by Emil Morhardt
How does shale-bed energy development, including hydraulic fracturing, affect ecology? There have been a number of studies looking into this, and a new review paper by Sara Souther at the University of Wisconsin and seven colleagues at a diverse array of other institutions summarizes the current knowledge and where the gaps are in it. Their legitimate fear is that much damage will be done before much is known about the issues, and there is plenty of experience with other rapid industrial development to warrant concern. As an example, consider the damming of nearly all the rivers on both the east and west coasts of the US with little attention paid to the consequences for salmon.
The big issues they identify are subsurface and surface water contamination by fracking fluids, diminished streamflow because of water diversions for fracking, habitat loss and fragmentation, general disturbance to wildlife from the noise, light, and air pollution of fracking operations, and, of course, the atmospheric increase in greenhouse gases resulting from both leakage of natural gas in the process of collecting it, and CO2 when the gas is burned by end users.
As they correctly point out, most of these are difficult to study, not much studied yet, and not evidently being studied to the degree necessary to properly evaluate the impacts. They’d like to see that change, since it doesn’t appear that oil shale development is likely to slow down any time soon.
Souther, S., Tingley, M.W., Popescu, V.D., Ryan, M.E., Hayman, D.T., Graves, T.A., Hartl, B., Terrell, K., 2014. Biotic impacts of energy development from shale: research priorities and knowledge gaps. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12, 330-338 Full paper at: http://bit.ly/1nW6U33