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Oil and Gas Study Raises Concerns, Calls for More Research

(Photosource: Jean Beaufort.)

A report out this week from the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas finds that oil and gas drilling has led to environmental stresses. But the study is also calling for more research to better understand just what the environmental and community impacts could be.

The 204-page report -- put together by a task force of scientists and engineers along with representatives from oil companies and environmental groups -- is based on hundreds of academic studies.

In the report the task force has laid out findings and recommendations, the majority of which call on the need for more research to be done to better understand the potential impacts of oil and gas drilling.

However, based on the studies that are available, the report finds reason to be concerned about oil and gas drilling in Texas. For example, the task force found that well pad development has an increased potential for erosion and that soil contamination is possible from oil and gas production.” Additionally, the study finds the shale production  leads to the emission of greenhouse gases and air pollutants.

The study says there is limited information on health effects that result from exposure to "air toxic emissions" and calls for targeted research in this field.

For landowners, the report recommends that Texas considers enacting a surface damage law. This would protect the landowners who do not own the mineral rights on their land (and as a result have little say in oil and gas operations).

But while the report highlights concerns, it also makes efforts to dispel misinformation about oil production. According to the study, surface spills and leaks from well casings -- not hydraulic fracturing -- present the greatest danger for water contamination and environmental damage. For some in the oil industry, this further showed there was little evidence to connect hydraulic fracturing itself to contamination. 

"This study is yet another indication that the campaign to shut down fracking is based on politics, not science," Steve Everley, spokesman for Texans for Natural Gas, said to the Houston Chronicle. "If fracking were a credible risk to groundwater, we would know about it in Texas, which produces more oil and natural gas than any other state."

The report also finds the increase in oil production has added to the amount of trucks on Texas roads, raising the frequency and severity of traffic accidents.

"These increased traffic volumes have accelerated the degradation of pavements and roadside infrastructure," the report finds. "The accelerated damage of pavement structures along secondary state highways and local roads has been estimated at $1.5 to $2.0 billion per year."

For the 6 areas the report covered -- geology and earthquake activity, land resources, air quality, water quantity and quality, transportation, and economic and social impacts -- the task force found there needs to be more research done to   better understand the impact of shale development.



Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.