Toward an understanding of the environmental and public health impacts of shale gas development: an analysis of the peer reviewed scientific literature, 2009-2014

Conversations on the negative environmental and public health impacts of shale gas development continue to play out in the media, in policy discussions, and among the general public. But what does the science actually say? While research continues to lag behind the rapid scaling of shale gas development, there has been a surge of peer-reviewed scientific papers published in recent years. In fact, of all the available scientific peer-reviewed literature on the impacts of shale gas development approximately 73% has been published since January 1, 2013. What this tells us is that the scientific community is only now beginning to understand the impacts of this industry on the environment and human populations. Hazards and risks have been identified, but many data gaps still persist. Importantly, there remains a dearth of quantitative epidemiology that assesses associations between risk factors and human health outcomes among populations.

Still, there is now a lot more known about the impacts of shale gas development than when New York's de facto moratorium went into effect. This analysis is intended to provide a cursory overview of what is currently known about the potential impacts of shale gas development on human health and the environment. We include only the published peer-reviewed literature available on the subject. Specifically, this analysis uses studies relevant to near-term and long-term population health in communities experiencing shale gas development.

As the industry continues to expand in other parts of the country, New York has been in a unique position to learn from experiences and research in places like Pennsylvania, Texas, and Colorado. Clearly, this is a complex, polarizing issue and one that likely requires more than simply empirical evidence to create sound policy decisions. Yet, New York should pay close attention to the actual experiences and evidence arising out of other parts of the country that have opened their borders to shale gas development.

There are limitations to this analysis and it provides just a snapshot of what we know scientifically about the public health hazards, risks, and impacts associated with shale gas development. Furthermore, this document is preliminary and has not yet been subjected to external peer review. Nonetheless, it should provide readers with a general sense of the existing body of scientific literature on shale gas development.