Study links proximity to hydraulic fracturing sites to poor birth outcomes

06 April 2022

2 minute read


Disclosures: Metcalfe does not report any relevant financial information. Please see the study for relevant financial information from all other authors.

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According to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

In an interview with Healio, co-author Amy Metcalfe, Ph.D.assistant professor in the departments of obstetrics and gynecology and community health sciences at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, said the idea for the study came from the researchers’ mutual interest in a litany of domains.

Amy Metcalfe

“We each had individual interests in pregnancy outcomes, child development, legislation, geology, environmental health, economics, geography, and ultimately fracking and oil and gas production. gas in Alberta,” said Metcalfe, who is also a member of Alberta Children’s. Hospital Research Institute.

“We took the opportunity to work together on an interdisciplinary project because it encompassed so many different pillars of research,” Metcalfe said. “Ultimately, the impacts of the environment on reproductive health is an area of ​​interest for many of us. It requires such a large team of diverse skills to work together, which was an exciting opportunity for us. to collaborate.”

The population-based retrospective cohort study included 26,193 women aged 18 to 50 who had given birth from 2013 to 2018 and lived in rural areas of the province of Alberta. Researchers considered subjects to be “at risk” if they lived within 10 km of an oil or gas well that had undergone hydraulic fracturing in the year before conception until pregnancy. They identified 4,871 of these oil and gas wells through the Alberta Energy Regulator.

“What we found is that for women who have more than 100 fracture sites within 10 km of their home, they have a significantly increased risk of spontaneous preterm birth and of being small for birth. gestational age,” Metcalfe said.

Among 414 women with this level of exposure, the adjusted RRs for spontaneous prematurity and short for gestational age were 1.64 (95% CI, 1.04-2.60) and 1.65 (95% CI, 1.10-2.48), respectively. Living within 10 km of any fracture site was associated with increased small-for-gestational age (aRR = 1.12; 95% CI, 1.03-1.23) and major birth defects (aRR, 1.31; 95% CI, 1.01-1.69).

“Certainly, there is a large body of evidence linking, in essence, air pollution and other forms of pollution to adverse pregnancy outcomes, with a clear association between air pollution and childbirth. spontaneous preterm,” Metcalfe said. “I think we weren’t surprised to see how many fracking sites were happening in Alberta, and how many of them were happening relatively close to residential homes.”

Although Metcalfe cautioned that the researchers could not establish a causal link, she said they believe there is an association between hydraulic fracturing and adverse birth outcomes.

“This is also potentially an area where legislation could help protect human health,” Metcalfe said. “Currently in Alberta, the legislation states that a fracking site must be 100 m from a single residential dwelling, but there is no legislation regarding the density of fracking operations. We have certainly seen the greatest risk associated with high density operations. »


Cairncross ZF, et al. JAMA Pediatrician. 2022; doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.0306.

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