Neighborhoods historically bounded by excess oil and gas wells, study finds – ScienceDaily

In the United States, historically red-lined neighborhoods that scored lowest on racially discriminatory maps drawn by the government-sponsored Home-Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) in the 1930s had oil well density and gas twice as high as the comparable neighborhoods that obtained the best scores. Wells likely contribute to disproportionate pollution and related health problems in bounded neighborhoods.

The study by researchers from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley and University of California, San Francisco is published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology.

Oil and gas wells expose residents to air and water pollution, noise and other sources of stress that can increase the risk of many types of disease: cardiovascular disease, impaired lung function, anxiety, depression, premature birth and fetal growth retardation. An estimated 17 million Americans live within one mile of at least one active oil or gas well.

“We already know that people living in historically demarcated neighborhoods have a high risk of asthma, cardiovascular disease, premature birth and low birth weight. Our study helps explain one of the factors of these disparities in matters of health,” says first author David Gonzalez, PhD, postdoctoral fellow to the president. Fellow at UC Berkeley. “Racially marginalized people are disproportionately exposed to oil and gas-related contaminants, and we see that these 80-year-old racist policies related to housing segregation and mortgage risk have played a role.”

“Our study adds to the evidence that structural racism in federal politics is associated with the disproportionate siting of oil and gas wells in marginalized neighborhoods,” says lead author Joan Casey, PhD, assistant professor of science at environmental health at Columbia Mailman School. “These disparities in exposure have implications for the environmental health of the community, as the presence of active and inactive sinks contributes to ongoing air pollution.”

An earlier article by Casey found that historically delineated neighborhoods are more likely to lack green space today. Other research has linked neighborhoods historically demarcated by red lines to persistent social inequalities.

In the current study, researchers assessed exposure to oil and gas wells in HOLC-rated neighborhoods in 33 cities in 13 states where urban oil and gas wells have been drilled and operated. Among the 17 cities for which 1940 census data was available, they compared neighborhoods that were similar on sociodemographic characteristics observed in 1940 but received different ratings.

They found that the number and density of oil and gas wells was related to the HOLC score. These include active wells before and after the redlining maps were produced. Two of the red-lined neighborhoods with the most wells were Signal Hill and Wilmington, both in Los Angeles.

The researchers obtained digitized HOLC maps from the Mapping Inequality project at the University of Richmond. They obtained sociodemographic data at the census tract level from the 1940 census of the National Historical Geographic Information System’s Integrated Public Use Microdata Series. Oil and gas well data dating back to 1898 was obtained from Enverus DrillingInfo, a data aggregation service.

Over the past century, redlining has been perpetuated by private companies and government agencies, including the HOLC, which sought to prevent mortgage foreclosures during the Great Depression. When assessing mortgage risk, HOLC staff considered neighborhood-level characteristics, including home values, whether there were industrial facilities, and whether racially marginalized populations such as blacks and immigrants. This study showed that redlining is linked to exposure to oil and gas wells, potentially explaining some of the health disparities that exist today.

Co-authors include Anthony Nardone, University of California, San Francisco; Andrew Nguyen, Rachel Morello-Frosch, UC Berkeley.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences funded the study under grant ES027023 and the California Air Resources Board under grant 18RD018.

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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