Task force reviews impacts of Texas shale oil extraction

A task force has reviewed the environmental and economic impacts of shale oil and gas extraction in Texas.

Extraction of shale oil has affected the landscape in Texas – but the benefits could help mitigate the damage, according to a new report by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST).

The report was based on extensive research conducted and compiled by TAMEST’s Shale Task Force, which includes experts in the study of earthquakes, land resources, air and water quality, and other environmental fields.

The task force aimed to show which parts of the shale oil extraction process were working in Texas, and which aspects still need improvement.

“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,” task force chairwoman Christine Ehlig-Economides said.

They shared several findings with the public:

  • Earthquakes have increased a small amount in Texas, from about two per year to 12 to 15 each year. They are not directly associated with hydraulic fracturing itself; however, there is an established link between earthquakes and the injection method most fracking sites use to dispose of wastewater from the fracking process.
  • About 5 percent of polluters account for about 50 percent of air pollution in the state. New federal regulations have helped to reduce the amount of overall pollution.
  • Fracking uses only about 1 percent of water in the state, but because the industry is focused in a few counties, water use can be unbalanced. Fracking uses anywhere from 1 to 5 million gallons of water per well.
  • Road damage connecting to the shale oil and gas industries costs the state $1.5 to $2 billion per year.

They recommended that:

  • Texas increase the number of seismic monitoring stations.
  • The state adopt an act that would provide for the protection of surface lands.

They also noted that communities near shale oil and gas sites see improvements in the local economy, schools and health care. However, they raised concerns about noise, pollution, traffic and public safety, the researchers said.

The report was released by the Shale Task Force. Funding for the study was provided by TAMEST and the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. No funding was accepted from oil or gas industry interests, although a very small percentage of the task force membership have backgrounds in the industry.

By Kyla Cathey, Earth.com staff writer