DANVILLE - Susquehanna Health, a health care system serving northcentral Pennsylvania, has joined with Geisinger Health System and Guthrie Health to study the health impacts of Marcellus shale gas drilling, the first large-scale, scientifically rigorous assessment of the health effects of natural gas production.

"We are happy to participate in this important research initiative," said Steven P. Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Susquehanna Health. "As Susquehanna Health serves a patient population that is affected by Marcellus shale gas drilling, it is appropriate that we join forces to investigate what effects, if any, this industrial activity is having on our patients."

It was announced in August that Guthrie Health, a health system serving northern Pennsylvania and southern New York, would also join the Geisinger-led research effort. Teams from all three health systems will utilize their electronic health records to examine the health histories of hundreds of thousands of patients who live near the Marcellus shale formation, a rock formation in which energy companies have already drilled about 5,000 natural gas wells.

Susquehanna will collaborate with Geisinger in the planning and execution of this phased, collaborative, multi-disciplinary study, including the development of a health surveillance network intended to capture, assess and report on data secured via electronic health records, and make this data available for research purposes.

"Geisinger's position has been that, given our place in the community and our commitment to the patients we serve, this is a project we believe we should lead," said David Carey, Ph.D., director of Geisinger's Weis Center for Research. "The goal of the study is to provide sound information to guide effective prevention or mitigation strategies, and to aid local, state and federal governments in developing rational policies with respect to mining activities."

Health effects that will be investigated first may include asthma and trauma cases. Long-term research will examine whether gas operations increase the incidence of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Preliminary results of data analysis may be released within the next year, Carey said, while other aspects of the research will unfold over five, 10 or 15 years.