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Health risks of horizontal drilling discussed at a forum in Butler, PA

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BUTLER, Pennsylvania - Workers have stopped the flow of drilling fluids from a natural gas well in rural northern Pennsylvania. The leak of chemical-laced water in Bradford County prompted Chesapeake Energy to temporarily suspend a drilling technique known as fracking,

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process in which a fluid is injected at high pressure into oil or methane gas deposits to fracture the rock above and release the liquid or gas below. On the heels of the Bradford spill, the debate continues over the safety of the horizontal drilling process.

It's hard to over-look the economic benefits of drilling for natural gas. Lou Hancherich is a land-owner in Butler County and he's part of group called Marcellus Outreach Butler. Hancherich started investigating what was going on with Marcellus gas drilling and says he will not let anyone drill on his property.

Sarah Scholl is also against horizontal drilling in Pennsylvania. "Right now, we're finding that we can't do it safely. That the regulations aren't there, that this wastewater that's contaminated with deadly and toxic chemicals are being, or has been being, dumped into our rivers and streams and in fact legally so," Scholl said.

On Friday Hancherich and Scholl joined dozens of people at Slippery Rock University for a forum on fracking. Dr. John Stolz, from the Department of Biological Sciences at Duquesne University, discussed environmental issues associated with the production of Marcellus Shale. "We're dealing with the human factor. Things happen, there are a lot of wells that have been completed successfully without any problems, but when there are problems, they can be significant, Stolz said.

Other experts took to the stage to talk about public health issues that could arise. When rigs roll into town, one of the biggest concerns deals with flow-back water that comes up after a well has been hydraulically fractured. "Once those fluids go in the ground, it's not only what's in those fluids, it's also what's being picked up from the shale layer itself which has anything from heavy metals, to radionuclides, to a lot of different kinds of salts. And the disposal of that fluid is of great concern to us," said Dr. Charles Christen, University of Pittsburgh, Public Health.

The drilling industry maintains it is a safe industry with strict standards in place to protect the public. Multiple studies are underway to evaluate long-term health and environmental impacts of horizontal drilling.

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