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article imageReport details impacts of shale production, good and bad in Texas

By Karen Graham     Jul 22, 2017 in Environment
San Antonio - A comprehensive review of the impacts of shale oil and gas development in Texas has been released. The report, by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST), looks at the benefits and consequences of shale development.
TAMEST was co-founded in 2004 by the Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison and Nobel Laureates Michael S. Brown, M.D., and Richard E. Smalley, Ph.D. It is an organization based in Austin, Texas that has attracted the best and brightest in medicine, engineering, and science.
Making new discoveries, laying the groundwork for tackling critical issues and creating ideas and innovations that change the course of funding, legislation, and society are all integral parts of their mission.
In the TAMEST report, entitled Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas, published on June 19, a wide range of both benefits and consequences of the state's booming shale production were discussed, as well as the solutions for reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions, in particular, methane.
"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 focused on six impact areas relating to shale production. They include seismicity, land, water, air, transportation, and economic and social impacts. reports Science News Line. Rather than go into detail of the 198-page report, we will look at the highlights in the six impact areas.
Geology and Earthquake Activity
In TAMEST's findings, although there have been extensive studies on geology and earthquake activity that goes back over 100 years, geologic faults are ubiquitous across Texas; these faults are poorly and incompletely characterized. The majority of known faults are stable and not prone to seismic activity.
There has been an increase in seismic activity over the past several years. Before 2008, Texas recorded about 2 earthquakes a year. Since then, there have been about 12-15 a year, with the majority of them associated with wastewater disposal wells, not with hydraulic fracturing.
Recommendations: Seismic monitoring stations in Texas have been increased from 18 to 43. The task force also recommends that a common data platform and standardized data formats could make it easier for various entities collecting data to contribute to better data integration. It also could facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration directed toward mitigation and avoidance of induced seismicity.
Land Resources
In Texas, most of the land is privately owned, making it difficult for research on the potential impacts on land and environmental resources to be thoroughly studied because of an infringement on property owners rights. This means that shale development on private lands are not sites where environmental impact studies are done.
Because of this problem, there is an increased risk of soil erosion and contamination from oil and gas production that are critically important. Another problem noted was the fact that many land owners do not own the mineral rights to their land, and have very limited control over oil and gas operations.
The limited data available on environmental impacts from oil and gas production can be found in a few state and federal agencies, but there is no single database, easily searchable or even available online that integrates the data across different platforms.
Recommendations: Texas should study the advisability of adopting a surface damage act to protect private land owners. And the existing, non-proprietary information about land impacts of shale development that is collected and evaluated by multiple state and federal agencies should be assembled and made available online to the public.
Eagle Ford Shale methane gas flares visible from space (green and infrared wavelengths)  in the arc ...
Eagle Ford Shale methane gas flares visible from space (green and infrared wavelengths), in the arc between "1" and "2", amid cities in south Texas in 2012, acquired by NASA's acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite.
Air Quality
According to My San Antonio, Texas is the number 1 source of methane gas from oil and gas operation in the nation, but according to the TAMEST report, all they say is that methane rates in Texas roughly scale with oil and gas production rates, whatever that means.
The report notes that other categories of air pollution in addition to methane associated with shale resource production are dominated by a small sub-population of high-emitting sources. The report notes that the development of inexpensive, robust, reliable, and accurate methods of rapidly finding high-emitting sources has the potential to reduce emissions.
Recommendations: Because of the limited information available concerning exposures to toxic emissions and their likely and corresponding health impacts, targeted research in this area should be conducted.
Oil drilling rigs are heavy  as can be seen in this photo taken on August 18  2011 of the raising of...
Oil drilling rigs are heavy, as can be seen in this photo taken on August 18, 2011 of the raising of the stern of a Bakken oil derrick.
Joshua Doubek
Water Quantity and Quality
One of the biggest concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing is the amount of water being used and the real possibility of contamination of the drinking water supply. Millions of gallons of water are used to fracture a single well, averaging from 1 to 5 million gallons.
The biggest concern has always been near surface and surface spills or leaks that may pose a dominant risk of hydraulic fracturing operations to drinking water resources. However, the task force found that fracturing activities used only about 1.0 percent of the state's total water resources and the depth and separation between oil-bearing and drinking water-bearing zones make contamination of potential drinking water unlikely.
North Dakota: Flaring of methane gas out of the Bakken Formation.
North Dakota: Flaring of methane gas out of the Bakken Formation.
Joshua Doubek
Recommendations: Again, there is a minimal amount of data relating to spill mitigation and proper reporting requirements. For all spilled substances, reporting requirements should be improved to aid identification of the primary sources of leaks and appropriate management responses.
For wastewater treatment or disposal, additional research to evaluate potential negative impacts of any such uses also should be undertaken.
With Texas accounting for at least half of all the drilling activity in the U.S., transportation has the most far-reaching and consistent impacts of shale oil and gas production. Drilling activities require large, and often very heavy truckloads of equipment, and the impact of this on roads that are made for passenger cars is great.
Road damage from oil and gas operations in Texas costs an estimated $1.5 to $2 billion a year. Costs to the trucking industry in the form of additional vehicle damage and lower operating speeds is estimated to cost $1.5 to $3.5 billion per year.
Texas Barnett Shale gas drilling rig
near Alvarado  Texas.
Texas Barnett Shale gas drilling rig near Alvarado, Texas.
David R. Tribble
There has also been an increase in the number and severity of accidents involving trucks hauling for the oil and gas industry. The result has been a higher percentage in the number of fatal, incapacitating, and non-incapacitating injury crashes in energy development regions compared to overall changes in all types of crashes.
Recommendations: Because funding for research and studies that address the impacts to the transportation infrastructure and traffic safety in the oil and gas industry are low, the task force calls on the state to provide provisions for reliable, sustainable funding for proactively preparing the state’s transportation infrastructure for future drilling activities.
Economic and Social Impacts
The economic and societal pluses that come from shale development are hard to say anything bad about. Employment means money for families and this spreads to the community at large. And although regional and state economies are impacted in a positive way, there are some unintended consequences of shale operations.
Shell s Deer Park refinery  Texas
Shell's Deer Park refinery, Texas
Roy Luck/Flickr Creative Commons
State infrastructure, like roads, are impacted, and this costs the state and in turn the tax payer. Then there is the rise in the cost of living that comes with austerity. Actually, the report found that while oil and gas companies are quite happy with the way things are going, not everyone living around the fracking sites are all that thrilled.
Noise, traffic, environmental concerns, and the fact that some segments of communities are disproportionately negatively impacted is not lost on most citizens. And then there are the negative perceptions that flourish around the whole idea of hydraulic fracturing.
Recommendations: More research is needed to understand fully the implications of shale oil and gas production relative to the social and economic impacts on communities.
The task force report is interesting in a number of ways. Besides a detailed look into the impacts, both good and bad surrounding hydraulic fracturing, it also is a "good read" because it delves into the history of energy production in Texas.
More about TAMEST, shale oil and gas, Texas, methane emissions, Energy sector