Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Research Summary: Hydraulic Fracturing: New Evidence from Pennsylvania
Janet Currie, Michael Greenstone and Katherine Meckel
- The application of hydraulic fracturing to develop oil and natural gas has led to a sharp increase in U.S. energy production and generated enormous benefts, including abruptly lower energy prices, stronger energy security and even lower air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions by displacing coal in electricity generation. The reductions in air pollution are likely to have led to improvements in health throughout the country.
- As drilling activity has increased, however, a robust debate has begun within communities where drilling is occurring—or could occur—regarding the potential pros and cons at a local level. Advocates point to increased economic activity, including tax revenue and jobs. Opponents, on the other hand, point to potential disadvantages such as possible health risks.
- Determining the possible health impacts on newborns is one area of focus, both because they are particularly vulnerable to health shocks and because it is possible to pinpoint the timing of exposure based on the in utero period. A number of studies in other contexts havefound that air pollution can harm infant health through maternal exposure before the baby is born.
- This is the first peer-reviewed study to provide large-scale evidence on hydraulic fracturing’s health impacts on infants using records from more than 1.1 million births in Pennsylvania from 2004 to 2013. The researchers compare infants born to mothers living near drilling site to those living further from the site both before and after the drilling began. As a check, the analysis also compares siblings who were exposed to fracking with those who were not.
- The study finds a decrease in the health of infants born to mothers living up to 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from a hydraulic fracturing site. The largest impacts were to babies born within 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) of a site, with those babies being 25 percent more likely to be born at a low birth weight. The effects for infants born 1-3 kilometers are about a third to a half of those within 1 kilometer. Infants born to mothers living beyond 3 kilometers saw little to no impact.
- For policymakers weighing the costs and benefits of fracking before deciding whether to allow it in their communities, this study provides a clear cost: an increase in the probability of poorer health for babies born near these sites. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that about 29,000 out of the nearly 4 million U.S. births (0.7 percent) annually occur within 1 kilometer of a fracking site and 95,500 are born within 3 kilometers.