Pregnant women living near oil and gas wells may face an increased risk of giving birth to a baby that experiences long-term health problems, indicate the findings of a new study.
Researchers with the University of California, Berkeley say that pregnant women live within six miles of an oil or gas well, it increases the risk their child will born with a low birth weight or be small for their gestational age.
In a study published earlier this month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers conducted a retrospective cohort trial involving more than 2.9 million births to mothers living in California within 10 kilometers, or six miles, of at least one oil or gas production well between January 2006 and December 2015.
Researchers estimated exposure to inactive wells during pregnancy and production volume from active wells in barrels of oil equivalent. They used birth record information to determine long-term outcomes.
According to the findings, women living within less than one mile of oil and gas development (OGD) were 40% more likely to have an infant with low birth weight and 20% more likely to have a baby who is small for their gestational age, compared to women who lived farther away from wells.
Full term babies born near oil and gas wells were an average of 1.3 ounces smaller than babies who were born farther from oil and gas wells.
In rural areas, increasing oil or gas production volume was associated with stronger adverse effects than in urban areas.
However, the study indicated living near oil and gas wells was not linked to increased risk of preterm birth.
The findings are similar to another study published in 2017, which found that infants born within 3 km, or less than two miles, from a fracking site had an increased risk of being born with low birth weights. They were at risk of being born with 25% reduced weight simply by being born near a hydraulic fracturing site.
Also known as fracking, hydraulic fracturing is a term for hydraulic fracturing wells used to fracture shale to release oil and gas.
Being born with a low birth weight or being small for gestational age can increase an infant’s risk of other health problems in early childhood and adulthood. Low birth weight can lead to problems with internal organ function and difficulty regulating blood sugar. Those infants also face an increased risk of suffering infections, respiratory problems, bleeding in the brain and have an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
Additionally, researchers noted oil and gas sites often produce air and water pollutants, excess light and noise.
“We observed that prenatal exposure to active oil/gas production from both conventional and unconventional wells in (California) was associated with adverse birth outcomes, and these associations varied by rural and urban areas. We observed the strongest associations with exposure to high production volume in rural areas,” the researchers concluded. “Future studies should consider inactive wells and conduct exposure assessments that collect environmental samples of OGD-related hazards.”