What health considerations are there?

Health considerations at this stage continue to be focused in the quality of life domain, with the introduction of possible impacts on social relationships in your community. As discussed in Box 1 on health-related quality of life, an individual or group’s perceptions of their position in life in the context of their environment can have an important role to play in their overall health and well-being. 1 The quality of life concept includes economic, social, and psychological aspects, among others.

Quality of Life—Economic Impacts

Some landowners may financially benefit from the project by signing lease agreements with the operator, which can result in an improvement in quality of life by providing them greater financial resources and opportunities.

Quality of Life—Social Impacts

Many communities where shale development occurs are small, cohesive rural communities with a place-based identity. With the introduction of lease offers to some residents—but not others—in the community, residents can begin to perceive the potential benefits of the project as unequally distributed, creating a new source of community tension and disagreement. These changes, as well as those that take place in future stages, could result in the loss of a sense of community identity and cohesion. Furthermore, the prospect of shale development can cause some residents to start moving out of the area, either because of  increased activity driving up costs (see Economic Impacts under Stage 3), or because they are concerned about the potential environmental and social impacts.

In communities that are economically depressed, the prospect of economic benefits accompanying shale development can be a source of optimism. As mentioned above, the project might lead to improvements in local infrastructure, and might offer increased job opportunities if the project proceeds to exploratory drilling (see Economic Impacts under Stage 3). At this stage, however, it can be important to temper such optimism with an awareness of the possibility that the project will not move forward, to prevent the community making premature investments based on expected income.

Quality of Life—Psychological Impacts

According to the World Health Organization, health is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” 2 Psychological stress and the perception of negative impacts can play a significant role in an individual’s overall health. Chronic stress can result in physical health impacts and initiate a self-reinforcing cycle—i.e., in response to a psychological or physical stressor, an individual’s perception of health impacts may increase, which in turn increases his or her allostatic load, or the “wear and tear on the body” resulting from the accumulation of repeated or chronic stress. 3 

In this stage of shale development, landowners who do not control the mineral rights on their property, or those who may not wish to sign agreements but could be subject to forced pooling laws, might experience psychological stress related to uncertainty and a sense of lost control over a valuable financial asset and their home environment. Landowners concerned about property values or possible damages to their estate could also experience such stress and a decline in quality of life. In addition, uncertainty surrounding the potential project and its impacts, as well as a fear of change, can have negative psychological effects on some community members.

In a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, researchers interviewed a small set of residents in areas of shale development in the Marcellus Shale play who were reporting health impacts. 4 The goal was to identify the physical and mental stressors that participants attributed to shale development. The most commonly reported stressors involved the perception of negative interactions with and a lack of trust in company representatives and government officials. The top concerns identified were the following:

  • having their concerns denied or being provided with false information (79%)
  • corruption (61%)
  • having their concerns/complaints ignored (58%)
  • being taken advantage of (52%) 5

The authors observed that these stressful feelings likely reinforced participants’ concerns for their health, which increased over the three sessions of the study. As the authors note, there are relationship-building steps that local officials and company representatives can begin taking during the early stages of shale development to help alleviate concerns around trust and credibility. The activities listed in the “What Can Be Done?” sections of this guidebook, as well as those suggested in the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) “Community Engagement Guidelines.” 6  could be helpful in establishing relationships with communities.


  1. World Health Organization, “WHOQOL: Measuring Quality of Life” (1997). 1.
  2. Kyle J. Ferrar, Jill Kriesky, Charles L. Christen, Lynn P. Marshall, Samantha L. Malone, Ravi K. Sharma, Drew R. Michanowicz, Bernard D. Goldstein, “Assessment and Longitudinal Analysis of Health Impacts and Stressors Perceived to Result from Unconventional Shale Gas Development in the Marcellus Shale Region,” International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health 19, no. 2 (2013):  104–12.
  3. Ferrar et al., “Health Impacts,” 110–111.
  4. Ferrar et al., “Health Impacts.”
  5. Ferrar et al., “Health Impacts,” 109.
  6. American Petroleum Institute (API), “Community Engagement Guidelines,” ANSI/API Bulletin 100-3, first edition (July 2014).