Special Project: Design of a Cumulative Impact Assessment for an Oil & Gas Community in the United States

What are we doing? HEI Energy staff, with oversight from a dedicated special project Panel, the Energy Research Committee, and external experts, will spearhead the design of a Cumulative Impact Assessment for a representative oil and gas community in the United States. This design will focus on the extraction and production phases of oil and gas development, but will draw on experience and knowledge across the broader landscape of oil and gas communities, including ‘fenceline’ communities near other phases of oil and gas infrastructure and supply chains.

Why are we doing this? To support decisions about how best to ensure the protection of public health. The assessment of cumulative impacts has a long history within the field of environmental impact assessment [since the enactment of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) in 1970], and is of strong interest across federal, state, and municipal government, academic researchers, and local communities. Most recently, cumulative impacts research has been highlighted as an agency priority for the EPA in their efforts to better serve historically marginalized communities. However, there is no standardized guidance or design, for cumulative impact assessment. Many templates or guidance documents are agency-specific, regulation-specific, or sector-specific. Within the context of unconventional oil and gas (UOGD) development research, HEI Energy is uniquely positioned to synthesize what is already known from HEI Energy’s currently funded research and many other studies conducted over the past two decades, and draw upon its network of expertise and history of community engagement, to produce a Cumulative Impact Assessment design for a representative oil and gas community in the US. This design can also serve as a model for similar analyses in other communities affected by the energy transition (e.g., hydrogen hub communities).

Who might use it? This design will help inform decision-making made by federal and state agencies. Some examples: Decisions subject to NEPA and other state specific regulations such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Colorado’s Rule 904 of SB19-181, as well as those in industry. Such a design will also be useful more broadly to researchers, community leaders, and other environmental and public health organizations who are conducting cumulative impact assessments or engaged in cumulative impacts research.