Experts Call For Ecological Impact Of Fracking To Become A ‘Research Priority’
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
The amount of natural gas produced from shale rock has increased by over 700 percent in the past seven years, leading the authors of a new Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment paper to call for the practice to become a “top research priority” so that they can better understand its environmental impact.
In the study, eight conservation biologists representing a variety of organizations and institutions cite new reasons why the scientific community, shale industry representatives and policymakers need to work together in order to limit the damage to the planet’s ecology resulting from the extraction of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
“We can’t let shale development outpace our understanding of its environmental impacts,” co-author Morgan Tingley, a postdoctoral research associate at the Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, said in a statement. “The past has taught us that environmental impacts of large-scale development and resource extraction, whether coal plants, large dams or biofuel monocultures, are more than the sum of their parts.”
Hydraulic fracturing, which uses deep injection of high-pressure aqueous chemicals to create fractures that release trapped natural gas which is then extracted, is expected in increase exponentially over the next 30 years, the researchers explained. Before that can be allowed to happen, though, the researchers warn that the potential impact of chemical contamination from spills, well-casing failures and other accidents must first be determined.
The study also claims that one of the greatest threats to both plants and animals is the cumulative impact of rapid, widespread shale development, as each individual well allegedly contributes to collective air, water, noise and light pollution. Furthermore, the authors report that the lack of accurate and reliable record-keeping of spills, wastewater disposal and fracturing-related spills and accidents has made it difficult to learn more about the practice.
The researchers discovered that only five of the 24 US states that have active shale-gas reservoirs (Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Texas) keep public records of spills and accidents, limiting the “direct and quantifiable evidence” of the impact of the shale gas industry’s impact on the environment. They also found that a single gas well requires between 3.7 acres and 7.6 acres (1.5 to 3.1 hectares) of vegetation to be cleared.
A review of chemical disclosure statements for 150 wells located in three top-gas producing US states discovered that two-thirds of those wells were fractured with at least one undisclosed chemical, and that some of the wells included in the chemical disclosure registry used fluids containing 20 or more undisclosed chemicals. The authors are concerned, considering that fracturing fluid and wastewater can include carcinogens and radioactive substances.
“Past lessons from large scale resource extraction and energy development – large dams, intensive forestry, or biofuel plantations – have shown us that development that outpaces our understanding of ecological impacts can have dire unintended consequences,” said Maureen Ryan, a research fellow in the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “It’s our responsibility to look forward.”
Image 2 (below): As illustrated above, each gas well can act as a source of air, water, noise and light pollution that — individually and collectively — can interfere with wild animal health, habitats and reproduction. Of particular concern is the fluid and wastewater associated with hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a technique that releases natural gas from shale by breaking the rock up with a high-pressure blend of water, sand and other chemicals. Credit: Image courtesy of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment