A decade into North America’s fracking boom, the impact on wildlife and the environment remains largely unknown, according to a new study.
“We’re conducting a giant experiment without even collecting the important data on the water, air, land or wildlife impacts,” said Sara Souther, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, one of the co-authors of the peer-reviewed research examining the environmental impacts of shale gas development in the U.S. and Canada.
Although the technique of hydraulic fracturing shale has been used for at least 20 years, there is “surprisingly little research” on impacts, found the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
“We do know chemical contamination of ground and surface water is happening all the time but no one knows what the impacts are because the data isn’t being collected,” Souther said.
Spills, accidents, leaks from well casings and the dumping of toxic wastewater into streams are regular occurrences but no one knows the extent, she said. Often the data is not being compiled, while some U.S. states do not even ask the industry to report “minor” spills or accidents. In nearly all cases it is up to companies to “self-report.”
The industry has long claimed there is no proof of water contamination. Souther accepted this until she learned that baseline studies had not been done before an area was fracked.
Water contamination tops a long list of environmental impacts including air and noise pollution and habitat fragmentation — but in all cases there is little information, making it impossible to get a big picture of these multiple stressors on wildlife and the environment, she said.