Wastewater Disposal Wells, Fracking, and Environmental Injustice in Southern Texas

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Abstract

Objectives

To investigate race and poverty in areas where oil and gas wastewater disposal wells, which are used to permanently inject wastewater from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations, are permitted.

Methods

With location data of oil and gas disposal wells permitted between 2007 and 2014 in the Eagle Ford area, a region of intensive fracking in southern Texas, we analyzed the racial composition of residents living less than 5 kilometers from a disposal well and those farther away, adjusting for rurality and poverty, using a Poisson regression.

Results

The proportion of people of color living less than 5 kilometers from a disposal well was 1.3 times higher than was the proportion of non-Hispanic Whites. Adjusting for rurality, disposal wells were 2.04 times (95% confidence interval = 2.02, 2.06) as common in areas with 80% people of color or more than in majority White areas. Disposal wells are also disproportionately sited in high-poverty areas.

Conclusions

Wastewater disposal wells in southern Texas are disproportionately permitted in areas with higher proportions of people of color and residents living in poverty, a pattern known as “environmental injustice.”

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