How does fracking affect nature? We just don’t know, scientists say
Researchers say lack of transparency from shale developers means there is a risk industry growth will outpace understanding of threats
By Will Nichols 06 Aug 2014 More from this author 0 Comments
The shale gas industry’s effects on nature and wildlife are still “largely unknown” creating a real risk exponential growth may outstrip the understanding of its impacts, scientists have warned.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison identified threats to animal and plant life from the cumulative impact of rapid, widespread shale gas development. As well as potential risks from spills, well-casing failure, and other accidents the study cautions that wells, access roads, and pipelines contribute collectively to air, water, noise and light pollution as well as threatening habitats.
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But the level to which these risks can be assessed is hampered by companies failing to report the majority of spills and a lack of information on wastewater disposal and the chemistry of fracturing fluids, the paper, published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, finds.
“We know very little about how shale gas production is affecting plants and wildlife,” said author Sara Souther, a conservation fellow in the Department of Botany at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “And in particular, there is a lack of accessible and reliable information on spills, wastewater disposal and the chemistry of fracturing fluids. Of the 24 US states with active shale gas reservoirs, only five maintain public records of spills and accidents.”
The authors reviewed chemical disclosure statements for 150 wells in three top gas-producing states and found that, on average, two out of three wells were fractured with at least one undisclosed chemical. But some of the wells studied used fluid containing 20 or more undisclosed chemicals.
“The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s website is one of the nation’s best sources of publicly available information on spills of fracking fluid, wastewater, and other contaminants,” Souther added. “Even so, gas companies failed to report over one third of spills in the last year. How many more unreported spills occurred, but were not detected during well inspections? We need accurate data on the release of fracturing chemicals into the environment before we can understand impacts to plants and animals.”
US shale gas production grew 800 per cent from 2007 and is projected to expand exponentially over the coming years, although some analysts have warned the industry could prove to be a bubble as low gas prices mean some developers are struggling to realise the anticipated return on their investment.