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Fracking Issues, Sociology, Nursing and Policy Intersect at Duquesne

Fracking is at the intersection of research for Dr. Michael Irwin, associate professor of sociology, Dr. Lenore Resick, clinical professor in the School of Nursing, and the Graduate Center of Social and Public Policy at Duquesne University.

The two professors received a faculty award for joint work on The Impact of the Marcellus Shale Gas Extraction Industry on Individual Health and Community Well-Being in Rural Pennsylvania. Irwin creates and digitizes social maps of Pennsylvania that illustrate demographic booms and busts along the Marcellus shale region, while Resick examines perceptions of those who live near fracking as it relates to their health.

These maps, Irwin said, could provide "a more complete understanding of the socio-environmental impacts of this drilling, which will empower people, organizations and governments to react and adapt to challenges accordingly."

"People's lives are at stake, and the data show that groups of lower-income people are disproportionately and negatively affected," said Irwin. "This mapping is one way to give voice to the powerless, to spur government to adjust policy."

Irwin, who worked on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, witnessed firsthand the effects of a boomtown economy on remote Eskimo and Athabascan villages. His focus on marginalized communities dovetails with the work of Resick, who is studying "perceived health" in these communities.

By interviewing residents, Resick will determine how emotional and psychological wellbeing is impacted by the presence of fracking. Similarly, she is examining how residents' interpersonal and familial relationships fluctuate in the wake of these Marcellus drilling booms.

"Health conditions resulting from exposures to environmental contaminants can take years or a generation to appear," Resick said. "However, environmental changes in close proximity to one's living space related to deep natural gas drilling can quickly impact the emotional and psychological well-being of individuals and result in stress and feelings of powerlessness. These feelings, over time, can impact interpersonal and family relationships and also lead to chronic health conditions such as heart disease."

Duquesne's Marcellus research also includes the work of Erin Pischke, who studied environmental advocacy networks of the Marcellus region while completing her master's through the Graduate Center of Social and Public Policy. 

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.