Population Allocation at the Housing Unit Level: Estimates around Underground Natural Gas Storage Wells in PA, OH, NY, WV, MI, and CA

Spatially accurate population data are critical for determining health impacts from many known risk factors. However, the utility of the increasing spatial resolution of disease mapping and environmental exposures is limited by the lack of receptor population data at similar sub-census block spatial scales.

Measuring and Managing the Unknown: Methane Emissions from the Oil and Gas Value Chain

Tracking and reducing methane emissions from oil and gas operations needs an innovative approach, according to new report from the C.D. Howe Institute. In “Measuring and Managing the Unknown: Methane Emissions from the Oil and Gas Value Chain” authors Sarah Marie Jordaan and Kate Konschnik highlight the growing pressure on industry and policymakers to address the “unknown” factor in greenhouse gas emissions and propose a regulatory approach that remains open to new technologies.

Private Environmental Governance in Oil and Gas: Unlocking the Complex Universe of Leading Management Practices

In the United States, expansion of onshore fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies has sparked calls for greater control of industry impacts. Alongside fractured regulatory efforts, a broad private governance movement has encouraged adoption of voluntary measures—often called “best management practices.” To explore the role of best management practices in unconventional oil and natural gas production, this article in the Florida State Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law focuses on surface spills of hydrocarbons, drilling wastes, fracturing fluid, and wastewater at production sites. 

A Spatially-Resolved Inventory Analysis of the Water Consumed by the Coal-to-Gas Transition of Pennsylvania

In the Journal of Cleaner Production, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Lauren Patterson and her co-authors look at changes in water consumption related to transitions from coal to natural gas in Pennsylvania from 2009 to 2012. The study provides the first comprehensive representation of changing water consumption patterns associated with the state’s coal-to-gas transition at a watershed level for both extraction of the resources to the generation of electricity with coal and natural gas.

Reducing Fugitive Methane Emissions from the North American Oil and Gas Sector: A Proposed Science-Policy Framework

Atmospheric methane concentrations continue to increase globally, despite a pledge in 2016 from the leaders of the United States, Canada, and Mexico to reduce methane emissions from each country’s oil and gas sector. Additionally, the trilateral methane pledge faces more challenges as the Trump Administration seeks to reverse federal methane research and control efforts. Efforts to measure and control fugitive methane emissions do not presently proceed within a coherent framework that integrates science and policy. A new article in the journal Climate Policy suggests that collectively or individually, the countries, individual agencies, or private stakeholders could use the proposed North American Methane Reduction framework to direct research, enhance monitoring and evaluate mitigation efforts, and improve the chances that continental methane reduction targets will be achieved.

Water Stress from High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Potentially Threatens Aquatic Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Arkansas, United States

Demand for high-volume, short duration water withdrawals could create water stress to aquatic organisms in the Fayetteville Shale streams of Arkansas sourced for hydraulic fracturing fluids this article in the journal Environmental Science and Technology suggests. Authors estimate potential water stress using permitted water withdrawal volumes and actual water withdrawals compared to monthly median, low, and high streamflows. Findings indicate that freshwater usage for hydraulic fracturing could potentially affect aquatic organisms in 7-51 percent of the catchments depending on the month. If 100 percent of wastewater was recycled, the potential impact drops. Authors suggest that improved monitoring and access to water withdrawal and streamflow data are needed to ensure protection of streams not only as sources of drinking water, but aquatic habitats.

Unconventional Oil and Gas Spills: Risks, Mitigation Priorities and States Reporting Requirements

An analysis led by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, which appears in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, concludes that making state spill data more uniform and accessible could provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills. However, reporting requirements differ across states, requiring considerable effort to make the data usable for analysis. By examining state-level spill data, it finds that 2 to 16 percent of hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells across Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania spill hydrocarbons, chemical-laden water, hydraulic fracturing fluids and other substances each year. The study characterizes spills associated with unconventional oil and gas development at 31,481 wells hydraulically fractured or "fracked" in the four states between 2005 and 2014, identifying 6,648 spills in the 10-year period.  

Unconventional Oil and Gas Spills: Materials, Volumes, and Risks to Surface Waters in Four States of the U.S.

A new article in the journal Science of the Total Environment examines spill data associated with unconventional oil and gas wells from Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania from 2005 to 2014. The authors used the data to evaluate the environmental risk of spills. They found that there were 21,300 unconventional wells and 6,622 reported spills. Across all states, the average distance of spills to a stream was highest in New Mexico, followed by Colorado, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania spills occurred in watersheds with a higher relative importance to drinking water than the other three states.

Transport of Hydraulic Fracturing Waste from Pennsylvania Wells: A County-Level Analysis of Road Use and Associated Road Repair Costs

Pennsylvania’s rapid unconventional oil and gas development—from a single well in 2004 to more than 6700 wells in 2013—has dramatically increased unconventional oil and gas waste transport by heavy trucks. In an article published in the Journal of Environmental Management, researchers at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and the U.S. Geological Survey report that transportation of waste associated with the development of unconventional oil and gas in Pennsylvania increases the cost of road repairs not only in Pennsylvania but in counties in the surrounding states of West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, and New York. Between July 2010 and December 2013, the estimated cost to repair roads damaged by trucks transporting unconventional oil and gas waste ranged from $3 million to $18 million. Although the majority of these costs were concentrated in Pennsylvania (79 percent), Ohio counties absorbed some of them (16 percent). The study includes an interactive graphic for visualization of the data.

A Spatiotemporal Exploration of Water Consumption Changes Resulting from the Coal-to-Gas Transition in Pennsylvania

During the early stages of Pennsylvania’s coal-to-gas transition, extraction and generation of coal and natural gas contributed to a yearly 2.6–8.4% increase in the state’s water consumption. Although some areas experienced no change in water consumption, others experienced large decreases or increases. Consumption variations depended on available natural gas resources and pre-existing power-generating infrastructure. This analysis estimates monthly water consumption associated with fuel extraction and power generation within Pennsylvania watersheds between 2009 and 2012. It also provides the first comprehensive representation of changing water consumption patterns associated with the state’s coal-to-gas transition at the sub-basin level. The analysis shows that water consumption for natural gas energy extraction and production increased throughout the period, while for coal extraction and production it decreased. Water use for natural gas generation increased 67%, particularly in the Philadelphia and Pittsburg areas; water use for hydraulic fracturing increased nine fold in southwest and northeast Pennsylvania. By contrast, water use for coal extraction and production decreased 13%. In some areas, increased water consumption resulting from hydraulic fracturing was offset by decreased water consumption for power generation as plants switched from coal to natural gas. An interactive map and chart highlighting the changes can be accessed at These findings indicate the importance of considering the implications of energy production and generation choices in the context of both energy extraction and production sectors and of doing so at smaller-than-state-level scale.