The Task Force on Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas on Monday released a 204-page report analyzing fracking’s impacts on the state. The Task Force, a group sponsored by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas and comprised of individuals from varied backgrounds in the energy and environmental community, lauded the economic benefits of fracking but also called for better oversight of its effects.

The report first notes the revolution that was the shale boom—that is, the proliferation of horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing in the oil and gas industry—and the significant economic and other benefits the revolution has had for Texas, the United States, and other parts of the world. In particular, the revolution has opened access to vast new supplies of natural gas that in many areas are changing the way we generate power.

The report goes on to identify six areas of impact the Task Force studied regarding fracking’s potentially negative effects and to analyze each area in turn. The six areas are:

  1. Geology and Earthquake Activity
  2. Land Resources
  3. Air Quality
  4. Water Quantity and Quality
  5. Transportation, and
  6. Economic and Social Impacts.

Across these areas, a common theme emerged—the need for more and better data and “easier and wider access” to that data. Texas is a large geographic area and accordingly complex. There is no doubt, per the Task Force, that fracking affects the earth, the resources, and the lives around it. But in such a complex environment, the need for more comprehensive data to study the nature of fracking’s impacts and to eliminate extraneous impacts is paramount.

Of specific note, the Task Force found that in light of the depth separation between oil-bearing and drinking water zones in Texas, “[d]irect migration of contaminants from targeted injection zones is highly unlikely to lead to contamination of potential drinking water aquifers.” Instead, surface spills or leaks pose the dominant fracking-related risk to water resources.

The report, while extensive, does not close the book on fracking research. As the Task Force noted, “This study aims to help all Texans better understand what is and is not known about the impacts of shale oil and gas development in Texas, and offer recommendations for future research priorities.”

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