Habitat Loss and Modification Due to Gas Development in the Fayetteville Shale
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- Moran, M.D., Cox, A.B., Wells, R.L. et al. Environmental Management (2015) 55: 1276. doi:10.1007/s00267-014-0440-6
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Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have become major methods to extract new oil and gas deposits, many of which exist in shale formations in the temperate deciduous biome of the eastern United States. While these technologies have increased natural gas production to new highs, they can have substantial environmental effects. We measured the changes in land use within the maturing Fayetteville Shale gas development region in Arkansas between 2001/2002 and 2012. Our goal was to estimate the land use impact of these new technologies in natural gas drilling and predict future consequences for habitat loss and fragmentation. Loss of natural forest in the gas field was significantly higher compared to areas outside the gas field. The creation of edge habitat, roads, and developed areas was also greater in the gas field. The Fayetteville Shale gas field fully developed about 2 % of the natural habitat within the region and increased edge habitat by 1,067 linear km. Our data indicate that without shale gas activities, forest cover would have increased slightly and edge habitat would have decreased slightly, similar to patterns seen recently in many areas of the southern U.S. On average, individual gas wells fully developed about 2.5 ha of land and modified an additional 0.5 ha of natural forest. Considering the large number of wells drilled in other parts of the eastern U.S. and projections for new wells in the future, shale gas development will likely have substantial negative effects on forested habitats and the organisms that depend upon them.