Land and Wildlife

 

Natural gas drilling takes place near urban communities and in wide open rural lands. Here are some ways the gas industry is working to reduce its impact on land and ecosystems.

Drillers have the opportunity to choose carefully where they drill. They must consider proximity to cities and towns; the natural environment; local ecology; existing infrastructure; air patterns; wildlife needs and much more. One of the Golden Rules identified by the World Energy Outlook(5) for gas producers, states, “Sensitivity at this (planning) stage to a range of above-ground concerns can do much to mitigate or avoid problems later in a development.”

Seismic activity

It’s well known that human activity can cause earthquakes. Drillers and regulators now have the technology to analyze the geology and avoid faults or other geologic features associated with seismic risks, practices that should be carried out before any drilling begins.

On rare occasions, deep water wells used to dispose of fracking wastewater have been associated with mild earthquakes. Today, the knowledge and technology exists to analyze disposal sites before drilling starts and thereby avoid areas of seismic activity.

Better technology

One of the benefits of horizontal drilling is that much of the activity takes place below ground – which means the drilling requires less room on the surface. Gas developers now can drill more than one well from a single well pad, greatly reducing the amount of land required. In 2011, about 30 percent of new shale and tight gas wells in North America used this technique.(6) A recent industry publication notes that today’s drilling techniques use 30 percent of the land surface of older wells while accessing 60 times more below-ground area.(7) 

Wildlife protection

As with any other aspect of gas production, wildlife protection requires forethought and planning. Drillers can plan their wells in areas that least impact wildlife habitat. And once wells are in, they can operate efficiently to reduce impact and take on remediation activities that support a healthy ecosystem.

A good example is Encana’s Jonah Field operation in Wyoming. Jonah Field is on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Because BLM lacked resources to maintain the natural grasses in the area, much of the surface was taken over by invasive plants. Encana has planted and maintained the grasses native to this part of Wyoming, helping rebuild a healthy antelope population.

Reclaiming the land

Wells have life spans up to 30 years. However, the gas producer’s responsibility doesn’t stop when the well stops being productive. Returning the land to its original state is an important part of the company’s environmental obligation. Responsible developers create comprehensive plans to return the land to its original condition. This includes making sure the old wells are properly closed down and capped off.

  • Footnotes—NW Natural has not performed its own scientific or economic research on the impacts of fracking or gas production practices. The information in this section is derived from publicly available reports, studies and periodicals.