Resources for the Future recently released this Risk Matrix to help in conceptualizing the various risks associated with shale gas development. Here is some explanatory text about it:
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 responsibility 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.