The extraction of unconventional oil and gas—from shale rocks, tight sand, and coalbed formations—is shifting the geographies of fossil fuel production, with complex consequences. Following Jackson et al.’s (1) natural science survey of the environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing, this review examines social science literature on unconventional energy. After an overview of the rise of unconventional energy, the review examines energy economics and geopolitics, community mobilization, and state and private regulatory responses. Unconventional energy requires different frames of analysis than conventional energy because of three characteristics: increased drilling density, low-carbon and “clean” energy narratives of natural gas, and distinct ownership and royalty structures. This review points to the need for an interdisciplinary approach to analyzing the resulting dynamic, multilevel web of relationships that implicates land, water, food, and climate. Furthermore, the review highlights how scholarship on unconventional energy informs the broader energy landscape and contested energy futures.


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