As the nation continues to search for viable and consistent energy sources, the western United States has seen a boom in oil and gas development. With exploration and drilling projects increasing across the region, wildlife habitats are facing substantial and potentially permanent damage.
The Challenge – Protecting Natural Habitats During Oil and Gas Exploration
The Nature Conservancy is committed to our mission of conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. And important to maintaining that mission is working with companies, like BP in places where their business activities affect the habitats, species and natural resources we are working to protect. When BP and other companies identify lands for energy exploration, occasionally they are the same places we target for conservation. Engaging with companies proactively allows the Conservancy to help them make better decisions about how and where development could occur—and where it shouldn’t—before damage is done. Leveraging our expertise in science, conservation planning and GIS technology, we can identify the species, important natural systems and communities that will be impacted by development in an entire region, and make recommendations about how to avoid sensitive areas, mitigate potential impacts or offset impacts that have already occurred. This is called “Development by Design” (DbD).
Sited in one of the largest energy development areas in the United States, the Jonah Natural Gas Field in Wyoming encompasses some of the richest wildlife habitat in the lower 48 states.
In 2006 the Conservancy was approached by BP America, one of the principal operators in the Jonah Field, to conduct research and analysis that could help them identify priorities for habitat preservation and conservation projects needed to offset the impacts of oil and gas drilling pads and infrastructure development in the area.
In addition to BP America, the Nature Conservancy worked closely with the Jonah Interagency Reclamation and Mitigation Office (JIO) and other stakeholders. The JIO determines how $24.5 million in offsite mitigation funds will be spent and is using the Conservancy’s analysis as it chooses projects to fund in southwest Wyoming.
Solutions in Action
Using our Development by Design approach, the Conservancy is applying scientific mapping approaches to provide land managers a tool for determining mitigation projects that best conserve what’s been temporarily displaced by development in the Jonah Natural Gas Field. Scientists identified important wildlife habitats and made recommendations for projects that align with science-based goals, from habitat acquisition, to restoration, and ongoing management practices like invasive weed removal and prescribed burns. The plan also identifies optimal wildlife habitats such as mountain plover, sage grouse, pronghorn and rare plants—all species that have been impacted in the Jonah Field.
As evidenced by the Conservancy’s work for the Jonah field, Development by Design creates a blueprint for conservation that helps industry and land mangers think proactively about maintaining biodiversity. The Conservancy hopes that as energy development continues throughout the west, its conservation science will be used to better plan development sites in the state before drilling projects even begin and avoid the most sensitive areas altogether.
A Sustainable Future
Using the Jonah Field pilot as a proving ground, the Conservancy has completed two more pilots with BP in Wyoming and Colorado. Like the Jonah project, the Conservancy worked directly with the state, the federal government and BP on plans to identify areas where money from a government-created mitigation fund could be used for habitat protection and restoration to offset the impacts of drilling.
In these projects, and other similar ones, the Conservancy makes the collected data and the project results publicly available so that others can learn from them and we draw on our field experience with companies to help shape government policies on development. Funding for these projects goes directly to science, modeling and data collection, and our data and analysis is often published in peer reviewed journals.
In addition to our work together in the western U.S., BP has also made major contributions to the Noel Kempff forest protection project in Bolivia, which protects 1.5 million acres of tropical forest and benefits both people and wildlife.
In addition, BP has also provided philanthropic gifts to support new science and conservation efforts at the Chapter level, including the donation of 655 acres of forested wetlands and mature hardwood forests along the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. The company is also a member of the Conservancy’s Business Council.