Land Change Science Program

Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI)

Energy infrastructure (roads and pads) in the Atlantic Rim Project Area at the start of simulations (2012) and examples of modeled infrastructure patterns after 15 years (2027) using 500, 1,000, and 2,000 well pads.  Each of the simulation scenarios had a different number of wells per pad but the same total number of wells.
Energy infrastructure (roads and pads) in the Atlantic Rim Project Area at the start of simulations (2012) and examples of modeled infrastructure patterns after 15 years (2027) using 500, 1,000, and 2,000 well pads. Each of the simulation scenarios had a different number of wells per pad but the same total number of wells.

Southwestern Wyoming contains one of the Nation's largest oil and natural gas reserves, a significant portion of the remaining intact sagebrush steppe, and some of the largest populations of sagebrush-associated wildlife species in the United States. Oil and gas development in SW Wyoming has increased over the past decade in response to national energy needs, and is expected to be a dominant driver of land-use change for the next 30+ years. Loss of habitat due to the footprint of energy infrastructure and avoidance of habitat in proximity to infrastructure is a concern for species such as the Greater sage-grouse and other sagebrush obligates. Comparisons of the physical and ecological footprint of proposed energy build-out designs and of alternative designs are increasingly important to identify design options that may minimize the effects to wildlife habitat and populations.

As part of the Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative (WLCI), the USGS developed an Energy Footprint Model to simulate the infrastructure footprint of future energy development under different assumptions of development rates, patterns, and densities. Integrated with this model are procedures to assess the potential effects of simulated footprints on wildlife habitat and populations. The footprint model uses energy build-out parameters and maps of existing oil and gas infrastructure, subsurface mineral rights, and development restrictions to simulate the annual establishment of new wells, pads, and roads on the landscape. The primary model output is time-stamped maps of initial and simulated pads and roads. These maps are subsequently used to assess potential effects on wildlife using published relations of species' response to road, well, or pad densities.

Ongoing studies with the footprint model are delineating the ecological tradeoffs among experimental oil and gas well and pad densities that are plausible with advances in drilling technology, and identifying energy development designs that achieve energy production goals while minimizing the effects on wildlife habitat and populations. Additionally, examples of future energy-development patterns for a range of economic conditions (high, medium, low rate of future development) were generated for use in collaborative studies of Greater sage-grouse population dynamics.

Project Lead: Steven Garman, slgarman@usgs.gov, Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center

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