Ecological risks of shale oil and gas development to wildlife, aquatic resources and their habitats

Environmental Science & Technology
By: , and 



Technological advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have led to the exploration and exploitation of shale oil and gas both nationally and internationally. Extensive development of shale resources has occurred within the United States over the past decade, yet full build out is not expected to occur for years. Moreover, countries across the globe have large shale resources and are beginning to explore extraction of these resources. Extraction of shale resources is a multistep process that includes site identification, well pad and infrastructure development, well drilling, high-volume hydraulic fracturing and production; each with its own propensity to affect associated ecosystems. Some potential effects, for example from well pad, road and pipeline development, will likely be similar to other anthropogenic activities like conventional gas drilling, land clearing, exurban and agricultural development and surface mining (e.g., habitat fragmentation and sedimentation). Therefore, we can use the large body of literature available on the ecological effects of these activities to estimate potential effects from shale development on nearby ecosystems. However, other effects, such as accidental release of wastewaters, are novel to the shale gas extraction process making it harder to predict potential outcomes. Here, we review current knowledge of the effects of high-volume hydraulic fracturing coupled with horizontal drilling on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in the contiguous United States, an area that includes 20 shale plays many of which have experienced extensive development over the past decade. We conclude that species and habitats most at risk are ones where there is an extensive overlap between a species range or habitat type and one of the shale plays (leading to high vulnerability) coupled with intrinsic characteristics such as limited range, small population size, specialized habitat requirements, and high sensitivity to disturbance. Examples include core forest habitat and forest specialists, sagebrush habitat and specialists, vernal pond inhabitants and stream biota. We suggest five general areas of research and monitoring that could aid in development of effective guidelines and policies to minimize negative impacts and protect vulnerable species and ecosystems: (1) spatial analyses, (2) species-based modeling, (3) vulnerability assessments, (4) ecoregional assessments, and (5) threshold and toxicity evaluations.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Ecological risks of shale oil and gas development to wildlife, aquatic resources and their habitats
Series title Environmental Science & Technology
DOI 10.1021/es5020482
Volume 48
Issue 19
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher American Chemical Society
Contributing office(s) Columbia Environmental Research Center
Description 14 p.
First page 11034
Last page 11047
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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