New Report Looks at Six Key Impact Areas of Shale Development in Texas
The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) convenes top state researchers to author report on best science available on environmental and community impacts of shale development
AUSTIN, TX, JUNE 19, 2017/TAMEST/ — Development of shale oil and gas has fundamentally changed the energy sector. This development has resulted in billions of dollars for the state of Texas and thousands of jobs, but it’s also had an impact on the state’s communities and their land, air, water and infrastructure.
A comprehensive review of the impacts of oil and gas development in Texas by a cross-disciplinary task force of top researchers—organized by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST)—finds a wide range of both benefits and consequences for the state’s environment and communities. These impacts are detailed in a new report by the TAMEST Shale Task Force, Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in 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.
“In life, we learn by doing. This report shows what we’ve learned in Texas about the impacts from shale oil and gas development, and I hope others can benefit from our experience,” said Christine Ehlig-Economides, task force chair.
Geology and Earthquake Activity
The majority of known faults present in Texas are stable and are not prone to generating earthquakes. To date, induced earthquakes in Texas have been associated with wastewater disposal wells, not with hydraulic fracturing.
- Earthquakes have increased in Texas. Before 2008, Texas recorded about 2 earthquakes a year. Since then, there have been about 12-15 a year.
- Seismic monitoring stations in Texas will increase from 18 to 43.
Shale oil and gas development activities in Texas have resulted in fragmentation of habitat on the landscape. However, there is a lack of information and scientific data on what the impacts of fragmentation have been and are on landscape—vegetative resources, agriculture and wildlife.
- 95% of Texas lands are privately-owned, which limits data and studies on land impacts.
- 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.
The production of shale oil and gas results in emissions of greenhouse gases, photochemical air pollutants and air toxics. Air emission sources from shale oil and gas development are diverse, have complex behavior and are distributed across a large number of individual sites.
- 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 most common pathways for contaminating drinking water sources and causing environmental damage are with surface spills and well casing leaks near the surface. The depth and separation between oil-bearing and drinking water-bearing zones make contamination of potential drinking water unlikely.
- 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.
Transportation is one of the most far-reaching and consistent impacts of shale oil and gas development. Texas accounts for about half of the drilling activity in the country at any given time, and all of that activity requires a very large number of heavy truckloads, which have far greater impact on roads than typical passenger vehicle traffic.
- 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.
Economic and Social
For the most part, shale oil and gas development contributes positively to local, regional and state economies, with some unintended consequences, including impacts to local infrastructure such as roads and increased cost of living, and not everyone within a community benefits equally from such developments.
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.
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About the TAMEST Shale Task Force Report
The TAMEST Shale Task Force, composed of a diverse set of experts from academia, environmental organizations, the oil and gas industry and state agencies, has collected the best science available and summarized 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.
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.
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. No funding was sought or accepted from oil and gas industry interests.
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