A University of Calgary study suggests there may be a link between the density of some oil and gas operations and increased health risks to nearby pregnant women and their babies.
“There is very little research on hydraulic fracturing as it relates to the health of pregnant women and children living near these sites,” said Amy Metcalfe, co-lead researcher and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Cumming School of Medicine at the university.
“Our study found that the rate of spontaneous preterm births – births before 37 weeks – increased significantly compared to the number of fracture sites within 10 kilometers of their home.”
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves directional drilling and injecting large amounts of fluid into wells to extract oil and natural gas.
Over a period of five years, the researchers looked at data on the health of pregnant women, particularly those living in rural areas whose homes were near fracking sites.
Metcalfe said women living near one to 24 well sites had a 7.4 per cent risk of early childbirth, and the risk increased to 11.4 per cent for those near 100 well operations. hydraulic fracturing or more. She said premature births pose a health risk.
“Premature babies are at higher risk of developing neurodevelopmental difficulties, physical disabilities and behavioral problems, including autism, cerebral palsy and epilepsy,” Metcalfe said.
The report’s findings are published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Pediatrics.
Metcalfe said it received the grant in 2017 and used health data from 2013 to 2018.
2nd Future Child Development Study
Metcalfe said despite the data, she can’t say for sure that fracking causes premature births.
“We can’t say from this work that fracking causes adverse birth effects. We can say they are more likely to occur near this, but there really is more research that needs to be done. done to examine the causal mechanisms for why this would occur,” she says.
“It would be a strange coincidence if it wasn’t, but it’s not something we’re able to assess from this particular study.”
The search will continue. Carly McMorris, the other co-lead researcher and associate professor at the university’s Werklund School of Education, is recruiting participants for a study to determine whether fracking affects child development.
She said it will assess the thinking skills, academic abilities and social-emotional functioning of children in grades one through three living in communities near and far from fracking operations.
The communities selected are Grande Prairie, which has the most fracking activity in Alberta, and Lethbridge, which has virtually none. Children will also wear a device that will test the air pollution around them for a week.
McMorris said the results of the studies will provide evidence that could help inform decisions and practices related to hydraulic fracturing.
Metcalfe realizes that there might be some public feedback on the research results.
“Hydraulic fracturing is politically controversial, isn’t it? There are groups on both sides who have very strong opinions and inevitably working in this area someone is going to be (checked off).”