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Impact of the Bakken/Three Forks unconventional oil and gas development on natural habitats in North Dakota

Howden, Carlin M., Stone, E. Taylor, Nallur, Varenya, McClung, Maureen R., Moran, Matthew D.
Land degradation & development 2019 v.30 no.5 pp. 524-532
databases, edge effects, fossil fuels, hydraulic fracturing, infrastructure, land cover, land use change, mortality, oil and gas industry, oils, public lands, remote sensing, wildlife, wildlife habitats, wildlife management, North Dakota
Unconventional oil and gas production (i.e., horizontal drilling and hydrofracturing) has expanded rapidly in the US. One important region where this expansion has occurred is the Bakken/Three Forks Formation, a tight oil play that has made North Dakota a major U.S. oil producer. Using a spatial well database and satellite imagery, we directly measured land‐use changes caused by recent oil and gas activities in two important natural habitats in North Dakota. These two habitats were prairie potholes and public lands that include conservation of wildlife as part of their publicly stated mission. For public lands, we found that about 2,600 ha have been developed, edge habitat increased by almost 30 km (3.65% increase), and average fragment size decreased by 0.70%. Few prairie potholes were directly impacted by this activity, but distance to development decreased for almost one third (434/1,300) by an average of about 400 m. Although land cover changes have been measured in this region in previous publications, our results showing changes in fragmentation, edge habitat, and distance to development provide new metrics for how these habitats in North Dakota are being affected by fossil fuel activity. Observed land‐use changes, while modest, likely have negative impacts on wildlife, including increased mortality or habitat avoidance. Given the potential spread of unconventional oil and gas across the globe, understanding these patterns should help inform land and wildlife managers, as well as the oil and gas industry, about strategies to limit impacts of well and infrastructure placement on valuable wildlife habitats.