Hazard Ranking Methodology for Assessing Health Impacts of Unconventional Natural Gas Development and Production: The Maryland Case Study

PLoS One. 2016 Jan 4;11(1):e0145368. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0145368. eCollection 2016.


The recent growth of unconventional natural gas development and production (UNGDP) has outpaced research on the potential health impacts associated with the process. The Maryland Marcellus Shale Public Health Study was conducted to inform the Maryland Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission, State legislators and the Governor about potential public health impacts associated with UNGDP so they could make an informed decision that considers the health and well-being of Marylanders. In this paper, we describe an impact assessment and hazard ranking methodology we used to assess the potential public health impacts for eight hazards associated with the UNGDP process. The hazard ranking included seven metrics: 1) presence of vulnerable populations (e.g. children under the age of 5, individuals over the age of 65, surface owners), 2) duration of exposure, 3) frequency of exposure, 4) likelihood of health effects, 5) magnitude/severity of health effects, 6) geographic extent, and 7) effectiveness of setbacks. Overall public health concern was determined by a color-coded ranking system (low, moderately high, and high) that was generated based on the overall sum of the scores for each hazard. We provide three illustrative examples of applying our methodology for air quality and health care infrastructure which were ranked as high concern and for water quality which was ranked moderately high concern. The hazard ranking was a valuable tool that allowed us to systematically evaluate each of the hazards and provide recommendations to minimize the hazards.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Hazardous Substances*
  • Humans
  • Maryland
  • Natural Gas / toxicity*


  • Hazardous Substances
  • Natural Gas

Grant support

The work presented in this manuscript was supported by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH: M00B4400326).