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A New Report Questions How Harmful Emissions From Oil And Gas Production Are Studied

Pump jack in Pierce Junction oilfield south of downtown Houston (Credit: Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas)

By Mitch Borden

Chemicals emitted during oil and gas production have been tied to cancer and birth defects. But in the past, some academic studies have looked at these harmful chemicals have shown emissions aren’t happening at levels that should affect human health.

But a new study shows there may be problems with how scientists assess harmful chemicals released by oil and gas production

The report was released in the online journal Annual Review of Public Health and Doctor Diane Garcia-Gonzales was its lead author.

She said, “If we look at the air quality, we can’t explain what we’re seeing from these health studies from the samples we’re collecting.”

Garcia-Gonzales' team looked at 36 academic studies from across the U.S. and one from Poland, that found chemicals from oil and gas sites weren’t being emitted at dangerous levels. According to Garcia-Gonzales, those findings don’t add up.

“There is significant evidence that there is a spacial dimension that cannot be easily explained by the air sampling studies that have been done.”

Meaning the closer people live to oil and gas sites the more likely their health will be negatively affected, but the emission studies her group reviewed don’t support these findings. That’s because Garcia-Gonzales said many of these studies are flawed.

She explained some of the research didn’t account for how far emissions data was collected from its source or the length of time air quality was assessed. Garcia-Gonzales said a more comprehensive approach needs to be taken to research harmful emissions rather than basing conclusions on limited data.


Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.