Box 3. Case Study: Health Impact Assessment

Box 3. Case Study: Health Impact Assessment

Box 3. Case Study:  Health Impact Assessment

Oil drilling has taken place in Alaska since 1967. With the expansion of the industry in recent decades, some development activities began to occur near rural Alaskan native communities in the North Slope region, where some residents began expressing health concerns. In 2006, local tribal leaders and the borough government responded with a decision to jointly conduct the region’s first HIA. The project’s goals were to address community concerns and bring a more systematic, evidence-based approach to integrating public health data into the oil and gas planning and regulatory process. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agreed to integrate the HIA into an existing environmental impact statement (EIS) process for proposed oil and gas leasing near several local villages.

The study produced some significant findings. The HIA highlighted potential impacts on regional fish and wildlife populations, which would have consequences for local diet and nutrition. It also recognized potential social changes that the anticipated large increase in population would bring to the region. Finally, the HIA acknowledged the potential benefits for local communities, such as increased revenues to support police and emergency services, education, and public health programming.

As a result of the HIA’s identification of specific risks to the community, preventative measures were taken to prepare the community for the expected changes, including:

  • new BLM requirements for monitoring contaminants in locally-harvested fish and game
  • air quality modelling for large industry facilities located near villages
  • water quality monitoring
  • worker education programs on drug and alcohol use and sexually transmitted diseases

The HIA process also led to a new level of collaboration between state and tribal public health authorities; state and federal regulators; and industry. The state subsequently established an HIA program and now conducts HIAs for large projects throughout Alaska.

Sources:  Aaron Wernham, “Inupiat Health and Proposed Alaskan Oil Development:  Results of the First Integrated Health Impact Assessment/ Environmental Impact Statement for Proposed Oil Development on Alaska’s North Slope,” EcoHealth 4 (2007), 500513; The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Case Study: Oil Development, North Slope of Alaska” (December 30, 2006)

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

Collaborative Activities

Diseases

Given that the increased occurrence of sexually transmitted diseases is common in communities with a mobile workforce, local health officials and companies could work together on informing workers, industry subcontractors, and community members about the risks and methods of prevention. It is critical for companies to provide preventative guidance and set standards for both their workers and subcontractors. 1

Sexually transmitted diseases are best prevented with the use of condoms, which should be made readily available to workers at their places of residence and in public locations like pharmacies, bars, and convenience stores. Health officials and companies could also collaborate to ensure that workers and residents have access to clinics for testing and treatment. 

Notes:

  1. Shira M Goldenberg, Jean A Shoveller, Aleck C Ostry, Mieke Koehoorn, “Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) Testing among Young Oil and Gas Workers: The Need for Innovative Place-based Approaches to STI Control,” Canadian Journal of Public Health 99, no. 4 (July/August 2008),http://journal.cpha.ca/index.php/cjph/article/viewFile/1666/1850.

What health considerations are there?

What health considerations are there?

Diseases

Mobile labor forces can contribute to disease transmission within a community, whether they consist of long-haul truckers, migrant farm workers, military personnel, or, in this case, industry workers assigned to shale development sites during the exploratory drilling and development phases. 1

In North America, the main reported communicable disease risk for communities undergoing shale gas development 2 appears to be an increase in the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases – notably chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis – introduced by project workers as they pursue sexual contacts with local partners (see the Social Impacts section). In Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, for example, one study found that the average increase in the occurrence of chlamydia and gonorrhea cases was 62% greater in counties experiencing shale development over those that were not. 3  In another example, syphilis rates began rising in Alberta, Canada along with tar sands development in the province. 4

There is some debate about whether adverse impacts such as an increase in the disease burden or increased crime levels are proportionate to the increase in population or are due to the particular characteristics of the temporary workforce. It is nonetheless evident that such increases, whether absolute or proportionate, can place a health burden on local health care infrastructure and resources, particularly in smaller communities. 5 

Notes:

  1. Yorghos Apostolopoulos and Sevil Sonmez (eds.), Population Mobility and Infectious Disease (New York: 2007).
  2. In other parts of the world, shale gas development may pose more of a disease risk for industry workers, where the rate of endemic disease is high, both vector-borne and through person-to-person transmission — e.g., illnesses like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and cholera.  Food and drinking water contamination may also pose risks for itinerant workers in some regions.  In North America, particularly in the northeast, there can be exposure to Lyme disease through tick bites, and the industry should caution workers to wear protective clothing in certain areas.
  3. Food and Water Watch, “The Social Costs of Fracking:  A Pennsylvania Case Study” (September 24, 2013).
  4. Josh Wingrove, “Alberta’s Rate of Syphilis Infection Still Rising,” The Globe and Mail, last modified August 23, 2012.
  5. Ron Dutton and George Blankenship, “Socioeconomic Effects of Natural Gas Development” (Denver, Colorado:  August 2010), paper prepared to support NTC Consultants under contract with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, 23.