Shale Task Force: Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas

The TAMEST Shale Task Force report—Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas—collects the best science available and summarizes what we’ve learned about the impacts of shale oil and natural gas development.

The task force convened by TAMEST is a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive review of scientific research and related findings regarding impacts of shale oil and gas production in Texas with a focus on six key areas: seismicity, land, air, water, transportation, and economic and social impacts.

“This is the first effort of its kind in Texas, with the best experts from academia, environmental organizations, the oil and gas industry and state agencies working together to reach a scientific consensus on what we do and don’t know about the impacts of shale oil and gas development.”

~ Christine Ehlig-Economides, NAE, Task Force Chair

Christine Economides

TAMEST Shale Task Force Report: Overall Highlights

Texas has long been a major producer of domestic oil and gas supplies and products. Texas remains a leading United States oil and gas producer and, in fact, the state today is on par with many of the world’s major energy-producing nations. Below are some overall highlights:

  • Texas leads the nation in oil and gas production.
  • 1.1 billion barrels of oil were produced in Texas in 2016.
  • 215/254 Texas counties produce oil and natural gas.
  • There are nearly 250,000 oil and gas wells in Texas.
  • In 2015, Texas produced more oil than all but 6 countries in the world.
  • Oil and natural gas production generated over $1.7 billion in property tax revenue for Texas schools in 2016.
  • 19 experts from across the state with diverse knowledge and experience convened to produce this report.
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About the TAMEST Shale Task Force

Why is this report important?

Development of shale oil and gas has fundamentally changed the energy sector. This development has resulted in billions of dollars for the state and thousands of jobs, but it’s also had an impact on Texas communities and their land, air, water and infrastructure.

The TAMEST Shale Task Force, composed of a diverse set of experts in these fields, collects the best science available and summarizes what we’ve learned about shale oil and gas development, with a focus on six key areas: seismicity, land, air, water, transportation, and economic and social impacts. This report identifies what still needs to be learned and the steps to take to fill in those gaps in knowledge. The report also offers recommendations for future research, identifies opportunities for greater collaboration and proposes consideration of policies to help address these impacts.

Shale oil and gas development in Texas will likely continue for decades to come; it’s important to recognize what’s been learned here and to share that knowledge. This report can help Texans and other states and nations enhance the positive impacts of shale development while reducing or mitigating negative ones.

What is TAMEST?

The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) is Texas’ premier scientific organization, bringing together the state’s best and brightest scientists and researchers. TAMEST membership includes all Texas-based members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the state’s Nobel Laureates.

What makes this report unique?

The TAMEST Shale Task Force takes a cross-disciplinary approach, bringing together a diverse set of experts from academia, environmental organizations, the oil and gas industry and state agencies to achieve a balanced, informed consensus on the impacts of shale oil and gas development. This task force is the first state-level effort of its kind, and was guided by a spirit of investigation, collaboration and transparency.

Why did TAMEST conduct this report? Where did the funding come from?

TAMEST convened and sponsored this project to produce a consensus report that would provide science-based information on what Texas has learned from its experience in shale oil and gas development. TAMEST hopes that other U.S. states, and nations around the world, will find the report informative and useful.

The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation also provided funding for this project, and members of the task force volunteered their time and expertise.

Was there any influence from the oil and gas industry on the findings of this report?

No funding was sought or accepted from oil and gas industry interests for this project. A diverse group of experts was selected to participate in and provide input to the task force, including representatives from academia, environmental organizations, the oil and gas industry and state agencies working together to bring a broad set of views and expertise to the study. The report itself has been peer-reviewed and cites peer-reviewed literature.

Was original research conducted for this report?

The TAMEST Shale Task Force report is a review of existing peer-reviewed scientific literature on the impacts of shale oil and gas development in Texas. The report followed at the state level the same processes used by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to produce scholarly, peer-reviewed reports.

Why are there so many gaps in knowledge that remain?

The size and complexity of these fields of studies is one factor; knowledge of what is happening deep underground or across the atmosphere can be diffuse and difficult to locate and access. There’s also a large number of different sources of information, which can make it difficult to determine their credibility.

This study aims to help us better understand what is and is not known about the impacts of shale oil and gas development in Texas and it offers recommendations for future research priorities.

How are these impact areas connected?

The connections between seismicity, land, air, water, road and social impacts from shale oil and gas development can’t be studied or addressed in isolation. These connections are important and pervasive, but are not well-studied yet. The task force found a need for more discussion and evaluation of these connections and the trade-offs involved in mitigating impacts.

For instance, building pipelines to alleviate road impacts could result in fragmentation of ecosystems and land resources along the pipelines’ routes. Thinking through the trade-offs early on in a systematic way could lead to better decision making about how to address these impacts.

What did the task force reveal about human health impacts from shale development?

The task force found a summary of human health impacts studied by the Texas Department of State Health Services other local and regional entities. Generally, cause and effect on human health impacts have been difficult to justify definitively. Further, it is difficult to find human health impacts that differ from those already seen from historical oil and gas development in Texas.

Seismicity Impacts

Seismicity
  • Earthquakes have increased in Texas. Before 2008, Texas recorded about 2 earthquakes a year. Since then, there have been about 12-15 a year.
  • Some of these earthquakes are linked to wastewater disposal from oil and gas development, not with hydraulic fracturing.
  • Seismic monitoring stations in Texas will increase from 18 to 43.
  • Wastewater disposal wells near earthquake locations now must receive special approval from state regulators.

Learn more about seismicity highlights, findings and recommendations >

Land Impacts

Land
  • Texas ranks #11 in the nation for at-risk species.
  • 2 species are known to be threatened by oil and gas development:
    • Dunes Sagebrush Lizard
    • Lesser Prairie Chicken
  • 95% of Texas lands are privately-owned, which limits data and studies on land impacts.
  • Land surface impacts can be reduced with horizontal wells, where multiple wells can be drilled from a single pad.
  • Baseline studies on land and ecosystems are needed.
  • Texas is the only major oil and gas producing state without a surface damage act to protect landowners. The state should study the advisability of adopting a surface damage act.

Learn more about land highlights, findings and recommendations >

Air Impacts

Air
  • For most types of oil and gas emission sources, ~5% of emitters account for more than 50% of emissions.
  • Recent federal regulations have reduced emissions.
  • The primary change in emissions from shale development is due to the increase in activity of oil and gas development, and not to the unique nature of the shale resource.
  • New technologies, such as infrared cameras, enable rapid detection of emissions.
  • The primary change in emissions from shale development is due to the increase in activity of oil and gas development, and not to the unique nature of the shale resource.

Learn more about air highlights, findings and recommendations >

Water Impacts

water impacts
  • Hydraulic fracturing uses 1–5 million gallons of water per well on average.
  • Water used for hydraulic fracturing activities accounts for less than 1% of total statewide water use, but it could account for the majority of total water use in some rural counties.
  • More research is needed to increase usage of poor-quality waters instead of freshwater.
  • Increase prevention of leaks and spills on or near ground surface, which are most likely to contaminate drinking water sources.

Learn more about water highlights, findings and recommendations >

Transportation Impacts

transportation impacts
  • Road damage from oil and gas operations in Texas costs an estimated $1.5 to $ 2 billion a year.
  • This damage also impacts the trucking industry in Texas: vehicle damage and lower operating speeds cost the industry an estimated $1.5 to $3.5 billion a year.
  • Rural crashes involving commercial vehicles have increased over 75% in some drilling regions in Texas.
  • Additional preventative maintenance and guidelines would help reduce crashes and improve road conditions.
  • Temporary pipelines along the state right of way could alleviate some of these impacts; research is currently underway to develop guidelines.

Learn more about transportation highlights, findings and recommendations >

Economic and Social Impacts

community impacts
  • Communities in shale regions:
    • LIKE the economic benefits to property values, schools and medical services.
    • DISLIKE the impacts on traffic, public safety, environmental concerns and noise.
    • OVERALL shale oil and gas development primarily contributes positively to local, regional and state economies.
    • Social science research could lead to a better understanding of the issues these communities face.
    • Unique outreach is needed for each community; there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Learn more about economic and social highlights, findings and recommendations >

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