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Study: Childhood Leukemia Linked to Location of Oil and Gas Wells

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 16, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Colorado study found that children and young adults with cancer were more likely to live near an oil and gas well. The study looked at hundreds of cases and discovered that subjects aged 5 to 24 with acute lymphocytic leukemia were over four times as likely to live among the highest concentrations of oil and gas wells.

At this point the findings indicate a correlation between well proximity and certain cancer rates rather than causation between them, and conclude "further study is clearly needed to substantiate both our positive and negative findings."


The team from the University of Colorado compared two main sources of information:

  1. Records from the Colorado Central Cancer Registry, listing 743 young Coloradans 24-years-old and younger who were diagnosed with cancer between 2001 and 2013; and
  2. Records from Colorado Oil and Gas Information System to establish a dataset with coordinates of all oil and gas wells in rural Colorado.

When the geocoded residential addresses of patients were cross-referenced with well locations that were active in the decade preceding initial cancer diagnoses, the analysis revealed a possible link between childhood leukemia and oil and gas industrial activity. "The findings from our registry-based control study indicate that young Coloradans diagnosed with one type of childhood leukemia are more likely to live in the densest areas of oil and gas sites," said lead investigator Lisa McKenzie.

Not Causation

As McKenzie also pointed out, "Over 378,000 Coloradans and millions of Americans currently live within a mile of at least one oil and gas well, and petroleum development continues to expand into residential areas." The study also had some limitations, which McKenzie acknowledged:

  • Low occurrence of leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in rural Colorado, where the study focused;
  • Lack of specific age data;
  • Limited data set with only participants that had been diagnosed with cancer; and
  • Lack of information on specific activities at the well sites while they were active.

"More comprehensive research that can address our study's limitations is needed to understand and explain these results," McKenzie said.

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