AIR & WATER QUALITY

Air Quality

There is a growing body of research that indicates oil and natural gas development from shale resources may create air emissions harmful to human health and the environment.  Recent rapid expansion of oil and gas development has brought these risks closer to backyards and communities which may increase the likelihood of exposure to these emissions. 

 

Federal and state government agencies play a range of roles in measuring and monitoring air quality and regulating equipment used in the oil and gas industry to help improve air quality.

Key observations from our on-going work:

 

  1. The oil and gas industry has been exempted from Clean Air Act regulations that monitor and limit air pollution from industrial activity.
     

  2. Some leading oil and gas companies are upgrading equipment and altering practices to reduce their emissions because they understand the potential economic value and public good will that results.
     

  3. Determination and implementation of adequate and protective setback requirements from oil and gas facilities can reduce the exposure of residents to intermittent and chronic levels of air pollutants.
     

  4. There is a lack of scientific data on the cumulative risks posed by the combined emissions from dense networks of oil and gas wells and associated infrastructure such as pipelines, compressor stations, and roads.
     

  5. Comprehensive health impact assessments prior to new site development and ongoing evaluations during development can help identify and measure air pollution risks to human health and the environment.

Water Quality & Quantity


The recent increase in oil and gas production from shale resources has raised concerns about the impacts it may have on water resources.  These impacts may effect water quality and/or water quantity.  
 
Generally, there are two main sources of water - surface water and groundwater. Surface water is water found on the surface such as streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands. Groundwater is water that seeps into the earth and is stored in aquifers.  Oil and gas production from shale resources can potentially impact either or both. 
 
The quality and quantity of groundwater is of particular concern since it is the major source of fresh water for agriculture and drinking water for many communities - especially in arid regions in the west.  
 
Public perceptions of shale development and its impact on water resources can be very different from operators’ perceptions.  On one hand, it might be that the public does not understand what is being done, but it is also clear that industry and government agencies have not done enough to validate or acknowledge some tangible health and environmental risks to water resources.

 

Key observations from our on-going work:

 

  1. Water resource needs and impacts both at the surface and below ground from shale oil and gas production need to be better understood and measured to enable better management and, where necessary, regulated.​
     

  2. The behavior of groundwater and aquifers varies by region and greater knowledge about how they react and recharge - particularly when they are stressed - is needed.​
     

  3. Cost is the main factor in determining the amount of recycling and reuse of water in shale oil and gas production.​
     

  4. The variability of quality and sheer amount of wastewater from shale oil and gas production remains a major challenge.​
     

  5. Although the amount of water used for shale oil and gas production is often a small percentage of overall use, this does not necessarily eliminate the need to manage it effectively.

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