From North Dakota to Texas to Pennsylvania, hydraulic fracturing has transformed many places in America into energy powerhouses. But while some see the new energy boom as benefiting the local economy, others fear the potential health and environmental consequences. As U.S. and international policymakers grapple with whether the benefits of allowing hydraulic fracturing outweigh the costs, new evidence sheds light on a clear cost: an increase in the probability of poorer health for babies born near these sites.
The study, released today in the journal Science Advances, finds infants born to mothers living up to about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from a hydraulic fracturing site suffer from poorer health. The largest impacts were to babies born within about a half mile (1 kilometer) of a site, with those babies being 25 percent more likely to be born at a low birth weight—leaving them with a greater risk of infant mortality, ADHD, asthma, lower test scores, lower schooling attainment and lower earnings.
“Broadly, hydraulic fracturing has reduced energy prices and caused natural gas to greatly decrease the use of coal for power generation in the United States, leading to reductions in air pollution that have very likely improved health throughout the country,” said study co-author Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Professor in Economics and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. “But these national benefits depend on local communities allowing hydraulic fracturing and governments around the world have taken very different approaches with some banning it and others embracing. This study provides the first large-scale peer-reviewed evidence of a link between hydraulic fracturing activities and our health, specifically the health of babies.”