Business and government often respond rapidly, without engaging health professionals, in their efforts to solve crises or embrace new technologies. Too often, decisions made prove to be shortsighted. One needs only to look to recent history for unintended environmental and health consequences, such as methyl tertiary butyl ether in groundwater (Davis and Farland, 2001; Erdal and Goldstein, 2000), or public concerns about risks associated with products derived from wide-scale adoption of genetically modified organisms (Nelson, 2001). In a decision maker’s effort to move forward rapidly, he or she may not be able to fully consider all the implications, from cradle to grave, of a new process or program. But this haste often can result in further economic costs to the industry and the public. When the health community is engaged only after problems are identified, the results are often costly to correct and health is often unfairly portrayed as at odds with economic growth.
In this era of sustainable development, there is a more mature understanding of the linkages among health, the environment, and economic factors. However, significant policy decisions are made daily across the United States and around the world, and environmental public health is not part of the decision-making process, nor is it represented in high-level commissions or committees. A case in point are the efforts to establish energy policies both domestically and abroad. This paper uses the new efforts to employ hydrofracturing technology to extract natural gas tightly bound to the Marcellus Shale in the eastern United States to illustrate how the environmental health perspective has much to contribute, but these points are also crucial to many discussions across transportation, agriculture, and energy, including broader shale gas issues.