Proximity to Drilling Sites Linked to Lower Birthweight

A recent study conducted at Oregon State University and published in the journal of Environmental Health Perspectives indicates lower infant weight at birth in residential areas located near oil or gas drilling sites. The study found that infants who were born within 3 kilometers from drilling sites weighed approximately 7 to 9 grams less when the sites were active than infants who were born before drilling began. 

The OSU report names many potential exposures related to oil or gas drilling sites, such as air pollution from drilling activities, flaring, increased traffic going to and from drilling sites, water contamination from hydraulic fracturing chemicals, noise pollution from industrial activity and increased traffic, and light pollution from new drilling facilities. 

The study looked retrospectively at 2,598,025 mother-infant pairs in which the mother was pregnant while living within 10 kilometers of a current or future drilling site in Texas between the years of 1996 to 2009. Results showed that the negative association of newborn weight with residential proximity to active sites was greatest among Hispanic women, women with the lowest educational attainment, and women living in cities. 

Currently, 4.5 million Texans live within one mile from an oil or gas drilling site. Surprisingly, the type of fuel exploited and the method used seem not to be a differentiating factor.  

“Most studies to date focus exclusively on unconventional natural gas drilling, or fracking. That particular process is a small subset of the oil and natural gas industry. We find it doesn’t matter — where people are extracting oil and gas resources, we’re still seeing an impact on infant health,” said study author Mary Willis, a postdoctoral researcher in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “A lot of policy is exclusively focusing on fracking, but our study shows that’s a really limited view of how this industry may impact local populations.” 

By Joanna Rosińska