A Health Upside of Natural Gas

A working paper (PDF; abstract) from economists Resul Cesur, Erdal Tekin, and Aydogan Ulker explores the effects of increased natural gas use on infant mortality:

In this paper, we use the variation across space and time in the expansion of natural gas infrastructure in Turkish provinces using data between 2001 and 2011. Our results indicate that the rate of increase in the use of natural gas has resulted in a significant reduction in the rate of infant mortality in Turkey. In particular, a one-percentage point increase in the rate of subscriptions to natural gas services would cause the infant mortality rate to decline by 4 percent, which could result in 348 infant lives saved in 2011 alone. These results are robust to a large number of specifications.

The authors outline two ways through which the effect may occur:

Note that replacement of coal by natural gas can result in lower infant mortality through two channels. As demonstrated by our instrumental variables analysis, there are significant external benefits of improved air quality associated with the use of natural gas, as opposed to other fossil fuels such as coal. But it is also likely that there are significant private benefits enjoyed by the subscribers of natural gas services since they would be exposed to lower levels of indoor air pollution.

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  1. Sebastian says:

    Are the prices comparable to other energy sources? If not do you believe that this is a priveleg of the rich? What could be done to spread this sort of enhancements in life, seeing as there are obvious upsides to this? Should the government give tax cuts for instance to companies who work with natural gas?

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  2. Nosybear says:

    Are we confusing synchronicity with causality? Despite the grandiose attempts at finding improvements in local air quality from drilling (which assumes the locals are now installing gas furnaces as opposed to whatever they burn today for heat and cooking), I’d simply follow the money: The decline in infant mortality is simply because, due to the gas drilling, people are richer.

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    • Tatil says:

      Natural gas became available relatively recently in many cities in Turkey, as each city slowly gained access to the main pipeline network carrying gas from Russia and other ex-Soviet republics. As the access date to the pipeline in many similar sized towns was not necessarily based on the prosperity of the residents, but rather geographical and political accident, the authors can examine quite a few natural experiments, where similar size towns with similar income levels gain access to natural gas at different times. If infant mortality rate drops at the town with natural gas, before the town who got access later, the possibility of causality goes up considerably.

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  3. SF says:

    Frack if you love babies!

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  4. tylerh says:

    Offtopic Appeal to Steven Levitt: I know of another Dataset for your “Hatred and Profits” paper in QJE.

    Gustavo Arrelleno, host of “Ask a Mexican” and editor of OC weekly, has found KKK membership rosters for Orange County, CA in old city archives and has been painstakingly tracking down the names.

    http://blogs.ocweekly.com/navelgazing/2011/02/announcing_the_which_oc_pionee.php

    He puts one name per week in his OC Weekly column ” OC Pioneers who were Klan Members ” Column. I believe over a hundred of these detailed biographies have been published.

    http://www.ocweekly.com/2013-01-17/news/ku-klux-klan-orange-county-pioneers/full/
    http://blogs.ocweekly.com/navelgazing/2011/10/perry_woodward_fullerton.php

    I believe his research largely corroborates your findings. I suggest you contact him as this is a fantastic “out of sample” test for you hypothesis. The Klan played a significant role in Orange County politics in the 20s. The KKK was vehicle by which more recently arrived whites, often professionals, challenged the political order. The racist orange barons who (literally) owned Orange County wanted their Mexican labor force kept docile, but not driven the away, and were thus Anti-Klan.

    As I said, you really want to talk to Gustavo – I suspect he is writing a book about his.

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  5. Yuriy says:

    The ratio of infant mortality reduction to natural gas services subscription is large and… suspicious (either the model is non-linear or it fails to predict a thing if gas coverage increases significantly: 25% gas subscription growth corresponds to 100% infant mortality rate decline). So I had looked through the paper and the model looks quite ugly. Can anybody adept in statistics look into it?

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  6. TexCIS says:

    Not to mention the juvenile and adult lives saved as people can stay warmer in winter. We hear stories of how air polution kills thousands of people a year. Many uninformed people think it’s CO2 pollution. No, much of the pollution is indoors, and it’s from people burning wood, peat, or dung for cooking and heat. If they could have natural gas to cook and heat with, many lives could be spared.

    But no, world politicians want less “fossil fuel” and more “renewables.” Wood, peat and dung ARE renewables, not fossil fuels!

    Fossil fuels save lives around the globe!

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    • Enter your name... says:

      So is charcoal, and burning it indoors can kill adults. Infants are much more susceptible to carbon monoxide, which is produced by charcoal and similar “renewable” fuels.

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  7. annonymist says:

    How about the potential alternative explanation: subscription to natural gas services implies certain level of growth in income and purchasing power relative to people who can’t afford the gas subscription despite the fact that they live in a neighborhood where gas subscription options prevails. Then, lower child mortality should logically attributed to consumption of ‘improved bundle’ or ‘healthier bundle’ of goods and service that the relatively richer consumer now can afford. In that bundle of ‘healthier goods’, better air quality can just be one good, and therefore, its marginal benefit on reduction of child mortality can be smaller than in a model otherwise thought out . Would like to get more feedback on this topic. from other readers and original writers.

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  8. Eric M. Jones. says:

    I read the article and I don’t believe all the variables are accounted for. Apparently the coal was burned in a manner which allowed for indoor air pollution (the mind reels). In the Northeastern US plenty of people still heat with wood and coal, and you wouldn’t even know it. So what was burned was secondary to the method of burning.

    It is obviously simpler to burn gas and vent the byproducts. But this accounts for lower baby deaths? Maybe better coal-wood-burning technology is a better answer.

    I also want to know where the baby was when the mother is out procuring and shoveling coal. Baby’s death rates are directly correlated with the time they are not being cared for. Hypothermia is an unseen and insidious killer of infants.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      I don’t know about modern Turkish arrangements, but in the US, coal was delivered to the house (so Mom’s time spent “procuring” coal amounted to the length of time it takes to open the door for the delivery man) and shoveling was normally done by the men in the household (so Mom’s time spent “shoveling” amounted to pouring it out of the pre-filled coal scuttle into the stove). If Turkey’s households are similarly arranged, then burning coal does not have any effect on the number of minutes the mother spends with the baby.

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