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Energy development in the Great Plains

Date: August 09, 2019


Historical and projected energy consumption for the United States according to energy source (EIA 2018).
Historical and projected energy consumption for the United States according to energy source (EIA 2018).

Background

Energy is an integral part of our society. United States coal, oil, natural gas, and wind energy are concentrated in the grassland states enabling them to be large net exporters of energy. Some of the largest increases of oil and gas extraction in the past 10 years have occurred in the Williston Basin in North Dakota and Montana, and the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico. Wind energy installations and grassland conversion to cropland for biofuels have also increased. 

As energy demand continues to increase, increasing pressure will be placed on our North American grassland systems. The tradeoff between the need and desire for energy and the conservation of lands within the grassland region leads to some difficult management choices. Identifying the ecological costs of energy production can aid managers as they work to avoid and minimize environmental issues as well as lead to the development of new technologies to aid in conservation. 

Research

This project aims to:

  1. Provide an overview to help inform management on the environmental effects associated with energy development and mitigation and restoration opportunities.
  2. Provide a site-specific ready reference, including information on potential Threatened & Endangered species, for experienced as well as new managers working in western North Dakota (area of the Bakken oil boom).

Energy development/production can affect the environment in multiple ways. During development, land can be converted, fragmented, or disturbed. During production, the atmosphere, aquatic and terrestrial resources, and local communities can be affected.
Energy development/production can affect the environment in multiple ways. During development, land can be converted, fragmented, or disturbed. During production, the atmosphere, aquatic and terrestrial resources, and local communities can be affected.

Through an extensive review of the literature by experts in wildlife ecology, grassland restoration, plant ecology, and air quality, we aim to produce:

  • A synthesis focused on the general biological effects of energy development that are specific to the Little Missouri National Grassland in western North Dakota.
  • A synthesis for the entire Great Plains.

These syntheses will be published electronically as general technical reports or as peer-reviewed journal articles.

  • Primary effects during energy development include small- and large- scale soil disturbance and vegetation removal as small patches of grasslands are used to host oil or gas wells, wind turbine pads, associated roadways, and pipelines or through the conversion of large grassland areas to biofuel croplands. Direct habitat loss or habitat fragmentation can affect wildlife directly through increased mortality or indirectly through reduction in habitat quantity and quality. 
  • During energy production, air and water quality can be affected through regular emissions or unplanned spills. 
  • Energy development can also affect the economy and health of local communities by increasing job opportunities and providing new means of income to landowners. 
  • During planning, energy development and production effects can be reduced by carefully considering grassland effects during siting and even by selecting different energy types. 
  • During construction, soil and plant systems effects can be minimized by eliminating weed populations prior to disturbance, salvaging and stockpiling topsoil for future revegetation, and harvesting native local seed for post-site restoration. 
  • During production operations, noise and road traffic reduction plans and atmospheric monitoring will enable more informed mitigation measures.
  • Continued research on energy development effects and mitigation measures is needed to establish best management practices beneficial to grassland health while providing needed energy for our country.

Featured Publications

Butler, Jack L. ; Ott, Jacqueline P. ; Hartway, Cynthia R. ; Dickerson, Brian E. , 2018


Principal Investigators: 
Forest Service Partners: 
Jack Butler (RMRS emeritus), Brian Dickerson (RMRS), Brice Hanberry (RMRS)
External Partners: 
Cynthia Hartway (South Dakota State University)
Mona Khalil (USGS)
Mark W. Paschke (Colorado State University)
Max Post van der Burg (USGS- Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center)
Anthony J. Prenni (National Park Service- Air Resources Division)