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The Guardian interviewed Lara Cushing, associate professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, who co-led a study that found the risk of premature births is 50% higher for mothers near natural gas flaring in Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale oil and gas region.
Researchers from University of Southern California (USC) and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), United States (U.S.), have found that exposure to flaring — the burning off of excess natural gas — at oil and gas production sites is associated with 50 per cent higher odds of preterm birth, compared with no exposure.
An environmental health scientist at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, Jill Johnston, said: “Our study finds that living near flaring is harmful to pregnant women and babies. We have seen a sharp increase in flaring in Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale, and this is the first study to explore the potential health impacts.”
The research was published July 15 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The study examined 23,487 live births to women living within the Eagle Ford region from 2012 to 2015. The Eagle Ford Shale geological formation, measuring 50 miles wide and 400 miles long, is one of the most productive oil and gas regions in the country due to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” In a previous study, the research team estimated the area was subject to more than 43,000 flaring events between 2012 and 2016.
Flares, which can burn for weeks at a time, have been shown to release chemicals such as benzene as well as fine particle pollution, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, heavy metals and black carbon. Several of these combustion-related pollutants have been associated with a higher risk of preterm birth and reduced birth weight in other contexts. Of the births analysed by researchers, 10.6 per cent were preterm, occurring before the 37th completed week of pregnancy. Preterm birth is associated with complications such as immature lungs, difficulty regulating body temperature, poor feeding and slow weight gain.