Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Texas ‘Needs More Research’ into Health Risk of Living Near Drilling Sites

Dave Fehling/StateImpact

Drilling in South Texas

(Update: Texas Department of State Health spokesperson Chris Van Deusen emailed StateImpact Texas to clarify that the department’s efforts would rely on data “that’s already out there.”)

Environmental researchers in Utah tracked a mysterious smog problem to natural gas wells. Colorado public health researchers said living within a half mile of gas well drilling sites could be dangerous to your health. And in Texas, national attention has recently focused on a rise in breast cancer in one area where drilling is booming.

But finding definitive research on the health impact of oil and gas drilling on nearby residents has been difficult.

Texas health officials have done limited surveys and testing which generally concluded that the dramatic increase in drilling, largely due to the technique called fracking, isn’t hurting people who live near the sites. But conflicting findings, like those in Colorado, are prompting new concern.

Texas Deciding Next Step

“I think what it shows is a need for more research. That’s what we’re looking at now, what else can be done,” said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesperson with the Texas Department of State Health Services.

In an interview with StateImpact Texas, Van Deusen said the department is discussing how to address growing concerns that Texas has failed to do broad-based health surveys despite being a center for the enormous growth in drilling.

Doyle Willis Jr.

Libby Willis lives near a gas well site in Fort Worth

“I kind of have always worried about it because there’s so much that we don’t know. And I think that we need to know,” said Libby Willis, president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations.

A Big Gap

“I’m not aware than anybody has really done a comprehensive, over-arching study of what are the health impacts. That seems to be a big hole, a big gap that we have,” Willis told StateImpact Texas.

Fort Worth is in the Barnett Shale, one of the most productive regions for natural gas in Texas. It’s getting new attention after New York filmmaker Josh Fox of “Gasland” fame released a video earlier this summer. In “The Sky is PInk” there are a few lines about how breast cancer rates have been falling in Texas except, said Fox, in the Barnett Shale region where the “five counties where there was the most drilling saw a rise in breast cancer…”

Cancer and Drilling

The cancer rate story was reported a year ago by the Denton Record-Chronicle. But the Texas health department, that maintains a cancer registry, said the increase wasn’t beyond the “margin of error” and in no way could be conclusively linked to air pollution from gas wells.

“Our researchers have gone back as prompted by some fairly recent media attention over the last several weeks…and looked specifically at the breast cancer rates,” the health department’s Van Deusen said.

“There has not been a statistically significant increase in the amount of breast cancer incidence in those counties that are mentioned in the article,” Van Deusen said.

(Here are links to the Texas health department’s previous reports on concerns in the North Texas towns of Dish and Flower Mound.)


  • I was here

  • dsprtt

    Have water haulers , drillers, mud haulers, pumpers or stimulation crews had a dramatic upsurge in cancer? They are the ones most affected. Open the thief hatch on a water tank and take a deep breath. How about disposal employees ? Are they growing extra arms or covered in boils?

    • WCGasette

      You’ve got to be kidding! Cancer doesn’t manifest immediately. Health impacts are not always apparent for people working in the oil and gas fields. Funny comment since our health care system is in such bad shape, here. How many people actually have decent health care in our state of Texas, anyway?

      Texas is in very bad shape:


    • latent cancer….ya know like the silent ones that take years to find out about and then its to late to treat them? Pancreatic cancer comes to mind..yes the O&G industry has a higher rate of that type of cancer.

  • Just…WOW! Nothing but anecdotal ‘evidence’. Someone ‘said’ rates were rising. And film projects by super anti-development types. And BREAST cancer… supposedly from airborne pollutants??? Wouldn’t you expect a huge rise in lung cancer first?
    This is simply all a bunch of fiction by people who simply are ALWAYS against fossil fuel development.

    • It’s the anecdotal evidence that’s often way ahead of any actual field research being done. People and their animals are the canaries in the coal, er, gas mining. There was no concern about low frequency vibrations from compressors until residents started noticing the effect on their bodies. Now we know that its a cardiovascular risk. People who live near these facilities are the best monitoring system we have.

  • PA Citizen Sane

    Many of the chemicals used contain toxins that are classified as endocrin disruptors. These types of toxins are more prone to attack reproductive systems. That is why there are more reports of breast cancer. Breast cancer is also related to uterin cancer, ovarian cancer, testicular cancer, and brain cancer. http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/endocrine.fossilfuel.php

  • TXsharon

    I have a question for you: If there is an elephant in the room, and that elephant is passing MASSIVE amounts of gas, are you going to blame it on the dog?

  • From:”Prosperie,Susan (DSHS)” View ContactTo:kim feil
    “I’m not aware of any studies.”Susan PX6704 From: kim feil [mailto:kimfeil@sbcglobal.net]
    Sent: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 1:14 PM
    To: Prosperie,Susan (DSHS)
    Subject: NPR updated their article… So will there be a study using info already out there?
    Update: Van Deusen emailed StateImpact to clarify that the department’s study would rely on data “that’s already out there”.)

  • Ms. Feil, Good afternoon. What I told the reporter is that DSHS has no plans at this time for a formal health investigation related to gas drilling. What we will continue doing, as we always do, is analyze health data we’re already collecting, looking for anything unusual. Regards,Chris Chris Van DeusenAssistant Press OfficerDSHS512-776-7753

  • This article needs to be renamed ya’ll cause the are business as usual “….not specific studies looking at the Barnett Shale.”
    —– Forwarded Message —-
    From: “Van Deusen,Chris (DSHS)”
    To: kim feil
    Sent: Wed, August 29, 2012 3:29:40 PM
    Subject: RE: NPR updated their article…

    Ms. Feil, There are a number of data sources we look at when evaluating health across the state on an ongoing basis, several of which may show some indication of how environmental factors may impact health. One is cancer incidence and mortality data from the Texas Cancer Registry. We also have a birth defects registry that continually collects and monitors data related to birth defects in the state. There is an asthma program that tracks asthma incidence and hospitalization across the state using data from the Texas Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and the hospital discharge data that another part of our agency collects. There may also be other programs that look at environmental factors. Blood lead surveillance springs to mind. In general, we’d be monitoring the data to see if the incidence or any particular condition is greater than expected for a given population. Again, these are ongoing efforts to monitor the health of Texas residents across the state, not specific studies looking at the Barnett Shale. Regards,Chris Chris Van DeusenAssistant Press OfficerDSHS512-776-7753

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