A new study from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) finds that developing shale gas wells that have less impact on the environment, at least at the surface, is not as costly as presumed.
Typically, extracting gas from shale rock not only causes environmental disturbances below ground, the surface infrastructure required to drill the wells can cause a variety of problems above ground, from fragmenting fragile habitats, eroding soil, degrading freshwater systems and displacing rare species. Minimizing the environmental consequences above-ground is possible, but at a cost to the developers. Researchers at NIMBioS–which is based at UT–suggest that the additional cost to developers is far smaller than the savings made to the environment.
The study, which appears in Conservation Biology, found that on average, for a 20 percent increase in costs, developers could reduce surface-level environmental impacts by more than a third.
To quantify the costs of avoiding environmental impacts, the researchers developed a novel algorithm to plan the construction of well pads, access roads, and pipelines at 84 sites in Pennsylvania. With close to 10,000 drilled wells, Pennsylvania was chosen as a representative state for shale energy development in the eastern US.
Continue reading on the NIMBioS website. NIMBioS fosters new collaborative efforts to investigate biological questions using mathematical and computational methods.