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CEEP > Our Work > Shale Gas > Risk Matrix for Shale Gas Development

 

Risk Matrix for Shale Gas Development

Shale gas development raises new environmental and health concerns that are less well-understood than the risks associated with conventional fossil fuel extraction. In addition, concerns traditionally associated with drilling are being raised in areas that have not had to manage these issues until recently. The media have raised the profile of a number of these issues, such as water quality. However, because many of the links between shale gas development and environmental impacts are not well understood, other risks have received little to no attention.

Supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, RFF’s Center for Energy Economics and Policy (CEEP) is working to identify how government and industry can responsibly develop shale gas. As a first step, CEEP experts have worked with industry, government, and academic experts to generate a comprehensive set of “impact pathways,” linking the activities associated with the development of a shale gas well to their potential impacts.

About the Matrix

The risk matrix shows how the activities associated with the development of a shale gas well can create burdens that might impact things that people care about, such as groundwater, soil quality, and communities. It identifies the potential risks to be considered when developing a well, examining impacts from widespread drilling activities, or writing regulations. It is important to note that the matrix shows the potential risks. It does not show the impacts that have occurred, but rather those that could plausibly occur under normal operating conditions.

The list of activities was developed in consultation with academic experts, who helped the RFF research team better understand each part of the process. The list of burdens was created using information garnered from visits to shale gas development sites; discussions with various stakeholders, including industry experts, regulatory experts, NGOs, and academics; and reports on the potential impacts of the process. The risk matrix does not make any judgment on the severity or importance of each burden or impact—something that will be addressed in CEEP's expert and public surveys on this topic.​

Using the Matrix

The matrix is designed so that users can start at either the left column or the top row. The left column lists the Activities that comprise the shale gas development process. Each Activity is a potential source of risk. The top row identifies aspects of the environment that could be impacted during the shale gas development process, such as air quality, groundwater, etc. At the intersections of the rows (Activities) and the columns (Impacts) are the Burdens, which could be created by an Activity and which would have potential Impacts that people care about.

The shale gas development Activities have been divided into the following six categories. Click on a link below to see the specific Activities, Burdens, and Impacts in that area.

 

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    CEEP Director Alan Krupnick explains how to use the Risk Matrix for Shale Gas Development. 
    Trouble viewing the video? Watch it here.  

     

    It is important to note that this matrix does not take into account accidents or other extreme events, which could potentially occur, but rather those that may occur from routine operations. Furthermore, this matrix does not extend to the final impacts of each burden outlined. Each may have final impacts on human health, markets, ecosystems, climate change, and/or quality of life; however, these are not addressed here.

    Contact CEEP

    For more information about CEEP's Risk Matrix for Shale Gas Development, contact Alan Krupnick​, RFF Senior Fellow and Director of CEEP, at krupnick@rff.org.




    Site Development and Drilling Preparation

    After locating a site for shale gas development, the area must be excavated and prepared for drilling. Preparation activity also often includes leveling of the site.


    Activity Intermediate Impacts
      Groundwater Surface Water Soil Quality Air Quality Habitat Disruption Community Disruption
    Clearing of land/construction of roads, well pads, pipelines, other infrastructure   Stormwater flows Stormwater flows Conventional air pollutants and CO2 Habitat fragmentation Industrial landscape
    Invasive species Invasive species Light pollution
        Noise pollution
    On-road vehicle activity   Stormwater flows   Conventional air pollutants and CO2 Other Noise pollution
    Road congestion/accidents
    Off-road vehicle activity   Stormwater flows   Conventional air pollutants and CO2
    Other Noise pollution


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    Drilling Activities
     
    Drilling begins by boring a single well shaft vertically into the desired formation. One or more lateral wells are then drilled from the end of the vertical wellbore, angling to run horizontally through the shale formation.


    Activity Intermediate Impacts
      Groundwater Surface Water Soil Quality Air Quality Habitat Disruption Community Disruption
    Drilling equipment operation at surface Drilling fluids/cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Conventional air pollutants and CO2
      Industrial landscape
    Light pollution
    Noise pollution
    Drilling of vertical and lateral wellbore Methane Drilling fluids/cuttings   Methane    
    Drilling fluids/cuttings
    Intrusion of saline-formation water into fresh groundwater
    Casing and cementing Methane Drilling fluids/cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Methane    
    Drilling fluids/cuttings
    Intrusion of saline-formation water into fresh groundwater
    On-road and off-road vehicle activity   Stormwater flows   Conventional air pollutants and CO2
    Other Noise pollution
    Road congestion/accidents
    Use of surface water and groundwater Freshwater withdrawals Freshwater withdrawals     Freshwater withdrawals  
    Invasive species Invasive species
    Venting of methane       Methane    
    Hydrogen sulfide
    Flaring of methane       Conventional air pollutants and CO2
      Industrial landscape
    Methane
    Hydrogen sulfide
    Storage of drilling fluids at surface Drilling fluids/cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Volatile organic compounds Drilling fluids/cuttings Industrial landscape
    Disposal of drilling fluids, drill solids, cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Volatile organic compounds Drilling fluids/cuttings  


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    Fracturing and Completion 
    During hydraulic fracturing (one component of the completion process), a mix of sand, water, and additives are pumped into the wellbore at very high pressure to fracture the shale rock.


    Activity Intermediate Impacts
      Groundwater Surface Water Soil Quality Air Quality Habitat Disruption Community Disruption
    Use of surface water/groundwater Freshwater withdrawals Freshwater withdrawals Freshwater withdrawals  
    Invasive species Invasive species
    Perforation of well casing/cementing           Seismic vibrations
    Hydraulic fracture intiation Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids     Fracturing fluids Seismic vibrations
    Introduction of proppant Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids   Silica Fracturing fluids Seismic vibrations
    Proppants Proppants Proppants
    Flushing of wellbore Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Volatile organic compounds Fracturing fluids  
    Proppants Proppants Methane Proppants
    Methane      
    Flowback of reservoir fluids Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Volatile organic compounds Flowback/produced water  
    Methane Hydrogen sulfide Hydrogen sulfide Methane
    Hydrogen sulfide     Hydrogen sulfide
    Venting of methane       Methane    
    Hydrogen sulfide
    Flaring of methane       Conventional air pollutants and CO2
      Industrial landscape
    Methane
    Hydrogen sulfide
    Storage of fracturing fluids at drill site Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Volatile organic compounds Fracturing fluids Industrial landscape
    On-road and off-road vehicle activity   Stormwater flows   Conventional air pollutants and CO2 
    Invasive species Noise pollution
    Invasive species Other Road congestion/accidents
    Fracturing equipment operation       Conventional air pollutants and CO2
      Industrial landscape
    Light pollution
    Noise pollution


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    Well Operation and Production 
    In this stage, shale gas is being brought up from the ground through the borehole and separated from other gases and liquids before being sent to pipelines. 


    Activity Intermediate Impacts
      Groundwater Surface Water Soil Quality Air Quality Habitat Disruption Community Disruption
    Well production Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Volatile organic compounds Flowback/produced water
    Methane
    Hydrogen sulfide
    Condensate tank, dehydration unit operation Condenser and dehydration additives Condenser and dehydration additives Condenser and dehydration additives Conventional air pollutants and CO2   Industrial landscape
    Volatile organic compounds
    Methane
    Compressor operation       Conventional air pollutants and CO2   Industrial landscape
    Noise pollution
    Flaring of methane       Conventional air pollutants and CO2   Industrial landscape
    Methane
    Hydrogen sulfide


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    Fracturing Fluids, Flowback, and Produced Water Storage and Disposal 
    Fracturing a well can require several million gallons of water. Storing, treating, and disposing of the large amounts of freshwater, produced water, and flowback water are key activities in this stage.


    Activity Intermediate Impacts
      Groundwater Surface Water Soil Quality Air Quality Habitat Disruption Community Disruption
    On-site pit or pond storage Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Volatile organic compounds Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids
    Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water
    On-site tank storage Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Volatile organic compounds Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids
    Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water
    Transport off-site Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids   Conventional air pollutants and CO2
    Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids
    Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Road congestion/accidents
      Invasive species Invasive species Noise pollution
          Flowback/produced water
    On-site treatment and re-use Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids   Volatile organic compounds    
    Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water
    Treatment, release by industrial wastewater treatment plants Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids       Fracturing fluids
    Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water
    Treatment, release by municipal wastewater treatment plants Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids       Fracturing fluids
    Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water
    Removal of sludge and other solids to landfills Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Volatile organic compounds 
      Fracturing fluids
    Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Road congestion/accidents
          Flowback/produced water
          Noise pollution
    Deep underground injection Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids   Volatile organic compounds 
      Seismic vibrations
    Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water
    Application of wastewater for road de-icing, dust suppression Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Volatile organic compounds ​
    Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids
    Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water


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    Other Activities 
    Once a well is in production, well workovers may be necessary to perform maintenance or remedial treatments, including removing production tubing. At the end of a well’s lifetime, preparing it to be permanently abandoned includes plugging and integrity testing. Consideration is also given here to upstream activities that supply inputs to the development process, and downstream activities that move the gas to markets.​


    Activity
    Intermediate Impacts
      Groundwater Surface Water Soil Quality Air Quality Habitat Disruption Community Disruption
    Shutting-in Drilling fluids/cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Conventional air pollutants and CO2    
    Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Methane
    Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water  
    Intrusion of saline-formation water into fresh groundwater      
    Plugging and abandonment Drilling fluids/cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Conventional air pollutants and CO2 Habitat fragmentation Industrial landscape
    Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Fracturing fluids Methane
    Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water  
    Intrusion of saline-formation water into fresh groundwater      
    Workovers Drilling fluids/cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Drilling fluids/cuttings Conventional air pollutants and CO2    
    Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Flowback/produced water Methane
    Intrusion of saline-formation water into fresh groundwater     Hydrogen sulfide
    Downstream activities (e.g., pipelines)       Methane   Odor


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