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Historic redlining and the siting of oil and gas wells in the United States



The presence of active or inactive (i.e., postproduction) oil and gas wells in neighborhoods may contribute to ongoing pollution. Racially discriminatory neighborhood security maps developed by the Home-Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) in the 1930s may contribute to environmental exposure disparities.


To determine whether receiving worse HOLC grades was associated with exposure to more oil and gas wells.


We assessed exposure to oil and gas wells among HOLC-graded neighborhoods in 33 cities from 13 states where urban oil and gas wells were drilled and operated. Among the 17 cities for which 1940 census data were available, we used propensity score restriction and matching to compare well exposure neighborhoods that were similar on observed 1940 sociodemographic characteristics but that received different grades.


Across all included cities, redlined D-graded neighborhoods had 12.2 ± 27.2 wells km-2, nearly twice the density in neighborhoods graded A (6.8 ± 8.9 wells km-2). In propensity score restricted and matched analyses, redlined neighborhoods had 2.0 (1.3, 2.7) more wells than comparable neighborhoods with a better grade.


Our study adds to the evidence that structural racism in federal policy is associated with the disproportionate siting of oil and gas wells in marginalized neighborhoods.

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