How to Adapt Chemical Risk Assessment for Unconventional Hydrocarbon Extraction Related to the Water System

  • Ann-Hélène FaberEmail author
  • Mark Annevelink
  • Herman Kasper Gilissen
  • Paul Schot
  • Marleen van Rijswick
  • Pim de Voogt
  • Annemarie van Wezel
Part of the Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology book series (RECT, volume 246)


We identify uncertainties and knowledge gaps of chemical risk assessment related to unconventional drillings and propose adaptations. We discuss how chemical risk assessment in the context of unconventional oil and gas (UO&G) activities differs from conventional chemical risk assessment and the implications for existing legislation. A UO&G suspect list of 1,386 chemicals that might be expected in the UO&G water samples was prepared which can be used for LC-HRMS suspect screening. We actualize information on reported concentrations in UO&G-related water. Most information relates to shale gas operations, followed by coal-bed methane, while only little is available for tight gas and conventional gas. The limited research on conventional oil and gas recovery hampers comparison whether risks related to unconventional activities are in fact higher than those related to conventional activities. No study analyzed the whole cycle from fracturing fluid, flowback and produced water, and surface water and groundwater. Generally target screening has been used, probably missing contaminants of concern. Almost half of the organic compounds analyzed in surface water and groundwater exceed TTC values, so further risk assessment is needed, and risks cannot be waived. No specific exposure scenarios toward groundwater aquifers exist for UO&G-related activities. Human errors in various stages of the life cycle of UO&G production play an important role in the exposure. Neither at the international level nor at the US federal and the EU levels, specific regulations for UO&G-related activities are in place to protect environmental and human health. UO&G activities are mostly regulated through general environmental, spatial planning, and mining legislation.


Chemical risk assessment Coal-bed methane Conventional gas Failure probabilities Flowback water Fracturing additives Fracturing fluid High-resolution mass spectrometry Hydraulic fracturing Knowledge gaps Nontarget screening Produced water Risk assessment Shale gas Subsurface contaminants Suspect list Threshold of toxicological concern Tight gas Unconventional oil and gas Water contamination 





Benchmark dose


Concentration addition




Drinking Water Directive


Half maximal effective concentration


European Union




Groundwater Directive


International Agency for Research on Cancer


International Energy Agency


Soil organic carbon-water partition coefficient


Liquid chromatography high resolution mass spectrometry

Log Kow

n-octanol-water partition coefficient


Mass Spectrometry


No adverse effect level


Persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic


Predicted environmental concentration


Predicted no effect concentration


Reference dose


Risk quotient


Total dissolved solids


Tolerable daily intake


Threshold of toxicological concern


United Kingdom


Unconventional oil and gas


United States of America


Water Framework Directive



This work is part of the research program “Shale Gas & Water” with project number 859.14.001, which is financed by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and the drinking water companies Brabant Water, Oasen, and Waterleiding Maatschappij Limburg.

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ann-Hélène Faber
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Mark Annevelink
    • 2
    • 4
  • Herman Kasper Gilissen
    • 5
  • Paul Schot
    • 1
  • Marleen van Rijswick
    • 5
  • Pim de Voogt
    • 2
    • 3
  • Annemarie van Wezel
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Faculty of GeosciencesUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  2. 2.KWR Watercycle Research InstituteNieuwegeinThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem DynamicsUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Department of Environmental ScienceRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Sustainability Law, Faculty of Law, Economics and GovernanceUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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