Sound Science Bite: May 04. New Environmental Costs of Hydraulic Fracturing Revealed. From Science 24 Apr 2015.

So, you are worried about earthquakes and fouled wells from hydraulic fracturing? Unfortunately, a new study may add to your worries. Beginning on page 401 in the reference cited above, new environmental costs have been identified. They are not hard to see if you fly over certain areas, such as Texas between Austin and Tyler. Hundreds of wells and the vegetation they have displaced can be seen.

How bad is it? A new study of satellite data from 2000 to 2012 reveals that a lot of plant biomass has been lost over the period, equivalent to about 120 million bushels of wheat in croplands, roughly 6% of the wheat produced in 2013 in the areas affected. The amount lost in rangelands would feed over 400,000 cattle for one year. The land occupied by well disturbance up to 2012 would, if all in one place, occupy a plot of land 110 miles square. Hydraulic fracturing uses a lot of water, up to 1.5 million square feet per well, and 35% of wells are in regions of high to extreme water stress.

Although we are not close to an emergency situation, the authors of the study point out that there will be growing competition and likely conflicts between the oil and gas industry, agriculture, municipalities, ecosystem services (such as natural water purification), and habitat for wildlife if trends continue. And, they also point out that current "fragmented and piecemeal" government policies are inadequate to address the problem.