Impending rapid development of the abundant energy resources found in western North America may have dramatic consequences for its terrestrial ecosystems. We used lease and license data to provide an approximate estimate of direct and indirect potential impacts from renewable and non-renewable energy development on each of five major terrestrial ecosystems and completed more detailed analyses for shrubland ecosystems. We found that energy development could impact up to 21 percent (96 million ha) of the five major ecosystems in western North America. The highest overall predicted impacts as a percent of the ecosystem type are to boreal forest (23-32 percent), shrublands (6-24 percent), and grasslands (9-21 percent). In absolute terms, the largest potential impacts are to shrublands (9.9 to 41.1 million ha). Oil, gas, wind, solar, and geothermal development each have their greatest potential impacts on shrublands. The impacts to shrublands occur in all ecological regions across western North America, but potential impacts are greatest in the North American Deserts (up to 27 percent or 25.8 million ha), Great Plains (up to 24 percent or 8.9 million ha), and Northern Forests (up to 47 percent or 4.3 million ha). Conventional oil and gas development accounts for the largest proportion of the potential impact in all three of these regions. Some states or provinces may experience particularly large impacts to shrublands, including Alberta and Wyoming, where potential for oil and gas development is especially high, and New Mexico, where solar development could potentially affect large areas of shrubland. Understanding the scale of anticipated impacts to these ecosystems through this type of coarse-scale analysis may help to catalyze policy makers to engage in proactive planning.
Pocewicz, Amy; Copeland, Holly; and Kiesecker, Joseph
"Potential Impacts of Energy Development on Shrublands in Western North America,"
Natural Resources and Environmental Issues: Vol. 17
, Article 14.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/nrei/vol17/iss1/14