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Sci Total Environ. 2015 Feb 1;505:1127-41. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.10.084. Epub 2014 Nov 12.

Environmental health impacts of unconventional natural gas development: a review of the current strength of evidence.

Author information

1
Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia. Electronic address: a.werner2@uq.edu.au.
2
Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia.
3
College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia; School of Population Health, The University of Queensland, Herston, Queensland, Australia.
4
School of Population Health, The University of Queensland, Herston, Queensland, Australia.

Abstract

Rapid global expansion of unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) raises environmental health concerns. Many studies present information on these concerns, yet the strength of epidemiological evidence remains tenuous. This paper is a review of the strength of evidence in scientific reporting of environmental hazards from UNGD activities associated with adverse human health outcomes. Studies were drawn from peer-reviewed and grey literature following a systematic search. Five databases were searched for studies published from January 1995 through March 2014 using key search terms relevant to environmental health. Studies were screened, ranked and then reviewed according to the strength of the evidence presented on adverse environmental health outcomes associated with UNGD. The initial searches yielded >1000 studies, but this was reduced to 109 relevant studies after the ranking process. Only seven studies were considered highly relevant based on strength of evidence. Articles spanned several relevant topics, but most focussed on impacts on typical environmental media, such as water and air, with much of the health impacts inferred rather than evidenced. Additionally, the majority of studies focussed on short-term, rather than long-term, health impacts, which is expected considering the timeframe of UNGD; therefore, very few studies examined health outcomes with longer latencies such as cancer or developmental outcomes. Current scientific evidence for UNGD that demonstrates associations between adverse health outcomes directly with environmental health hazards resulting from UNGD activities generally lacks methodological rigour. Importantly, however, there is also no evidence to rule out such health impacts. While the current evidence in the scientific research reporting leaves questions unanswered about the actual environmental health impacts, public health concerns remain intense. This is a clear gap in the scientific knowledge that requires urgent attention.

KEYWORDS:

Coal seam gas; Environmental health impact; Shale gas; Strength of evidence; Tight gas; Unconventional natural gas

PMID:
25461113
DOI:
10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.10.084
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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