While nearly everyone agrees that the current state of research into the health effects of living near a fracking site is still preliminary and more work needs to be done, the first round of research is very troubling, in that it seems to demonstrate a link between pregnant women living near an oil or gas well where fracking is used and their babies being born with birth defects. In one study from last January, pregnant women who live near fracking sites saw a 30 percent increase in the risk of some birth defects. What’s troubling about this is that nearly five percent of the U.S. population, or 15 million people, lives within a mile of a fracking well.
The use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has skyrocketed over the past decade. Over the past five years, United States has increased production of oil from 5 million barrels per day to 7.5 million per day, largely due to fracking, a process in which dangerous chemicals, sand and water are blasted deep underground to crack sheets of rock so that fuel can be extracted. It is these chemicals and other pollutants emitted into the air that researchers believe may be increasing the risk of birth defects.
That study looked at nearly 125,000 births in rural Colorado from 1996 to 2009, and examined their proximity to fracking sites and the frequency of birth defects in children. What they found was that those mothers who lived in the most exposed areas — defined as those with more than 125 wells per square mile — had a 30 percent greater chance of having a child with a birth defect than those mothers who lived in an area with no wells for a 10-mile radius.
Researchers in that study found that the most common birth defects were congenital heart defects, but another study of Pennsylvania birth records between 2004 and 2011, which is newer and has not been peer-reviewed, found that children born to mothers who live within 2.5 km, or 1.6 miles, of Pennsylvania fracking sites were 60 percent more likely to suffer from low birth weight, which is a sign that the child may suffer from developmental problems. According to some studies, low birth weight babies cost society more than $96,000 per child.
Another investigation, this one in Utah, is looking at the abnormal number of stillbirths in the Uintah Basin, where at least 17 drillers operate. According to measurements by University of Colorado researchers in the first two months of 2012 and 2013, dangerous levels of ozone and a number of toxic chemicals that were tied to that state’s oil and gas industry were found. The researchers noted that the smog produced by the 11,000 oil and gas wells in the area was worse than Los Angeles, and was roughly the equivalent to an area with 100 million cars. There are plans to more than triple the number of oil and gas wells in the area.
As noted, most studies right now are preliminary in nature, and we can’t draw conclusions at this point. However, there has been a serious increase in fracking activity, and that shows no sign of abatement anytime soon, so many important questions have to be answered. Hazards associated with fracking must be taken more seriously in Texas and everywhere else. If you live near a fracking site in Texas, and either you or your child have become sick, and you believe the illness may be related to exposure to the toxic air pollution caused by fracking activity, please contact the Texas Oil & Gas Industry Injury Lawyer at Hill Law Firm for a free consultation as soon as possible to protect your rights.