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Landscape disturbance caused by non-renewable energy production in a semi-arid region: a case study on the Russian steppe

Mjachina, Ksenya V., Baynard, Chris. W., Chibilyev, Alexander A., Richardson, Robert D.
Theinternational journal of sustainable development and world ecology 2018 v.25 no.6 pp. 541-553
case studies, energy, energy resources, environmental degradation, geographic information systems, landscapes, morphometry, oils, remote sensing, roads, semiarid zones, steppes, surface water, surveys, topographic aspect, Russia
Exploration and development of oil and gas (O&G) energy resources can create large-scale and permanent landscape effects that are best measured and understood via fieldwork and geospatial technologies. In this article, we examine O&G surface disturbance in the Orenburg steppe region of southwestern Russia for the year 2015. Utilizing field surveys, remote-sensing data and geographic information system (GIS) techniques, we apply a two-pronged approach. First, we map and measure the landscape infrastructure footprint (LIF) to determine the pattern and extent of direct surface disturbance created by O&G facilities and access roads. Second, we conduct a site suitability analysis to identify specific O&G production locations that are most vulnerable to environmental degradation. The approach considers both the particular properties of hydrocarbon production and specific natural features of steppe zones. Suitability patterns represent three indicators: two morphometric parameters (slope and aspect) and one spatial (the remoteness of O&G objects from water bodies). Our findings suggest that O&G production disturbs just over 3% of soil-vegetation cover in our study plot, while more than 13% of O&G objects are located in unsuitable zones based on topographic aspect, and about 11% lie in unsuitable zones regarding distance to water.