Native grasslands are important ecological systems in both the public and private sectors. They are valued not only for their agricultural and grazing productivity, but also for the rich, subsurface oil and gas resources, by which many local and regional economies of the Central Great Plains are buoyed. With recent advances in drilling technology and growing energy demands in the U.S., exploration of newly discovered oil and gas producing formations is occurring at a rapid pace. The landscape targeted in the Central Great Plains Grasslands Initiative is no exception. The unintended consequences of increased surface disturbance, truck traffic, noise, water use, spills and introduction of invasive species can have significant cumulative impacts on wildlife and its habitats.
Ensuring that our nation has the energy it needs while conserving remaining natural grasslands requires the Conservancy to collaborate with oil and gas company leaders. A key component of this collaboration is developing a siting model that will identify optimal locations for well pads, roads and other infrastructure in order to avoid negative impacts to wildlife. The GIS-based model will require staff from the Conservancy and corporations to bring their technical expertise together to provide solutions that work for both nature and successful oil and gas resource development. In addition, use of the siting model will be easily incorporated into the planning process of companies interested in reducing impacts to our remaining prairies.
Energy development has the potential to allow invasive non-native plant species to gain entry into the Central Great Plains. Invasive species exact heavy costs in lost economic productivity. Estimates show that invasive weeds cost U.S. ranchers billions of dollars in lost grazing productivity annually, not to mention damage to wildlife habitats. Use of non-native plants to stabilize disturbed soils can be a source of such invaders. Increasing exploration across the Central Great Plains expands the need to stabilize soils on roadsides and well sites making the selection of plant types important. The Conservancy will collaborate with industry experts to develop a voluntary program to help oil and gas developers avoid using non-native invasive plants and to select preferred native species for soil stabilization and reclamation.
The approaches described here will minimize further degradation and loss of the remaining native prairies while facilitating energy production.