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Petro-riskscapes and environmental distress in West Texas: Community perceptions of environmental degradation, threats, and loss


Unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD) expanded rapidly in the United States between 2004-2019 with resultant industrial change to landscapes and new environmental exposures. By 2019, West Texas' Permian Basin accounted for 35% of domestic oil production. We conducted an online survey of 566 Texans in 2019 to examine the implications of UOGD using three measures from the Environmental Distress Scale (EDS): perceived threat of environmental issues, felt impact of environmental change, and loss of solace when valued environments are transformed ("solastalgia"). We found increased levels of environmental distress among respondents living in counties in the Permian Basin who reported a 2.75% increase in perceived threat of environmental issues (95% CI = -1.14, 6.65) and a 4.21% increase in solastalgia (95% CI = 0.03, 8.40). In our subgroup analysis of women, we found higher EDS subscale scores among respondents in Permian Basin counties for perceived threat of environmental issues (4.08%, 95% CI= -0.12, 8.37) and solastalgia (7.09%, 95% CI= 2.44, 11.88). In analysis restricted to Permian Basin counties, we found exposure to at least one earthquake of magnitude ≥ 3 was associated with increases in perceived threat of environmental issues (4.69%, 95% CI = 0.15, 9.23), and that county-level exposure to oil and gas injection wells was associated with increases in felt impact (4.38%, 95% CI = -1.77, 10.54) and solastalgia (4.06%, 95% CI = 3.02, 11.14). Our results indicate increased environmental distress in response to UOGD-related environmental degradation among Texans and highlight the importance of considering susceptible sub-groups.

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