The human toxicity impact (HTI) of electricity produced from shale gas is lower than the HTI of electricity produced from coal, with 90% confidence using a Monte Carlo Analysis. Two different impact assessment methods estimate the HTI of shale gas electricity to be one-to-two orders of magnitude less than the HTI of coal electricity (0.016-0.024 DALY/GWh versus 0.69-1.7 DALY/GWh). Further, an implausible shale gas scenario where all fracturing fluid and untreated produced water is discharged directly to surface water throughout the lifetime of a well also has a lower HTI than coal electricity. Particulate matter dominates the HTI for both systems, representing a much larger contribution to the overall toxicity burden than VOCs or any aquatic emission. Aquatic emissions can become larger contributors to the HTI when waste products are inadequately disposed or there are significant infrastructure or equipment failures. Large uncertainty and lack of exposure data prevent a full risk assessment; however, the results of this analysis provide a comparison of relative toxicity, which can be used to identify target areas for improvement and assess potential tradeoffs with other environmental impacts.
CSS Publication Number:
life cycle assessment
Environmental Science & Technology
October 10, 2017
Chen, Lu, Shelie A. Miller, and Brian R. Ellis. (2017) “Comparative Human Toxicity Impact of Electricity Produced from Shale Gas and Coal.” Environmental Science and Technology 51(21): 13018–13027.