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TAMEST Report on Impacts of Shale Development in Texas

The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) has issued a report on the environmental and community impacts of shale development in Texas. The report can be viewed on the TAMEST website. Its authors reviewed available literature on on six areas of impacts: seismicity, land, water, air, transportation, and economic and social impacts. Its authors make recommendations on further needed research and studies.

TAMEST members are the Texas-based members of the National Academies of Medicine, Engineering and Sciences, and the state’s nine Nobel Laureates. It hosts an annual conference and educational programs on key issues, and offers awards to aspiring researchers. Two years ago TAMEST organized a task force to review available research on the impacts of shale development in Texas.

Its shale report task force includes members of TAMEST and members from the oil and gas industry. The report was funded by the Cynthia and George Mitchel Foundation (“committed to promoting energy efficiency and minimizing the air and water impacts from energy production”). Each chapter of the report was authored by three of the task force members, with one of the TAMEST members serving as the lead author.

The TAMEST website contains a good summary of the findings of the report. The Houston Chronicle has a good article on the report.

Not surprisingly, the report calls for additional research on the impacts of shale development. For example: under land impacts, the report includes the following recommendation:

Most states where development of shale resources is occurring have a surface damage act in place to protect the rights of landowners who do not own the mineral rights associated with their property. In Texas, if the surface owner controls any portion of the mineral rights, the owner may be able to use contractual provisions to negotiate with the operator and resolve disputes.  In addition, if the owner discovers damages caused by the operator within the statute of limitations time frame—two years—the tort/legal system may provide relief.  Damages for the landowner are capped at the value of the damaged property and do not cover the actual cost of remediation.

Advantages and disadvantages of adopting a surface damages act to address the gaps in legal protection for landowners who do not own the minerals associated with their property should be evaluated.

The authors of the land section of the report were Melinda Taylor, UT Law School (lead), Joseph Fitzsimons, attorney, and Tracy Hester, University of Houston Law Center.

Although there is nothing really new in this report, it provides a good, balanced overview of the effect of the shale boom in Texas and the lack of good data on how they affect our air, water, roads, and communities. Maybe this report will spur further research in those areas.

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