Regulations on how close fracking facilities can be to buildings and homes in Pennsylvania are too lax to adequately protect public health, according to a new study.
To protect public health, a panel of experts recommends more than doubling the required distance between frack wells and homes, Environmental Health News reports, Aug 23, 2018.
Emerging evidence indicates that proximity to unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD) is associated with health outcomes. There is intense debate about “How close is too close?” for maintaining public health and safety.
The goal of this Delphi study was to elicit expert consensus on appropriate setback distances for UOGD from human activity.
Three rounds were used to identify and seek consensus on recommended setback distances. The 18 panelists were health care providers, public health practitioners, environmental advocates, and researchers/scientists. Consensus was defined as agreement of ≥70% of panelists.
- Content analysis of responses to Round 1 questions revealed four categories:
- recommend setback distances;
- do not recommend setback distances;
- recommend additional setback distances for vulnerable populations;
- do not recommend additional setback distances for vulnerable populations.
- In Round 2, panelists indicated their level of agreement with the statements in each category using a five-point Likert scale.
- Based on emerging consensus, statements within each category were collapsed into seven statements for Round 3:
- recommend set back distances of <¼ mile;
- ¼—½ mile;
- 1–1 ¼ mile;
- and ≥ 2 mile;
- not feasible to recommend setback distances;
- recommend additional setbacks for vulnerable groups;
- not feasible to recommend additional setbacks for vulnerable groups.
The panel reached consensus that setbacks of < ¼ mile should not be recommended and additional setbacks for vulnerable populations should be recommended. The panel did not reach consensus on recommendations for setbacks between ¼ and 2 miles.
The results suggest that if setbacks are used the distances should be greater than ¼ of a mile from human activity, and that additional setbacks should be used for settings where vulnerable groups are found, including schools, daycare centers, and hospitals. The lack of consensus on setback distances between 1/4 and 2 miles reflects the limited health and exposure studies and need to better define exposures and track health.