As Oil Production Grows in Utah, So Does Infant Mortality


In 2010, 1 out of 95 burials in Uintah County, Utah- an area rich with plagued by oil drillers- were infant and toddler deaths. In 2011, 1 out of every 53 deaths were infants. In 2012, it was 1 out of every 39. Last year, the infant death ration was 1 in 15.

At the same time, oil production in Uintah County has skyrocketed, climbing from 6.6 million barrels in 2010 to nearly 10.5 million- a nearly 60% increase in oil drilling …


natural gas production from hydraulic fracking (and all the associated water contamination that goes along with it) has also jumped up by more than 15%. Yet, despite that, some 85% of Vernal, Utah residents surveyed said that they’d welcome even more oil shale development.

The residents of Vernal, Utah, in other words, are incredibly stupid.

“I think we pretty clearly have an air-quality problem, but we try not to freak out,” said Seth Lyman, an air-quality researcher with Utah State University in Vernal.

Uintah County Commissioner, Mike McKee, said that the air quality around the oil drilling sites wasn’t a concern, just as drilling rigs and fracking aren’t. “People complaining about our air (quality) are from out of the area, from what I am seeing,” McKee said, in a statement that would end any hopes he might have for re-election in a just and decent society.

Still, a “just and decent society” might not be what the oil companies in Utah are after. The Denver Post speculated that “part of the reluctance of residents around Vernal to ascribe any ill effects to energy-field pollution could be tied to the $3,963 average monthly, non-farm, wage in Uintah County. The highest in Utah.”

I know, I know. I can already hear you all saying “causation does not equal causality”, and you’re right. That said, we should probably leave things like this to the experts. And, by “expert”, I don’t mean some city councilman getting fat off of oil money- I mean someone like, you know, an actual doctor. A doctor like Susan Nagel, Ph.D, a University of Missouri School of Medicine researcher.

“I suspect it is real — that there is a relationship,” said Nagel, who is focusing her studies on fracking-fluid chemicals that affect hormones. While it’s too early to have results, she says she won’t be surprised if there are effects from hormone-harming chemicals called “endocrine-disrupters” at play in the spike of infant deaths. “Mechanistically, from what we know about endocrine-disrupting chemicals, it is highly plausible.”

Dr. Nagel’s earlier research for Environmental Health Perspectives showed that babies born to mothers living within 10 miles of the oil wells are at greater risk of congenital heart defects and neural tube defects than normal. Whether or not the air quality will be tied to the infant deaths remains to be seen, however- results from the state study in Vernal are expected early next year.

Sources | Images: Drilling Edge, Denver Post, and EHP.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.