The States Most Threatened by Oil and Gas Pollution

A new analysis shows that more than 17 million people live within a half-mile radius of active oil and gas production facilities.

Oil is pumped outside of Midland, Texas.
Source: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Texas, Ohio, and California have the most residents threatened by oil and gas pollution, making portions of their population susceptible to adverse health effects, according to a recent report from the environmentally focused nonprofit Earthworks.

The Oil and Gas Threat Map—built in collaboration with FracTracker Alliance, a group that investigates extraction-related concerns across the country—shows that more than 17 million people, including nearly 4 million children, live within a half-mile radius of such facilities. That distance is correlated with negative health effects such as cancer and respiratory illnesses, according to peer-reviewed science referenced by the group.

After plotting the location of oil and gas facilities in the US, analysts used data from the US Census Bureau and Education Department to determine the number of people affected. In total, the areas within a half-mile of oil and gas production wells encompass more than 200,000 square miles—twice the size of Colorado. The number of people who live within the threat radius has increased by 5 million since 2017, according to the data.

“Health research shows that, the closer you live and the more you are exposed to oil and gas development, the higher your risk of exposure to toxic air pollution,” Anne Epstein, a doctor and clinical associate professor at Texas Tech University’s Health Sciences Center, said in a statement included in the group’s news release. “Seniors are more likely to die, and babies are more likely to be born with congenital heart disease and with complications of pregnancy.”

Texas has, by far, the largest number of threatened residents at more than 5 million—nearly half of whom are people of color—followed by Ohio, California, and Pennsylvania. The next-closest state on the list, Kansas, has approximately 1 million fewer residents threatened than those in Pennsylvania. Texas also has more than 1 million students who are threatened by the pollution, while Ohio—second on the list—has about a half million.

The list of the 10 states with the most threatened residents and students compares closely to the ranking of states with the most oil and gas production facilities, but there are some outliers. Texas alone has more than 500,000 facilities, which comprises about a third of the total wells in the country. But California, with its massive population, has the third-most threatened residents despite only having the seventh-most facilities. On the other end of the spectrum, New Mexico—even though it has the eighth-most wells in the US—has only about 144,000 residents who are susceptible to the pollution.

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