A midwife in Vernal, Utah, has raised a red flag about a spike in the number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths in the small town in 2013. The statistic has emerged alongside explosive growth in drilling and fracking in the area. Energy companies have flocked to Vernal in the last few years to develop the massive oil and gas fields that underlie Uintah County.
The midwife, Donna Young, who has worked in the Vernal area for 19 years, reported delivering the first stillborn baby she’s seen in all her years of practice in May, 2013. Doctors could not determine any reason for the baby’s death.
While visiting the local cemetery where the parents of that baby had buried their dead child, Young noticed other fresh graves of babies who were stillborn or died shortly after birth.
Young started researching local sources of data on stillbirths and neonatal deaths, like obituaries and mortuary records, and found a large spike in the number of infant deaths occurring in Vernal in recent years. She found 11 other incidents in 2013 where Vernal mothers had given birth to stillborn babies, or whose babies died within a few days of being born.
Vernal’s full-time population is only about 9,800.
The rate of neonatal deaths in Vernal has climbed from about equivalent to the national average in 2010, to six times the national average in 2013.
Along with the surge in oil and gas drilling in the Vernal area over the last few years, the winter time air in the Uintah basin, where Vernal sits, has become dense with industrial smog generated by drilling rigs, pipelines, wells and increased traffic.