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Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas

June 19, 2017
By The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas

Task Force on Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas

From the Summary:

"By many measures, including annual revenues and number of employees, the oil and gas industry is one of the world’s largest business sectors. It includes not only U.S.-based firms, but also major energy corporations based in China, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and many other nations. Major changes in the oil and gas industry have substantive implications for and effects upon all other business and commercial sectors, both in the United States and around the world.

"The biggest change in the global oil and gas industry during the past decade has been the proliferation of horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing. Improvements in many aspects of the technologies and materials used in the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing processes have opened up vast shale deposits that previously were not viable economically for oil and gas production.

"A significant portion of this major energy development and technological breakthrough since the mid-2000s has taken place in Texas. Today, Texas produces more crude oil than any other state, and is responsible for more than one-third of the nation’s total oil production (EIA, 2017a). Texas oil production in 2015 was larger than that of all but six countries (EIA, 2017b).

"Texas has long been a major producer of domestic oil and gas supplies and products. Texas remains a leading United States oil and gas producer and, in fact, the state today is on par with many of the world’s major energy-producing nations. These changes in the Texas oil and gas sector have important implications not only for Texas, but also for the entire United States as well as other parts of the world. These new technologies have opened access to vast new supplies of natural gas that in many areas are partly displacing coal for power generation.

"The development of shale and related hydrocarbon resources continues to expand. At the same time, there is opposition to this expansion in many places, including some U.S. states, such as New York, and some nations, such as France. However, hydraulic fracturing for shale development will continue to be an important and likely growing part of the Texas and United States energy production portfolio. A better understanding of the many implications and effects of shale development will help identify research priorities that, in turn, will support improved management of many different risks and environmental mitigation activities. One theme common to several chapters in this report is a call for easier and wider access to data from shale development operations to all interested parties.

"The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) convened a task force to prepare this report on the Texas shale development experience. This report covers the underlying science for six topic areas as it pertains to shale exploration and production activities: 1) geology and earthquake activity; 2) land resources; 3) air quality; 4) water quantity and quality; 5) transportation; and 6) economic and social impacts.

"There is a need and opportunity to improve the broad understanding and awareness of the impacts of shale production. This study aims to help all Texans better understand what is and is not known about the impacts of shale oil and gas development in Texas, and offer recommendations for future research priorities.

"Beyond this report’s explicit six topic areas, in its deliberations the task force noted there are numerous transdisciplinary connections across these six topic areas. For a variety of reasons, these connections generally have not been evaluated systematically. A better integration and evaluation of factors that cross multiple subject matter areas would provide a more comprehensive understanding of shale development activities, and its implications for Texas communities and biophysical, economic, and social systems.

"Furthermore, time and spatial scales regarding the dynamics of geophysical systems, ecosystems, public entities (such as schools and health care facilities) and investments in road construction and maintenance vary considerably. A more sophisticated analytical approach to integrating across these topic areas, and to developing policies and investments accordingly, requires better understanding and appreciation of these different scales and processes.

"This summary presents findings and recommendations, in bold-faced print, from the six topic areas addressed in this project, followed by findings and a recommendation regarding transdisciplinary connections and trade-off decisions among the six topic areas. These findings and recommendations are also presented within and at the end of each chapter."