Environmental and Energy Law Blog

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Shale Oil and Gas Development in Texas: Pros and Cons

Although the development of oil and gas has been a boon to the economy in Texas, a recent study published by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST), suggest that it has had an adverse impact on land, air, water and infrastructure throughout the state.

"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 Shale Task Force report focused on the following areas of impact:

  • Seismic Activity - Earthquakes have increased in Texas. Prior to 2008, about 2 earthquakes were reported each year, since then there have been about 12-15 a year. Contrary to popular conceptions, however, induced earthquakes are not associated with hydraulic fracturing, but rather, wastewater disposal wells.
  • Land - Shale oil and gas development has led to fragmentation of habitat on the landscape, however there is insufficient data to ascertain the impact on vegetation, agriculture and wildlife. The Task Force recommends that the state consider adopting a surface damage act to protect these resources.
  • Air - Oil and gas production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, photochemical air pollutants and toxins. Although recent federal regulations have reduced emissions, less than five percent of “emitters” account for  more than 50 percent of emissions.
  • Water - Surface spills and well casing leaks near the surface are the most common causes of contaminated drinking water wells. Although fracking uses one to five million gallons of water per well on average, this accounts for less than one percent of water usage statewide. The study also found the depth and separation between oil-bearing and drinking water-bearing zones makes contamination of drinking water “unlikely.”
  • Transportation Damage to roads from oil and gas operations costs the state between $1.5 to $2 billion a year. This damage, in turn impacts the trucking industry resulting in vehicle damage and lower operating speeds that cost the industry between $1.5 and $3.5 billion a year.
  • Economic and Social - Oil and gas developments provides economic benefits to property values, schools and medical services, but poses environmental concerns and has an adverse impact on traffic, public safety and noise.

While environmental groups may try to use this study to their political advantage, the fact remains that shale oil and gas production will continue to drive the energy sector. Ultimately, striking a balance between the risk of environmental concerns with the rewards of economic growth requires in the insights of experienced health, safety and environmental attorneys.

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