Wildlife: Gaining Ground

Quick Facts

The oil and natural gas industry has undergone significant technological transformation, and wildlife is benefitting. Innovations such as horizontal and directional drilling, paired with hydraulic fracturing, dramatically reduce the industry’s operational footprint. Companies are now able to do more with less to minimize impacts on species and the landscapes they depend upon. Wildlife is truly gaining ground.

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 peer-reviewed study in the journal Human-Wildlife Interactions (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 a result, the impact on habitat is dramatically reduced. Read more about how technological innovation is reducing footprint and protecting species in Gaining Ground: Industry Innovation Reduces Impacts on Sage-Grouse and Big Game.

Gaining Ground Horizontal Drilling

Figure 1.  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.

Other studies have found that more intensive vertical well development at density levels of five to seven well pads per square mile, cause changes in mule deer migratory behavior. Horizontal development can be accomplished with as few as one well pad per square mile, well below the density that affects big game migration. With a lighter footprint on the land, oil and natural gas development continues to coexist with wildlife and habitat conservation.

Wildlife Comments

Below are comments submitted by Western Energy Alliance on various wildlife issues.