A new, comprehensive review of the impacts of shale oil and gas development in Texas by a cross-disciplinary task force — organized by the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) — finds a wide range of both benefits and consequences for the state’s infrastructure, environment and communities. These impacts are detailed in the new report by the TAMEST Shale Task Force, Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas.
The TAMEST report draws extensively from two studies conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) Transportation Policy Research Center (PRC) in 2015: Oil and Gas Energy Developments and Changes in Pavement Conditions in Texas, and Oil and Gas Energy Developments and Changes in Crash Trends in Texas. TTI Senior Research Engineer Cesar Quiroga led the work on both PRC efforts and also served on the TAMEST Shale Task Force.
In both studies, researchers examined activity in the state’s three major energy-producing regions in the four years before and after production accelerated in late 2009: the Barnett Shale in North Texas, the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, and the Permian Basin in West Texas. Researchers then drew comparisons with areas where there was no significant energy production activity.
The team found that pavement conditions didn’t change significantly in the areas with limited production activity, but those conditions worsened in the more active regions, despite increased spending on maintenance in those areas. Similarly, researchers found a correlation between increased production activity and increases in both the frequency and costs of crashes involving commercial motor vehicles. In areas with reduced energy activity, however, the frequency and costs of those crashes also declined. The infographic on page 3 in this issue summarizes their findings.
Both studies contributed to the Task Force’s findings, which include: “Most existing road and bridge infrastructure in Texas was not designed to carry and accommodate the current high numbers and weights of truckloads” associated with drilling activity. “Traffic increases — especially truck traffic — associated with the development and production of oil and gas from shale formations in Texas have resulted in increases in the frequency and severity of traffic crash incidents.”
“The task force met several times over the past year,” explains Quiroga. “My task was to summarize the lessons learned from all the reports that we had already written and reference that material in Chapter 7, “Transportation,” of the report. The experience and support we’ve had from other agencies such as the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Legislature, the Railroad Commission and counties since the beginning of the energy boom were fundamental in helping us develop this content for the TAMEST report.”
In addition to transportation impacts, the TAMEST report also focuses on seismicity, as well as the land, air, water, economic and social impacts of expanded energy development in Texas.
“Transportation needs for both travelers and business activity continue to grow, and those needs create challenges for our state’s policy makers,” says Ginger Goodin, PRC director. “Our work seeks to inform their discussions as much as possible.”
Other task force members who contributed to the TAMEST report and are affiliated with The Texas A&M University System include John Barton, executive director of the RELLIS Campus, and Urs Kreuter, professor in Texas A&M’s Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.
The report identifies what still needs to be learned and the steps to take to fill in those gaps in knowledge. It proposes consideration of policies to help address impacts, offers recommendations for future research, and identifies opportunities for greater collaboration among public- and private-sector stakeholders.
“The TAMEST task force did an excellent job of providing the framework for the development and release of the report,” says Quiroga. “I hope this report will help to bring attention and focus to the need for strategies and solutions that look at shale energy developments and how these developments interact in a holistic manner with infrastructure systems, communities and the environment in the state.”