On June 26, 2017, Houston Public Media quoted Professor Melinda Taylor, the associate director of the KBH Center, in a story on a review of shale drilling science from the Academy of of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) that found benefits – and consequences – from the industry’s growth across Texas. A TAMEST Task Force member, Professor Taylor served as the lead on Chapter 4 of the report, which describes the effects of shale development on Texas’ land resources. According to Professor Taylor, “there’s more to learn when it comes to land use. We don’t have a real good sense of how oil and gas development is affecting the land resources, such as wildlife and plant resources, at the site level.” She also observed that industry expansion into parts of Far West Texas is an opportunity for baseline land studies that haven’t been done before.
About the Author
David Spence is Professor of Law, Politics & Regulation at the University of Texas at Austin, where he teaches in both the McCombs School of Business and the School of Law. Professor Spence is co-author of the leading energy law casebook, Energy, Economics and the Environment (Foundation Press), and has published numerous scholarly articles on subjects relating to energy policy, regulation and the regulatory process. Professor Spence’s research focuses on the law and politics of energy regulation, broadly defined. His scholarly writings address the environmental regulation of the oil and gas industry and the electric utility industry, as well as economic regulation (regulation of price and competition) in the public utility industry. He has Ph.D in political science from Duke University and a J.D. from the University of North Carolina.
On June 19, 2017, the Academy of Medicine, Engineering, and Science of Texas (TAMEST) released a new, comprehensive report on the effects of shale oil and natural gas development in Texas. Titled Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas, the TAMEST Shale Task Force Report focuses on six areas: seismicity, land resources, water, air, transportation, and community impacts. In the report, a diverse group of experts from academia, environmental organizations, the oil and gas industry and state agencies analyze what we do and don’t know about the impacts of shale oil and natural gas development. Read the report.
Texas has long been a major producer of domestic oil and gas supplies and products. Texas remains a leading United States oil and gas producer, and, in fact, the state today is on par with many of the world’s major energy-producing nations. Some overall highlights of the TAMEST Shale Task Force Report include:
- Texas leads the nation in oil and gas production.
- 1.1 billion barrels of oil were produced in Texas in 2016.
- 215/254 Texas counties produce oil and natural gas.
- There are nearly 250,000 oil and gas wells in Texas.
- In 2015, Texas produced more oil than all but 6 countries in the world.
- Oil and natural gas production generated over $1.7 billion in property tax revenue for Texas schools in 2016.
- 19 experts from across the state with diverse knowledge and experience convened to produce this report.
Professor Melinda Taylor, the associate director of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business at The University of Texas at Austin and a TAMEST Task Force member, served as the lead on Chapter 4 of the report, which describes the effects of shale development on Texas’ land resources. In addition to Professor Taylor, Land chapter authors include Joseph Fitzimmons of Uhl, Fitzsimons, Jewett & Burton, PLLC, and Tracy Hester of the University of Houston Law Center. Below are Land findings and recommendations from Chapter 4.
Land findings include:
- Texas hosts an extraordinary degree of biodiversity, due to the diverse topographic, geologic, and climatic conditions across the state.
- Texas lands are almost entirely privately-owned. Shale development takes place largely on private lands, which generally are not sites of formal environmental impact studies.
- The few studies that have been conducted on erosion and soil contamination from oil and gas development in Texas indicate that well pad development has an increased potential for erosion and that soil contamination is possible from oil and gas production.
- The vast number of new wells drilled in shale formations in Texas since 2007 have had substantial spatial impacts on the landscape. However, horizontal wells have a smaller impact than the equivalent number of vertical wells would have had. When operators use a single well pad for multiple wells, surface impacts are significantly reduced.
- The most comprehensive information on species-specific impacts has been compiled for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard and Lesser Prairie Chicken, with extensive studies of changes to their habitats and their life cycles and requirements. Both species are covered by voluntary conservation plans overseen by state agencies.
- Landowners in Texas who do not own the mineral rights associated with their property have very limited control over oil and gas operations.
- 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.
- Data on environmental impacts of oil and gas development reside in several different state and federal agencies, and there is not a single database, readily searchable and available online, that integrates the data across different entities.
Land Recommendations include:
- Baseline land and habitat conditions at the oil and gas play level should be characterized, and changes to wildlife populations and vegetation should be tracked over time where there are opportunities on both private and public lands.
- The effectiveness of voluntary programs to conserve at-risk species should be studied, along with options for incentives to conserve at-risk species and reduce effects on land resources by oil and gas development activities.
- 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 existing, non-proprietary information about land impacts of shale development that is collected and evaluated by multiple state and federal agencies should be assembled and made available online to the public.
Jeff Mosier, “Elite shale task force says fracking adds $2 billion to Texas road repair costs,” The Dallas Morning News.
David Hunn, “Study of oil and gas drilling finds pollution and connections to earthquakes”, Houston Chronicle.
Irina Slav, “Shale-Related Seismic Activity Rises In Texas, Report,” OilPrice.com.
Greg Russell, “Call for permanent ban on fracking in Scotland in wake of new US study,” The National.
Travis Bubenik, “After Review of Shale Drilling Science, Researchers Want To Learn More,” Houston Public Media.
“Recent report highlights pros and cons of fracking,” KENS5 Eyewitness News.
Gallucci will spend her year on The University of Texas at Austin campus researching and writing a book on the global shipping industry’s transformation to a low-carbon future.
“Maria has a strong record as a reporter covering important energy and environmental issues,” said Energy Institute Director Dr. Tom Edgar. “We look forward to having her on campus and providing her the opportunity to interact with UT’s energy experts and write her book.”
Formerly an energy and environment reporter with International Business Times and features editor with Makeshift magazine, Gallucci succeeds National Public Radio reporter Lorne Matalon, who has reported on the challenges and opportunities Mexico faces following its recent energy reforms.
The Fellowship, which provides journalists a sabbatical from the grind of daily deadlines to pursue a long-form writing project such as a book or screenplay, is sponsored by the university’s Energy Institute and Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law & Business. Gallucci’s fellowship will run from September 1, 2017 – August 31, 2018.
This article was previously published in the UT Austin Energy Bulletin May 2017.
Market conditions will continue to drive a movement toward de-carbonization of the nation’s electric grid despite the rescinding of stringent anti-pollution measures put in place by former President Obama, noted panelists at the 2017 Austin Electric Conference. Experts drawn from academia, industry, government, and non-profit organizations engaged in a debate of economic, engineering, legal, and policy issues related to a steep growth trajectory in renewable energy that poses challenges for electric grid operators, regulators, policymakers, and industry participants.
Over the course of two days, conference panelists and attendees participated in a robust dialogue sparked by a series of brief presentations relating to four tracks: Deep De-carbonization Plans, Zero-Carbon Generation Technology, Managing the De-carbonization Grid, and De-carbonization Policy. The annual conference, now in its 7th year, is an invitation-only gathering of leading experts and prominent players in a rapidly evolving electric utility industry.
Conference organizers included David Adelman from UT Austin’s School of Law; Ross Baldick from the Cockrell School of Engineering; Varun Rai from the LBJ School of Public Affairs; David Spence from the McCombs School of Business and School of Law; and John Butler and Melinda Taylor from the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business.
De-carbonization entails shifting away from a reliance on fossil fuels for electric generation toward cleaner sources of energy. In some regions, the rate of de-carbonization of the electric generation mix is accelerating rapidly, driven by market forces such as low natural gas prices and declining costs for solar and wind energy. In addition, advances in technology have enabled greater integration of renewable energy into the electric grid, assisted by an assortment of state and local policy incentives.
“Even in the absence of aggressive state and local policy incentives, the low marginal costs of wind and solar generation (combined with federal tax credits) have facilitated the growth of those technologies in competitive wholesale markets,” the conference program noted.
One theme that emerged from a discussion of various states’ efforts to aggressively transition to a cleaner electric grid was how decentralized forms of electricity generation will affect low-income consumers, many of whom cannot afford to invest in rooftop solar panels, energy efficiency measures, and other technologies associated with Distributed Energy Resources (DERs).
“Deep de-carbonization raises some very significant social justice issues that cannot be ignored,” one panelist noted.
Another panelist suggested policymakers should be mindful of the need to create rebates and other financial mechanisms that incentivize low-income consumers to ‘buy in’ to a cleaner electric grid.
“A key question is: will this transition only benefit people who can afford these things?” she asked.
For more, view 2017 Austin Electricity Conference panelists’ presentations.