Association Between Residential Proximity to Hydraulic Fracturing Sites and Adverse Birth Outcomes

JAMA Pediatr. 2022 Jun 1;176(6):585-592. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2022.0306.


Importance: The association between hydraulic fracturing and human development is not well understood. Several studies have identified significant associations between unconventional natural gas development and adverse birth outcomes; however, geology and legislation vary between regions.

Objective: To examine the overall association between residential proximity to hydraulic fracturing sites and adverse birth outcomes, and investigate whether well density influenced this association.

Design, setting, and participants: This population-based retrospective cohort study of pregnant individuals in rural Alberta, Canada, took place from 2013 to 2018. Participants included reproductive-aged individuals (18-50 years) who had a pregnancy from January 1, 2013, to December 31, 2018, and lived in rural areas. Individuals were excluded if they lived in an urban setting, were outside of the age range, or were missing data on infant sex, postal code, or area-level socioeconomic status.

Exposures: Oil and gas wells that underwent hydraulic fracturing between 2013 to 2018 were identified through the Alberta Energy Regulator (n = 4871). Individuals were considered exposed if their postal delivery point was located within 10 km of 1 or more wells that was hydraulically fractured during 1 year preconception or during pregnancy.

Main outcomes and measures: Outcomes investigated were spontaneous and indicated preterm birth, small for gestational age, major congenital anomalies, and severe neonatal morbidity or mortality.

Results: After exclusions, the sample included 26 193 individuals with 34 873 unique pregnancies, and a mean (SD) parental age of 28.2 (5.2) years. Small for gestational age and major congenital anomalies were significantly higher for individuals who lived within 10 km of at least 1 hydraulically fractured well after adjusting for parental age at delivery, multiple births, fetal sex, obstetric comorbidities, and area-level socioeconomic status. Risk of spontaneous preterm birth and small for gestational age were significantly increased in those with 100 or more wells within 10 km.

Conclusions and relevance: Results suggest that individuals who were exposed to hydraulic fracturing within pregnancy may be at higher risk of several adverse birth outcomes. These results may be relevant to health policy regarding legislation of unconventional oil and gas development in Canada and internationally.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alberta / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydraulic Fracking*
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases*
  • Infant, Small for Gestational Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome / epidemiology
  • Premature Birth* / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies