Austin - The oil and gas production boom seen by Texas over the past seven years has impacted many of the state’s residents in a variety of ways, both positive and negative.
A recently released report closely examines key impact areas of shale oil and gas production and development across Texas.
The report entitled “Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas,” is the work of the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) Shale Task force, which was organized in 2015.
TAMEST is a not-for-profit interdisciplinary scientific organization whose 280 members are made up of all Texas-based members of the three national academies, including 10 Nobel laureates.
Development of energy resources in Texas through the advent of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, often referred to as “fracking,” has brought billions of dollars to the state and thousands of jobs, but has also impacted the state’s communities’ land, air, water and infrastructure.
The new report examines six impact areas of shale development in Texas.
Regarding geology and earthquake activity, the report looked at research focused on understanding the relationship between the injection of drilling fluids into disposal wells and its possible connection to earthquakes detected in the same areas.
The report noted that there has been an increase in the rate of recorded seismicity over the last several years. Between 1975 and 2008, Texas averaged one or two significant earthquakes per year, but that rate increased to an average of 12 to 15 earthquakes per year between 2008 and 2016, the same time period when oil and gas production activity ramped up across the state.
The report rules out fracking as a cause for the increase in earthquake activity, but finds that injection of fluids into disposal wells may be the cause of certain earthquakes under specific conditions.
Development of a common data platform is recommended as a possible solution toward reducing the frequency and severity of earthquakes.
In regards to the impact to land resources, the report notes that horizontal wells have a smaller impact than the equivalent number of vertical wells would have had.
“When operators use a single well pad for multiple wells, surface impacts are significantly reduced,” the report says.
Landowners who do not own mineral rights have limited control over oil and gas operations, the report noted.
The report recommends evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of laws that could address the gap between legal protections for landowners who do not own mineral rights associated with their property.
When it comes to the activity’s impact on air quality, the report notes that it results in greenhouse gases, pollutants and air toxics, but recent federal and state regulations have reduced emissions.
However, the substitution of natural gas in place of coal for the generation of electricity, has resulted in reduction of emissions that could have a negative impact on air quality. The report recommends targeted research in the area concerning the health impact of exposure to emissions in the air in areas of high oil and gas production.
Impact on water quality has been a significant public concern with the increase in energy industry activity. The report notes that less than one percent of the state’s water resources is used for oil and gas production. Contamination of drinking water resources is highly unlikely due to the difference in depths between groundwater resources and the areas where fracking occurs. Further development of best practices in the operation of oil and gas production is recommended as a way to reduce inadvertent release of fluids.
One of the most significant impacts has been connected with the increase in truck traffic across the state, the report notes.
“These increased traffic volumes have accelerated the degradation of pavements and roadside infrastructure,” the report states.
Crashes have increased, specifically for truck crashes in rural areas, with an increase in fatal crashes and injury crashes. The report recommends seeking ways to provide funding for proactive preparation of future infrastructure needs.
In the area of economic and social impacts, the report shows that public school districts and universities have benefited substantially from tax and royalty revenue paid by the oil and gas industry, but these benefits are unevenly distributed among the different schools across the state.
For more information, or to read the full detailed report, visit www.tamest.org.