Wide area study shows environmental impact of oil and natural gas drilling in North America

Wide area study shows environmental impact of oil and natural gas drilling in North America
Landscape impacts of oil and gas development. Credit: Chris Boyer/kestrelaerial.com

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers with affiliations to several academic institutions in the U.S. has conducted an analysis of the overall impact of oil and natural gas drilling in the U.S. and Canada over a period of twelve years. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team notes that such drilling involves the destruction of vegetation which is not being replaced which in turn is causing a major impact on the environment.

Oil and in the U.S. and Canada has generated a lot of press in the past few years, most of it positive, as it has helped increase domestic supplies, thus reducing dependence on foreign oil. But, it has also experienced some criticism, some from people worried about small earthquakes that sometimes result due to fracking. More recently, some Earth scientists have begun to voice their concerns about the of all the drilling and excavation that is occurring—as the authors note in this new effort, on average 50,000 new wells have been dug per year since the turn of the century. Their study covers the years 2000 to 2012 and looked at the impact of drilling on an ecosystems' net primary production (NPP)—a measure of the amount of carbon stored by all the plants in a given ecosystem.

To find the change in NPP due to drilling, the researchers looked at satellite images—that allowed them to see where there was vegetation, and then where it had been removed due to over the study period. To find the NPP all they had to do was note the type of vegetation that was impacted and then count up the losses—approximately 10 Tg of biomass which translated to approximately 4.5 Tg of carbon. What they found most concerning was that the vegetation that was being removed, was not replaced after the mining operations concluded (approximately 90 percent of the land was privately owned, thus not subject to federal regulations). Many of the areas where the mining was taking place, the researchers note, was in areas where vegetation struggles to return on its own, which could mean the loss in biomass could have an impact for many years.

The researchers point out that at this point, no one really knows what the overall impact of the surge in mining and vegetation reduction will have on a continent-wide basis, but thus far it is easy to see the local impact, less vegetation means less diversity and less wildlife—an impact that does not appear to be taken into consideration by policymakers.

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More information: Ecosystem services lost to oil and gas in North America, Science 24 April 2015: Vol. 348 no. 6233 pp. 401-402 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa4785

Advanced technologies in oil and gas extraction coupled with energy demand have encouraged an average of 50,000 new wells per year throughout central North America since 2000. Although similar to past trends (see the graph, this page), the space and infrastructure required for horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing are transforming millions of hectares of the Great Plains into industrialized landscapes, with drilling projected to continue (1, 2). Although this development brings economic benefits (3) and expectations of energy security, policy and regulation give little attention to trade-offs in the form of lost or degraded ecosystem services (4). It is the scale of this transformation that is important, as accumulating land degradation can result in continental impacts that are undetectable when focusing on any single region (5). With the impact of this transformation on natural systems and ecosystem services yet to be quantified at broad extents, decisions are being made with few data at hand (see the graph, this page).

Journal information: Science

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Citation: Wide area study shows environmental impact of oil and natural gas drilling in North America (2015, April 24) retrieved 21 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-04-wide-area-environmental-impact-oil.html
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User comments

Apr 24, 2015
Big Money only cares about Big Money.

It's the Bush New world Order.

Apr 24, 2015
Now show the economic impact.

And all the staving people freezing in the dark without it.

I prefer drilling here and drilling now.

You Luddites can go move to North Korea. https://www.bing....axhist=0

Apr 24, 2015
"Maybe we shouldn't destroy everything for money" Your response "F you and the planet you live on, I can't handle the natural day night cycle." Hyperbole notwithstanding, we were born to sleep through the darkness and wake with the light. A little bit less power consumption wouldn't hurt us.

Apr 24, 2015
Okay, you drill there, but you stay there, and keep your pollution with you.

Apr 24, 2015
I would guess their research is not just talking about land clearance. But the take away here is that once people have finished doing whatever it is that they are doing in the environment they need to restore it to its original condition and this is not happening.
This is not a problem that is in some way special to the oil industry this is a global problem for all land use.
Many countries have regulations over how much land you can clear but it seems the majority land owners are constantly seeking ways to clear more.

The checkerboard effect you see in satellite photos over vast swathes of the planet shows you the extent of vegetative clearance and non replacement. Some countries, i am looking at you Australia, even have a really easy time line to measure the speed of destruction.

I would point out alternatives at the moment are no better they will also with a few exceptions require vast land clearance if we are to entirely replace all fuel use with solar and wind.

Apr 25, 2015
Doesn't seem so bad to me.

Apr 25, 2015
now lets see the other side of the equation - billions people being helped by this probably for decades.

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