A new study from Oregon State University has found that infants born within 2 miles of oil and gas drilling rigs in Texas had slightly lower birth weights than infants born before drilling began in their neighborhood.
The study, published today in the journal Environmental health perspectives, found that the type of borehole or resource extracted did not change the result.
Most studies to date focus exclusively on unconventional natural gas drilling or hydraulic fracturing. This particular process is a small subset of the oil and gas industry. We find that it doesn’t matter – where people extract oil and gas resources, we always see an impact on infant health. Many policies focus exclusively on hydraulic fracturing, but our study shows that this is a very limited view of the impact this industry can have on local populations.. “
Mary Willis, study author and postdoctoral researcher, College of Public Health and Human Sciences, Oregon State University
Developing fetuses are very sensitive to environmental pollution and contaminants, so to measure the potential impact, this study looked at birth weight and location data for 2,598,025 mother-child pairs in Texas. between 1996 and 2009, in which the mother was pregnant while living within 10 kilometers of a or future oil or gas drilling site.
Previous research estimates that 4.5 million Texans live within 1.6 kilometers (one mile) of at least one oil or gas drilling site. However, little work to date has focused on the health impacts of people living near an oil or gas drilling site in Texas, the state that produces the most oil and gas in the states. -United.
The potential exposures associated with drilling are numerous: air pollution from drilling activities, flaring and increased traffic to and from the drilling site; contamination of water by hydraulic fracturing chemicals; noise pollution due to industrial activity and increased traffic; and light pollution from new drilling rigs.
After taking into account other potential factors influencing birth weight, Willis and the research team found that living within 2 miles of an active drilling site was associated with a lower birth weight of 7 to 9 grams at the birth weight of babies born before the start of drilling.
It’s a relatively small impact, said Willis, but many women live near oil and gas wells and the impact at the population level could be significant.
“So it’s concerning, but this magnitude of the effect is less than that of similar articles because we take into account the economic benefits of drilling,” she said. The industrial boom from a new drilling site, especially in rural areas, can bring new jobs, higher wages and better access to quality health care alongside increased environmental pollution.
There is also a lot of data that is not represented only on birth certificates, Willis said: Researchers hypothesize that there could be more early pregnancy loss and difficulty conceiving among families in areas around drilling sites.
With this study, Willis said the team hoped to give decision makers a standard safe distance for drilling, but they found that the health impact does not completely dissipate at 3 kilometers (nearly 2 miles).
“In the United States, 17.6 million Americans live within a mile of at least one active oil or gas drilling site. That’s a lot of people who live very close to the extraction of fuels. fossils, ”Willis said.
Ongoing and future studies in which Willis is participating are examining the potential impact of oil and gas drilling sites on the rate of birth defects, preterm births, and maternal health, as well as the specific exposures that may be responsible for potential effects on human life. health.
Willis, MD, et al. (2021) Associations between residential proximity to oil and gas drilling and term birth weight and small-for-gestational age infants in Texas: Difference analysis. Environmental health outlook. doi.org/10.1289/EHP7678.