Living near an oil or gas well increases air pollution exposure

Air pollution from oil and gas wells is likely affecting millions of residents across the U.S. 

Researchers at Stanford University analysed local air quality measurements at 38,000 wells that were being drilled and 90,000 wells in production between 2006 and 2019.

They found that all of the wells were emitting toxic levels of particulate matter (PM2.5), carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, ozone and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

When a new well is being drilled, PM2.5 increases by 2 g/m3 about a mile away from the site. 

The research also revealed that ozone was present up to 2.5 miles from the wells. 

With at least two million Californians living within one mile of an active oil or gas well, the researchers have highlighted that this is a serious cause for concern. 

black tower under gray sky

Senior study author Marshall Burke said: ‘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.

‘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.’

Lead author David Gonzalez added: ‘Many of California’s oil fields have been operating for decades. People that live near them have been chronically exposed to higher levels of pollution – and a lot of these wells are located in neighbourhoods that are already burdened by pollution.

‘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.’

Photo by Galen Crout


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