Living Near Oil and Gas Wells Increases Air Pollution Exposure, According to Stanford Research

Researchers found increased concentrations of air pollutants downwind from oil and gas wells in California, likely affecting millions of Californians who live near them.

Oil wells operate in Signal Hill, a city in Los Angeles County, California. Researchers found that drilling and operating wells emits harmful levels of pollution that may affect the health of nearby residents.<i> </i><br/>
Source: David Gonzalez

In a 14-year analysis of air quality across California, Stanford researchers observed higher levels of air pollutants within 2.5 miles of oil and gas wells, likely worsening negative health outcomes for nearby residents.

The scientists analyzed local air quality measurements in combination with atmospheric data and found that oil and gas wells are emitting toxic particulate matter (PM2.5), carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, ozone, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The findings, which appear in the journal Science of the Total Environment, will help researchers determine how proximity to oil and gas wells may increase the risk of adverse health outcomes, including preterm birth, asthma, and heart disease.

“In California, Black and Latinx communities face some of the highest pollution from oil and gas wells. If we care about environmental justice and making sure every kid has a chance to be healthy, we should care about this,” said lead author David Gonzalez, who conducted research for the study while a PhD student in Stanford’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources. “What’s novel about our study is that we’ve done this at a population, statewide scale using the same methods as public health studies.”

The findings align with other smaller-scale studies that have measured emissions from a handful of wells. At least 2 million Californians live within 1 mile of an active oil or gas well.

“It’s really hard to show air quality impacts of an activity like oil and gas production at a population scale, but that’s the scale we need to be able to infer health impacts,” said senior study author Marshall Burke, an associate professor of earth system science at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “While it’s not necessarily surprising that drilling and operating oil and gas wells emit air pollutants, knowing the magnitude of the effect improves our broader understanding of who is exposed to what and how to intervene to improve health outcomes.”

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