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The demographic characteristics of populations living near oil and gas wells in the USA

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This study documents the prevalence of historically marginalized populations (across age, income, education, race-ethnicity, and language) living near active oil and gas wells throughout the USA, at both local and aggregated scales. This is performed by way of areal apportionment using well location data and population characteristics from the American Community Survey. A clustering analysis of marginalized populations living near a high density of wells reveals four distinct regions of high prevalence: southern California, southwest Texas, Appalachia, and northwest New Mexico. At the nationwide scale, we find large absolute numbers of people living near wells, including marginalized groups: nearly 18 million people in total across the USA, many of which are Hispanic (3.3 million), Black (1.8 million), Asian (0.7 million), and Native American (0.5 million), live below the poverty line (3 million), older individuals (3 million), or young children (over 1 million). In certain states, this represents a large share of the total population – over 50% in the case of West Virginia and Oklahoma. Estimates are subsequently compared to county-level control groups to assess patterns of disproportionality. Wide variations are found across regions and metrics, underscoring the locally specific nature of these data. Our research contributes to the field of environmental justice by describing the populations living near oil and gas wells.

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The authors would like to thank Ricardo Esparza Gamez and Aurora Barone for their excellent research assistance, as well as Rainer Romero-Canyas, Jorge Consuegra, Beia Spiller, Suzi Kerr, Scott Anderson, Elena Craft, David Lyon, Ben Ratner, and Melissa Vargas for their thoughtful comments.

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Correspondence to Jeremy Proville.

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Proville, J., Roberts, K.A., Peltz, A. et al. The demographic characteristics of populations living near oil and gas wells in the USA. Popul Environ 44, 1–14 (2022).

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