More than 350,000 of California’s six million schoolchildren attend school within one mile of active oil and gas drilling, and most of those kids are minorities, according to a report scheduled to be released Tuesday by the non-profit FracTracker Alliance.
FracTracker’s California program director Kyle Ferrar paired oil well data sets from the California Department of Conservation Division of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources with state school district and enrollment demographic data, and found two key trends: One is that a large number of California children attend school within close proximity to oil and gas development, including fracking. And the second is that those schools closest to oil and gas operations are predominantly Hispanic and non-white.
The findings are important, environmentalists say, because California has no specific laws that safeguard the health of children who attend school near industrial activities. The state has no limits on how close industry may place regular or fracked oil wells next to schools, and companies are not required to give notice to students, parents, teachers or school officials before oil extraction begins. California state regulators are not required to consider a well’s proximity to a school before issuing a permit.
“When you look at children playing and hear the school bell announcing a new day at Sequoia Elementary School in Shafter, you see and feel what our Governor and industry want you to forget — children are at risk,” Madeline Stano, a staff attorney at the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, told ThinkProgress in a statement. “The ground is vibrating, you can hear active drilling, see 50 foot methane flares and three wells just beyond their playground.”
Numerous scientific studies have drawn a link between various public health threats and proximity to oil and gas development. A recent study from Yale University found that people living close to natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania were more than twice as likely to report respiratory illnesses and skin problems than those living farther away. Preliminary research has indicated that fracking might cause health problems or birth defects in babies who are born near wells. Stanford and Duke University scientists recently documented the dangers of wastewater disposal from fracking, warning contaminants called halides have the potential to contaminate drinking water and harm human health.
But California’s kids are not equally impacted by the risks of fracking and drilling near their schools. Specifically, out of the 352,784 California students who attend school within one mile of an oil or gas well, 79 percent are non-white, while 60 percent are Hispanic. Out of the 121,903 students who attend school within 0.5 miles of an oil or gas well, 77 percent of students are non-white, while 59 percent are Hispanic.
Some of these wells are conventional, but many use the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Specifically, Ferrar’s report found that 61,612 kids go to school within one mile of a stimulated, or fracked, well. Approximately 12,362 of those children are within 0.5 miles of a fracked well.
As the controversial practice of fracking gains popularity in the state, Ferrar predicts that minority-heavy communities will be more likely to house the wells.
“Statistical tests for correlations showed that as the percentage of non-white and Hispanic students increased, so did the number of active/new wells as well as the number of stimulated wells drilled within each school district,” Ferrar wrote. “Additionally, as the percentage of non-white students increased, so did the number of stimulated oil and gas wells within a 0.5 mile radius and within a 1 mile radius.”
To find out more about the implications of this data, read ThinkProgress’ latest investigation into fracking near schools across the country.