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Air pollutants from US oil and gas production responsible for 7,500 excess deaths, study finds

A new study in the US, led by the School of Public Health, the University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment, PSE Healthy Energy and Environmental Defense Fund has examined the direct link between emissions from country’s oil and gas production and morbidity and mortality among the population. 

Taking data from 2016 (when gas and oil production was around 30% lower than it is now) the researches used an integrated geospatial model framework that linked emissions inventories from oil and gas production to changes in air quality and health in exposed populations. A detailed explanation of their methodology can be found here.

factories with smoke under cloudy sky

Exposure to particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen oxide emitted by gas and oil production (10.7% of NOx pollution in the US comes from this source) was found to be responsible for 7,500 excess deaths, 410,000 asthma attacks, and 2,200 new cases of childhood asthma across the country in that year.

This represents $77bn in annual health costs which, the team point out, is three times the estimated climate impact costs of the methane emitted from this source.

Study corresponding author Jonathan Buonocore said: ‘These substantial impacts from oil and gas production show that there are serious consequences across the full life cycle of oil and gas, from well-to-wheels, well-to-power plant, and well-to-furnace.

‘The health impacts are not just from the combustion of oil and gas. In order for energy, air quality, and decarbonization policies to successfully protect health, they need to incorporate health impacts across this full life cycle.’

NO2 was found to be the most damaging of the three pollutants, particularly as it also leads to the formation of secondary PM2.5 and ozone. Ozone was found to be the most widely dispersed, leading to some states suffering from the effects of gas and oil production despite being home to very little of it themselves.

Study senior author Saravanan Arunachalam said: ‘The fact that air pollution and health impacts cross state boundaries indicates a strong need for regional to nationwide coordination. States that have the highest emissions are not necessarily always the ones with the highest health risk due to these emissions, although Texas ranks first in both.’

The authors say future studies should focus on learning more about health impacts across the full life cycle of O&G production, as well as the benefits of additional O&G pollution control strategies.

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Petra Vernon
Petra Vernon
5 months ago

I have a situation that can prove the adverse effects of this pollution. My daughter lives in Springtown Tx, near a compressor station. She moved there in June of 2022 and by October of 2023 had to evacuate the property. She had horse and livestock deaths. Horses staggering with loss of coordination. She herself went to the ER on the night she left and had a 37% blood oxygen level. Her hands were blue, and she couldn’t breath. She has since been diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy (brain damage) due to chemical exposure. She has benzene, toluene, phenols in her system and is being treated weekly to detox from these. She has immuno deficiencies, neurologic deficits, and her body is damaged.She is unable to live in the home and was living in hotels for several months as she looked for a place for herself and her animals.
The EPA, TCEQ, Texas Dept of Health, and the Railroad Commission ignored all of this and told her to return to her home, even though the doctors at Parkland Hospital said that her chance of mortality was high.
This should be of interest to your organization. This isn’t in the middle of nowhere. This is a growing community with expensive property. This is a person that did pro rodeo and now struggles because her body doesn’t work right.
Somebody needs to be held accountable. Everyone says that she should sell the property and move on, but how can you look someone in the face and let them buy something that you know will make them and their family and animals, sick within a short period of time?
Any help would be appreciated.

Last edited 5 months ago by Petra Vernon
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