The drilling phase of oil and natural gas development is a growing area of environmental justice (EJ) research, particularly in the U.S. Its emergence complements longstanding EJ scholarship on later phases of the oil and gas commodity chain, such as pipeline transport, refining, and consumption. In this interdisciplinary collaboration, we provide a critical review of the novel EJ research questions that are being prompted by the on-the-ground changes in extractive techniques and patterns that have accompanied the unconventional oil and gas boom, explore the methodological challenges and opportunities involved in this vein of scholarship, and propose a research agenda to motivate future inquiry.

Collaborators: P. Maniloff, K. Dickinson, J. Adgate, L. McKenzie

Funding: seed funding from the Payne Institute, Colorado School of Mines



This project introduces, and puts to work, the concept of “impact geography” as a guiding framework for synthesizing the vast literature on social impacts of unconventional oil and gas development in the region. The impact geography approach reflects the fact that social impacts are generated by, and contingent upon, interactions between economic cycles, geology, technology, and local social context as they occur in particular spaces and places. We organize our synthesis around three major impact geographies: rural and remote; urban/suburban; and sovereign nations. Within these geographies, we survey the impacts that stakeholders within them have experienced as they have been reported in the academic literature.

Collaborators: J.Haggerty, K.Bills Walsh, K. Smith, D.Bowen

Funding: U.D. Dept. of Agriculture, National Institute of Food & Ag



Along with a boom in unconventional oil and gas boom production, many energy host communities have been experiencing a secondary boom in social science research attention. Here, we map out patterns in research attention across U.S. energy host communities and survey energy social scientists about their experiences with research fatigue during fieldwork. We then apply our findings from these analyses to developing tools that will help energy researchers to coordinate human subjects-oriented research and amply the community benefits of their research processes and products.

Collaborators: J.Haggerty, J.Jacquet, G.Theodori, K.Brasier

Funding: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food & Ag



debating the where/why of URBAN HYDROCARBON extraction

One of the unique features of the recent unconventional oil and gas boom in the U.S. is that it has brought significant drilling activities into urban and suburban areas. With this new geography of energy production, an important debate has emerged over the appropriate distance between drilling activities and people, as well as where well pads should (and shouldn’t) be located within cities and why.  An analysis of the history of well pad siting in Colorado’s most heavily-drilled city reveals that innovations in drilling technologies are generating novel procedural fairness challenges for city residents and officials, characterized by a scalar mismatch in extractive planning and public participation processes.

Funding: Dean's Graduate Research Award and CARTSS fieldwork grant, University of Colorado


engaging with energy legacies

After a brisk boom over the past decade, oversupply of petroleum has led to a drop in prices. This "bust" has brought a trend of shutting down wells, either permanently or temporarily. A wide range of stakeholders are improvising procedures to manage this new phase -- and yet, the history of the American West holds, in a multiplicity of abandoned mines, a century and a half's worth of directly relevant case studies. In summer 2017, the Center of the American West convened a workshop for coming to grips with the history and material impact of Western mining, and for applying that understanding to the current circumstances of Western oil and gas production. This workshop, and future projects, present an opportunity to bring scientists, engineers, historians, and policy scholars into innovative and consequential conversation.

Principal Investigator: P. Limerick; Co-PIs: A. Kroepsch, J. Silverstein, S. Ge, J. Fisk

Funding: National Science Foundation


making energy debates more publicly accessible

Unconventional oil and gas development is not an easy subject for productive conversation. It demands the use of technical language. Much of the action takes place in the depths of the earth, and therefore out of the public eye. And if those two factors were not enough to frustrate even the most determined of conversationalists, here is another: finding sources of trustworthy information requires skill, patience, and even self-examination. At the Center of the American West, we produced a glossary of useful terms, turns of phrase, and communication pitfalls to avoid -- in English and in Spanish -- to help make today's energy debates more accessible for people who are trying to get their bearings in otherwise noisy, confusing, and tense terrain.

Coauthors: W. Rempel, P. Limerick, University of Colorado

Funding: National Science Foundation