Vulnerable Populations and the Shale Gas Boom

What is a vulnerable population? For a term used so often, a clear definition from an authoritative source is surprisingly hard to come by. For example, the term has over 2.5 million Google hits, but no Wikipedia page. The National Institute of Health has almost 5,000 references, but the handful of pages that I looked at assumed the reader already knew the definition. In a sense, of course, it is fairly self-explanatory. The UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations(CVP) tells us that they serve:

…populations for whom social conditions often conspire to both promote various chronic diseases and make their management more challenging.

OK, that makes sense, but from the perspective of someone trying to map the effects of the natural gas industry on vulnerable populations, the term is still hopelessly vague. Who exactly are we talking about, and where do we find them?

There are probably many groups that would qualify as a vulnerable population, but for this analysis, I have included hospitals and schools as a place to start, because those are the places where those who are already sick and children congregate, respectively (1). These groups unquestionably apply to the CVP definition, above.

Vulnerable populations and the Marcellus Shale gas industry. Click on the tabs with the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus. Click on the “i” button and then one of the map icons for more information.

There’s a lot of information on that map, and, frankly, it is difficult to determine the proximity of problematic wells to these centers of vulnerable populations at this scale. For this reason, CHEC Director Dr. Volz made a series of regional snapshots, which can be found here.


  1. A fuller list might include parks, daycare facilities, nursing care facilities, etc.
2 replies
  1. Conrad Dan Volz
    Conrad Dan Volz says:

    >So Abby what are the interesting correlations that you see–we can add things like critical infrastructure–population over 65 and under 18–etc etc—what would be helpful for you–Dan

  2. Abby
    Abby says:

    >What an interesting idea for a map! And it's undeniable that there is a much higher concentration of Oil and Gas Violations in an area where there are both more Marcellus shale wells and less schools and hospitals. What conclusions can be made from this? Less people around and more open space for drilling; yet those less people are more vulnerable to the negative effects of drilling. The population, small and lacking a large infrastructure of government aid (in hospitals and schools, for example) is easy to be taken advantage of by the drilling companies. I'm glad to see, though, that there are reported violations.

    My, my… The questions posed by that map.

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