Environmental Management

, Volume 62, Issue 2, pp 323–333 | Cite as

An Improved Approach for Forecasting Ecological Impacts from Future Drilling in Unconventional Shale Oil and Gas Plays

  • Brad D. Wolaver
  • Jon Paul Pierre
  • Svetlana A. Ikonnikova
  • John R. Andrews
  • Guinevere McDaid
  • Wade A. Ryberg
  • Toby J. Hibbitts
  • Charles M. Duran
  • Benjamin J. Labay
  • Travis J. LaDuc


Directional well drilling and hydraulic fracturing has enabled energy production from previously inaccessible resources, but caused vegetation conversion and landscape fragmentation, often in relatively undisturbed habitats. We improve forecasts of future ecological impacts from unconventional oil and gas play developments using a new, more spatially-explicit approach. We applied an energy production outlook model, which used geologic and economic data from thousands of wells and three oil price scenarios, to map future drilling patterns and evaluate the spatial distribution of vegetation conversion and habitat impacts. We forecast where future well pad construction may be most intense, illustrating with an example from the Eagle Ford Shale Play of Texas. We also illustrate the ecological utility of this approach using the Spot-tailed Earless Lizard (Holbrookia lacerata) as the focal species, which historically occupied much of the Eagle Ford and awaits a federal decision for possible Endangered Species Act protection. We found that ~17,000–45,500 wells would be drilled 2017‒2045 resulting in vegetation conversion of ~26,485–70,623 ha (0.73–1.96% of pre-development vegetation), depending on price scenario ($40–$80/barrel). Grasslands and row crop habitats were most affected (2.30 and 2.82% areal vegetation reduction). Our approach improves forecasts of where and to what extent future energy development in unconventional plays may change land-use and ecosystem services, enabling natural resource managers to anticipate and direct on-the-ground conservation actions to places where they will most effectively mitigate ecological impacts of well pads and associated infrastructure.


Hydraulic fracturing Directional drilling Eagle Ford Shale Play Ecosystem services Holbrookia lacerata Spot-tailed Earless Lizard 



This study was funded by Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Endangered Species Research Fund (grant number 14-000769 to LaDuc and Wolaver) and The University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences and College of Natural Sciences. The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest. We thank the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Interagency Task Force on Economic Growth and Endangered Species Spot-tailed Earless Lizard Working Group, R Gulley, M Hope, A Zerrenner, and M Young for helpful discussions and Bob Gottfried and Laura Dugan for TNND assistance.

Supplementary material

267_2018_1042_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (528 kb)
Supplementary Material


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brad D. Wolaver
    • 1
  • Jon Paul Pierre
    • 1
  • Svetlana A. Ikonnikova
    • 1
  • John R. Andrews
    • 1
  • Guinevere McDaid
    • 1
  • Wade A. Ryberg
    • 2
  • Toby J. Hibbitts
    • 2
    • 3
  • Charles M. Duran
    • 4
  • Benjamin J. Labay
    • 5
    • 6
  • Travis J. LaDuc
    • 5
  1. 1.Bureau of Economic Geology, Jackson School of GeosciencesThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Texas A&M Natural Resources InstituteCollege StationUSA
  3. 3.Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Biodiversity Research and Teaching CollectionsTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA
  4. 4.The Nature ConservancySan AntonioUSA
  5. 5.Department of Integrative Biology, College of Natural SciencesThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  6. 6.Siglo GroupAustinUSA

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