Monday, November 23, 2015

Scientific Study Addresses Watershed Vulnerability Associated with Shale Oil and Gas Development Across the U.S.

In September 2015, a group of scientist released a study entitled “Stream Vulnerability to Widespread and Emergent Stressors: A Focus on Unconventional Oil and Gas” published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS) One Journal. The study examines the potential effects of shale oil and gas development coupled with other existing landscape stressors to surface waters. The scientists developed a catchment vulnerability index calculated based on watershed sensitivity and environmental risk exposure scoring to anticipate potential ecosystem degradation.

Scientists analyzed watershed vulnerability in the top six shale plays across the United States, namely: Appalachian Basin, Arkoma Basin, Williston Basin, Fort Worth Basin, Powder River Basin, and Greater Green River Basin. They noted that “[c]atchment sensitivity and exposure scores and their resultant composite vulnerability score can be used to highlight catchments where the effects of [unconventional oil and gas development] . . . are most probable, guide best management practices, highlight data gaps, and prioritize monitoring efforts.”

The study concluded that catchments in the Williston, Powder River and Greater Green River Basins “[tend] to be more sensitive to stressors due to low annual average precipitation and extensive grassland” while watersheds in the Appalachian and Fort Worth Basins are rather vulnerable to soil erosion and steep slopes. Just like in the Arkoma Basin, watersheds in the Fort Worth Basin are also sensitive to existing anthropogenic exposure. 

Written by Chloe Marie - Research Fellow

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