Jump to main content
Jump to site search
SCHEDULED MAINTENANCE Close the message box

Maintenance work is planned for Monday 16 August 2021 from 07:00 to 23:59 (BST).

Website performance may be temporarily affected and you may not be able to access some PDFs or images. If this does happen, refreshing your web browser should resolve the issue. We apologise for any inconvenience this might cause and thank you for your patience.

Issue 5, 2014

Air quality concerns of unconventional oil and natural gas production

Author affiliations


Increased use of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in unconventional oil and natural gas (O & NG) development from coal, sandstone, and shale deposits in the United States (US) has created environmental concerns over water and air quality impacts. In this perspective we focus on how the production of unconventional O & NG affects air quality. We pay particular attention to shale gas as this type of development has transformed natural gas production in the US and is set to become important in the rest of the world. A variety of potential emission sources can be spread over tens of thousands of acres of a production area and this complicates assessment of local and regional air quality impacts. We outline upstream activities including drilling, completion and production. After contrasting the context for development activities in the US and Europe we explore the use of inventories for determining air emissions. Location and scale of analysis is important, as O & NG production emissions in some US basins account for nearly 100% of the pollution burden, whereas in other basins these activities make up less than 10% of total air emissions. While emission inventories are beneficial to quantifying air emissions from a particular source category, they do have limitations when determining air quality impacts from a large area. Air monitoring is essential, not only to validate inventories, but also to measure impacts. We describe the use of measurements, including ground-based mobile monitoring, network stations, airborne, and satellite platforms for measuring air quality impacts. We identify nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOC), ozone, hazardous air pollutants (HAP), and methane as pollutants of concern related to O & NG activities. These pollutants can contribute to air quality concerns and they may be regulated in ambient air, due to human health or climate forcing concerns. Close to well pads, emissions are concentrated and exposure to a wide range of pollutants is possible. Public health protection is improved when emissions are controlled and facilities are located away from where people live. Based on lessons learned in the US we outline an approach for future unconventional O & NG development that includes regulation, assessment and monitoring.

Graphical abstract: Air quality concerns of unconventional oil and natural gas production

Article information

08 Feb 2014
21 Mar 2014
First published
24 Mar 2014

Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2014,16, 954-969
Article type

Air quality concerns of unconventional oil and natural gas production

R. A. Field, J. Soltis and S. Murphy, Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2014, 16, 954 DOI: 10.1039/C4EM00081A

To request permission to reproduce material from this article, please go to the Copyright Clearance Center request page.

If you are an author contributing to an RSC publication, you do not need to request permission provided correct acknowledgement is given.

If you are the author of this article, you do not need to request permission to reproduce figures and diagrams provided correct acknowledgement is given. If you want to reproduce the whole article in a third-party publication (excluding your thesis/dissertation for which permission is not required) please go to the Copyright Clearance Center request page.

Read more about how to correctly acknowledge RSC content.

Social activity

Search articles by author