The year 2012 marked the 10-year anniversary of natural gas drilling and production in the Barnett Shale in North Texas. While a thousand or so shale wells had been drilled in the 20 years after the first Barnett well was drilled in 1981, drilling activity blasted off in 2002. By year-end 2012, some 18,591 natural gas wells had been drilled into the Barnett Shale. Most are horizontal wells that have been fracked (hydraulically fractured), are located in fairly densely populated areas and pass through the two major fresh water aquifers that are the source of drinking water for millions of people in North Texas. Contrary to allegations that not much is known about horizontally drilled and hydraulically fractured natural gas wells, the wells in the Barnett Shale provide a 10-year treasure trove of experience and data. The decade-long track record of Barnett Shale natural gas wells is proof that shale gas drilling is safe and protective of the water, air and human health. Regarding water, there has never been a verified case of contamination of these or any other fresh water aquifers by natural gas wells in the Barnett Shale. If there ever had been, the local and national media would have made it headline news. No such news exists because there has been no contamination of fresh water aquifers by Barnett Shale natural gas wells. Likewise, extensive air testing has shown that Barnett Shale natural gas wells do not contribute to air pollution. This data comes from millions of air tests that have been performed in the Barnett Shale area. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) installed and maintains 10 continuous air monitors located in and near concentrations of Barnett Shale natural gas wells and facilities. After 10 years of air testing, officials at the TCEQ say that the air in the Barnett Shale is the most tested air in the United States and that the air tests have shown “no indication of adverse health effects” as related to air quality in natural gas producing areas. On top of this record of environmental excellence, natural gas activity in the Barnett Shale has produced a huge and ongoing economic stimulus for the region. More than 100,000 permanent jobs have been created and $10 billion is injected annually into the local North Texas economies. Cities like Fort Worth and Arlington have received more than $200 million and $120 million, respectively, into their coffers from leasing city-owned land for drilling. School districts in the Barnett Shale region have seen significant economic benefits from natural gas drilling in the Barnett Shale, both from leasing school district lands for drilling and from increases in their ad valorem taxes. One example is that high school graduates from the Birdville Independent School District can get their first two semesters at Tarrant County College absolutely free, thanks to scholarship programs at the two schools that are funded entirely from natural gas lease and bonus payments. Fortunately for the many gas and oil shales around the country that are being drilled, the shale drilling technologies and best practices that were perfected in the Barnett Shale are being used. Anyone living outside of Texas can rest assured that there is a decade of experience and data showing that shale gas drilling in Texas has been protective of the air, the water and human health. As for people living in Texas, a phrase from Goode Company Barbeque Restaurant in Houston, sums it up: “You might give some serious thought to thanking your lucky stars you’re in Texas.”
Ed Ireland is executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, a group founded and supported by energy companies that operate in the Barnett Shale.