In a perspective piece that appears in the journal Science, Elaine Hill, an economist in the University of Rochester Medical Center Department of Public Health Sciences, calls for tighter regulation and monitoring of unconventional oil and gas development as more evidence points to the negative health consequences of the practice.
The debate over hydraulic fracturing often is viewed through either an economic lens that emphasizes jobs and energy independence or an environmental one that warns of the damage to air and water quality and human health. Because fracturing technology has been operating on a significant scale in the US for the past 2 decades, the scope of the public health impact from long-term exposure to air, water, and noise pollution is only now becoming clear.
The rising toll in the form of increased rates of chronic diseases, stress on rural healthcare providers, and growing need for mental health and addiction services ultimately diminishes the economic returns for communities that host the hydraulic fracturing industry. “Many of the impacts have lifelong consequences on individual wellbeing, including future health, education, and labor market outcomes,” said Hill and coauthor Lala Ma, with the Department of Economics at the University of Kentucky.
Hill’s research focuses on the complex local health, environmental, and economic implications of oil and gas extraction in the US. Her previous research was the first to link shale gas development to drinking water quality and has examined the association between shale gas development and reproductive health, and the subsequent impact on later educational attainment, higher risk of childhood asthma exacerbation, higher risk of heart attacks, and opioid deaths.