Ecosystem Service Loss to Oil & Gas in North America

We have heard the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and a string of Ministers of State say that they want to replicate a US style unconventional gas revolution in the UK and in the West Country. Undoubtedly there has been an unconventional shale gas and oil revolution in the US and they have done it by drilling 50,000 new wells per year since the year 2000. We have also been told repeatedly by politcians that unconventional gas in the UK will be well regulated with few negative impacts and lots of positive ones and that everything in the US is fine and dandy.

A new study (supported by NASA) has just been published in Science Magazine entitled Ecosystem services lost to oil and gas in North America. This is the first major assessment of how oil and gas have impacted ecosystem services over large areas of the United States. Ecosystem services are the services provided to society by ecosystems and are public goods, things like natural purification of water, wetland protection of coastal areas, sequestration of carbon by forests and soils, earthworms aiding soil function, bees providing pollination, etc, etc, etc. Our welling and economy are greatly supported by ecosystem services. The study looks at the impact of oil and gas development on the loss of vegetation and Net Primary Productivity (NPP) using satellite imagery at medium and fine scales. The study estimates that in rangelands the loss is equivalent to half of the annual available grazing on land managed by the US Bureau of Land Management. For crops the loss is equivalent to 13% of the wheat exported by the United States. They estimate that the land area converted to drilling pads, roads and storage facilities is about 3,000,000 ha (30,000 sq km), equivalent to three Yellowstone National Parks. This is shocking but not surprising if you have spent any time looking a satellite imagery of the USA. The study also notes that this loss is likely to be long-lasting.

The authors note that “Fortunately, data and information are now far less of a barrier in understanding and addressing continental and cumulative impacts“. Quite so.  Frack Free Chew Valley has access to the GeoMet estimate of the location, number and density of wells required to access the Somerset coalbed methane resource, the full NASA MODIS satellite archive and the US Geological Survey’s Landsat archive, as used in the aforementioned paper, and we know how to use it and apply it in Somerset and the UK. Politicians and gas industry take note.

Allred, B., Smith, W, Twidwell, D., Haggerty, J., Running, S., Naugle, D., Fuhlendorf, S, 24 April 2015, Ecosystem service lost to oil and gas in North America, Vol 348, Issue 6233. 

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