Gaining Ground: Industry Innovation Protects Wildlife Habitat

by Kathleen Sgamma, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs on June 13, 2016 - 11:11am

The oil and natural gas industry has undergone significant technological transformation, and wildlife is truly gaining ground. Western Energy Alliance and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW) have just released a report, Gaining Ground: Industry Innovation Reduces Impacts on Sage-Grouse and Big Game, that shows how companies are able to do more with less to minimize impacts on species and the landscapes they depend upon. As a result, impacts on sage grouse, mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and other big game habitat are significantly reduced.

Healthy wildlife populations are a major part of the culture and economy of the West. As responsible stewards of the land, oil and natural gas companies actively work to protect the Greater Sage Grouse and big game species. Increased use of horizontal and directional drilling have significantly lowered surface disturbance. A 2014 study (Applegate/Owens) shows how modern oil and natural gas operations result in a 70% reduction in surface disturbance.

Such reductions are possible because a single horizontal well now takes the place of 8 to 16 vertical wells, and up to 32 directionally drilled wells can be clustered on one pad. As use of horizontal and directional drilling has steadily increased, the impact of energy development on habitat is dramatically reduced, as shown in the figure. While horizontal and directional drilling cannot be used in all geological circumstances, the surface disturbance reductions have been and continue to be significant. Horizontal development can be accomplished with as few as one or two well pads per square mile, far below the density of five to seven wells per square mile that affects big game migration and sage-grouse mating areas.

Gaining Ground Horizontal Drilling

Typical surface footprint comparison between types of drilling operations. The well pads shown in yellow represent surface impact, while the well bores in black indicate the reach underground.

Environmental groups continually exaggerate the impact of oil and natural gas development on the land as a way to convince the federal government to drive it off public lands. They often use outdated studies based on industry practices from over a decade ago to justify those actions. By ignoring the solution that industry innovation has already provided, both environmental groups and the government are killing jobs in the West needlessly.

This is a regular pattern of the environmental lobby; disregard solutions provided by technological innovation and continue to claim that drastic measures are needed to protect wildlife or the environment in general. Our Gaining Ground study helps to counter the scenario that the sky is always falling. Oil and natural gas companies take their stewardship of the land and wildlife seriously, and are helping to ensure that wildlife continue to gain ground.