Rapid Expansion with Limited Knowledge
Reserves of oil and gas trapped in shale represent an abundant source of energy. In the United States alone, shale reserves amount to 4 times the projected worldwide energy consumption in the year 2040. But accessing these reserves also presents significant risks to water quality and quantity. Hydraulic fracturing uses up to 7 million gallons of water per well — with well densities reaching 180 per square mile. In 2010, water use in Texas’ Barnett Shale play represented 9% of water use in Dallas, one of the ten most populous U.S. cities.
Hydraulic fracturing operators also use various formulations of about 750 different chemicals, 27 of which are classified as hazardous according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Injection of these chemicals poses some risk to ground water, primarily if well casings develop cracks. Storing, transporting and disposing of flowback water (which contains additional hazardous and radioactive compounds picked up in the shale formations) pose additional contamination hazards to surface and ground water.
Policy makers face the need to quickly formulate regulations, at times with lack of scientific data to provide guidance. Areas of uncertainty currently include: How will water allocations affect other constituencies using fresh water, as well as natural systems harboring threatened or endangered species? How should we develop mitigation plans given the risks of using toxic chemicals near water sources?
In the United States, regulation of shale development and hydraulic fracturing often falls on local municipalities, resulting in inconsistent policies. This policy environment is likely to result in a high administrative burden without ensuring environmental protection. We propose a science-based approach to identifying, avoiding and mitigating potential impacts of ongoing shale development, so that development can proceed while maintaining the integrity of communities and ecological systems.
Read about the Inquiry