More scientific evidence of risks to wildlife from oil and gas development

I've blogged before about the risks to wildlife from oil and gas development. For example, declining mule deer herds in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah.

The latest science now documents the impacts on another species--elk--from natural gas operations. Scientists compared data on elk from the early 1990s, before natural gas drilling began, to data collected during development. The research was conducted in the Fortification Creek area of eastern Wyoming. Development in this area has led to 700 gas wells, extensive industrial facilities associated with natural gas production, and hundreds of miles of new roads and pipelines.

Elk use distance and vegetative cover to minimize their exposure to roads. This study determined that, once development began, elk were found in areas much farther from roads than before development.

According to the scientists, "human access facilitated by road development indirectly resulted in a 43-50% loss of high-use elk habitat during CBNG* development."

This means the elk have to spend time and energy to search for new habitat as they try to avoid the human activity. The balance of nature has been altered, and the elk are forced to change the habitat they have relied upon for countless generations. According to one scientist: "That in turn can cause the animals stress, which can be detrimental during the winter months when elk need to conserve fat reserves to survive."

The study found that some roads have more than 300 vehicles per day, but that less than 10 vehicles per day is needed to "reduce indirect habitat loss for elk..."

Thousands of more wells have been proposed for the Fortification Creek area. Tens of thousands more are proposed for areas with important wildlife habitat across the West.

The Bureau of Land Management needs much stronger rules to truly protect wildlife and their habitat. To start, BLM should conduct the thorough environmental review needed to ensure that all impacts of new oil and gas wells are considered before being approved. As I recently blogged, BLM, as well as other federal agencies, has been approving new oil and gas development without necessary environmental reviews. For the wild west to survive more habitat needs to be protected.

* Coal bed natural gas, a type of natural gas development.