Shale Drilling Outpaces Research on Its Impact: Study

Bloomberg BNA -- Scientific understanding of the effects of hydraulic fracturing and other methods of extracting natural gas from shale rock has not kept pace with the rapid expansion of the industry in North America, leaving researchers with a limited grasp of what drilling could be doing to wildlife and plants, said a study published July 31.

The study in the peer-reviewed journal “Frontiers in Ecology” involved several U.S. and Canadian conservation biologists and organizations, and was led by British Columbia's Simon Fraser University.

“Biotic Impacts of Energy Development From Shale: Research Priorities and Knowledge Gaps” said shale development can contaminate surface and groundwater, cause localized pollution and ultimately emit greenhouse gases that lead to climate change.

But the study's major conclusion is that more research is needed to understand specific potential environmental dangers of shale gas exploration and cumulative biological affects of rapid shale development in some areas.

Many of the chemicals used in the processes—such as methanol, xylene, naphthalene, hydrochloric acid, toluene, benzene and formaldehyde—are regulated in the U.S. by the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act or the Clean Air Act and have been linked to negative health effects in humans, the study noted.

It said high priority should be placed on research into underground chemical migration related to extraction, and contaminant release during storage, during disposal or from accidents.

Shale Basins and Biological Diversity

The study noted that many shale basins, particularly those in the eastern U.S., are in regions of exceptional biological diversity.

The Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian Basin lies beneath one of the country's highest diversity areas for amphibians and freshwater fish, the study said.

And in the U.S. and Europe, shale basins often overlap with areas already experiencing severe threats to freshwater resources, it said.

“In conjunction with other anthropogenic activities, environmental change associated with shale operations may cumulatively affect living organisms in unknown, potentially calamitous, ways,” the study said.

It recommended scientific coordination among researchers, industry and governments.

‘Highly Relevant' for B.C

“Our findings are highly relevant to British Columbians given the impetus for developing shale resources in northeastern B.C. and the massive LNG facilities and pipeline infrastructure under development throughout the province,” Simon Fraser University researcher Viorel Popescu said in an Aug. 1 news release.

British Columbia is vigorously pursuing development of a liquefied natural gas.

The province and the Canadian federal government requires disclosure of fracturing fluids.

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