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Time, climate, and soil settings set the course for reclamation outcomes following dryland energy development

August 24, 2023

Soil attributes, climate, and time since reclamation have important implications for oil and gas reclamation success on drylands. It is uncertain if reclaimed well pads, on highly degraded drylands, can successfully regain ecological function or meet indicator benchmarks for reclamation. Here, our goals were to assess patterns in reclamation outcomes relative to (1) soil attributes, climate, and time since reclamation; and (2) plant and soil reference benchmarks. We collected a suite of plant, soil, and landscape characteristics from 134 reclaimed well pads on the Colorado Plateau that spanned climate and soil gradients and ranged from 2 to 20 years post-reclamation, then compared characteristics to those from 583 reference plots. On the reclaimed pads, less saline soils, more mesic climates, and longer time since reclamation were associated with favorable reclamation outcomes based on metrics of plant species richness and diversity, plant structure, and cover of important plant functional groups. However, most pads had major departures in 1/4 indicators, suggesting unsuccessful reclamation. Arid warm locations with shallow soils had the greatest percentage of major departures, and noxious plant richness had the greatest departures across soil and climate settings. Our assessment indicates reclamation is failing in key metrics for most pads, and the results highlight the role of environmental conditions in driving reclamation outcomes. These new insights are valuable for ascertaining possible reclamation outcomes and success rates following energy related disturbance, including orphaned wells and renewable energy development. Importantly, the approach used here has applicability for setting benchmarks and outcome standards.

Publication Year 2023
Title Time, climate, and soil settings set the course for reclamation outcomes following dryland energy development
DOI 10.1002/ldr.4856
Authors Randi C. Lupardus, Aarin Sengsirirak, Keven Griffen, Anna C Knight, Brandon E McNellis, John B. Bradford, Seth M. Munson, Sasha C. Reed, Miguel L. Villarreal, Michael C. Duniway
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Land Degradation and Development
Index ID 70247993
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center; Western Geographic Science Center