An approach for evaluating changes in land‑use from energy sprawl and other anthropogenic activities with implications for biotic resource management
Authors: Brad D. Wolaver, Jon Paul Pierre, Benjamin J. Labay, Travis J. LaDuc, Charles M. Duran, Wade A. Ryberg, Toby J. Hibbitts
This study presents a novel approach for evaluating land-use changes caused by energy development and other anthropogenic activities. We illustrate this technique by assessing the landscape footprint of energy development in the Eagle Ford Shale Play and Permian Basin of Texas, which saw rapid expansion in drilling during 2008–2012. We compare changes in land-use from oil and gas infrastructure construction during this time period with that of wind energy development in West Texas, urbanization in Central Texas, and extensive agricultural areas. Previous studies often use land-use proxies when comparing the footprint of energy infrastructure (e.g., 1 km2 gridded well density or proposed wind project footprints) with other anthropogenic land-change. This study presents an improved technique because it compares high-resolution datasets of agricultural activity and urbanization with mapped—not surrogate—land-change from oil and gas and wind power infrastructure using high-resolution (1 m) aerial imagery. We found that changes in land-use caused by anthropogenic factors affected 1.06% (3456 km2) of the ~ 324,000 km2 study area. Oil and gas development (well pads and pipelines) was ~ 48% of total changes in land-use (but did not account for access roads), changes in agriculture caused ~ 26%, and urbanization was ~ 24%. Construction of wind turbine pads and high voltage power transmission lines was less important (~ 1%). We illustrate this approach for a single species (i.e., Spot-tailed Earless Lizard, Holbrookia lacerata) in Texas. This study is part of an ongoing, multi-year research program generating science to inform the federal Endangered Species Act listing decision for H. lacerata. Additionally, this technique can facilitate effective management of a variety of biotic resources in other rapidly developing environments globally by identifying what anthropogenic activities are most important and where land-change is most intense so that on-the-ground conservation strategies can be implemented where they are needed most.