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Newborns At Higher Risk Of Low Birth Weight If Born Near Oil & Gas Drilling

According to new research, living near can increase the risk of babies born with . The study was conducted by a team at Oregon State University, and its findings were recently published in .

The researchers analyzed data from more than 2.5 million mother-and-baby pairs. The babies were born between 1996 to 2009 in Texas.


To be included in the study, the infants had to have been born to mothers who lived within 10 kilometers of an existing or future oil or gas drilling site during . Previous research has suggested that upwards of 4.5 million Texas residents live within a mile of gas or oil drilling sites.

Living next to a gas or oil drilling facility increases exposure to:

  • Light pollution
  • Noise pollution
  • Water contamination
  • (from activities like drilling, increased traffic)

In conclusion, the researchers found that babies born to mothers who lived within 3 km of an active drilling site were more likely to have a low birth weight. On average, they were 7 to 9 grams lighter at birth than infants delivered to mothers who lived 4 km or more away from the drilling sites.

Babies born with a low birth weight often weigh less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces upon delivery. As notes, low birth weight has been associated with various health problems, including:

  • Infection
  • Respiratory problems
  • Patent ductus arteriosus (hole in heart)
  • Retinopathy of prematurity (an eye disease)
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis (affects intestines)
  • Intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain)

In addition to living near oil or gas drilling facilities, other factors that increase the risk of a low-birth-weight baby include preterm labor, chronic health conditions, taking certain medications in pregnancy, prenatal infections, pregnancies with multiples, prenatal alcohol or substance abuse, or placenta problems.

The study’s findings may seem unsurprising, as it’s widely understood that developing fetuses are more sensitive to contaminants and pollution. But the results underscore the health consequences for populations living close to oil and gas drilling facilities, an industry that continues to grow.

Interestingly, the researchers didn’t find evidence to suggest that the type of resource being drilled or extracted impacts pregnancy or . Previous research has focused narrowly on “unconventional natural gas drilled or fracking,” reports, whereas this new study looked at the oil and gas industry more generally.

Further research is needed to re-confirm these findings and to inquire into other health consequence, if any, associated with living near oil and drilling sites, such as birth defects, premature delivery, and maternal health consequences.

However, the researchers hope their findings will encourage lawmakers to set standards for how close residential areas can be to oil and gas drilling sites in an effort to mitigate its health impact.


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