Cumulative environmental and employment impacts of the shale gas boom


Natural gas has become the largest fuel source for electricity generation in the United States and accounts for a third of energy production and consumption. However, the environmental and socioeconomic impacts across the supply chain and over the boom-and-bust cycle have not been comprehensively characterized. To provide insight for long-term decision-making for energy transitions, we estimate the cumulative effects of the shale gas boom in the Appalachian basin from 2004 to 2016 on air quality, climate change and employment. We find that air quality effects (1,200 to 4,600 deaths; US$23 billion +99%/−164%) and employment effects (469,000 job-years ±30%; US$21 billion ±30%) follow the boom-and-bust cycle, while climate impacts (US$12 billion to 94 billion) persist for generations well beyond the period of natural gas activity. Employment effects concentrate in rural areas where production occurs. However, almost half of cumulative premature mortality due to air pollution is downwind of these areas, occurring in urban regions of the northeast. The cumulative effects of methane and carbon dioxide emissions on global mean temperature over a 30-yr time horizon are nearly equivalent but over the long term, the cumulative climate impact is largely due to carbon dioxide. We estimate that a tax on production of US$2 per thousand cubic feet (+172%/−76%) would compensate for cumulative climate and air quality externalities across the supply chain.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Air quality emissions and impacts across the natural gas supply chain from 2004 to 2016.
Fig. 2: Climate change impacts across the natural gas supply chain from 2004 to 2016.
Fig. 3: Employment impacts across the natural gas supply chain from 2004 to 2016.
Fig. 4: Comparison of air, climate and employment impacts.
Fig. 5: Climate change and air quality production tax rates.

Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Code availability

Sample code developed for the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


  1. 1.

    BP Statistical Review of World Energy 67th edn (BP, 2018).

  2. 2.

    Schivley, G., Azevedo, I. M. L. & Samaras, C. Assessing the evolution of power sector carbon intensity in the United States. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 064018 (2018).

  3. 3.

    Jacoby, H. D., Sullivan, F. M. O. & Paltsev, S. The influence of shale gas on U.S. energy and environmental policy. Econ. Energy Environ. Policy 1, 37–52 (2012).

  4. 4.

    Small, M. J. et al. Risks and risk governance in unconventional shale gas development. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48, 8289–8297 (2014).

  5. 5.

    Vidic, R. D., Brantley, S. L., Vandenbossche, J. M., Yoxtheimer, D. & Abad, J. D. Impact of shale gas development on regional water quality. Science 340, 1235009 (2013).

  6. 6.

    Olmstead, S. M., Muehlenbachs, La, Shih, J., Chu, Z. & Krupnick, A. J. Shale gas development impacts on surface water quality in Pennsylvania. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 4962–4967 (2013).

  7. 7.

    Jiang, M., Hendrickson, C. T. & Vanbriesen, J. M. Life cycle water consumption and wastewater generation impacts of a Marcellus shale gas well. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48, 1911–1920 (2014).

  8. 8.

    Vengosh, A., Jackson, R. B., Warner, N., Darrah, T. H. & Kondash, A. A critical review of the risks to water resources from unconventional shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing in the united states. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48, 8334–8348 (2014).

  9. 9.

    Litovitz, A., Curtright, A., Abramzon, S., Burger, N. & Samaras, C. Estimation of regional air-quality damages from Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 014017 (2013).

  10. 10.

    Roohani, Y. H., Roy, A. A., Heo, J., Robinson, A. L.& Adams, P. J. Impact of natural gas development in the Marcellus and Utica shales on regional ozone and fine particulate matter levels. Atmos. Environ. 155, 11–20 (2017).

  11. 11.

    Swarthout, R. F. et al. Impact of Marcellus shale natural gas development in southwest Pennsylvania on volatile organic compound emissions and regional air quality. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 3175–3184 (2015).

  12. 12.

    Allred, W. B. et al. Ecosystem services lost to oil and gas in North America. Science 348, 401–402 (2015).

  13. 13.

    Abrahams, L. S., Samaras, C., Griffin, W. M. & Matthews, H. S. Life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. liquefied natural gas exports: implications for end uses. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 3237–3245 (2015).

  14. 14.

    Brittingham, M. C., Maloney, K. O., Farag, A. M., Harper, D. D. & Bowen, Z. H. Ecological risks of shale oil and gas development to wildlife, aquatic resources and their habitats. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48, 11034–11047 (2014).

  15. 15.

    Heath, G. A., O’Donoughue, P., Arent, D. J. & Bazilian, M. Harmonization of initial estimates of shale gas life cycle greenhouse gas emissions for electric power generation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, E3167–E3176 (2014).

  16. 16.

    Weber, C. L. & Clavin, C. Life cycle carbon footprint of shale gas: review of evidence and implications. Environ. Sci. Technol. 46, 5688–5695 (2012).

  17. 17.

    Jiang, M. et al. Life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of Marcellus shale gas. Environ. Res. Lett. 6, 034014 (2011).

  18. 18.

    Paredes, D., Komarek, T. & Loveridge, S. Income and employment effects of shale gas extraction windfalls: evidence from the Marcellus region. Energy Econ. 47, 112–120 (2015).

  19. 19.

    Weber, J. G. A decade of natural gas development: the makings of a resource curse? Resour. Energy Econ. 37, 168–183 (2014).

  20. 20.

    Weber, J. G. The effects of a natural gas boom on employment and income in Colorado, Texas, and Wyoming. Energy Econ. 34, 1580–1588 (2012).

  21. 21.

    Colborn, T., Kwiatkowski, C., Schultz, K. & Bachran, M. Natural gas operations from a public health perspective. Hum. Ecol. Risk Assess. 17, 1039–1056 (2011).

  22. 22.

    Hays, J. & Shonkoff, S. B. C. Toward an understanding of the environmental and public health impacts of unconventional natural gas development: a categorical assessment of the peer-reviewed scientific literature, 2009-2015. PLoS ONE 11, e0154164 (2015).

  23. 23.

    Krupnick, A. J. et al. (WHIMY) What’s Happening in My Backyard? A Community Risk-Benefit Matrix of Unconventional Oil and Gas Development and Gas Development (Resources for the Future, 2017);

  24. 24.

    U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Proved Reserves, Year-end 2016 (US Energy Information Adminstration, 2018);

  25. 25.

    Chang, C. Y. et al. Investigating ambient ozone formation regimes in neighboring cities of shale plays in the northeast United States using photochemical modeling and satellite retrievals. Atmos. Environ. 142, 152–170 (2016).

  26. 26.

    Fann, N. et al. Assessing human health PM2.5 and ozone impacts from US oil and natural gas sector emissions in 2025. Environ. Sci. Technol. 52, 8095–8103 (2018).

  27. 27.

    Gouw, J. A. De, Parrish, D. D., Frost, G. J. & Trainer, M. Reduced emissions of CO2, NOx, and SO2 from U.S. power plants owing to switch from coal to natural gas with combined cycle technology. Earth’s Future 2, 75–82 (2014).

  28. 28.

    Committee on Health, Environmental, and Other External Costs and Benefits of Energy Production and Consumption, National Research Council. Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use (The National Academies Press, 2011).

  29. 29.

    Alvarez, R. A. et al. Assessment of methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas supply chain. Science 361, 186–188 (2018).

  30. 30.

    Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2016 (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2018).

  31. 31.

    Venkatesh, A., Jaramillo, P., Griffin, W. M. & Matthews, H. S. Uncertainty in life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from United States natural gas end-uses and its effects on policy. Environ. Sci. Technol. 45, 8182–8189 (2011).

  32. 32.

    Burnham, A. et al. Life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of shale gas, natural gas, coal, and petroleum. Environ. Sci. Technol. 46, 619–627 (2012).

  33. 33.

    Stephenson, T., Valle, J. E. & Riera-Palou, X. Modeling the relative GHG emissions of conventional and shale gas production. Environ. Sci. Technol. 45, 10757–10764 (2011).

  34. 34.

    Jaramillo, P., Griffin, W. M. & Matthews, H. S. Comparative life cycle air emissions of coal, domestic natural gas, LNG, and SNG for electricity generation. Environ. Sci. Technol. 41, 6290–6296 (2007).

  35. 35.

    O’Neill, B. C. The jury is still out on global warming potentials. Climatic Change 44, 427–443 (2000).

  36. 36.

    Fuglestvedt, J. S. et al. Metrics of climate change: assessing radiative forcing and emission indices. Climatic Change 58, 267–331 (2003).

  37. 37.

    Myhre, G. et al. in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) 659–740 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

  38. 38.

    Tol, R. S. J., Berntsen, T. K., Oneill, B. C., Fuglestvedt, J. S. & Shine, K. P. A unifying framework for metrics for aggregating the climate effect of different emissions. Environ. Res. Lett. 7, 044006 (2012).

  39. 39.

    Boucher, O. Comparison of physically- and economically-based CO2-equivalences for methane. Earth Syst. Dyn. 3, 49–61 (2012).

  40. 40.

    Schneider, S. H. Can we estimate the likelihood of climatic changes at 2100? Climatic Change 52, 441–451 (2002).

  41. 41.

    Reilly, J. M. & Richards, K. R. Climate change damage and the trace gas index issue. Environ. Resour. Econ. 3, 41–61 (1993).

  42. 42.

    Schmalensee, R. Comparing greenhouse gases for policy purposes. Energy J. 14, 245–255 (1993).

  43. 43.

    Hammitt, J. K., Jain, A. K., Adams, J. L. & Wuebb A welfare-based index for assessing environmental effects of GHG emissions. Nature 381, 301–303 (1996).

  44. 44.

    Archer, D. Fate of fossil fuel CO2 in geologic time. J. Geophys. Res. 110, C09S05 (2005).

  45. 45.

    Joos, F. et al. Carbon dioxide and climate impulse response functions for the computation of greenhouse gas metrics: a multi-model analysis. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 13, 2793–2825 (2013).

  46. 46.

    Marchand, J. The distributional impacts of an energy boom in Western Canada. Can. J. Econ. 48, 714–735 (2015).

  47. 47.

    Marchand, J. Local labor market impacts of energy boom-bust-boom in Western Canada. J. Urban Econ. 71, 165–174 (2012).

  48. 48.

    Marchand, J. & Weber, J. The Local Effects of the Texas Shale Boom on Schools, Students, and Teachers USAEE Working Paper No. 17-324 (SSRN, 2018).

  49. 49.

    Brown, J. P. Production of natural gas from shale in local economies: a resource blessing or curse? Econ. Rev. 99, 119–147 (2014).

  50. 50.

    Wei, M., Patadia, S. & Kammen, D. M. Putting renewables and energy efficiency to work: how many jobs can the clean energy industry generate in the US? Energy Policy 38, 919–931 (2010).

  51. 51.

    Tanaka, K., Cavalett, O., Collins, W. J. & Cherubini, F. Asserting the climate benefits of the coal-to-gas shift across temporal and spatial scales. Nat. Clim. Change 9, 389–396 (2019).

  52. 52.

    PA DEP Oil & Gas Reporting (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, accessed 23 March 2017);

  53. 53.

    Oil and Gas Production Data (West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, accessed 16 April 2018);

  54. 54.

    Oil & Gas Resources (Ohio Department of Natural Resources, accessed 12 April 2018);

  55. 55.

    Natural Gas Delivered to Electric Power Consumers (US Energy Information Adminstration, accessed 28 May 2018);

  56. 56.

    Natural Gas Delivered to Industrial Consumers (US Energy Information Adminstration, accessed 28 May 2018);

  57. 57.

    Natural Gas Delivered to Commercial Consumers (US Energy Information Adminstration, accessed 28 May 2018);

  58. 58.

    Natural Gas Delivered to Residential Consumers (US Energy Information Adminstration, accessed 28 May 2018);

  59. 59.

    Natural Gas Pipeline & Distribution Use (US Energy Information Adminstration, accessed 28 May 2018)

  60. 60.

    Natural Gas Processed (US Energy Information Adminstration, accessed 28 May 2018);

  61. 61.

    National Emissions Inventory (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2018, accessed 7 July 2018);

  62. 62.

    2014 National Emissions Inventory Technical Support Document, Version 2 (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2018).

  63. 63.

    Gas Distribution, Gas Gathering, Gas Transmission, Hazardous Liquids, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), and Underground Natural Gas Storage (UNGS) Annual Report Data (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, accessed 26 May 2018);

  64. 64.

    Continuous Emissions Monitoring System (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2018, accessed 28 May 2018);

  65. 65.

    Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2018, 15 February 2018);

  66. 66.

    Oil and Natural Gas Sector: New Source Performance Standards and National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants Reviews; Final Rule 49490–49600 (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2012).

  67. 67.

    Rahm, B. G. et al. Wastewater management and Marcellus shale gas development: trends, drivers, and planning implications. J. Environ. Manag. 120, 105–113 (2013).

  68. 68.

    Allen, D. T. et al. Methane emissions from process equipment at natural gas production sites in the United States: pneumatic controllers. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 633–640 (2015).

  69. 69.

    Median Life, Annual Activity, and Load Factor Values for Nonroad Engine Emissions Modeling EPA-420-R-10-016. NR-005d1–47 (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2010).

  70. 70.

    Nonroad Engine Population Estimates Nonroad Engine Population Estimates (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2010).

  71. 71.

    Calculation of Age Distributions in the Nonroad Model: Growth and Scrappage 16 (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2005).

  72. 72.

    Baker, R. & Pring, M. Drilling Rig Emission Inventory for the State of Texas, 2009 (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, 2014).

  73. 73.

    Armendariz, A., Ph, D. & Alvarez, R. Emissions from Natural Gas Production in the Barnett Shale Area and Opportunities for Cost-Effective Improvements (Environmental Defense Fund, 2009).

  74. 74.

    Control Techniques Guidelines for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2016).

  75. 75.

    Bar-Ilan, A., Parikh, R., Grant, J., Shah, T. & Pollack, A. K. Recommendations for Improvements to the CENRAP States’ Oil and Gas Emissions Inventories (CENRAP, 2008).

  76. 76.

    Tong, F., Jaramillo, P. & Azevedo, I. M. L. Comparison of life cycle greenhouse gases from natural gas pathways for medium and heavy-duty vehicles. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 7123–7133 (2015).

  77. 77.

    Allen, D. T. et al. Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 17768–17773 (2013).

  78. 78.

    Omara, M. et al. Methane emissions from conventional and unconventional natural gas production sites in the Marcellus shale basin. Environ. Sci. Technol. 50, 2099–2107 (2016).

  79. 79.

    Roy, A. A., Adams, P. J. & Robinson, A. L. Air pollutant emissions from the development, production, and processing of Marcellus Shale natural gas. J. Air Waste Manag. Assoc. 64, 19–37 (2014).

  80. 80.

    Allen, D. T. Atmospheric emissions and air quality impacts from natural gas production and use. Annu. Rev. Chem. Biomol. Eng. 5, 55–75 (2014).

  81. 81.

    Muller, N. Z. & Mendelsohn, R. The Air Pollution Emission Experiments and Policy Analysis Model Technical Appendix (2006);

  82. 82.

    Muller, N. Z. Boosting GDP growth by accounting for the environment. Science 345, 873–874 (2014).

  83. 83.

    Heo, J., Adams, P. J. & Gao, H. O. Reduced-form modeling of public health impacts of inorganic PM2.5 and precursor emissions. Atmos. Environ. 137, 80–89 (2016).

  84. 84.

    Tessum, C. W., Hill, J. D. & Marshall, J. D. InMAP: a model for air pollution interventions. PLoS ONE 12, 9281–9321 (2017).

  85. 85.

    Pope, C. A. III et al. Lung cancer, cardiopulmonary mortality, and long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution. JAMA 287, 1132–1141 (2002).

  86. 86.

    Lepeule, J., Laden, F., Dockery, D. & Schwartz, J. Chronic exposure to fine particles and mortality: an extended follow-up of the Harvard six cities study from 1974 to 2009. Environ. Health Perspect. 120, 965–970 (2012).

  87. 87.

    Guidelines for Preparing Economic Analyses 2010 (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2014).

  88. 88.

    Lamb, B. K. et al. Direct measurements show decreasing methane emissions from natural gas local distribution systems in the United States. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 5161–5169 (2015).

  89. 89.

    Marchese, A. J. et al. Methane emissions from United States natural gas gathering and processing. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 10718–10727 (2015).

  90. 90.

    Zimmerle, D. J. et al. Methane emissions from the natural gas transmission and storage system in the United States. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 9374–9383 (2015).

  91. 91.

    Natural Gas Lease Fuel Consumption (US Energy Information Adminstration, accessed 28 May 2018);

  92. 92.

    Natural Gas Plant Fuel Consumption (US Energy Information Adminstration, accessed 28 May 2018);

  93. 93.

    Carbon Dioxide Emissions Coefficients (US Energy Information Adminstration, accessed 29 May 2018);

  94. 94.

    Heat Content of Natural Gas Delivered to Consumers (US Energy Information Adminstration, accessed 29 May 2018);

  95. 95.

    Shine, K. P., Fuglestvedt, J. S., Hailemariam, K. & Stuber, N. Alternatives to the global warming potential for comparing climate impacts of emissions of greenhouse gases. Climatic Change 68, 281–302 (2005).

  96. 96.

    Boucher, O. & Reddy, M. S. Climate trade-off between black carbon and carbon dioxide emissions. Energy Policy 36, 193–200 (2008).

  97. 97.

    Fuglestvedt, J., Berntsen, T., Myhre, G., Rypdal, K. & Skeie, R. B. Climate forcing from the transport sectors. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 454–458 (2008).

  98. 98.

    Berntsen, T. & Fuglestvedt, J. Global temperature responses to current emissions from the transport sectors. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 19154–19159 (2008).

  99. 99.

    Peters, G. P., Aamaas, B., Berntsen, T. & Fuglestvedt, J. S. The integrated global temperature change potential (iGTP) and relationships between emission metrics. Environ. Res. Lett. 6, 044021 (2011).

  100. 100.

    Shindell, D. et al. Climate, health, agricultural and economic impacts of tighter vehicle-emission standards. Nat. Clim. Change 1, 59–66 (2011).

  101. 101.

    Global Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Concentration (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, accessed 16 April 2018);

  102. 102.

    Marten, A. L. & Newbold, S. C. Estimating the social cost of non-CO2GHG emissions: methane and nitrous oxide. Energy Policy 51, 957–972 (2012).

  103. 103.

    Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order 12866 Technical Support Document 1–21 (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2010).

  104. 104.

    Ricke, K., Drouet, L., Caldeira, K. & Tavoni, M. Country-level social cost of carbon. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 895–900 (2018).

  105. 105.

    Local Area Personal Income (US Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2017);

  106. 106.

    Population, Housing Units, Area, and Density (US Census Bureau, 2017);

Download references


This research was conducted as part of the Center for Air, Climate and Energy Solutions, which is supported by assistance agreement no. RD83587301 awarded by the US EPA. It has not been formally reviewed by EPA. The views expressed in this document are solely those of authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Agency. EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this publication. We also acknowledge the Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making (grant no. SES-00949710) for support for this work.

Author information

A.L.R. secured project funding. E.N.M., J.L.C. and A.L.R. designed the study. E.N.M. acquired and analysed the data and modelled impacts. E.N.M., J.L.C., A.L.R. and N.Z.M. interpreted the results. E.N.M. drafted the manuscript. E.N.M., J.L.C., A.L.R., N.Z.M. and I.M.L.A. revised the manuscript.

Correspondence to Erin N. Mayfield.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

J.L.C. serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Center for Responsible Shale Development. The authors declare no other competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–26, Tables 1–23, methods and references.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Mayfield, E.N., Cohon, J.L., Muller, N.Z. et al. Cumulative environmental and employment impacts of the shale gas boom. Nat Sustain 2, 1122–1131 (2019).

Download citation

Further reading