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"Biological impacts of fracking still largely unknown"

Amy Mall

Posted August 5, 2014

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new peer-reviewed scientific paper outlines in detail the threats of fracking to plants and wildlife. The authors, from various universities, concluded that there are few studies and therefore significant knowledge gaps. Among their findings:

  • Threats from shale development include: "surface and groundwater contamination; diminished stream flow; stream siltation; habitat loss and fragmentation; localized air, noise, and light pollution; climate change; and cumulative impacts."
  • Many shale basins, particularly those in the eastern U.S., occur in regions of exceptional biological diversity. "The most rapidly growing source of natural gas in the U.S. [the Marcellus Shale] underlies one of the country’s highest diversity areas for amphibians and freshwater fish."
  • "In conjunction with other anthropogenic activities, environmental change associated with shale operations may cumulatively affect living organisms in unknown, potentially calamitous, ways.
  • "Rapid development of fossil-fuel resources has the potential to transform landscapes and biological communities before the resulting impacts are fully understood."
  • "Lack of data on wastewater disposal impedes environmental assessment."
  • "There is virtually no empirical information about the biotic risks associated with disposal of produced water and drill cuttings"
  • The authors reviewed records found on FracFocus regarding chemicals used to frack 150 randomly selected wells from three states (Texas, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota) and found alarming results: 67% of wells had at least one undisclosed chemical, 37% had five or more undisclosed chemicals, 18% had 10 or more undisclosed components, and "many disclosed chemicals lacked Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) numbers or concentration values."
  • Most wells (82%) were fractured with fluid containing either undisclosed components or disclosed chemicals lacking CAS numbers or concentration values.
  • "Chemical information was sometimes omitted for “non-hazardous” components, but chemicals that are innocuous to humans (e.g. some salts) can be lethal to freshwater organisms."
  • The biological impacts of shale energy development are numerous, and include water scarcity, habitat loss, and various forms of pollution that can cross terrestrial and aquatic boundaries, extend beyond the immediate footprint of the operation, and may interact to affect ecosystems in unexpected ways, making cumulative impacts assessment imperative.

The bottom line from these researchers: "substantial knowledge gaps remain regarding effects of these activities on plants and animals." Many new peer-reviewed papers have been published over the past few years regarding oil and gas production. This level of scientific investigation is long overdue. Unfortunately, every single paper I have seen points to negative impacts.

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Comments

Michael BerndtsonAug 8 2014 11:40 AM

I believe this is worrisome for all environmental regulations pertaining to air, water and land protection. Simply put, shale oil and gas development bypassed environmental impact and baseline investigation. They did the exact same thing our hip and wonderful Silicon Valley technocrats are doing. Disruption. Kids these days.

Oil and gas disrupted environmental protection at the local, state and national levels. Uber, the ride sharing app company, disrupted hired car regulation. As has Google with privacy and copyright laws. As has Amazon with about every corner of its business. Not to dwell too much, but Amazon is avoiding posting a profit each year, from which to pay federal taxes. Taxes necessary to pay for regulation. This is pretty much why GOP and folks like Grover Norquist are courting Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires, with anti governmental regulation libertarianism.

One could promote natural gas as a climate change fighter, as some environmental groups have. It seems like climate change deceleration is being used to justify fracking. Regardless of impacts on human health and the environment. Sort of like allowing sacrifice zones for the greater good. Endlessly wishing for environmental protection regulations is not the same as environmental protection regulation.

As it stands, fracking seems to have set precedence for all exploitive industries to develop natural resources at will. This would be without environmental impact and baseline investigation. And probably operations compliance, pollution control, and remediation/restoration. Coal supporters probably have a case against the EPA using Oil and Gas industries shale fracking deployment over the past 10 years as precedence. As probably could mining. And nuclear waste dumpers, among others.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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