Unconventional oil and gas development and health outcomes: A scoping review of the epidemiological research

Nicole C. Deziel, Eran Brokovich, Itamar Grotto, Cassandra J. Clark, Zohar Barnett-Itzhaki, David Broday, Keren Agay-Shay

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Hydraulic fracturing together with directional and horizontal well drilling (unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development) has increased substantially over the last decade. UOG development is a complex process presenting many potential environmental health hazards, raising serious public concern. Aim: To conduct a scoping review to assess what is known about the human health outcomes associated with exposure to UOG development. Methods: We performed a literature search in MEDLINE and SCOPUS for epidemiological studies of exposure to UOG development and verified human health outcomes published through August 15, 2019. For each eligible study we extracted data on the study design, study population, health outcomes, exposure assessment approach, statistical methodology, and potential confounders. We reviewed the articles based on categories of health outcomes. Results: We identified 806 published articles, most of which were published during the last three years. After screening, 40 peer-reviewed articles were selected for full text evaluation and of these, 29 articles met our inclusion criteria. Studies evaluated pregnancy outcomes, cancer incidence, hospitalizations, asthma exacerbations, sexually transmitted diseases, and injuries or mortality from traffic accidents. Our review found that 25 of the 29 studies reported at least one statistically significant association between the UOG exposure metric and an adverse health outcome. The most commonly studied endpoint was adverse birth outcomes, particularly preterm deliveries and low birth weight. Few studies evaluated the mediating pathways that may underpin these associations, highlighting a clear need for research on the potential exposure pathways and mechanisms underlying observed relationships. Conclusions: This review highlights the heterogeneity among studies with respect to study design, outcome of interest, and exposure assessment methodology. Though replication in other populations is important, current research points to a growing body of evidence of health problems in communities living near UOG sites.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number109124
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • Fracking
  • Health and fracking
  • Hydraulic fracturing
  • Shale gas
  • Unconventional oil and gas development

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Biochemistry


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