Understanding the Life Cycle Surface Land Requirements of Natural Gas-Fired Electricity

Sarah M. Jordaan, Garvin A. Heath, Jordan Macknick, Brian W. Bush, Ehsan Mohammadi, Dan Ben-Horin, Victoria Urrea, Danielle Marceau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus Citations


The surface land use of fossil fuel acquisition and utilization has not been well characterized, inhibiting consistent comparisons of different electricity generation technologies. Here we present a method for robust estimation of the life cycle land use of electricity generated from natural gas through a case study that includes inventories of infrastructure, satellite imagery and well-level production. Approximately 500 sites in the Barnett Shale of Texas were sampled across five life cycle stages (production, gathering, processing, transmission and power generation). Total land use (0.62 m2 MWh-1, 95% confidence intervals ±0.01 m2 MWh-1) was dominated by midstream infrastructure, particularly pipelines (74%). Our results were sensitive to power plant heat rate (85-190% of the base case), facility lifetime (89-169%), number of wells per site (16-100%), well lifetime (92-154%) and pipeline right of way (58-142%). When replicated for other gas-producing regions and different fuels, our approach offers a route to enable empirically grounded comparisons of the land footprint of energy choices.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)804-812
Number of pages9
JournalNature Energy
Issue number10
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s).

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-66274


  • estimated ultimate recovery
  • land-use
  • life cycle assessment
  • shale gas


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