Fossil fuel's ‘double whammy' to wildlife

Oct 25, 2013

The Earth's richest areas for biodiversity – northern South America and the western Pacific Ocean – are threatened by future fossil fuel extraction.

In a new study published in the international journal Science, environmental scientists reveal that fossil fuel extraction can have a double impact on local and regional animals and plants.

"This double whammy includes the obvious, direct impacts and the more subtle – but often more damaging – indirect impacts," said Professor Hugh Possingham and Dr Nathalie Butt of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) and The University of Queensland (UQ).

The researchers identified northern South America and the western Pacific Ocean as the areas of the world where the 'double whammy' may have the biggest impact, as both regions have high and large fossil fuel reserves.

"The impacts of fossil fuel extraction on biodiversity have been underestimated because it is assumed that extraction sites have a small footprint relative to other human impacts, such as agriculture," Professor Possingham said.

The researchers warn that oil demand is projected to increase by more than 30 per cent, natural gas by 53 per cent and coal by 50 per cent by 2035, and the world could lose significantly more of its dwindling wildlife if fossil fuel extraction continues without evidence-based environmental protection.

Dr Butt said the direct impacts of fossil fuel extraction included noise disturbance, pollution, destruction and fragmentation – splitting up forests or landscapes into fragments too small to sustain wildlife populations.

"Fossil fuel companies can try to return the area to its 'original state', but there are indirect impacts that continue long after the extraction, including the introduction of invasive species, soil erosion, water pollution and illegal hunting."

"These indirect effects, caused largely by road and pipeline construction, can be far more damaging, and can extend for many kilometres from the mine or well," Dr Butt said. "They can be caused by even small scale extraction, and because they're often off-site, the damage is usually done by the time we can measure it.

"It is critical that international environmental organisations play an active role in ensuring that the extraction takes place according to best practice, ideally avoids areas of high biodiversity and that the trade-offs between biodiversity and development have been considered carefully at a global scale."

Professor Possingham said: "Before operations start, companies, scientists and local communities need to develop firm plans for different scenarios, such as determining a point when extraction should cease immediately, when mining companies should be fined, or when to start rehabilitating an area.

"Due to increasing worldwide demand for , extraction is going to be an unstoppable force. Recognising the 'double whammy' – direct and indirect threats to biodiversity from fossil fuel extraction – and identifying unfortunate overlaps, is essential in minimising the environmental damage."

The study is titled "Biodiversity risks from fossil fuel extraction."

Explore further: Major pension funds ask for climate change study

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Major pension funds ask for climate change study

Oct 24, 2013

Some of the largest pension funds in the U.S. and the world are worried that major fossil fuel companies may not be as profitable in the future because of efforts to limit climate change, and they want details on how the ...

Replacing coal with natural gas would reduce warming: study

Jul 18, 2012

A debate has raged in the past couple of years as to whether natural gas is better or worse overall than coal and oil from a global warming perspective. The back- and-forth findings have been due to the timelines taken into ...

Recommended for you

Study to inform Maryland decision on "fracking"

2 hours ago

The Maryland Department of Environment and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released on August 18, 2014, a report by the University of Maryland School of Public Health, which assesses the potential ...

How the Asian monsoon affects methane emissions

2 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Scientists at the University of Bristol's Cabot Institute have shown how changes in the Asian monsoon affected emissions of methane, a prominent greenhouse gas, from the Tibetan Plateau.

User comments : 0