With the ever-increasing production of domestic oil and natural gas in North America, a major concern for energy industry professionals and conservationists alike is protecting the native wildlife and habitats.
There are currently 37 million acres of onshore oil and gas leases in the United States alone, which undoubtedly has adverse effects on animal populations and their surrounding ecosystems. However, this isn’t going unnoticed — especially by the energy sector, who are going to great lengths to assure their environmental footprint is as minuscule and nonthreatening as possible.
Establishing Best Practices
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been spearheading endeavors to preserve wildlife with the cooperation of industry leaders in the United States. A policy was established in 2012 to tackle the issues surrounding five key situations in which best practices should be applied.
- Open pits and tanks containing freestanding liquid
- Chemical tank secondary containment
- Pit, tank, and trench entrapment hazards
- Open exhaust stacks
- Wire exclosure fencing
Strategies that were put in place included “closed loop systems or nets for managing fluids, constructing wildlife escape ramps in open excavation operations, and installing screens on all open exhaust stacks to prevent bird and bat entry or nesting.” These were shown to significantly decrease the potential hazards wildlife may face when they encounter an oil or gas field.
Unique Approaches across North America
The United States aren’t the only ones taking measures to reduce the impact of their fossil fuel extraction. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Products (CAPP) has various techniques that they have implemented, such as deterring birds from tailings ponds using noisemakers and sticking to a Low Impact Seismic (LIS) approach; using mulchers instead of bulldozers to create weaving, narrow trails for seismic lines to avoid mature trees. Even reusing old seismic lines has been an option.
Another commendable way the CAPP is attempting to minimize their impact is by supporting and participating in various conservation and research projects, including Alberta caribou recovery and grizzly bear research — a trend that seems to be catching on with other energy companies.
The Great Greater Sage-Grouse Debate
One species in particular that has drawn plenty of attention from wildlife protection groups is the Greater sage-grouse; a ground-dwelling bird the size of a chicken, and the largest grouse in North America. A recent study showed they are being threatened by increased oil and gas activity in the western United States and parts of Canada.
To avoid the endangered species list, energy companies have been implementing an average of over six conservation measures per project specifically to protect the bird. Limiting surface disturbance and activities during nesting and brood-rearing season, and strategically placing sources of noise and light to reduce disturbance are just a few of their tactics.
As the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) monitors the grouse’s population, with a September 2015 deadline on whether or not to list it, those behind the scenes of oil and gas development will continue their commitment to proving that they are not a major threat.
Increased production means increased risk, but if this much time, capital, and human resources have been poured into protecting one species, it’s safe to say everyone is on the same side.