On June 19, 2017, the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (AMEST) released a report, Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas. TAMEST is a nonprofit organization and brain trust composed of Texas-based members of the National Academics of Sciences, Engineering and Medicines, and the state’s Nobel Laureates.

This comprehensive report is the product of the TAMEST Board’s decision in 2015 to organize a task force charged with writing a report to “collect the best science available and summarize what we do and do not know” about the economic, social, and environmental effects associated with new technologies used to extract hydrocarbons from shale and other tight rock formations.

The report finds a wide range of benefits and consequences for Texas’ environment and communities, focusing on six areas of impacts: seismicity, land, water, air, transportation, and economic and social impacts. Key highlights of the report include:

Geology and Earthquake Activity

The majority of known faults in Texas are stable and not prone to cause earthquakes. To date, induced seismicity in Texas has been associated with wastewater disposal wells, not with hydraulic fracturing:

  • Earthquakes have increased in Texas. Before 2008, Texas recorded roughly 2 earthquakes per year. Since 2008, there have been about 12-15 per year.
  • Seismic monitoring stations in Texas will increase from 18 to 43.

Land

Shale oil and gas development activities in Texas have fragmented species habitat; however, information and scientific data about the impacts on vegetative resources, agriculture, and wildlife, is lacking:

  • 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.

Air

The production of shale oil and gas generates greenhouse gas emissions, photochemical air pollutants, and air toxics. Air emission sources from shale oil and gas development are diverse, complex, and are distributed across a large number of individual sites:

  • For most types of oil and gas emission sources, roughly 5% of emitters account for more than 50% of net emissions.
  • Recent federal regulations have reduced emissions.

Water

Surface spills and well casing leaks near the surface are the most common pathways for contaminating drinking water sources and causing environmental damage. The depth and separation between oil-bearing and drinking water-bearing zones make contamination of potential drinking water unlikely:

  • On average, hydraulic fracturing uses between 1 and 5 million gallons of water per well.
  • 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

One of the most far-reaching and consistent effects of shale oil and gas development has been on transportation. Texas accounts for about half of the drilling activity in the United States at any given time, and this 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 benefits local, regional and state economies, albeit with some unintended consequences, including impacts to local infrastructure such as roads and increased cost of living, and these benefits do not benefit everyone within a given community equally. In general, 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.

Readers can find the authoritative, comprehensive report at http://www.tamest.org or by clicking the hyperlink in the first paragraph of this post.