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Exposure to Unconventional Oil and Gas Development and All-cause Mortality in Medicare Beneficiaries

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Little is known about whether exposure to unconventional oil and gas development is associated with higher mortality risks in the elderly and whether related air pollutants are exposure pathways. We studied a cohort of 15,198,496 Medicare beneficiaries (136,215,059 person-years) in all major US unconventional exploration regions from 2001 to 2015. We gathered data from records of more than 2.5 million oil and gas wells. For each beneficiary’s ZIP code of residence and year in the cohort, we calculated a proximity-based and a downwind-based pollutant exposure. We analysed the data using two methods: a Cox proportional hazards model and a difference-in-differences design. We found evidence of a statistically significant higher mortality risk associated with living in proximity to and downwind of unconventional oil and gas wells. Our results suggest that primary air pollutants sourced from unconventional oil and gas exploration can be a major exposure pathway with adverse health effects in the elderly.
UOGD exposure assessment in an example ZIP code and month (Washington, Pennsylvania 15301, August 2015) a, The locations of active UOGD wells, the 1 × 1 km grid population density and the prevailing monthly wind direction. b, The calculation of PE and DE metrics for an example grid in the ZIP code, which is outlined in bold in a. The proximity-based UOGD exposure (PE=IDWall=∑i=1N1di)\documentclass[12pt]{minimal} \usepackage{amsmath} \usepackage{wasysym} \usepackage{amsfonts} \usepackage{amssymb} \usepackage{amsbsy} \usepackage{mathrsfs} \usepackage{upgreek} \setlength{\oddsidemargin}{-69pt} \begin{document}$$({\mathrm{PE}} = {\mathrm{IDW}}_{{\mathrm{all}}} = \mathop{\sum} \limits_{i=1}^{N} \frac {1} {d_i})$$\end{document} was calculated as the inverse-distance-weighted (IDW) of wells in all directions within a circular buffer with a radius of 5 km (set for illustration purposes) and was used in Model I of Analysis Set I. The UOGD exposure contributed by upwind wells (IDWup=∑j=1N1dj)\documentclass[12pt]{minimal} \usepackage{amsmath} \usepackage{wasysym} \usepackage{amsfonts} \usepackage{amssymb} \usepackage{amsbsy} \usepackage{mathrsfs} \usepackage{upgreek} \setlength{\oddsidemargin}{-69pt} \begin{document}$$({\mathrm{IDW}}_{{\mathrm{up}}} = \mathop{\sum} \limits_{j=1}^{N} \frac {1} {d_j})$$\end{document} was calculated using the IDW of all wells that fall within the windward circular quadrant (pink-shaded area in b). The ratio between IDWup and IDWall is defined as the downwind-based exposure (DE = IDWup/IDWall) and was used in Model II of Analysis Set I. N, number of wells in circular buffer; n, number of wells in circular sectional buffer; d, distance between the well and the grid centre.
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1Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA. 2Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T. H. Chan
School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA. 3Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA. 4Present address:
Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Lund University, Lund, Sweden. e-mail:
Oil and natural gas development from low-permeability geo-
logical formations (known as unconventional oil and gas
development (UOGD)) has rapidly expanded over the past
decade. As of 2015, more than 100,000 onshore UOGD wells have
been drilled using directional drilling combined with multi-stage
high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking)1. A total of 17.6 million
US residents currently live within one kilometre of at least one active
well2. The annual percentage of newly completed oil and gas wells
that target unconventional formations increased from 2.3% in 2001
to 47% in 2015, and then to 71% in 2019. Compared with conven-
tional oil and gas development (COGD), UOGD generally involves
longer construction periods, larger well pads and requires larger
volumes of water, proppants and chemicals during the multi-stage
hydraulic fracturing process3. Owing to the rate of expansion and
larger theoretical environmental impacts, it is critical to study the
health effects and exposure pathway(s) of UOGD.
UOGD activities—including pad construction, well drilling,
hydraulic fracturing and production—have been associated with
increased human exposure to harmful agents47. UOGD-related
primary air contaminants include volatile organic compounds
(or VOCs)8, nitrogen oxides9 and naturally occurring radioac-
tive materials10,11. UOGD operations have also been associated
with elevated concentrations of organic compounds12, chloride
and total suspended solids in drinking water13. Higher levels of
UOGD-associated non-chemical exposures, such as noise14 and
night light15, have also been reported in nearby neighbourhoods.
Previous health-effects studies have found significant associations
between proximity-based exposure to UOGD and adverse prena-
tal1619, respiratory20, cardiovascular21 and carcinogenic outcomes22.
The association between exposure to UOGD and all-cause
mortality among the elderly has not been quantified. In addition,
previous studies were conducted in specific geographical locations
and thus did not evaluate the heterogeneity in exposures and out-
comes across large geographical regions. Previous studies also did
not investigate the exposure pathway(s) through which UOGD
activities could lead to adverse health effects, primarily due to the
lack of any large-scale measurement of UOGD-sourced pollutants
in some intensively drilled regions. To address these gaps in the data
and characterize the spatiotemporal gradients of the UOGD-sourced
agents, investigators have designed proximity-based exposure (PE)
metrics of varying complexity23. Most of these PE metrics assumed
a uniform distance decay in the concentrations of UOGD-related
agents in all directions. Although this assumption largely holds for
noise and light pollution, which travel similarly in all directions, it
does not account for the directional dispersion of UOGD-sourced
airborne or waterborne pollutants in nearby environments. PE met-
rics could be improved by incorporating the transport mechanisms
of UOGD-sourced agents, such as wind direction and underground
water flow24. Accounting for the directional dispersion of agents
would also enable the investigation of potential exposure pathways.
Following the process shown in Fig. 1, we built an open cohort
of 15,198,496 Medicare beneficiaries (136,215,059 person-years)
residing in our study area (Fig. 2), which includes all major US
UOGD regions (Supplementary Note 1) from 2001 to 2015. We
also gathered location, construction and production records for
more than 2.5 million oil and gas wells. Rather than solely relying
on PE metrics, we calculated downwind-based exposure (DE) met-
rics, which incorporate the wind direction in the exposure assess-
ment (Fig. 3). On the basis of these two exposure metrics (PE and
DE), we conducted two sets of analyses (Analysis Set I and II) to
investigate whether or not living in proximity to and downwind of
UOGD wells is associated with higher mortality risks in Medicare
Exposure to unconventional oil and gas
development and all-cause mortality in
Medicare beneficiaries
Longxiang Li 1 ✉ , Francesca Dominici 2, Annelise J. Blomberg 1,4, Falco J. Bargagli-Stoffi 2,
Joel D. Schwartz1,3, Brent A. Coull1,2, John D. Spengler1, Yaguang Wei 1, Joy Lawrence1 and
Petros Koutrakis1
Little is known about whether exposure to unconventional oil and gas development is associated with higher mortality risks in
the elderly and whether related air pollutants are exposure pathways. We studied a cohort of 15,198,496 Medicare beneficia-
ries (136,215,059 person-years) in all major US unconventional exploration regions from 2001 to 2015. We gathered data from
records of more than 2.5 million oil and gas wells. For each beneficiary’s ZIP code of residence and year in the cohort, we cal-
culated a proximity-based and a downwind-based pollutant exposure. We analysed the data using two methods: a Cox propor-
tional hazards model and a difference-in-differences design. We found evidence of a statistically significant higher mortality
risk associated with living in proximity to and downwind of unconventional oil and gas wells. Our results suggest that primary
air pollutants sourced from unconventional oil and gas exploration can be a major exposure pathway with adverse health effects
in the elderly.
NATURE ENERGY | VOL 7 | FEBRUARY 2022 | 177–185 | 177
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... A study of over 15 million Medicare beneficiaries found "evidence of a statistically significant higher mortality risk associated with living in proximity to and downwind of unconventional oil and gas wells" [113]. ...
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Fossil fuels — coal, oil, and gas — lie at the heart of the interconnected crises we face, including climate change, racial injustice, and public health. Each stage of the fossil fuel life cycle — extraction, processing, transport, and combustion — generates toxic air and water pollution, as well as greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions that drive the global climate crisis. Addressing the harmful effects of energy decisions, including unequal risk distribution across various governance levels, supply chains, and political jurisdictions, is a complex task for policymakers and society. A deeper understanding of how harms are embodied within fossil fuel life cycles is needed. This paper provides a narrative review of recent studies within the United States (U.S.) that document both public health harms and disproportionate impacts along the fossil fuel life cycle. In the U.S. the public health hazards from air and water pollution, and risks associated with climate change, fall disproportionately on Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor communities. “Sacrifice zones” and systemic racism are deeply intertwined within the fossil-fuel based economy. We argue systemic racism subsidizes the fossil fuel industry by enabling it to externalize the costs of pollution and environmental degradation onto communities of color. We position “fossil fuel racism” as a subset of environmental racism and argue that this framing is useful because it shifts analytical and political focus to the systems and structures which are actively protecting and promoting continued production of fossil fuels. We discuss the implications of this body of research for climate policy, and outline how poorly designed “carbon-centric” policies—which focus narrowly on GHGs reduction—could fail to alleviate the racialized disparities or potentially worsen it for some communities. We emphasize the need to move beyond carbon-centric approaches to climate solutions to more integrative approaches to policy design that can improve public health, tackle the global climate crisis, and rectify our legacy of fossil fuel racism. Specifically we call for a managed phase out of fossil fuel production and the enactment of wider programs of social, economic, and democratic reforms via a Green New Deal. Adequately addressing the climate crisis and fossil fuel racism require political and policy solutions that disrupt the power and actions of the fossil fuel industry and their state allies.
... We also saw increased GWV among communities with older populations, which may pose public health challenges given the physiologic susceptibilities of the elderly to environmental stressors, including degraded drinking water quality (Beaudeau et al., 2014;Geller & Zenick, 2005;Hong, 2013). Indeed, a recent national scale study found statistically significant increases in all-cause mortality among elderly populations living near UOG sites, highlighting the urgency of research focused on these vulnerable populations (Li et al., 2022). Additional empirical work is needed to elucidate the social processes that drive these observed associations, for instance, whether the association between elevated GWV and greater elderly populations is the result of aging in place (i.e., Are elderly residents more likely to own and lease their mineral rights?) or migration (i.e., Are elderly people moving into retirement destinations that host intensive UOG activities?) (Smith & Trevelyan, 2019). ...
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Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development, made possible by horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing, has been fraught with controversy since the industry's rapid expansion in the early 2000's. Concerns about environmental contamination and public health risks persist in many rural communities that depend on groundwater resources for drinking and other daily needs. Spatial disparities in UOG risks can pose distributive environmental injustice if such risks are disproportionately borne by marginalized communities. In this paper, we analyzed groundwater vulnerability to contamination from UOG as a physically based measure of risk in conjunction with census tract level sociodemographic characteristics describing social vulnerability in the northern Appalachian Basin. We found significant associations between elevated groundwater vulnerability and lower population density, consistent with UOG development occurring in less densely populated rural areas. We also found associations between elevated groundwater vulnerability and lower income, higher proportions of elderly populations, and higher proportion of mobile homes, suggesting a disproportionate risk burden on these socially vulnerable groups. We did not find a statistically significant association between elevated groundwater vulnerability and populations of racial/ethnic minorities in our study region. Household surveys provided empirical support for a relationship between sociodemographic characteristics and capacity to assess and mitigate exposures to potentially contaminated water. Further research is needed to probe if the observed disparities translate to differences in chemical exposure and adverse health outcomes.
... 13 As documented in several reviews, [13][14][15][16] studies have linked exposure to natural gas extraction with asthma exacerbations, [17][18][19] adverse pregnancy outcomes, 20-35 cardiovascular disease, [36][37][38] adverse mental health outcomes, 39,40 and mortality. 41 Flaring-a form of waste disposal-from natural gas development sites also has measurable adverse health impacts. 18,42 Natural gas extraction has been associated with increased concentrations of radioactive particles in the air. ...
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Energy policy decisions are driven primarily by economic and reliability considerations, with limited consideration given to public health, environmental justice, and climate change. Moreover, epidemiologic studies relevant for public policy typically focus on immediate public health implications of activities related to energy procurement and generation, considering less so health equity or the longer-term health consequences of climate change attributable to an energy source. A more integrated, collective consideration of these three domains can provide more robust guidance to policymakers, communities, and individuals. Here, we illustrate how these domains can be evaluated with respect to natural gas as an energy source. Our process began with a detailed overview of all relevant steps in the process of extracting, producing, and consuming natural gas. We synthesized existing epidemiologic and complementary evidence of how these processes impact public health, environmental justice, and climate change. We conclude that, in certain domains, natural gas looks beneficial (e.g., economically for some), but when considered more expansively, through the life cycle of natural gas and joint lenses of public health, environmental justice, and climate change, natural gas is rendered an undesirable energy source in the United States. A holistic climate health equity framework can inform how we value and deploy different energy sources in the service of public health.
... Further, engineering controls can fail, and such solutions may not be available or economically feasible to handle all the complex hazards associated with OGD. Further, while the epidemiological literature clearly demonstrates that OGD is associated with multiple adverse health outcomes, such as adverse birth outcomes, respiratory disease, and mortality, the hazards and exposure pathways that contribute to these outcomes remain unclear (Li et al 2022, Deziel et al 2022a. Consequently, the effectiveness of mitigating health risks through engineering controls alone may be limited if the technologies do not control for uncharacterized hazards or exposure pathways. ...
... The proliferation of fracking, increasing evidence of its detrimental environmental and public health impacts [17][18][19], and failure in regulatory oversight have necessitated community science, communitybased knowledge production, and health advocacy network-building [20]. This paper describes the ongoing community-led project, and aims to provide an example of continued and active engagement between scientists and community members. ...
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Belmont County, Ohio is heavily dominated by unconventional oil and gas development that results in high levels of ambient air pollution. Residents here chose to work with a national volunteer network to develop a method of participatory science to answer questions about the association between impact on the health of their community and pollution exposure from the many industrial point sources in the county and surrounding area and river valley. After first directing their questions to the government agencies responsible for permitting and protecting public health, residents noted the lack of detailed data and understanding of the impact of these industries. These residents and environmental advocates are using the resulting science to open a dialogue with the EPA in hopes to ultimately collaboratively develop air quality standards that better protect public health. Results from comparing measurements from a citizen-led participatory low-cost, high-density air pollution sensor network of 35 particulate matter and 25 volatile organic compound sensors against regulatory monitors show low correlations (consistently R² < 0.55). This network analysis combined with complementary models of emission plumes are revealing the inadequacy of the sparse regulatory air pollution monitoring network in the area, and opening many avenues for public health officials to further verify people’s experiences and act in the interest of residents’ health with enforcement and informed permitting practices. Further, the collaborative best practices developed by this study serve as a launchpad for other community science efforts looking to monitor local air quality in response to industrial growth.
... They found an association between UOGD wells and downwind radiation measurements. This downwind model was applied in one health study of all-cause mortality among Medicare beneficiaries, which observed significant higher mortality risk associated with living downwind of UOGD wells [98]. ...
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Purpose of Review Epidemiologic studies have observed elevated health risks in populations living near unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD). In this narrative review, we discuss strengths and limitations of UOG exposure assessment approaches used in or available for epidemiologic studies, emphasizing studies of children’s health outcomes. Recent Findings Exposure assessment challenges include (1) numerous potential stressors with distinct spatiotemporal patterns, (2) critical exposure windows that cover long periods and occur in the past, and (3) limited existing monitoring data coupled with the resource-intensiveness of collecting new exposure measurements to capture spatiotemporal variation. All epidemiologic studies used proximity-based models for exposure assessment as opposed to surveys, biomonitoring, or environmental measurements. Nearly all studies used aggregate (rather than pathway-specific) models, which are useful surrogates for the complex mix of potential hazards. Summary Simple and less-specific exposure assessment approaches have benefits in terms of scalability, interpretability, and relevance to specific policy initiatives such as set-back distances. More detailed and specific models and metrics, including dispersion methods and stressor-specific models, could reduce exposure misclassification, illuminate underlying exposure pathways, and inform emission control and exposure mitigation strategies. While less practical in a large population, collection of multi-media environmental and biological exposure measurements would be feasible in cohort subsets. Such assessments are well-suited to provide insights into the presence and magnitude of exposures to UOG-related stressors in relation to spatial surrogates and to better elucidate the plausibility of observed effects in both children and adults.
Background: During 2008-15, the Marcellus shale region of the US state of Pennsylvania experienced a boom in unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) or "fracking". However, despite much public debate, little is known about the effects of UNGD on population health in local communities. Among other mechanisms, air pollution from UNGD might affect individuals living nearby through cardiovascular or respiratory disease, and older adults could be particularly susceptible. Methods: To study the health impacts of Pennsylvania's fracking boom, we exploited the ban on UNGD in neighbouring New York state. Using 2002-15 Medicare claims, we conducted difference-in-differences analyses over multiple timepoints to estimate the risk of living near UNGD for hospitalisation with acute myocardial infarction (AMI), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and bronchiectasis, heart failure, ischaemic heart disease, and stroke among older adults (aged ≥65 years). Findings: Pennsylvania ZIP codes that started UNGD in 2008-10 were associated with more hospitalisations for cardiovascular diseases in 2012-15 than would be expected in the absence of UNGD. Specifically, in 2015, we estimated an additional 11·8, 21·6, and 20·4 hospitalisations for AMI, heart failure, and ischaemic heart disease, respectively, per 1000 Medicare beneficiaries. Hospitalisations increased even as UNGD growth slowed. Results were robust in sensitivity analyses. Interpretation: Older adults living near UNGD could be at high risk of poor cardiovascular outcomes. Mitigation policies for existing UNGD might be needed to address current and future health risks. Future consideration of UNGD should prioritise local population health. Funding: University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratories.
Fires and droughts in the western states are getting worse — and they’re combining with industrial sources to threaten air quality and people’s health. Fires and droughts in the western states are getting worse — and they’re combining with industrial sources to threaten air quality and people’s health. Credit: Rob Schumacher/AFP via Getty The melted sign of the Oak Park Motel destroyed by the flames of the Beachie Creek Fire is seen in Gates, east of Salem, Oregon. The melted sign of the Oak Park Motel destroyed by the flames of the Beachie Creek Fire is seen in Gates, east of Salem, Oregon.
When advocating for policy change, coalitions rely on various elements and strategies of policy narratives, including emotions. However, past research on the Narrative Policy Framework, and more broadly on the policy process, has largely ignored the role of emotions. This paper argues that emotions, such as anger and fear, are central to how coalitions advocate for policy change. It explores the role of anger and fear in policy narratives by examining the oral testimony (n = 474) given over four legislative committee hearings in March 2019 concerning Colorado Senate Bill 19‐181. This bill changed the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to prioritize protecting the environment and public health over oil and gas development. This research finds the coalition that successfully supported the bill used anger towards the oil and gas industry, while those that opposed the bill relied more on fear of the uncertain consequences of the bill. It also finds the coalition that opposed the bill relied on self‐characterization as heroes and victims, which was a failed strategy. The implications for this research on the Narrative Policy Framework and, more broadly, for the policy process and advocacy are discussed. 在倡导政策变革时,联盟依赖于政策叙事的不同要素和策略,包括情绪。不过,关于叙事政策框架以及更广泛的政策过程的以往研究在很大程度上忽略了情绪的作用。本文论证认为,愤怒和恐惧等情绪是联盟如何倡导政策变革一事的核心。通过分析2019年3月关于科罗拉多州参议院第181号法案的四次立法委员会听证会的口头证词(n = 474),本文探究了愤怒和恐惧在政策叙事中的作用。该法案改变了科罗拉多石油和天然气保护委员会的使命,将保护环境和公共卫生一事置于石油和天然气开发之上。本研究发现,成功支持该法案的联盟对石油和天然气行业持愤怒情绪,而反对该法案的联盟则更多地依赖于由该法案的不确定后果产生的恐惧情绪。本研究还发现,反对该法案的联盟使用了关于正面人物和受害者的自我描述,这是一个失败的策略。探讨了本研究对叙事政策框架的影响,以及在更广程度上对政策过程和倡导的影响。 Al abogar por el cambio de políticas, las coaliciones se basan en varios elementos y estrategias de narrativas de políticas, incluidas las emociones. Sin embargo, la investigación anterior sobre el marco de políticas narrativas y, en términos más generales, sobre el proceso de políticas, ha ignorado en gran medida el papel de las emociones. Este documento argumenta que las emociones, como la ira y el miedo, son fundamentales para que las coaliciones aboguen por el cambio de políticas. Explora el papel de la ira y el miedo en las narrativas de políticas al examinar el testimonio oral (n = 474) brindado en cuatro audiencias del comité legislativo en marzo de 2019 con respecto al Proyecto de Ley del Senado de Colorado 19‐181. Este proyecto de ley cambió la misión de la Comisión de Conservación de Petróleo y Gas de Colorado para priorizar la protección del medio ambiente y la salud pública sobre el desarrollo de petróleo y gas. Esta investigación encuentra que la coalición que apoyó con éxito el proyecto de ley utilizó la ira hacia la industria del petróleo y el gas, mientras que los que se opusieron al proyecto de ley se basaron más en el miedo a las consecuencias inciertas del proyecto de ley. También encuentra que la coalición que se opuso al proyecto de ley se basó en la autocaracterización como héroes y víctimas, lo cual fue una estrategia fallida. Se discuten las implicaciones para esta investigación sobre el Marco Narrativo de Políticas y, más ampliamente, para el proceso de políticas y la promoción.
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The recent development of solution‐processed perovskite thin films over micrometer‐sized textured silicon bottom solar cells enables tandem solar cells with power conversion efficiencies > 30%. Next to improved light harvesting, textured silicon wafers are the industrial standard. To achieve high performance, the open‐circuit voltage losses that occur when fabricating perovskite solar cells over such textures need to be mitigated. This study provides a practical guideline to discriminate and address the voltage losses at the interfaces as well as in the bulk of solution‐processed double cation perovskite thin films using photoluminescence quantum yield measurements. Furthermore, the origin of these losses is investigated via morphological, microstructural, and compositional analysis and present possible mitigation strategies. The guideline will be beneficial for scientists working on randomly textured surfaces and provides a deeper understanding on this timely research topic.
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Unconventional oil and natural gas development (UOGD) expanded extensively in the United States from the early 2000s. However, the influence of UOGD on the radioactivity of ambient particulate is not well understood. We collected the ambient particle radioactivity (PR) measurements of RadNet, a nationwide environmental radiation monitoring network. We obtained the information of over 1.5 million wells from the Enverus database. We investigated the association between the upwind UOGD well count and the downwind gross-beta radiation with adjustment for environmental factors governing the natural emission and transport of radioactivity. Our statistical analysis found that an additional 100 upwind UOGD wells within 20 km is associated with an increase of 0.024 mBq/m³ (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.020, 0.028 mBq/m³) in the gross-beta particle radiation downwind. Based on the published health analysis of PR, the widespread UOGD could induce adverse health effects to residents living close to UOGD by elevating PR.
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This paper explores the impact of shale gas and oil fracking wells on infants’ health at birth across Oklahoma counties. The empirical analysis makes use of the Dumitrescu-Hurlin causality test, as well as the (long-run) Pooled Mean Group method. The results clearly document that there is a unidirectional relationship between fracking activities and three alternative indexes of infants’ health at birth, as well as a significant impact of fracking on infants’ health indicators. In addition, the results illustrate the substantial role of fracking through the drinking water quality channel.
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Various exposure estimates have been used to assess health impact of unconventional natural gas development (UNGD). The purpose of this study was to (1) use an air pollution dispersal screening model and wind direction to characterize the air emissions from UNGD facilities at each residence and (2) assess association of this exposure estimate with respiratory symptoms. Respiratory symptoms were abstracted from health records of a convenience sample of 104 adults from one county in southwestern PA who had completed a standard clinical interview with a nurse practitioner. Using publicly available air emission data, we applied a “box” air pollution dispersion screening model to estimate the median ambient air level of CO, NOx, PM 2.5, VOCs, and formaldehyde at the residence during the year health symptoms were reported. Sources and median emissions were categorized as north, south, east, or west of the residence to account for the effect of wind direction on dispersion. Binary logistic regression was performed for each respiratory symptom. Number of sources had varying magnitudes of association with some symptoms (i.e., cough, shortness of breath, and “any respiratory symptom”) and no association with others (i.e., sore throat, sinus problems, wheezing). Air emissions were not associated with any symptom.
The full publications from HEI Energy and the Research Committee can be downloaded at There are two reports. One is a systematic review of the epidemiology literature and the other is a companion exposure report.
Increased energy demands and innovations in upstream oil and natural gas (ONG) extraction technologies have enabled the United States to become one of the world's leading producers of petroleum and natural gas hydrocarbons. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists 187 hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects. Several of these HAPs have been measured at elevated concentrations around ONG sites, but most have not been studied in the context of upstream development. In this review, we analyzed recent global peer-reviewed articles that investigated HAPs near ONG operations to (a) identify HAPs associated with upstream ONG development, (b) identify their specific sources in upstream processes, and (c) examine the potential for adverse health outcomes from HAPs emitted during these phases of hydrocarbon development.
Over the past decade, increases in high-volume hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas extraction in the United States have raised concerns with residents living near wells. Flaring, or the combustion of petroleum products into the open atmosphere, is a common practice associated with oil and gas exploration and production, and has been under-examined as a potential source of exposure. We leveraged data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Spectroradiometer (VIIRS) Nightfire satellite product to characterize the extent of flaring in the Eagle Ford Shale region of south Texas, one of the most productive in the nation. Spatiotemporal hierarchical clustering identified flaring sources, and a regression-based approach combining VIIRS information with reported estimates of vented and flared gas from the Railroad Commission of Texas enabled estimation of flared gas volume at each flare. We identified 43,887 distinct oil and gas flares in the study region from 2012-2016, with a peak in activity in 2014 and an estimated 4.5 billion cubic meters of total gas volume flared over the study period. A comparison with well permit data indicated the majority of flares were associated with oil-producing (82%) and horizontally-drilled (92%) wells. Of the 49 counties in the region, 5 accounted for 71% of the total flaring. Our results suggest flaring may be a significant environmental exposure in parts of this region.
Background: Oil and natural gas (O&G) extraction emits pollutants that are associated with cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of mortality in the United States. Objective: We evaluated associations between intensity of O&G activity and cardiovascular disease indicators. Methods: Between October 2015 and May 2016, we conducted a cross-sectional study of 97 adults living in Northeastern Colorado. For each participant, we collected 1-3 measurements of augmentation index, systolic and diastolic blood pressure (SBP and DBP), and plasma concentrations of interleukin (IL)- 1β, IL-6, IL-8 and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α). We modelled the intensity of O&G activity by weighting O&G well counts within 16 km of a participant's home by intensity and distance. We used linear models accounting for repeated measures within person to evaluate associations. Results: Adjusted mean augmentation index differed by 6.0% (95% CI: 0.6, 11.4%) and 5.1% (95%CI: -0.1, 10.4%) between high and medium, respectively, and low exposure tertiles. The greatest mean IL-1β, and α-TNF plasma concentrations were observed for participants in the highest exposure tertile. IL-6 and IL-8 results were consistent with a null result. For participants not taking prescription medications, the adjusted mean SBP differed by 6 and 1 mm Hg (95% CIs: 0.1, 13 mm Hg and -6, 8 mm Hg) between the high and medium, respectively, and low exposure tertiles. DBP results were similar. For participants taking prescription medications, SBP and DBP results were consistent with a null result. Conclusions: Despite limitations, our results support associations between O&G activity and augmentation index, SBP, DBP, IL-1β, and TNF-α. Our study was not able to elucidate possible mechanisms or environmental stressors, such as air pollution and noise.
This research exploits the introduction of shale gas wells in Pennsylvania in response to growing controversy around the drilling method of hydraulic fracturing. Using detailed location data on maternal addresses and GIS coordinates of gas wells, this study examines singleton births to mothers residing close to a shale gas well from 2003 to 2010 in Pennsylvania. The introduction of drilling increased low birth weight and decreased term birth weight on average among mothers living within 2.5 km of a well compared to mothers living within 2.5 km of a permitted well. Adverse effects were also detected using measures such as small for gestational age and APGAR scores, while no effects on gestation periods were found. In the intensive margin, an additional well is associated with a 7 percent increase in low birth weight, a 5 g reduction in term birth weight and a 3 percent increase in premature birth. These results are robust to other measures of infant health, many changes in specification and falsification tests. These findings suggest that shale gas development poses significant risks to human health.
Studies of unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) and health have ranked participants along a gradient of geographic information system (GIS)-based activity that incorporated distance between participants’ home addresses and unconventional natural gas wells. However, studies have used different activity metrics, making results comparisons across studies difficult. Existing studies have only incorporated wells, without accounting for other components of development (e.g., compressors, impoundments, flaring events), for which it is often difficult to obtain reliable data, but may have relevance to health. Our aims were to: (1) describe, in space and time, UNGD-related compressors, impoundments, and flaring events; (2) evaluate whether and how to incorporate these into UNGD activity assessment; (3) evaluate associations of these different approaches with mild asthma exacerbations. We identified 361 compressor stations, 1,218 impoundments, and 216 locations with flaring events. A principal component analysis identified a single component that was approximately an equal mix of the metrics for compressors, impoundments, and four phases of well development (pad preparation, drilling, stimulation, and production). However, temporal coverage for impoundments and flaring data was sparse. Ultimately, we evaluated three UNGD activity metrics, including two based on existing studies and a novel metric that included well pad development, drilling, stimulation, production and compressor engine aspects of UNGD. The three metrics had varying magnitudes of association with mild asthma exacerbations, although the highest category of each metric (vs. the lowest) was associated with the outcome.