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 identify and prioritize impacts that are most important for understanding and addressing the health and well-being of individuals and communities, as well as help to advance equity by including the range of impacts experienced by various subpopulations in a community. While the design will focus on the extraction and production phases of oil and gas development, it will draw on the 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. Cumulative Impact Assessment has also recently been highlighted as a priority for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its efforts to better serve these communities. However, there is no standardized guidance or design for assessing the cumulative impacts of chemical and non-chemical stressors on health. Many templates or guidance documents are agency, regulation, or sector specific. Within the context of unconventional oil and gas (UOGD) development research, HEI Energy is well-positioned to synthesize what is already known from HEI Energy’s currently funded research and what has been learned about the adverse and beneficial impacts on communities over the past two decades to produce a Cumulative Impact Assessment design for a representative oil and gas community in the United States. Such a design could 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, state, and local 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 groups, and other environmental and public health organizations who are conducting cumulative impact assessments or engaged in cumulative impacts research.

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