The effects of hydraulic fracturing activities on birth outcomes are evident in a non-individualized county-wide aggregate data sample from Colorado

  • Chrystal L. Erickson
    Department of Biomedical Sciences, Rocky Vista University, Parker, CO, United States.
  • Ileana G. Barron
    School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL , United States.
  • Isain Zapata
    Department of Biomedical Sciences, Rocky Vista University, Parker, CO, United States.


Background: There is growing concern about the recent increase in oil and gas development using hydraulic fracturing. Studies linking adverse birth outcomes and maternal proximity to hydraulic fracturing wells exist but tend to use individualized maternal and infant data contained in protected health care records. In this study, we extended the findings of these past studies to evaluate if analogous effects detected with individualized data could be detected from non-individualized county-wide aggregated data.
Design and methods: This study used a retrospective cohort of 252,502 birth records from 1999 to 2019 gathered from a subset sample of 5 counties in the state of Colorado where hydraulic fracturing activities were conducted. We used Generalized Linear Models to evaluate the effect of county-wide well density and production data over unidentified birth weight, and prematurity data. Covariates used in the model were county-wide statistics sourced from the US Census.
Results: Our modeling approach showed an interesting effect where hydraulic fracturing exposure metrics have a mixed effect directional response. This effect was detected on birth weight when well density, production and their interaction are accounted for. The interaction effect provides an additional interpretation to discrepancies reported previously in the literature. Our approach only detected a positive association to prematurity with increased production.
Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate two main points: First, the effect of hydraulic fracturing is detectable by using county-wide unidentified data. Second, the effect of hydraulic fracturing can be complicated by the number of operations and the intensity of the activities in the area.


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