How Does HEI Energy Work?

Infographic depicting the work flow of the HEI Energy Program.

The scientific review and research provided by HEI Energy aims to provide much-needed support for decisions about how best to protect public health. It will do this by contributing high-quality and credible science about potential human exposures and health effects associated with unconventional oil and natural gas development (UOGD). To provide impartial scientific reviews and original research, HEI Energy employs a governance structure that mirrors the one successfully employed for nearly 40 years by its parent organization, the Health Effects Institute (HEI).

  • The Energy Research Committee develops research solicitations, selects studies for funding, and provides oversight and feedback while studies are ongoing.
  • The Energy Review Committee, which will be formed in the near future, will evaluate the final reports after studies have been completed and write commentaries to highlight their strengths and weaknesses.
  • HEI Energy will publish the investigator reports and commentaries and make them available to the public at no charge.

HEI Energy is dedicated to producing high-quality science about UOGD, from defining the goals through independently reviewing the results. HEI Energy itself does not take policy positions; however, the projects that HEI Energy funds either will provide scientific information of direct and immediate use for policy development or will pave the way for developing such information. 

HEI Energy recognizes the necessity of engaging throughout all phases of research with its stakeholders, especially communities living where HEI Energy-funded research fieldwork is taking place. HEI Energy's Guiding Principles for Research Planning and Implementation sets forth broad principles for this engagement. The document also provides a roadmap for engagement that beings as HEI Energy plans for research oversees implementation and peer review of research, and shares and interprets research findings.

HEI Energy’s research program is guided by a five-year Implementation Plan, developed with input from HEI Energy sponsors (a partnership of government and industry), other governmental and non-governmental organizations, and the scientific community. Sponsors will not be involved in selecting, overseeing, or evaluating research funded by HEI Energy.

Energy Research Committee

Expert Committees 

Two independent committees, the Energy Research Committee and the soon-to-be-assembled Energy Review Committee, work in an environment uniquely structured to foster the necessary separation between selecting and overseeing research and critically reviewing results. This separation allows HEI Energy to fund and guide research, as well as provide credible peer review of that same research. Members of the scientific staff work closely with the committees to conduct HEI Energy’s business.

Research Process

The Energy Research Committee is responsible for defining, implementing, and overseeing HEI Energy’s research program. This committee consults with sponsors and other interested parties to determine research priorities and to develop the HEI Energy Implementation Plan. The Energy Research Committee also conducts critical reviews of the health and exposure literature to identify important gaps in knowledge and define research priorities.

Once the Research Committee has defined an area of inquiry, HEI Energy issues a research solicitation to announce broadly to the scientific community that research applications are being sought. Applications are reviewed for scientific quality by a Special Review Panel, consisting of individuals possessing expertise directly relevant to the applications. Informed by the Panels review, the Energy Research Committee evaluates the scientific merit of the applications and recommends research for funding. The Committee seeks individual research studies of high quality that, together, provide an integrated program of research that addresses critical knowledge gaps. Studies recommended by the committee undergo final evaluation by the Board of Directors, which ensures the procedures, independence, and quality of the selection process.

Review Process 

HEI Energy-funded research culminates with each investigator preparing a report that describes the study and its complete findings, both positive and negative.

Peer review of the research begins with the HEI Energy Review Committee review of the investigator reports. This Committee consists of experts in the fields of exposure assessment, toxicology, medicine, epidemiology, petroleum chemistry and engineering, hydrology, air quality, risk assessment, and biostatistics. This committee is not involved in the selection and oversight of HEI Energy studies. It conducts a critical, in-depth evaluation of every study funded by HEI Energy once the study has been completed. 

The Review Committee assesses the scientific quality of each investigator’s report and evaluates the study’s contribution to unresolved scientific questions. HEI Energy will communicate the complete findings (both positive and negative) of the studies it funds in Research Reports, which will consist of the investigator’s report and the Energy Review Committee’s commentary on the study. Commentaries discuss the strengths and limitations of the studies and put the findings into scientific and regulatory context. The Research Report then undergoes review by external peer reviewers and further revision as needed based on their assessments.

With each report, HEI Energy will also publish a Statement, written for non-scientists, that summarizes the scientific background and rationale for funding the study, the investigator's approach and methods, the key findings, and the Committee's interpretation of the study.

For “Special Reports” such as reviews of the literature, an HEI scientist who has not been involved in the development or production of the report identifies leading independent scientists in the fields of exposure assessment, toxicology, medicine, epidemiology, petroleum chemistry and engineering, hydrology, air quality, risk assessment, and biostatistics to conduct a though peer review of the Report’s methods, analysis, results, and interpretation. HEI Energy Special reports are published only after the authors have responded to or revised the report in line with the peer review comments.

Conflict of Interest 

A robust policy on disclosure and management of relevant affiliations, relationships, and financial interests is essential. HEI Energy has policies for disclosure of such conflicts — whether actual or perceived, financial or otherwise. It uses these policies when inviting peer-reviewers and advisors, forming committees, and crafting appropriate roles for committees and their members.