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Sunday December 17, 2017

When foals on Jeff Gural’s farm were born with a potentially fatal illness, the well-known casino magnate and horse breeder suspected a nearby natural gas well was a factor.

That suspicion, shared by scientists, will soon be supported or discounted by a Cornell University team that has spent two years analyzing the horses’ health and signs of chemical exposure on a molecular level. The study is scheduled for completion by early next year.

From early 2014 through early 2016, 17 foals at Gural’s farm in Bradford County, Pa., were born with dysphagia, a neurological condition rendering them unable to swallow properly. They aspirated milk while nursing, which could lead to pneumonia and death if untreated.

The problem disappeared after Chesapeake Oil and Gas shut down a well adjacent to the farm in spring 2016.

For Gural, that the problem was once pervasive and is now gone seems more than coincidence.

“Everybody wants to see, is fracking the problem?” Gural said during a recent visit to his horse farm with his wife, Paula. “The only thing we know for sure is that it’s very abnormal for that (dysphagia) to happen. If it happened once or twice, but for every horse to have that … it’s something environmental.”

The Cornell study will tell the story gleaned from analysis of more than a thousand compounds in mares’ and foals’ placentas, blood, urine, hair and meconium, as well as samples in pastures where the horses grazed. The results are being compiled and cross-referenced with the health history of each horse.

Veterinarian Dorothy Ainsworth, project leader at the university's veterinary school, was "still in the midst of collecting and analyzing data" and could not offer an update yet, university spokeswoman Lindsey Hadlock said Wednesday.

Chesapeake spokesman Gordon Pennoyer, had no comment.

Gural, himself, said he has heard nothing yet about results.

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