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.
The TAMEST Shale Task Force report focuses on six areas of impacts: seismicity, land, water, air, transportation, and economic and social impacts. Key highlights from the report include:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Materials provided by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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