According to a new study this suggests that persistent health risks in vulnerable communities are at least partly related to historical structural racism.
Black and Latino residents have complained of being disproportionately exposed to health risks – including heart and lung problems and premature births – from urban oil and gas wells, some located within blocks of homes and schools. Some studies found hazardous chemicals near oil and gas operations at levels above what is considered safe.
But researchers from UC Berkeley and Columbia University wanted to determine if there was a connection to redlining – when black and immigrant neighborhoods in the 1930s were shaded red on maps developed by the Home Owners’ Loan Corp. Residents of these areas often had difficulty finding homes elsewhere.
“These are crucial questions,” said David JX Gonzalez, an epidemiologist at Berkeley and one of the study’s authors. “If we want to reduce health disparities, if we want environmental justice, these are the kinds of questions we want to understand.”
The researchers compared maps of 33 U.S. cities to oil and gas well records from the late 1800s. The maps assigned neighborhood grades from A to D. Overall, neighborhoods outlined in red or D-rated not only had more wells before the maps were created, but many more wells were developed in those areas afterward, the researchers found.
The study was published last week in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology.
Gonzalez, who grew up in a community with oil wells and a refinery, said many policies lead to segregation based on race and class, not just redlining. The results do not prove that the wells were intentionally located in neighborhoods because the residents were black or Latino, and there are also wells in more affluent areas.
Even so, the higher concentration in minority areas “does not appear to have happened by accident,” Gonzalez said.
In Los Angeles, black and Latino residents have often been forced to live in neighborhoods with oil wells due to racial covenants, said Martha Dina Argüello, executive director of the LA chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Even more drilling was pushed into black and Latino neighborhoods when real estate developers wanted land in wealthier areas, she said.
The study “is more evidence that really confirms what the community has been saying: that having oil wells in our communities treats us like a sacrifice zone,” she said.
Recently, some states and communities have restricted the proximity of new wells to homes and schools.
Last fall, supervisors in Los Angeles County – home to some of the largest urban oil fields in the United States – voted unanimously to phase out oil and gas production and ban new wells in the unincorporated areas following longstanding complaints from residents of health problems blamed on air pollution. construction sites. The LA City Council voted in January to do the same, and Argüello said advocates were pushing for the state to take similar action in other urban areas.
Last year, Colorado required new wells to be located at least 2,000 feet from homes and schools. California has proposed a distance of 3,200 feet.
In Arlington, Texas, city officials in January refused to let a large energy company locate more gas wells near a daycare playground. A statistical analysis by the Associated Press showed that the density of Total Energies wells is higher in neighborhoods where people of color live, and wells are often within a few hundred yards of homes.
Longxiang Li, a postdoctoral researcher in environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study, said it shows a moderately strong link between redlining and sink location, and reinforces the evidence that disadvantaged communities have fewer legal resources to defend themselves against the expansion of drilling. But he cautioned that historical redlining maps are not perfect indicators of past structural racism.
Indeed, the discriminatory practices of private lenders and the Federal Housing Administration did not rely on HOLC cards, and the HOLC itself lent to black homeowners in the demarcated areas, according to a recent article from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Li also noted that many newer wells that use the extraction technique called hydraulic fracturing, or hydraulic fracturing, are often clustered in socio-economically disadvantaged areas because land rental is inexpensive. Fracking uses a high pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to release trapped oil and gas and is combined with horizontal drilling to reach previously inaccessible reserves.
A report by Physicians for Social Accountability and concerned healthcare professionals in New York, who reviewed dozens of scientific studies, found that public health risks associated with these sites include cancers, respiratory diseases, rashes skin problems, heart problems and mental health disorders.
Even older clogged wells can pose risks because they can leak benzene and other volatile organic compounds, as well as methane, a potent greenhouse gas, Gonzalez said.
“I think we’ve known for a long time that people of color are more likely to live near oil wells,” Gonzalez said, “It’s important … so we can make sure that as we divert the fossil fuel economy, that we prioritize communities” that have borne the brunt of pollution.