On June 19, 2017, the Academy of Medicine, Engineering, and Science of Texas (TAMEST) released a new, comprehensive report on the effects of shale oil and natural gas development in Texas. Titled Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas, the TAMEST Shale Task Force Report focuses on six areas: seismicity, land resources, water, air, transportation, and community impacts. In the report, a diverse group of experts from academia, environmental organizations, the oil and gas industry and state agencies analyze what we do and don’t know about the impacts of shale oil and natural gas development. Read the report.
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. Some overall highlights of the TAMEST Shale Task Force Report include:
- Texas leads the nation in oil and gas production.
- 1.1 billion barrels of oil were produced in Texas in 2016.
- 215/254 Texas counties produce oil and natural gas.
- There are nearly 250,000 oil and gas wells in Texas.
- In 2015, Texas produced more oil than all but 6 countries in the world.
- Oil and natural gas production generated over $1.7 billion in property tax revenue for Texas schools in 2016.
- 19 experts from across the state with diverse knowledge and experience convened to produce this report.
Professor Melinda Taylor, the associate director of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business at The University of Texas at Austin and a TAMEST Task Force member, served as the lead on Chapter 4 of the report, which describes the effects of shale development on Texas’ land resources. In addition to Professor Taylor, Land chapter authors include Joseph Fitzimmons of Uhl, Fitzsimons, Jewett & Burton, PLLC, and Tracy Hester of the University of Houston Law Center. Below are Land findings and recommendations from Chapter 4.
Land findings include:
- Texas hosts an extraordinary degree of biodiversity, due to the diverse topographic, geologic, and climatic conditions across the state.
- Texas lands are almost entirely privately-owned. Shale development takes place largely on private lands, which generally are not sites of formal environmental impact studies.
- The few studies that have been conducted on erosion and soil contamination from oil and gas development in Texas indicate that well pad development has an increased potential for erosion and that soil contamination is possible from oil and gas production.
- The vast number of new wells drilled in shale formations in Texas since 2007 have had substantial spatial impacts on the landscape. However, horizontal wells have a smaller impact than the equivalent number of vertical wells would have had. When operators use a single well pad for multiple wells, surface impacts are significantly reduced.
- The most comprehensive information on species-specific impacts has been compiled for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard and Lesser Prairie Chicken, with extensive studies of changes to their habitats and their life cycles and requirements. Both species are covered by voluntary conservation plans overseen by state agencies.
- Landowners in Texas who do not own the mineral rights associated with their property have very limited control over oil and gas operations.
- Most states where development of shale resources is occurring have a surface damage act in place to protect the rights of landowners who do not own the mineral rights associated with their property. In Texas, if the surface owner controls any portion of the mineral rights, the owner may be able to use contractual provisions to negotiate with the operator and resolve disputes. In addition, if the owner discovers damages caused by the operator within the statute of limitations time frame—two years—the tort/legal system may provide relief. Damages for the landowner are capped at the value of the damaged property and do not cover the actual cost of remediation.
- Data on environmental impacts of oil and gas development reside in several different state and federal agencies, and there is not a single database, readily searchable and available online, that integrates the data across different entities.
Land Recommendations include:
- Baseline land and habitat conditions at the oil and gas play level should be characterized, and changes to wildlife populations and vegetation should be tracked over time where there are opportunities on both private and public lands.
- The effectiveness of voluntary programs to conserve at-risk species should be studied, along with options for incentives to conserve at-risk species and reduce effects on land resources by oil and gas development activities.
- Advantages and disadvantages of adopting a surface damages act to address the gaps in legal protection for landowners who do not own the minerals associated with their property should be evaluated.
- The existing, non-proprietary information about land impacts of shale development that is collected and evaluated by multiple state and federal agencies should be assembled and made available online to the public.
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