Air pollution from oil and gas industry costs $77bn in US health impacts each year

Booming oil and gas production is costing the United States $77 billion each year in negative health impacts, according to research published on Monday.

Despite recently-adopted laws boosting the shift to clean energy, US fossil fuel production is at near-record levels.

Air pollution linked to the industry led to 7,500 excess deaths, more than 400,000 asthma attacks and 2,200 new cases of childhood asthma in 2016, according to a study compiled by Boston University School of Public Health, University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment, PSE Healthy Energy, and the Environmental Defense Fund.

The costs totalled $77bn in adverse health impacts including hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular conditions and pregnancy complications.

Researchers focused on pollutants nitrogen oxide (NO2), fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone (O3), and found the financial costs were triple that of climate impacts from methane emissions.

Negative health issues were concentrated in states where the oil and gas industry has a large presence including Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.

Notably, Illinois and New York, which produce very little fossil fuels, were still in the top ten, the researchers said.

“The fact that air pollution and health impacts cross state boundaries indicates a strong need for regional to nationwide coordination,” said Saravanan Arunachalam, a UNC professor who was part of the study. “States that have the highest emissions are not necessarily always the ones with the highest health risk due to these emissions, although Texas ranks first in both.”

New incoming federal restrictions on methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, may not only bring swift climate benefits but also improve air quality, the researchers said.

However, the team pointed out that focusing on “end-of-pipe” pollution controls in power plants, vehicles, buildings, and industry only tackles part of the problem.

“These substantial impacts from oil and gas production show that there are serious consequences across the full life cycle of oil and gas, from ‘well to wheels,’ ‘well to power plant,’ and ‘well to furnace,’” said Jonathan Buonocore, assistant professor of environmental health at Boston University.

The authors called for more research into the health impacts across the full life cycle of oil and gas production, as well as the benefits of additional ways to limit pollution.