E&E News: Landmark study links oil, gas wells with low birth weights

Kindra Arnesen holds up images of the burns she suffered following the BP oil disaster. Arnesen, along with many Gulf coast residents, witnessed mass casualties in her community in the years following the spill. Countless deaths and long term illnesses were later linked to the millions of gallons of chemical dispersants used to “clean up” the spill. ©Julie Dermansky


“Women who lived near oil and gas wells in California during pregnancy were more likely to deliver underweight babies, according to a first-of-its-kind study from the University of California, Berkeley. Analyzing nearly 3 million birth certificates in the state, researchers found that newborns in rural areas between 2006 and 2015 were 40% more likely to have a low birth weight if their mother lived within a kilometer of a high-producing oil or gas well. The correlation was weaker in urban areas, where newborns had a 4% higher chance of being born small for their gestational age if their mothers lived within the same distance of wells producing 100 barrels or more of oil equivalent a day, the study found. Other research has uncovered similar links between low birth weight in newborns and proximity to oil and gas wells in states including Pennsylvania and Oklahoma. But the UC Berkeley study, published yesterday in Environmental Health Perspectives and funded by the California Air Resources Board, is the first to examine California. Unlike many other states that have seen recent growth in oil and gas development due to hydraulic fracturing technologies, California’s industry is older, with many residents living near inactive wells in addition to active ones, said Rachel Morello-Frosch, senior author of the study. ‘With the differences in the ways in which oil and gas extraction happens in the state, it seemed important to characterize the extent to which proximity to oil and gas development may or may not be harmful in terms of adverse birth outcomes,’ said Morello-Frosch, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley.”

Full Story at E&ENews.com