Stage 4: Development & Production

Health issues in this section:

Air Quality Water Quality Water Quantity Safety Diseases Quality of Life

What is the company doing at this stage?

Development

Once the company makes the decision to move ahead with development in a particular area, it may proceed with development drilling at several different locations throughout the project area. When it returns to an exploration site, the operator often begins drilling multiple wells, also known as infilling. Activities at such a site, which may have been dormant for a while, ramp up during this intense phase of construction, site development, and drilling. The site operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The workforce also grows to its largest size with staff engaged in site operations, transportation of materials and equipment, and support activities. As certain jobs require specialized skills and training, many of the workers may be brought in from outside the local area.

The construction and well development activities described in the exploratory drilling phase intensify as multiple wells are built on the pad. The company installs equipment for processing the oil or natural gas produced at the site. Additional infrastructure may also be built, including flowlines that carry gas, oil, and other fluids at or near the wellhead, gathering lines that transport the oil or gas to a central collection point, and transmission pipelines that take the product to market. New processing facilities and compressor stations may also be needed in the area. (See Appendix E for additional information about pipelines.)

When a site moves to development and into production, the company has been present in the community for months, possibly years, and has likely developed relationships with local stakeholders. Now that the company is committed to development in the area, it will need to maintain a productive engagement with the community over the life of the project.

What is the company doing at this stage?

Figure 4. An example illustration of the development and production process in the Marcellus Shale region

Source: Al Granberg, ProPublica

What is the company doing at this stage?

Production

After the wells are completed through hydraulic fracturing, the operator removes the rig and installs a wellhead, also referred to as a “Christmas tree” due to the many valves sprouting from it. The valves control pressure in the well and permit the flow of oil or gas to the flowlines. The remaining infrastructure on the pad is required for gas storage, produced water storage or treatment, and pipeline infrastructure (see Figure 4).

In the natural gas industry, the phases of development and production are not distinct, with production beginning soon after the wells are completed and connected to the gathering systems. This often occurs while the site is still in development. 1 After the gas emerges from the well, it may first be sent to a processing station to remove impurities. Then gathering lines convey the natural gas to a compressor station that pressurizes the gas for longer-distance transport. From there, the product is piped to export terminals or to end users like residences and businesses (see Figure 5).

In the case of oil production, the product is transported through flowlines to a local gathering station. It is then sent to a refinery to be processed; finally, it is transported either to market or to export facilities.

Once the well pad has turned over to the production phase, work activity slows principally to monitoring the site. The operator reduces its workforce to fewer, longer-term staff. Over the lifetime of the well—which could be 10–50 years—periodic activities may take place to re-stimulate production and perform maintenance. When the production of oil or gas begins to decline, the operator may seek to enhance production by re-fracturing the well, depending on the geology of the source rock at the site. Specialized teams of workers may periodically visit the site to conduct re-fracturing, perform routine maintenance on aging equipment, or perform workovers, a more extensive overhaul of the equipment. Therefore, while there is a decline in activity in the post-development phase of production, work at the site continues intermittently for many years.

Notes:

  1. Dutton and Blankenship, “Socioeconomic Effects,” 7-8.

What is the company doing at this stage?

Photo provided by Shell Oil Company.

What might my community experience?

With the operator’s decision to develop in your area, the uncertainty surrounding the project has been resolved. While the company might have previously been hesitant to invest in the local community, it might feel more comfortable in making longer-term commitments. The challenge for the community and local planners will be to take advantage of any economic benefits to invest in building a diverse local economy and focus on long-term needs.

The population growth that begins in the exploration phase typically expands as the site is developed and then drops again when the temporary workforce departs. The community will likely experience the most significant health impacts at this stage as development activities peak; these impacts tend to taper off and change in nature as the site moves into the post-development phase of production.

What health considerations are there?

All of the potential health considerations discussed in the exploratory drilling phase—air quality, water quality, disease burden, safety, and health-related quality of life (including changes to the local economy, society, noise level, viewshed, and psychology of the community)—continue to be relevant in Stage 4, with many of them intensifying during development when multiple wells are constructed and the temporary workforce swells to its largest size.

As the wells begin producing oil or gas for market, new activities that could have health impacts may emerge, such as the use of compressor stations for the transport of gas. Although large quantities of water are used to hydraulically fracture the wells in the exploration phase, water usage is more likely to cause concern in this phase when multiple wells are drilled, fractured, and later re-stimulated.

What health considerations are there?

Air Quality

In addition to the air quality impacts discussed in Stage 3, new activities and infrastructure come online in the production phase that may contribute to air emissions. In the production stage for oil operations, the associated natural gas that emerges from the well is separated from the crude oil. While saleable gas is sometimes captured and transported to market, it is often flared or vented due to the lack of natural gas pipelines in the area. As discussed in Stage 3, however, new EPA regulations effective in 2015 and 2016 will significantly limit both practices.

In natural gas operations, the produced gas generally undergoes processing to remove water and other constituents to meet sales quality requirements prior to transport. The dehydration units that remove water from the gas can also release VOCs and other hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) into the air. If the gas contains sulfur, it goes through a sweetening process to remove it. Once extracted, the sulfur may be flared, incinerated, or possibly captured for market. 

After the gas has been conditioned, it is piped to compressor stations where it is pressurized for transport over longer distances. If the compressor engines are diesel-powered, they can emit nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxides, and VOCs.

There are also fugitive emissions of methane from pipelines and other equipment, as well as releases from the pneumatic instruments controlling the operation of valves. Researchers have identified these pneumatic devices, which release gas as part of their regular operation, as a major source of methane emissions from natural gas infrastructure. 1 These sources too will be affected by the EPA’s proposed regulations under the Clean Air Act, which require operators to locate and plug leaks from equipment and infrastructure, including pneumatic pumps, pneumatic controllers, and compressor stations. 2 The agency anticipates the rule will be final in 2016.   

Three Brothers Compressor Station, PA. By Bob Donnan, 2014

Notes:

  1. David T. Allen, Adam P. Pacsi, David W. Sullivan, Daniel Zavala-Araiza, Matthew Harrison, Kindal Keen, Matthew P. Fraser, A. Daniel Hill, Robert F. Sawyer, and John H. Seinfeld, “Methane Emissions from Process Equipment at Natural Gas Production Sites in the United States: Pneumatic Controllers” Environmental Science and Technology 49 (2015), 633-4, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es5040156.
  2.  U.S. EPA, “Proposed Climate, Air Quality and Permitting Rules for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry: Fact Sheet”

What health considerations are there?

Water Quantity

Shale development using hydraulic fracturing involves pumping a mixture of sand, water, and chemicals into deep rock formations at high pressure in order to release natural gas or oil. A single well may use 3–6 million gallons of water, although usage can vary widely depending on the well and the specific shale formation. 1 The majority of the water usage takes place in the development and production stages of the project, when drilling and hydraulic fracturing require fluids for cooling, lubricating, maintaining pressure in the well, and fracturing the shale.

Water used in these operations can be sourced from surface waters such as rivers, lakes and streams, from municipal water supplies, or from underground aquifers. Overuse of an area’s groundwater can cause land subsidence, a reduction in surface waters, and, due to the interconnected nature of the water cycle, long-term unsustainability of water supplies. In an effort to reduce their use of fresh water supplies, operators also draw on municipal wastewater, recycled water, or brackish water. 2

In the United States, the states are primarily responsible for the regulation and permitting of withdrawals from surface and groundwater. According to a study of 31 states by Resources for the Future, most states require permits for water withdrawals, although some only require them for withdrawals above a certain threshold. 3 Others require disclosure of withdrawals, with the exception of Kentucky, which exempts the oil and gas industry from water allocation regulations. Pennsylvania and West Virginia require companies to submit a water management plan that includes an impact analysis of the planned withdrawals. 4 

Although the water needed for drilling the wells and fracturing operations may represent a fraction of the overall water resources available, the timing of withdrawals over the short time period that operations occur—as well as cumulative withdrawals for multiple sites—can bring the industry into competition with other local uses, including municipal, agricultural, and recreational. Due to the location of the oil and gas reserves, shale energy operations are often concentrated in small communities with limited resources to handle any stress on their water supplies. If the area is experiencing drought, which is the case for over half the areas of shale development in North America, withdrawals can exacerbate stressed conditions. 5 

After hydraulic fracturing has taken place, a portion of the injected water—ranging from 30% to 70% of the original 6—returns to the surface, while the remaining portion is trapped in the shale formation. This produced water often contains naturally occurring chemicals such as salts, heavy metals, and naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) from the rock formation. (For information on water quality issues, see Stage 3.)

There are several methods for managing well site wastewater. It can be processed on the well pad site or transported to a waste treatment facility. If the water is treated to remove pollutants, it can ultimately be returned to surface waters, where it re-enters the water cycle. Some companies recycle the wastewater, treating it and mixing it with fresh water before reusing it in their operations or providing it for other industrial or agricultural uses. Wastewater can also be injected into underground disposal wells, where it is stored between layers of impermeable rock thousands of feet from usable groundwater resources. From a water availability perspective, disposing of the water in this manner effectively removes it from the global water cycle.

In June 2015, the EPA published a draft report on the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. The final report will include the effects of each stage of hydraulic fracturing on the quantity and quality of drinking water. 7 The cycles under consideration in this report include water acquisition, chemical mixing, well injection, produced water, and wastewater treatment and waste disposal (see Figure 6 below).  

Notes:

  1. U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Oil and Gas:  Information on Shale Resources, Development, and Environmental and Public Health Risks” (September 2012).
  2. Water whose salt content falls between that of fresh and seawater.
  3. Richardson, Nathan, Madeline Gottlieb, Alan Krupnick, and Hannah Wiseman, The State of State Shale Gas RegulationResources for the Future (June 2013).  
  4. Nathan Richardson et al., The State of State Shale Gas Regulation, 40–41.
  5. Monika Freyman, Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress:  Water Demand by the Numbers (Ceres, February 2014), 6.
  6. Ground Water Protection Council and ALL Consulting, “Modern Shale Gas in the United States: A Primer,” Prepared for U.S. Department of Energy Office of Fossil Energy and the National Energy Technology Laboratory, April 2009, 66.
  7. Given that the draft report is currently under review by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board and is marked as not for citation, we have refrained from citing the study’s preliminary conclusions on water quantity in this version of the guidebook.

What health considerations are there?

Box 12. Focus on U.S. Water Law and Regulation

There are several different water law regimes in the U.S. The two dominant regimes are the riparian doctrine, applied in most Eastern states (with some permutations on the West coast), and the prior appropriation doctrine, which applies in most states west of the 100th meridian. Under the riparian doctrine, landowners along waterways have “riparian rights” to the natural quantity and quality of flow in the waterway, except as diminished by the “reasonable use” of the water by other riparian landowners. Under riparian doctrine, the right to use the water may be obtained by purchasing land along the waterway.

Under the prior appropriation doctrine, water is allocated in specific amounts for “beneficial use.” Each water right has a priority date that determines its place in the hierarchy of withdrawals, and it maintains the same date even if it is sold to another user. Older water rights have priority over more recently created ones—“first in time, first in right”—and are therefore more valuable. In times of water shortage, holders of “younger” water rights are required to stop withdrawing water from the waterway to ensure that senior rights holders can withdraw the full amount they were allocated. Under prior appropriation, rights to specific amounts of water may be bought and sold by users without the requirement of riparian land ownership. Prior appropriation rights are generally considered stronger property rights than rights established under the riparian doctrine, and have been subjected to buying and selling in a marketplace. In some states, therefore, holders of water rights may benefit from shale development by selling a portion of their right to an operator.  

Water rights are also governed by the federal reserved right doctrine, under which American Indian tribes retain rights to water even if those rights were not specifically allocated to them in treaties with the U.S. government; reclamation law, which is a specialized area of federal contract law for federal reclamation projects such as California’s Central Valley Project; and federal regulatory water rights, which are regulatory constraints (such as Endangered Species Act requirements) that often trump other water laws.

What health considerations are there?

Safety

Incidents involving production infrastructure and facilities

The production of shale oil and gas involves other infrastructure in addition to that found at the well site, such as pipelines (see Appendix E), processing plants, and compressor stations. Some communities have been concerned that methane leaks, releases of other airborne toxins, fires, and explosions could occur at these facilities, many of which are situated close to large population areas. In 2013, for example, dramatic floods affected oil and gas infrastructure in Colorado, releasing oil and produced water into the environment. Post-flooding monitoring concluded, however, that the volume of floodwater diluted the releases to the point that they were unlikely to pose a public health concern. 1

Can shale development operations cause earthquakes?

As discussed above, shale development operations require the disposal of a large quantity of wastewater, which is often injected into underground wells (or injection wells). Although it has long been known that certain human activities—such as underground injection, oil and gas extraction, mining, and geothermal projects—can lead to induced seismicity, 2 the magnitude of these earthquakes was thought to be too minor to pose a risk to people or property.

Since 2009, however, the number of earthquakes has spiked in the central and eastern regions of the United States at the same time that wastewater disposal from shale development has significantly increased. 3 This increase in seismic activity was remarkable, given that areas such as central and northern Oklahoma are accustomed to very few felt earthquakes. While the majority of these tremors are too minor to cause any damage, several 2011–2012 quakes in Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas had magnitudes of over 5.0, resulting in some injuries and damage. 4 

According to recent studies by independent scientists and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the underground injection of high volumes of produced water is associated with the increase in earthquakes in the central and eastern United States. 5, 6, 7 It should be noted, however, that there are over 150,000 approved injection wells in the United States, used for various purposes, most of which have no measurable seismic activity associated with them. Approximately 40,000 of these disposal wells are for oil and gas operations. 8 It thus appears that only a very few wastewater disposal wells used by the oil and gas industry could potentially cause earthquakes large enough to be felt on the surface. 9 The challenge is therefore identifying which injection wells, at which locations, have the potential to trigger seismicity.

A 2015 USGS and University of Colorado analysis of the relationship between wastewater injection and induced seismicity concluded that the injection rate is strongly correlated with the incidence of earthquakes. Wells injecting more than 300,000 barrels a month are much more likely to be associated with a seismic event than wells injecting at a lower rate. 10 The researchers indicated that managing the injection rate could therefore be a promising approach to reducing the likelihood of induced earthquakes.

Although there have been concerns that the process of hydraulic fracturing could trigger earthquakes, the vast majority of these tremors have been linked to wastewater injection rather than to hydraulic fracturing. 11 In its investigation of a magnitude 3.0 quake that occurred in March 2014, however, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources concluded that the incident may be due to hydraulic fracturing activity itself, and not to wastewater disposal. 12

The USGS continues to conduct research into induced seismicity with a set of studies designed to monitor and evaluate seismic events; better understand and predict the linkages between injection and earthquakes; and estimate earthquake hazards. 13 The Oklahoma Geological Survey is also conducting a study of quakes related to hydraulic fracturing activity. 14While researchers work to shed more light on the connections between seismicity and industrial activity, a work group composed of state oil and gas regulatory agencies and geological surveys has produced a guidance document for regulators on evaluating and managing the risks of induced seismicity and developing response strategies. 15 Depending on the circumstances, the mitigation options described include increasing seismic monitoring in at-risk areas, altering injection rates or pressures, introducing permit modifications, and halting injection activities.

States are addressing these induced seismicity concerns in various ways. In 2013, for example, Oklahoma put in place an evolving “traffic light” system for regulating disposal injection wells that involves a seismicity review of proposed wells, along with monitoring and increased testing of wells in areas of possible seismic activity. 16 Directives issued by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission have resulted in reductions in well depth and the volume of injections at certain wells, and have required some wells to cease injections. 17 Ohio has issued new permitting requirements for injection wells and now requires additional seismic monitoring at both injection well and shale development sites. 18, 19 Texas, on the other hand, has been more cautious about taking regulatory action, opting to wait for the results of further research on the connection between injection wells and seismicity. 20 The Texas Railroad Commission has, however, required additional testing from certain wells where links to induced seismicity have been suspected. 21  

Notes:

  1. Adgate, Goldstein, and McKenzie, “Potential Public Health Hazards,” 8310.
  2. Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, Potential Injection-Induced Seismicity Associated with Oil & Gas Development: A Primer on Technical and Regulatory Considerations Informing Risk Management and Mitigation (2015), 1.
  3. There was an annual average of 21 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or larger (M3+) in central and eastern parts of the United States between 1973 and 2008; from 2009 through 2013, the annual rate averaged 99 M3+ earthquakes in these areas; and in 2014 alone, there were 659 M3+ earthquakes in the central and eastern states (U.S. Geological Survey, “Induced Earthquakes,” last modified September 20, 2015).
  4. M. Weingarten, S. Ge, J.W. Godt, B.A. Bekins, J.L. Rubinstein, “High-Rate Injection Is Associated with the Increase in U.S. Mid-Continent Seismicity, Science 348, no. 6241 (June 19, 2015), 1336.
  5. M. Weingarten et al., “High-Rate Injection,” 1336.
  6. F. Rall Walsh III and Mark D. Zoback, “Oklahoma’s recent earthquakes and saltwater disposal,” Science Advances 1, no. 5 (June 18, 2015).
  7. Ground Water Research and Education Foundation (GWREF), “White Paper II Summarizing a Special Session on Induced Seismicity: Assessing and Managing Risk of Induced Seismicity by Injection” (November 2013), 19.
  8. USGS, “USGS FAQs,” last modified August 19, 2015.
  9. USGS, “Induced Earthquakes.”
  10. M. Weingarten et al., “High-Rate Injection,” 1336.
  11. USGS, “How is hydraulic fracturing related to earthquakes and tremors?USGS FAQs, last modified August 19, 2015.
  12. Edward McAllister,Ohio Links Fracking to Earth Quakes, Announces Tougher Rules,” Reuters (April 11, 2014).
  13. For more information, see the United States Geological Survey, “Induced Earthquakes,” last modified September 11, 2014. 
  14. Mike Soraghan, “Oklahoma Agency Gets $1.8M to Study Seismic Links to Drilling,” E&E News, July 16, 2014.
  15. Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, Potential Injection-Induced Seismicity Associated with Oil & Gas Development, 4.
  16. Oklahoma Corporation Commission, “OCC Announces Next Step in Continuing Response to Earthquake Concerns” (July 17, 2015).  
  17. Oklahoma Corporation Commission, “OCC Announces Next Step.”
  18. GWREF, “White Paper II,” 27.
  19.  Edward McAllister, “Ohio Links Fracking to Earthquakes.” 
  20. GWREF, “White Paper II,” 26–27.
  21. Barclay R. Nicholson and Emery G. Richards, “Induced Seismicity Legal Issues Break New Ground,” Law360, (May 15, 2015).

What health considerations are there?

Health-Related Quality of Life

With regard to socioeconomic impacts, the phases of development and post-development production can have very different effects on the community’s health and quality of life. As mentioned above, the influx of outside workers in the development phase often leads to a number of boomtown effects that can put stress on the community’s infrastructure, housing, services, community character, and the psychology of its residents. The extent to which these pressures negatively affect the community depends upon its size, the magnitude and pace of development, the area’s capacity to absorb a population increase (e.g., nearby towns with available worker housing), and the predisposition of residents to development.

Quality of Life—Economic Impacts

Development

During exploration and the early phase of development, many of the jobs require specialized skills, prompting companies to bring in temporary outside workers to fill those positions. As development expands in the area, more direct and indirect opportunities for local employment may become available, particularly in businesses involved in trucking and construction. Such an increase in development can lead to a rise in incomes and increased economic activity in the area.

In addition to stimulating some businesses, the oil and gas industry can come into competition with other local businesses and local government for workers, which can put upward pressure on wages. If the local labor supply is limited, the industry may draw increasing numbers of outside workers to the area. This population influx can increase local demand for food, fuel, and housing, which drives up prices. For some local businesses—often those already on the margin—rising costs for items such as wages, fuel, and transport could cause them to fail, decreasing the economic diversity of the community (a phenomenon known as crowding out). 

Depending on the size of the community and its proximity to other towns with available housing, the arrival of project workers can put a strain on the community’s housing supply. Housing shortages can be acute in small communities without existing construction capacity. Oil and gas workers can often afford to pay higher rental prices than other workers, thereby reducing the availability of affordable housing. This can result in the displacement of some long-term residents, particularly renters and the elderly, who are forced to leave the area to seek lower-cost housing elsewhere. 

As mentioned in Stage 3, if there is a gap between additional local government revenues (from taxes, leases, and royalty payments) and the demands on community services and infrastructure, it may be particularly pronounced at this stage of heavy development. A rapid influx of project workers and their families can put a strain on local infrastructure and services. Affected services can include the following:

  • transportation infrastructure
  • water
  • sanitation
  • waste management
  • power generation
  • emergency response system
  • police
  • traffic control
  • schools
  • communications networks
  • recreational facilities
  • health care system

A 2014 Duke University report found that the highest costs to county governments due to shale development have been road maintenance and repair, followed by increased staffing costs needed to respond to growing service demands (such as law enforcement and emergency services). 1 For municipal governments, the highest costs have tended to be upgrading sewer and water infrastructure, followed by greater staffing costs. 2 As noted in Stage 3, the study found that while local governments have financially benefitted from the advent of shale development overall, in certain regions (the Bakken Shale in particular) where large-scale development has occurred at a rapid pace, governments have struggled or failed to keep pace with increased costs.

Production

Over time, as the industry matures to the post-development production phase, the number of transient workers declines and workers that are more permanent fill the long-term development and production positions. These permanent employees are either transplants who choose to relocate with their families or locals who have acquired the skills and training needed to compete for jobs. As community residents, they spend a significant part of their income locally, contributing to the area’s long-term economic activity. Companies also continue to buy some goods and services locally, generating indirect and induced employment opportunities and further contributing to economic growth. 

Some communities in the western United States, which have long been host to oil and gas development, have seen the benefits of oil and gas development begin to materialize as development enters the production phase. At this point, revenues tend to exceed the costs of natural resource development from a fiscal standpoint. These revenues can be used to fund improvements in community services and infrastructure or to provide tax relief to communities. 3 At the same time, it is important for governments to be wary of becoming too dependent on these revenues, as they typically decline with the end of production and may fluctuate with oil and gas prices. 4 

Quality of Life—Social Impacts

The size and character of the community, as well as the views of its residents on shale development, can play significant roles in how a community experiences the changes accompanying development. In economically depressed areas, many residents may welcome the economic activity and opportunities brought by shale development. In rural communities that are focused on agriculture or tourism, however, industrial development can be seen as a threat to livelihoods and community character.

In many towns experiencing an economic boom, the benefits and costs of development are not distributed equally among residents, which can lead to social friction. While some residents may receive royalties from leasing land to developers, their neighbors may not enjoy these rewards. Some may feel they are experiencing the negative impacts of rapid industrialization and population growth (e.g., strained municipal services, widespread construction, and unfamiliar social issues) but are not receiving any benefits. In a recent survey of residents from areas experiencing shale development, those not holding leases or receiving gas royalties describe the area as “worse” or “much worse” as a result of energy development, while those with income from wells describe their area as “much better.” 5

As mentioned in the economic impacts section above, some local businesses may thrive but others may suffer, particularly agricultural, recreational, and tourism-based enterprises. Housing prices may increase, creating higher income for property owners and capital gains for those selling real estate; yet low-income individuals may no longer be able to afford to live within the community. These economic divisions may result in increased tensions; mistrust; overt conflict and even litigation; and generally diminished cohesiveness in the social fabric.

As development moves into the production phase, many communities eventually adapt to the changes, especially if new local jobs are created, the economy expands, and the number of transient workers decreases. 6

Quality of Life—Psychological Impacts

As noted in the social impacts section above, several factors can play into whether community residents feel positively or negatively about the changes in their communities. Certainly, people may welcome some changes while feeling concerned about others. When the arrival of shale development brings significant change, in particular to a small community or one that is unfamiliar with industrial development, the scale and pace of changes in the development phase can be overwhelming to some residents. Community members may find it difficult to manage the cumulative impacts of population influx and industrial development, which can potentially include increases in traffic, a rise in crime, overcrowded schools, and stressed local infrastructure and services.

The psychosocial stress on some individuals as they experience the cumulative impact of the many changes in their communities may contribute to physical illness, 7 addiction, and mental illness. 8 The increased occurrence of other physical symptoms should be considered in the context of possible air and water quality impacts (see the air quality and water quality sections in Stage 3).  

Quality of Life—NoisE ImPACTS

In the development phase, the operator often installs multiple wells per pad, prolonging the period when the project is generating noise (see Stage 3 for an overview of the effects of noise). During the longer production phase, the operator may occasionally re-stimulate or perform workovers on the well, which entails noise at the site and additional truck traffic transporting materials to and from the site. Workovers are, however, infrequent throughout the life of a producing well.

Quality of Life—Visual Impacts

The effects on the local viewshed are the most dramatic in the development phase as multiple wells are constructed on the pad. Once the operator has completed drilling and hydraulic fracturing and the site moves into post-development production, however, the company can undertake interim reclamation of the site. 9 In this period, the footprint of staging and storage facilities, water impoundments, and truck traffic should all diminish. 

Notes:

  1. Daniel Raimi and Richard G. Newell, “Shale Public Finance:  Local Government Revenues and Costs Associated with Oil and Gas Development,” Duke University Energy Initiative report (Durham, NC:  May 2014), 2.
  2. Daniel Raimi and Richard G. Newell, “Shale Public Finance,” 3.
  3. Dutton and Blankenship, “Socioeconomic Effects,” 20.
  4. Dutton and Blankenship, “Socioeconomic Effects,” 21.
  5. Jeffrey B Jacquet, “Review of Risks to Communities from Shale Gas Development,” Environmental Science and Technology, published electronically (March 13, 2014), PubMed Central.
  6. Roxana Witter, Lisa McKenzie, Meredith Towle, Kaylan Stinson, Kenneth Scott, Lee Newman, and John Adgate, Health Impact Assessment for Battlement Mesa, Garfield County, Colorado, University of Colorado School of Public Health (Denver, Colorado:  September 2010).
  7. Jeffrey B Jacquet, “Review of Risks.”
  8. S. L. Perry, “Using Ethnography to Monitor the Community Health Implications of Onshore Unconventional Oil and Gas Developments: Examples from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale,” New Solutions 23, no. 1 (2013), 33–53.
  9. While often mandated by state regulations, interim reclamation is not always enforced.

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

Collaborative Activities

Now that the company is investing in your area, it is an opportune time for local officials, operators, and other local stakeholders to begin collaborative planning efforts and/or begin implementing plans that were previously developed. There are numerous challenges that companies and communities could work together to address; for example, API’s Community Engagement Guidelines suggest that operators engage local stakeholders in dialogue around mitigating or eliminating potential negative economic impacts and maximizing economic benefits to the community. 1 Another suggestion is to plan for sustainable solutions to temporary housing challenges. 2 Examples of initiatives on both of these topics are described in Box 13. Case Study:  Economic Planning and Box 16. Case Study:  Employee Housing.

Notes:

  1. API, “Community Engagement Guidelines,” 7.
  2. API, “Community Engagement Guidelines,” 11.

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

Industry Representatives

Air Quality & Safety

In 2011, the Shale Gas Roundtable, a multi-stakeholder group of leaders in Pennsylvania, convened to consider ways to promote effective and responsible oil and gas development in the state. One of the roundtable’s recommendations is to consider building pipelines to transport water to and from the well site (see Box 14. Case Study:  A Solution in Water Sourcing). 1 It is also important to consider, however, the issues raised by pipeline construction (for more on pipelines, see Appendix E). Furthermore, operators could also work with other companies in the region, as well as state and local authorities, to identify locations for centralized processing facilities and infrastructure that would optimize transport routes while reducing surface disturbance and traffic. 2

Notes:

  1. University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics, “Shale Gas Roundtable:  Deliberations, Findings, and Recommendations” (August 2013): 10.
  2. University of Pittsburgh, 12.

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

Industry Representatives

Water Quantity

Engaging in consultations with local stakeholders, proactively developing water management plans, and coordinating with other operators in the region to develop shared, centralized infrastructure can help a company to sustainably manage its consumption of water resources. In addition, the company may seek to engage its employees in water conservation efforts and encourage sustainable practices on the part of its suppliers and contractors.

To reduce fresh water withdrawals, the operator can treat and reuse wastewater on site for use in its hydraulic fracturing operations or for other industrial or agricultural uses (if the treated water meets the user’s chemical criteria and the operator obtains the necessary permits). Some companies are achieving nearly 100% recycling of their produced water, which reduces their freshwater consumption by 10 to 30 percent. 1 Companies could also seek to replace the use of fresh water in their operations with municipal wastewater or brackish water.

Other activities that can serve to reduce impacts on local water supplies include:

  • minimizing the subsurface injection of produced water to prevent its removal from the water cycle
  • considering the practice of groundwater banking, in which an entity stores water in a groundwater basin for the purpose of future withdrawal (see the resources section below)
  • timing surface water withdrawals to avoid coinciding with periods of low flow or of heavy usage (see Box 14. Case Study:  A Solution in Water Sourcing)

Notes:

  1. Freyman, “Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress,” 39.

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

Industry Representatives

Quality of Life

There are numerous ways to ease the transition within a community experiencing rapid shale gas development. For example, communities could create a task force to identify and anticipate social issues, tap into regional resources for information on how to respond to changes, and maintain ongoing engagement with industry representatives. Part of the task force’s role could be to anticipate the recreational needs of temporary workers and facilitate their participation in community activities and programs. 

Beginning in the development phase, API’s Community Engagement Guidelines suggest that operators support local activities and nonprofit organizations seeking to address local challenges. The guidelines emphasize the importance of working with local officials and other stakeholders, being responsive to community concerns, and maintaining and continuously improving high industry standards for road and traffic safety, among other considerations.

Furthermore, employee assistance personnel and project managers can be engaged in discussions of how to address substance misuse, given that it is not only a medical and public health problem, but also an issue of workplace safety. 1 In one example, when methamphetamine addiction emerged as a serious health problem in Gillette, Wyoming, Marathon Oil Company undertook an educational awareness campaign to combat the problem (see Box 15. Case Study:  Meth Education Program).

Notes:

  1. International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, Substance Misuse: A Guide for Managers and Supervisors in the Oil and Gas Industry (2010).

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

INDUSTRY REPRESENTATIVES

Quality of Life—Noise

In addition to the management options described in Stage 3, here are some additional measures to help reduce noise during the phases of development and production:

  • erecting sound barriers around engines and/or adding mufflers to them
  • enclosing compressors and other noisy equipment in sound-proofed buildings, particularly when in proximity to residences, schools, or places of assembly
  • to the extent possible, monitoring the site remotely during the production phase to reduce traffic to the site

Quality of Life—Visual Impacts

During interim reclamation, much of the infrastructure and equipment used during development can be removed. The wellhead will be visible above ground; small brine storage tanks (often painted green to blend with the surroundings) and a metering system remain at the site. The size of the pad and surrounding land disturbance can be reduced by replanting much of the site with appropriate vegetation. There is also the option of adding a landscaped earth berm to enhance visual screening. Access roads can be shrunk to 10 to 20 feet wide and revegetated. On average, a multi-well pad can be reduced to 5.5 acres, and a single-well pad to 4.5 acres, with even smaller footprints possible. 1

A partially reclaimed single-well site in Chemung County, New York. The footprint of the drill site was 3.2 acres, reduced to a fenced area of 0.45 acres. Photo credits: Henkel, 2002 and 2009. Used with permission. Source: NY Draft SGEIS 2011, p. 6–336.

Notes:

  1. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation Study suggested average production-phase pads of .5 to 1 acre in size.

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

Local Officials

Quality of Life—Economic Impacts   

If your community is experiencing housing shortages brought about by project-related population influx, one option is to consider reaching out to the operators to identify mutually beneficial solutions (see Box 16. Case Study:  Employee Housing). Other potential options for maintaining an adequate supply of affordable housing in the context of shale development were offered in a 2011 study by the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development at Wilkes University. 1 According to the institute, local officials could work with local, state, and regional stakeholders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, to consider establishing or promoting:

  • rental ordinances requiring rental registrations and rent stabilization programs.
  • land banking, or a public- or privately-funded effort to purchase foreclosed, run down, or abandoned properties; rehabilitate; and resell them. This effort would ideally take place across several counties and would aim to maintain property values and a supply of affordable housing, among other goals.
  • housing trust funds to provide financial assistance to low-income homebuyers or renters.
  • community development corporations, or nonprofit organizations that pool funding from multiple public and private donor sources and apply it to local housing problems. Strategies can include purchasing, developing, and renovating residential and commercial properties as affordable housing units and/or offering loan assistance to low-income families.
  • zoning codes that encourage affordable housing development (e.g., mixed use development/redevelopment/infill, high-density development, and inclusionary zoning).  

Notes:

  1. Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development, “Impact on Housing in Appalachian Pennsylvania as a Result of Marcelllus Shale” (Wilkes Barre, PA:  November 2011).

What resources can provide further information?

Water Quantity

  • Juliet Christian-Smith, “Improving Water Management through Groundwater Banking:  Kern County and Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District” (The Pacific Institute, 2013). A case study of water banking programs in Kern County in California’s Central Valley. The Pacific Institute, a California-based organization dedicated to reaching environmental solutions through interdisciplinary research, funded this study.
  • Monica Freyman, “Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress:  Water Demand by the Numbers” (Ceres, February 2014). Ceres is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to mobilize business and investor leadership on climate change and sustainability issues. This paper analyzes water demand in shale development operations in North America, focusing on eight regions of intense development and water use. It offers recommendations to investors, lenders, and companies for mitigating their exposure to water sourcing risks.
  • International Council on Mining & Metals, “Water Management in Mining:  A Selection of Case Studies” (May 2012). This selection of case studies gives some examples from the mining sector of strategies to reduce water use and protect water quality in collaboration with stakeholders.

What resources can provide further information?

Safety

A centralized production facility (CPF). Photo provided by Shell Oil Company.

What resources can provide further information?

Quality of Life—Economic Impacts

  • NeighborWorks America, a nonprofit organization providing support to community development corporations nationwide, has information and resources on community development and expanding affordable housing opportunities on its website

Quality of Life—Social Impacts

  • International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) and International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA), “Substance Misuse: A Guide for Managers and Supervisors in the Oil and Gas Industry,” OGP Report No. 445 (London, UK:  2010). Produced by IPIECA, the global oil and gas industry association for environmental and social issues, and OGP, this guide for managers in the oil and gas industry focuses on substance misuse prevention techniques applicable to the workplace.

A pumper jack. Photo provided by Shell Oil Company.

Continue to Stage Five: Project Closure & Land Restoration ➤