$77 billion: Health damages in the US associated with oil and gas production

It affected communities even in areas where limited or no gas production takes place.
Ameya Paleja
Oil production in the U.S. is near record level highs
Oil production in the U.S. is near record level highs


Oil and gas (O&G) production in the U.S. accounted for $77 billion in annual health costs, about three times the cost of climate impact from methane emissions from the same operation, according to the study led by the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH).

Even as nations worldwide look to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, O&G production in the U.S. is currently near record-high levels. The focus of the clean energy transition has been the impact of fossil fuel combustion in power generators, vehicles, and industry. However, few studies have measured the effects of air pollution caused by generation activity.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment (UNC-IE), PSE Healthy Energy, Environmental Defense Fund, and BUSPH came together to analyze the health effects, details of which were published today.

How O&G production affects health?

The researchers found that pollutants such as nitrogen oxide (NO2), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and ozone (O3) were responsible for 7,500 excess deaths, 410,000 asthma attacks, and 2,200 new cases of childhood asthma in the U.S. in 2016, together with related respiratory and cardiovascular hospitalizations, and adverse pregnancy outcomes, O&G production attributed to $77 billion in annual health costs.

While these adverse events were primarily concentrated in areas such as southwest Pennsylvania, Texas, and Eastern Colorado with significant O&G production, they were also seen in densely populated cities such as New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., and others where there is little or no gas production activity.

$77 billion: Health damages in the US associated with oil and gas production
Pollution needs to be controlled not just during combustion but also production of fuel

States with O&G production took up the top five spots, which had the highest impact of the pollutants but Illinois and New York were not far behind either, taking up the sixth and eighth spots, respectively.

Among the pollutants, NO2 contributed the highest to the overall health impact, followed by ozone which contributed to 35 percent of the effects, and PM2.5 at 28 percent. Since NO2 contributes to the formation of ozone and PM2.5, strategies for reducing NO2 could effectively reduce overall health impacts.

Researchers are also of the view the forthcoming methane regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will significantly improve air quality benefits to humans along with climate benefits.

The study, however, did not study the effect of pollutants such as benzene and formaldehyde which have been detected near O&G production facilities and have been linked to diseases such as cancer. Future studies should focus on learning health impacts from the entire life cycle of O&G production, the authors said in a press release.

The research findings were published in the journal Environmental Research: Health

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