Study Reveals Health Costs of Oil and Gas Flaring in the U.S.

Written by Camilla Jessen

Mar.13 - 2024 1:28 PM CET

Photo: YouTube
Photo: YouTube
A new study reveals the health and environmental damages caused by oil and gas flaring and venting in the U.S.

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Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Boston University School of Public Health, and the Environmental Defense Fund have discovered significant health impacts from oil and gas flaring and venting in the United States.

Their study finds that pollution from these practices results in $7.4 billion in health damages, more than 700 premature deaths, and 73,000 asthma exacerbations among children each year.

The study also highlights the underreporting of emissions and suggests that controlling these emissions could be both profitable for operators and beneficial for public health.

Combining Data for Accurate Emissions Quantification

Oil and gas producers often resort to flaring and venting to dispose of excess natural gas, contributing to air pollution that increases health risks like hospitalizations and premature death in affected communities.

"Being able to combine information from state reports with satellite data helped us better quantify emissions," said Sarav Arunachalam, the study's senior author. "Using a comprehensive multipollutant modeling framework as shown in our study is needed to assess the overall air quality impacts of this sector, instead of just focusing on one pollutant."

Significant Health Impacts and Underreported Emissions

The study, published in GeoHealth, estimates that flaring and venting contribute to 710 premature deaths in the U.S. annually, with a significant portion linked to fine particulate matter, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide. "Our research shows substantial health impacts from NO2 and O3, which are often overlooked in health impact assessments," stated co-author Jonathan Buonocore.

Using satellite imagery and reported data, researchers found emissions up to 15 times higher than reported to the U.S. EPA's National Emission Inventories, leading to exceedances in ozone air quality standards. The states of Texas, Pennsylvania, and Colorado bear the highest health burdens from this pollution.

Disproportionate Effects on Vulnerable Communities

The study also reveals that the health impacts of flaring and venting disproportionately affect low-income, Hispanic, and Native American communities, with significant percentages of early deaths and childhood asthma cases occurring in these populations.

"This research provides more evidence of the problem of excessive venting and flaring in the oilfield," said Hillary Hull, a co-author and director of research at the Environmental Defense Fund.

"This practice wreaks havoc on our climate, worsens quality of life and creates more health risks for people who live near this activity. State and national policies designed to put an end to this dangerous practice are sorely needed to protect the health and well-being of these communities."

"The recent MethaneSat mission launched to monitor oil and gas projects and specifically identify, in near real-time, large sources of methane that some satellite missions may miss will further assist to quantify emissions from this sector in an unprecedented manner, and to develop mitigation measures for addressing climate change in addition to solving air quality problems," added Arunachalam.

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