Nearly 250,000 Students At Risk Due to Proximity To Active Oil and Gas Wells

This elementary school in Colorado is within 2 miles of dozens of active oil and gas wells.        Photo: Lighthouse Solar

A Newsy analysis released last week found that more than 600 U.S. schools are located within 500 feet of an active oil or gas well, and more than 1.4 million people across the U.S. live within the 500-foot danger zone.  Research from the Colorado School of Public Health has found that people living within 500 feet of an oil or gas facility have a cancer risk that is 8 times higher than the EPA’s accepted threshold.

Why This Matters:  Kids should not have to go to school near active oil and gas wells with toxic air emissions that put them at higher risk for cancer and respiratory problems.  Some of these same wells are in densely populated urban areas — in places like Los Angeles and Denver — where tens of thousands are also at risk.  Even with state and local zoning rules, many areas allow oil and gas wells to be located dangerously close to homes and schools.  Because of the increase in oil and gas fracking, many more wells are located in or near populated areas.

An Explosion of Fracking on the Front Range

Along Colorado’s Front Range, the fracking boom is coming into direct conflict with a population explosion, The New York Times reported in 2018. Drilling applications in the state have risen 70 percent in just a year, while the area north of Denver is expected to double in population by 2050.  Many communities in Colorado, such as Boulder, have enacted moratoriums on fracking.

  • In Weld County — the center of the state’s oil and gas activity and home to more than 23,000 active wells — that tension has converged at a school called Bella Romero Academy.
  • Wellheads are planned for within 830 feet of the Bella Romero property.
  • Bella Romero — an overwhelmingly black and Latino school —  became the Oil and Gas Commission’s site for drilling after a proposal to put the operation near a mostly white school received strong protests from parents.
  • Weld County is increasingly considered a Denver suburb — it is now the fourth-fastest growing community in the nation.

Colorado is not alone.  Indeed, according to the Newsy study, Ohio, West Virginia, Texas, Louisiana and Pennsylvania have the highest percentages of their students attending school within 500 feet of an active well.

To Go Deeper:  For state-by-state information on high-risk zones near drilling, click here.

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