Environmental impacts of oil shale production

Environmental impacts of oil shale production.JPG

Land use in the oil shale industry is extensive for both surface and in situ oil shale extraction and can impact the biodiversity of any production region. Furthermore, the disposal of both solid and liquid waste needs to be carefully managed and may require the use of additional land.

It is reported by the European Academies Science Advisory Council that the waste produced occupies as much as 25% more volume than the extracted material. Although, real word evidence backing this up is limited. Pollutants in the waste can be a cause for concern as some are toxic and/or carcinogenic (i.e. cancer causing), for example sulphates, heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). This waste may need pre-treatment before going to a landfill, especially as there is a risk of it leaching through the soil at the extraction site and at other stages in the process. Landfilling waste also comes at a cost.

Projects need to comply with legislation both on land use and wildlife on the site. For example, in 2010 the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Greater Sage-Grouse was warranted for listing as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. This grouse is found on land with oil shale and tar sands. In the US a significant proportion of oil shale sites are located in or next to conservation and wilderness areas and scenic sites.

The actual process of surface mining affects the runoff pattern in an area, and thus groundwater levels may have to be managed to prevent contamination. The effect of this may affect the surrounding land, which may be very detrimental if it is forestry or agricultural land. Experience from other mining industries could be used to mitigate the impacts of surface mining of oil shale. For the in situ oil shale mining the surface impacts are lower. There is some concern over the impact of run-off and fugitive dust emissions from transportation and storage of products and waste. Impacts will also be caused by the drilling of holes for heating and wells for oil or gas extraction. Once the project is completed, surface mining process will require remediation, which would be costly, and in situ projects would require the plugging of any holes and wells drilled. Infrastructure such as piping, roads and so on may need to be construction to support the oil shale project, which would have a footprint and require an environmental impact assessment.

 

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