The Effects of Unconventional Shale Gas Development on Rural Communities (2015-2016)

The exploration and production of unconventional natural gas reservoirs has substantially expanded in the US through horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing. These technological advances have opened vast new energy resources and dramatically changed the energy landscape in the US. Yet the rapid expansion of shale gas development has triggered public debate over its human and environmental impacts, including water and air contamination, traffic, cost of living and job creation.

Duke University has been instrumental in the development of scientific tools to detect contaminants, including fugitive gas and hydraulic fracturing fluids in drinking water resources. This project team integrated the rigorous scientific data generated from well testing with analysis of the social impacts in areas of shale gas exploration. Team members gathered data and conduct surveys to assess real and perceived social impacts associated with shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing.

The team chose to focus on the Bakken shale play. Unlike the Marcellus and Eagle Ford plays (located primarily in Pennsylvania and Texas, respectively), the Bakken area of western North Dakota and eastern Montana has no history of mineral resource development and consequently lacks the social and industrial infrastructure necessary for mineral resource extraction. Research questions included: What are the major socioeconomic impacts of the increase in unconventional resource extraction in the North Dakota portion of the Bakken shale play since ~2005?; How might newspaper coverage of oil and gas development reflect differences in local and national attitudes on the issue?; Where is the industry located, and where is the industry most heavily concentrated?; and How will the recent drop in prices affect production and output? Team members produced a report and a poster with data visualizations. The team also hosted a visit and public lecture by Lisa Berthold of the Three Affiliated Tribes, “Oil and Gas Impact on the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, North Dakota.”


Fall 2015 – Spring 2016

Team Outcomes

Tracking Trends in Unconventional Oil and Gas Development: The Bakken (poster by April Christensen, Can Feng, Jeff Feng, Erin Litzow, Ashton Merck, Jessica McDonald)

Tracking Trends in Unconventional Oil and Gas Development: The Bakken (report by April Christensen, Can Feng, Jeff Feng, Jessica McDonald, Ashton Merck)


Insights from Two Lectures on Oil and Gas Development Hosted by Duke University in 2015 (Ashton Merck)

This Team in the News

When to Do Collaborative Research? Early—and Often

Meet the Members of the Bass Connections Student Advisory Council

Duke Team Sees Opportunities for Studying How Fracking Affects Society

Can Feng, Master of Public Policy

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Emily Klein, Nicholas School - Earth & Ocean Sciences*
Avner Vengosh, Nicholas School - Earth & Ocean Sciences*
Erika Weinthal, Nicholas School - Environmental Sciences & Policy*

Graduate Team Members

April Christensen, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment
Can Feng, Public Policy Studies-AM
Jennifer Harkness, Earth and Ocean Sciences-MS
Erin Litzow, Master of Environmental Management, Environmental Economics/Policy
Jessica McDonald, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment
Ashton Merck, History-PHD
Alyssa Poirrier, Master of Environmental Management, Energy and Environment

Undergraduate Team Members

Jeff Feng, Environmental Sciences (BS)
Luke Raskopf

* denotes team leader


Completed, Archived