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Temporal Trends of Racial and Socioeconomic Disparities in Population Exposures to Upstream Oil and Gas Development in California


People living near oil and gas development are exposed to multiple environmental stressors that pose health risks. Some studies suggest these risks are higher for racially and socioeconomically marginalized people, which may be partly attributable to disparities in exposures. We examined whether racially and socioeconomically marginalized people in California are disproportionately exposed to oil and gas wells and associated hazards. We longitudinally assessed exposure to wells during three time periods (2005-2009, 2010-2014, and 2015-2019) using sociodemographic data at the census block group-level. For each block group and time period, we assessed exposure to new, active, retired, and plugged wells, and cumulative production volume. We calculated risk ratios to determine whether marginalized people disproportionately resided near wells (within 1 km). Averaged across the three time periods, we estimated that 1.1 million Californians (3.0%) lived within 1 km of active wells. Nearly 9 million Californians (22.9%) lived within 1 km of plugged wells. The proportion of Black residents near active wells was 42%-49% higher than the proportion of Black residents across California, and the proportion of Hispanic residents near active wells was 4%-13% higher than their statewide proportion. Disparities were greatest in areas with the highest oil and gas production, where the proportion of Black residents was 105%-139% higher than statewide. Socioeconomically marginalized residents also had disproportionately high exposure to wells. Though oil and gas production has declined in California, marginalized communities persistently had disproportionately high exposure to wells, potentially contributing to health disparities.

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