Health Benefits

Quick Facts

Natural gas is playing an increasingly important role for reducing standard air pollutants as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2005, EPA has recorded substantial decreases in pollutants– 60% in fine particulate matter, 68% in SO2, and 52% in NOx–at the same time that natural gas production has risen by 35% and natural gas electricity generation has increased by 50%.  When used for electricity generation, natural gas does not produce the harmful soot, SO2 and mercury emissions that coal generation does. Replacing coal with natural gas electricity generation results in a 400-fold reduction in particulate matter, a 4000-fold reduction in SO2, a 70-fold reduction in NOx, and a 30-fold reduction in mercury. Natural gas also reduces air emissions when burned in engines in place of gasoline or diesel. 

Despite these health benefits, there have been numerous media reports that people living near oil and natural gas development have suffered negative health impacts from air emissions.  Everything from nose bleeds to asthma and even cancer have been blamed on oil and natural gas development, but only anecdotally without independent verification.  The media often accepts wild claims at face value, and fails to explain how oil and natural gas is regulated to protect air quality and human health. 

In actuality there are several studies by academic and government scientists on health impacts that show that oil and natural gas production is meeting health standards. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found no significant concentrations of pollutants in the D-J Basin of northeast Colorado, where there had previously been concern.  Other studies in Fort WorthPennsylvania, and Australia have shown that concentrations around oil and natural gas sites stay well below levels deemed a health risk. Overall, valid health assessment studies demonstrate low risk of adverse impacts from oil and gas operations, and long-term studies of oil and natural gas workers who are more directly exposed than the public also show no harmful effects.