More than 17 million people in the United States live within a mile of an active oil or natural gas well, according to a new study.
The study is the first peer-reviewed, nationwide estimate of how many Americans live close to active wells and raises health concerns, as such proximity has been linked to heart, lung and brain problems, some cancers, and certain birth defects such as lower birth weights, pre-term births and heart defects.
“The closer you are to a well, the more likely you are to have health impacts, said Eliza Czolowski, lead author of the new study and an associate in the energy and environment program at PSE Health Energy, a nonprofit research institute in Oakland, California.
Using state-level information on oil and gas drilling and the US Census, Czolowski and colleagues had data for 30 states and estimated that 17.6 million Americans, or about 6 percent of the population of the contiguous 48 states, lives within a mile of an active oil or gas well.
Perhaps most concerning for public health, about 1.4 million children under the age of 5 live within a mile of active wells.
“This study hammers home why we need federal and state safeguards against oil and gas air pollution like methane,” said Bruce Baizel, energy program director at Earthworks, which was not involved in the study.
“Americans across the country are forced to live with oil and gas operations in their communities, literally right next door to their homes, their schools, their playgrounds,” he added.
In West Virginia, about half of the state’s roughly 1.8 million people live within a mile of an active well.
Oil and gas wells release pollutants — including particulate matter, benzene, nitrogen oxides, ozone, volatile organic carbons, carbon monoxide — to nearby air and water and have been linked to a host of health problems in people living nearby.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, compared states and found Texas, Ohio, California, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania…