Fracking has been blamed for a number of environmental problems, ranging from contaminated water to methane explosions, but a new study found it may have a real impact on unborn babies.
According to researchers, pregnant women who lived within a half mile of fracking operations in Pennsylvania were 25 percent more likely to have babies born at a low birth weight than mothers who lived more than two miles away.
“I think I was surprised by the magnitude of the impact within the half mile radius,” study author Michael Greenstone, a professor and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, told The Washington Post.
The study — conducted over five years — evaluated more than 1.1 million births in the state. According to the study, about 30,000 babies are born within a half-mile of a fracking site each year — and 100,000 are born within two miles. Mothers living within two miles also showed lower birth rates, but beyond that there wasn’t a measurable difference.
“I don’t think that’s an insubstantial number,” Greenstone told the newspaper.
Fracking is the process of injecting high-pressure water laced with chemicals into underground rock. The goal is to release natural gas that is then used for energy and “has led to a sharp increase in U.S. energy production and generated enormous benefits, including abruptly lower energy prices, stronger energy security and even lower air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions by displacing coal in electricity generation,” Greenstone said.
But fracking is also blamed for other health problems, ranging from respiratory problems to blood disorders to cancer — and it’s also said to be the cause of increased earthquakes in Oklahoma. However, the researchers say they didn’t set out to vilify fracking — and not to read too much into the study yet.
“I like to joke that there’s a little bit for everyone to hate in this paper,” Greenstone said. “There’s a big effect within one kilometer of sites, which the oil and gas industry dislikes, but the impact on the population beyond that may not be massive, which opponents of fracking won’t like.”