Top U.S. expert: health risks of gas drilling are unknown; Australia way ahead of the U.S.

The nation's top environmental health expert has elaborated on his views that we need more research on the impacts of natural gas drilling on human health and the environment. In a recent e-mail, Dr. Christopher Portier wrote: "Studies should include all the ways people can be exposed, such as through air, water, soil, plants and animals."

Dr. Portier also stated that "We do not have enough information to say with certainty whether shale gas drilling poses a threat to public health." He said that research should include investigation of impacts on livestock and fish that people might eat. NRDC agrees; for years we have been documenting reports from farmers and ranchers about the environmental and health impacts they have observed.

Dr. Portier is the director of the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the National Center for Environmental Health. In September I blogged about Dr. Portier's comment, regarding living near oil and gas operations, that: "In some communities it has been a disaster."

Sadly, we are not aware of any such research going on in the United States. But we might be able to learn something from Australia. The Australian government is allocating roughly US$150 million to establish an independent committee to provide scientific advice on the impact of natural gas projects (in this case in coalbed methane formations) on water supplies. New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, has a temporary ban on fracking, as does Germany's most populous state, North Rhine Westphalia, the Canadian province of Quebec, and South Africa for its Karoo region. France has banned fracking. Moratoria in the U.S. include New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, and fracking is not allowed in North Carolina.