Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Congenital anomalies associated with oil and gas development and resource extraction: a population-based retrospective cohort study in Texas

Abstract

Background

Oil and gas extraction-related activities produce air and water pollution that contains known and suspected teratogens. To date, health impacts of in utero exposure to these activities is largely unknown.

Objective

We investigated associations between in utero exposure to oil and gas extraction activity in Texas, one of the highest producers of oil and gas, and congenital anomalies.

Methods

We created a population-based birth cohort between 1999 and 2009 with full maternal address at delivery and linked to the statewide congenital anomaly surveillance system (n = 2,234,138 births, 86,315 cases). We examined extraction-related exposures using tertiles of inverse distance-squared weighting within 5 km for drilling site count, gas production, oil production, and produced water. In adjusted logistic regression models, we calculated odds of any congenital anomaly and 10 specific organ sites using two comparison groups: 1) 5 km of future drilling sites that are not yet operating (a priori main models), and 2) 5–10 km of an active well.

Results

Using the temporal comparison group, we find increased odds of any congenital anomaly in the highest tertile exposure group for site count (OR: 1.25; 95% CI: 1.21, 1.30), oil production (OR: 1.08; 95% CI: 1.04, 1.12), gas production (1.20; 95% CI: 1.17, 1.23), and produced water (OR: 1.17; 95% CI: 1.14, 1.20). However, associations did not follow a consistent exposure-response pattern across tertiles. Associations are highly attenuated, but still increased, with the spatial comparison group in the highest tertile exposure group. Cardiac and circulatory defects are strongly and consistently associated with all exposure metrics.

Significance

Increased odds of congenital anomalies, particularly cardiac and circulatory defects, were associated with exposures related to oil and gas extraction in this large population-based study. Future research is needed to confirm findings, examine specific exposure pathways, and identify potential avenues to reduce exposures among local populations.

Impact

About 5% of the U.S. population (~17.6 million people) resides within 1.6 km of an active oil or gas extraction site, yet the influence of this industry on population health is not fully understood. In this analysis, we examined associations between oil and gas extraction-related exposures and congenital anomalies by organ site using birth certificate and congenital anomaly surveillance data in Texas (1999–2009). Increased odds of congenital anomalies, particularly cardiac and circulatory defects, were associated with exposures related to oil and gas extraction in this large population-based study. Future research is needed to confirm these findings.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Spatial distribution of oil and gas development in Texas, 1985–2019.
Fig. 2: Associations between nearest active spud to a maternal residence and odds of congenital anomalies.

Data availability

The health data used in this study can be obtained for similar research purposes on request from the Texas Department of State Health Services, and the oil and gas development data can be obtained for similar research purposes from Enverus DrillingInfo. All other exposure data is referenced in the main text.

References

  1. CDC. Data & Statistics on Birth Defects | CDC [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020 [cited 2020 Feb 4]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/data.html

  2. Mathews TJ, MacDorman MF, Menacker F Infant Mortality Statistics from the 1999 Period: Linked Birth/Infant Death Data Set: (558952006-001) [Internet]. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2015 [cited 2020 Feb 4]. Available from: http://doi.apa.org/get-pe-doi.cfm?doi=10.1037/e558952006-001

  3. Birth Defects Information, Signs, & Causes [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. [cited 2020 Feb 4]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12230-birth-defects

  4. Baldacci S, Gorini F, Santoro M, Pierini A, Minichilli F, Bianchi F. Environmental and individual exposure and the risk of congenital anomalies: a review of recent epidemiological evidence. Epidemiol Prev 2018;42:1–34.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Webb E, Bushkin-Bedient S, Cheng A, Kassotis CD, Balise V, Nagel SC. Developmental and reproductive effects of chemicals associated with unconventional oil and natural gas operations. Rev Environ Health. 2014;29:307–18.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Elliott EG, Ettinger AS, Leaderer BP, Bracken MB, Deziel NC A systematic evaluation of chemicals in hydraulic-fracturing fluids and wastewater for reproductive and developmental toxicity. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol [Internet]. 2016 Jan; Available from: http://www.nature.com/jes/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/jes201581a.html

  7. Colborn T, Kwiatkowski CF, Schultz K, Bachran M. Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective. Hum Ecol Risk Assess Int J 2010;17:1040–56.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Czolowski E, Santoro R, Srebotnjak T, Shonkoff S. Toward Consistent Methodology to Quantify Populations in Proximity to Oil and Gas Development: A National Spatial Analysis and Review. Environ Health Perspect. 2017;125:1–11.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. U.S. Energy Information Administration. U.S. Energy Information Administration Annual Energy Outlook 2017 [Internet]. U.S. Department of Energy; 2017 [cited 2017 Apr 23]. Available from: United State Energy Information Administration.

  10. Elliott EG, Trinh P, Ma X, Leaderer BP, Ward MH, Deziel NC. Unconventional oil and gas development and risk of childhood leukemia: Assessing the evidence. Sci Total Environ. 2017;576:138–47.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. McKenzie LM, Witter RZ, Newman LS, Adgate JL. Human health risk assessment of air emissions from development of unconventional natural gas resources. Sci Total Environ. 2012;424:79–87.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Colborn T, Schultz K, Herrick L, Kwiatkowski C. An Exploratory Study of Air Quality Near Natural Gas Operations. Hum Ecol Risk Assess Int J 2014;20:86–105.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Macey GP, Breech R, Chernaik M, Cox C, Larson D, Thomas D, et al. Air concentrations of volatile compounds near oil and gas production: a community-based exploratory study. Environ Health. 2014;13:82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Li L, Blomberg AJ, Spengler JD, Coull BA, Schwartz JD, Koutrakis P. Unconventional oil and gas development and ambient particle radioactivity. Nat Commun. 2020;11:5002.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Gonzalez DJX, Francis CK, Shaw GM, Cullen MR, Baiocchi M, Burke M. Upstream oil and gas production and ambient air pollution in California. Sci Total Environ. 2022;806:150298.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Casey JA, Ogburn EL, Rasmussen SG, Irving JK, Pollak J, Locke PA, et al. Predictors of Indoor Radon Concentrations in Pennsylvania, 1989–2013. Environ Health Perspect [Internet]. 2015 Apr; Available from: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1409014

  17. Kassotis CD, Bromfield JJ, Klemp KC, Meng CX, Wolfe A, Zoeller RT, et al. Adverse Reproductive and Developmental Health Outcomes Following Prenatal Exposure to a Hydraulic Fracturing Chemical Mixture in Female C57Bl/6 Mice. Endocrinology. 2016;157:3469–81.

  18. Bolden AL, Schultz K, Pelch KE, Kwiatkowski CF Exploring the endocrine activity of air pollutants associated with unconventional oil and gas extraction. Environ Health [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2018 Mar 22];17. Available from: https://www.readcube.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-018-0368-z

  19. Kassotis CD, Tillitt DE, Lin CH, McElroy JA, Nagel SC Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals and Oil and Natural Gas Operations: Potential Environmental Contamination and Recommendations to Assess Complex Environmental Mixtures. Environ Health Perspect [Internet]. 2015 Aug; Available from: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1409535

  20. Valavanidis A, Vlachogianni T, Fiotakis K, Loridas S. Pulmonary Oxidative Stress, Inflammation and Cancer: Respirable Particulate Matter, Fibrous Dusts and Ozone as Major Causes of Lung Carcinogenesis through Reactive Oxygen Species Mechanisms. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2013;10:3886–907.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. McKenzie LM, Allshouse WB, Byers TE, Bedrick EJ, Serdar B, Adgate JL. Childhood hematologic cancer and residential proximity to oil and gas development. PLOS ONE. 2017;12:e0170423.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. McHale C, Zhang L, Smith M. Current understanding of the mechanism of benzene-induced leukemia in humans: implications for risk assessment. Carcinogenesis 2011;33:240–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Allshouse WB, McKenzie LM, Barton K, Brindley S, Adgate JL. Community Noise and Air Pollution Exposure During the Development of a Multi-Well Oil and Gas Pad. Environ Sci Technol. 2019;53:7126–35.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Deziel NC. Invited Perspective: Oil and Gas Development and Adverse Birth Outcomes: What More Do We Need to Know? Environ Health Perspect. 2021;129:7.

  25. Landrigan PJ, Frumkin H, Lundberg BE. The False Promise of Natural Gas. N Engl J Med. 2019;382:104–7.

  26. Willis M, Hill E, Kile M, Carozza S, Hystad P. Associations between Residential Proximity to Oil and Gas Drilling and Term Birth Weight and Small for Gestational Age Infants in Texas: A Difference-in-Differences Analysis. Environ Health Perspect. 2021;129:77002.

  27. Gonzalez DJX, Sherris AR, Yang W, Stevenson DK, Padula AM, Baiocchi M, et al. Oil and gas production and spontaneous preterm birth in the San Joaquin Valley, CA: A case–control studyZ. Environ Epidemiol. 2020;4:e099.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Tran K, Casey J, Cushing L, Morello-Frosch R. Residential Proximity to Oil and Gas Development and Birth Outcomes in California: A Retrospective Cohort Study of 2006–2015 Births. Environ Health Perspect. 2020;128:067001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Caron-Beaudoin É, Whitworth KW, Bosson-Rieutort D, Wendling G, Liu S, Verner MA. Density and proximity to hydraulic fracturing wells and birth outcomes in Northeastern British Columbia, Canada. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2021;31:53–61.

  30. Deziel NC, Brokovich E, Grotto I, Clark CJ, Barnett-Itzhaki Z, Broday D, et al. Unconventional oil and gas development and health outcomes: A scoping review of the epidemiological research. Environ Res. 2020;182:109124.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. Willis MD, Hill EL, Kile ML, Carozza S, Hystad P. Associations between residential proximity to oil and gas extraction and hypertensive conditions during pregnancy: a difference-in-differences analysis in Texas, 1996–2009. Int J Epidemiol. 2022;51:525–36.

  32. Tran KV, Casey JA, Cushing LJ, Morello-Frosch R. Residential proximity to hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells and adverse birth outcomes in urban and rural communities in California (2006–2015). Environ Epidemiol. 2021;5:e172.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. McKenzie LM, Guo R, Witter RZ, Savitz DA, Newman LS, Adgate JL Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to Natural Gas Development in Rural Colorado. Environ Health Perspect [Internet]. 2014 Jan;122. Available from: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1306722/

  34. Janitz AE, Dao HD, Campbell JE, Stoner JA, Peck JD. The association between natural gas well activity and specific congenital anomalies in Oklahoma, 1997-2009. Environ Int. 2019;122:381–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Ma Z, Sneeringer K, Liu L, Kuller L. Time Series Evaluation of Birth Defects in Areas with and without Unconventional Natural Gas Development. J Epidemiol Public Health Rev. 2016;1.

  36. Tang IW, Langlois PH, Vieira VM. Birth defects and unconventional natural gas developments in Texas, 1999–2011. Environ Res. 2020;194:110511.

  37. McKenzie LM, Allshouse W, Daniels S. Congenital heart defects and intensity of oil and gas well site activities in early pregnancy. Environ Int. 2019;132:104949.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Shonkoff SB, Hays J, Finkel ML Environmental Public Health Dimensions of Shale and Tight Gas Development. Environ Health Perspect [Internet]. 2014 Aug;122. Available from: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1307866

  39. HEI Energy Research Committee. Human Exposure to Unconventional Oil and Gas Development: A Literature Survey for Research Planning [Internet]. Boston, MA: Health Effects Institute - Energy; 2019 [cited 2019 Oct 24]. Report No.: Special Report 2. Available from: https://hei-energy.org/system/files/hei-energy-exposure-lit-rev-draft.pdf

  40. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Natural Gas Explained: Where Our Natural Gas Comes From. United States Department of Energy; 2017.

  41. DrillingInfo. 2017 [cited 2017 Dec 6]. Available from: http://info.drillinginfo.com/

  42. Korfmacher KS, Elam S, Gray KM, Haynes E, Hughes MH Unconventional natural gas development and public health: toward a community-informed research agenda. Rev Environ Health [Internet]. 2014 Sep; Available from: http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/reveh.ahead-of-print/reveh-2014-0049/reveh-2014-0049.xml;jsessionid=DA6756BB23FC8D3106D6064D0D75FB94

  43. EPA USEPA. An Assessment of the Environmental Implications of Oil and Gas Production. A Regional Case Study [Internet]. 2008. Available from: Available at: http://www.epa.gov/sectors/pdf/oil-gas-report.pdf

  44. EDF. Vast Energy Resources Wasting Away in the Texas Permian Basin: A Special Report on Natural Gas Flaring [Internet]. Environmental Defense Fund; 2017. Available from: http://blogs.edf.org/energyexchange/files/2018/06/Permian-Flaring-Report-2017-3.pdf

  45. Franklin M, Chau K, Cushing LJ, Johnston JE. Characterizing Flaring from Unconventional Oil and Gas Operations in South Texas Using Satellite Observations. Environ Sci Technol. 2019;53:2220–8.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  46. ALL Consulting L. Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer. Prepared for the Department of Energy Office of Fossil Energy and National Energy Technology Laboratory, Washington, DC; 2009.

  47. Federal Highway Administration. Highway Functional Classifications [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2018 May 2]. Available from: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/processes/statewide/related/highway_functional_classifications/section03.cfm

  48. Health Effects Institute. Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Selected Health Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Traffic-Related Air Pollution [Internet]. Health Effects Institute. 2022 [cited 2022 Jul 16]. Available from: https://www.healtheffects.org/publication/systematic-review-and-meta-analysis-selected-health-effects-long-term-exposure-traffic

  49. Carozza S, Langlois P, Miller E, Canfield M. Are children with birth defects at higher risk of childhood cancers? Am J Epidemiol. 2012;175:1217–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Lupo P, Schraw J, Desrosiers T, Nembhard W, Langlois P, Canfield M, et al. Association Between Birth Defects and Cancer Risk Among Children and Adolescents in a Population-Based Assessment of 10 Million Live Births. Jama Oncol. 2019;5:1150–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Black KJ, Boslett AJ, Hill EL, Ma L, McCoy SJ. Economic, Environmental, and Health Impacts of the Fracking Boom. Annu Rev Resour Econ. 2021;13:311–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Deziel NC, Clark CJ, Casey JA, Bell ML, Plata DL, Saiers JE Assessing Exposure to Unconventional Oil and Gas Development: Strengths, Challenges, and Implications for Epidemiologic Research. Curr Environ Health Rep [Internet]. 2022 May [cited 2022 Jun 2]; Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40572-022-00358-4

  53. Hill EL. Shale gas development and infant health: Evidence from Pennsylvania. J Health Econ. 2018;61:134–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Currie J, Greenstone M, Meckel K. Hydraulic fracturing and infant health: New evidence from Pennsylvania. Sci Adv. 2017;3:e1603021.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Texas Department of State Health Services,. Vital Statistics Annual Report, Table 44 [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2021 Mar 17]. Available from: https://www.dshs.texas.gov/chs/vstat/vs08/t44.shtm

  56. StataCorp. Stata Statistical Software: Release 15. College Station, TX: StataCorp, LLC; 2017.

  57. Korfmacher KS, Jones WA, Malone SL, Vinci LF. Public health and high volume hydraulic fracturing. N. Solut J Environ Occup Health Policy NS. 2013;23:13–31.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Watkins ML, Edmonds L, McClearn A, Mullins L, Mulinare J, Khoury M. The surveillance of birth defects: the usefulness of the revised US standard birth certificate. Am J Public Health. 1996;86:731–4.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  59. Boulet SL, Shin M, Kirby RS, Goodman D, Correa A. Sensitivity of Birth Certificate Reports of Birth Defects in Atlanta, 1995–2005: Effects of Maternal, Infant, and Hospital Characteristics. Public Health Rep. 2011 ;126:186–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. CDC. What are Birth Defects? | CDC [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021 [cited 2022 Sep 29]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/facts.html

  61. Koehler K, Ellis JH, Casey JA, Manthos D, Bandeen-Roche K, Platt R, et al. Exposure Assessment Using Secondary Data Sources in Unconventional Natural Gas Development and Health Studies. Environ Sci Technol [Internet]. 2018 Apr [cited 2018 May 10]; Available from: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.8b00507

  62. Deziel NC, McKenzie LM, Casey JA, McKone TE, Johnston JE, Gonzalez DJX, et al. Applying the hierarchy of controls to oil and gas development. Environ Res Lett. 2022;17:071003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Michanowicz DR, Buonocore JJ, Konschnik KE, Goho SA, Bernstein AS. The effect of Pennsylvania’s 500 ft surface setback regulation on siting unconventional natural gas wells near buildings: An interrupted time-series analysis. Energy Policy. 2021;154:112298.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Funding

This work is partially funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health [Award Number: F31 ES029801] and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health [Award Number: TL1 TR002371]. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

MDW and PH were responsible for design; SEC and PH acquired the data; MDW and PH were responsible for analysis and interpretation of the data; MDW was responsible for leading the drafting of the manuscript. MDW, SEC, and PH contributed to writing and editing the manuscript. All authors were responsible for final approval of the version to be published and agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mary D. Willis.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Willis, M.D., Carozza, S.E. & Hystad, P. Congenital anomalies associated with oil and gas development and resource extraction: a population-based retrospective cohort study in Texas. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 33, 84–93 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-022-00505-x

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-022-00505-x

Keywords

  • Natural gas development
  • Oil extraction
  • Birth defect
  • Congenital anomaly
  • Epidemiology

Search

Quick links