Environmental Practice


ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS AND CASE STUDIES: Addressing the Societal Costs of Unconventional Oil and Gas Exploration and Production: A Framework for Evaluating Short-Term, Future, and Cumulative Risks and Uncertainties of Hydrofracking

Simona L. Perry 

c.a.s.e. Consulting Services, Montgomery Village, Maryland


This article proposes a framework for addressing societal costs—psychological, social, community, and human health risks and uncertainties—associated with natural gas extraction and production from tight shale, tight sand, or coal-bed methane formations that use hydraulic fracturing processes. The US Environmental Protection Agency's 2011–14 study of hydraulic fracturing and the risks posed to drinking-water resources is used as a case study of how such a framework could be applied. This report also discusses some of the current regulatory and institutional barriers that make incorporation of societal costs into science-based and proactive decisions regarding unconventional oil and gas exploration and production in the United States more difficult and recommends some general steps for getting past those barriers.

Environmental Practice 14:1–14 (2012)

(Received May 15 2012)

(Revised August 14 2012)

(Accepted August 20 2012)

Simona L. Perry is an applied anthropologist who works at the intersection of community studies, environmental science, and public policy. She is a research partner with c.a.s.e. Consulting Services and research scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Her current research projects related to hydrofracking include a long-term ethnographic study of agricultural landowners in northeastern Pennsylvania and development of a Geographic Information System (GIS) of water-quality knowledge investments related to the actual and perceived risks of shale gas development in Pennsylvania and New York. She earned her PhD in the human dimensions of fish and wildlife conservation from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst and her MMA from the University of Washington's School of Marine Affairs. In 1997–2004, she worked as a fisheries biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.