellent Job exposing yet another debacle that AP bought into Tom…. I would be ashamed if I owned a newspaper company that couldn’t research this woman’s background using something as simple as “Google Search” to reveal their Bias on any subject. Your right about the “What if you wrote a paper on Gas Migration” the newspapers would say in at least each paragraph your industry funded. It seems to me the anti gas hippycrites often get away with making their own news a lead story in newspapers that are suppose to be above the tabloid mentality. I could keep on writing more about how the media is failing the public but my dinosaur needs to go out for a walk before he flares and burns down the moat bridge

  2. Thanks Tom for providing this information. Here’s another article done by Uni Blake, an environmental toxicologist, on this subject.

    Shale dwellers deserve better health reporting

    “This story is eerily similar to the story out of Dish, Texas. In that story, some of the residents living in Dish felt that the natural gas boom was making them sick. They blamed the chemicals used in the process – they were experiencing nosebleeds, rashes and also claimed that they had cancer cases developing. The allegations were so alarming that it thrust the town into the national limelight. Similarly to the Washington County study, the allegations didn’t have enough scientific weight, raised more questions than answers and elicited fear from the public.”


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  4. SWPA-EHP helps people who have become victims of the fossil fuel industry.
    People do suffer from nosebleeds and many other health problems. Google TEDX with Theo Colborn. Then you should all move within one mile downwind of a compressor station, cryogenic plant, drilling, flaring and condensate tanks. Live there for a year and then come back and open your mouths.

    • We talk to numerous people who live next door to such facilities and there is no such evidence. Coburn is an advocate, not a scientist.

      • Theo Colborn Ph.D. is a scientist, she has a degree in zoology among others and has done extensive work on endocrine disruption, changes in male sperm and has documented the majority of chemicals used in slick water hydraulic fracturing. I do not believe your first sentence as I have met many people who have worked on the rigs and driven residual/frack wastewater trucks. Some of them can no longer work as they are too sick from the heavy metals, radiation, VOC’s etc. and other toxic chemicals. My grandchildren deserve a better future than a fracked one.

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