According to a new research, natural gas flares from oil wells as far as 60 miles away from oil drilling locations appeared to be the cause for an increase of approximately 11,000 hospital visits for respiratory illnesses in North Dakota.
A paper covering the trend is recently published in the Journal of Public Economics. The paper examines the environmental health costs of flaring, or combustion of natural gas by-products during crude oil exploration in North Dakota for the early period of the oil boom in the state from 2007 to 2015.
During investigation, researchers found proof of a causal link between flaring of natural gas and increase in hospital visits for respiratory health. The examination led to the estimation that 1% increase in flaring of natural gas increases rate of hospitalization by 0.73%.
Meanwhile, the shale oil boom happened quickly in North Dakota. The distance of the area from other oil drilling locations was the reason for lack of infrastructure to process and clean natural gas, stated the lead author of the study. The data explains significant relationship between increase in flaring and impact on human health with increase in hospital visits.
To establish this, researchers analysed drilling and GPS data to locate where flaring occurred. Later hospitalization records were scrutinized using unknown hospital data codes for external respiratory reasons for the visits.
The team of researchers also investigated if increase in hospital visits was caused by flaring, or simply correlated due to the ailment. This also involved eliminating several other potential causes, which includes the increase from more vehicular traffic due to oil boom or from because of more people moving into the area.
The relationship between flaring to cause more people to require hospital visits was the biggest surprise for the researcher and his team.