Land cover changes associated with recent energy development in the Williston Basin; Northern Great Plains, USA

Science of the Total Environment
By:  and 



The Williston Basin in the Northern Great Plains has experienced rapid energy development since 2000. To evaluate the land cover changes resulting from recent (2000 – 2015) development, the area and previous land cover of all well pads (pads) constructed during this time was determined, the amount of disturbed and reclaimed land adjacent to pads was estimated, land cover changes were analyzed over time for three different well types, and the effects from future development were predicted. The previous land cover of the 12,990 ha converted to pads was predominately agricultural (49.5%) or prairie (47.4%) with lesser amounts of developed (2.3%), aquatic (0.5%), and forest (0.4%). Additionally, 12,121 ha have likely been disturbed and reclaimed. The area required per gas well remained constant through time while the land required per oil well increased initially and then decreased as development first shifted from conventional to unconventional drilling and then to multi-bore pads. For non-oil-and- gas wells (i.e. stratigraphic test wells, water wells, injection wells, etc.), the area per well increased through time likely due to increased produced water disposal requirements. Future land cover change is expected to be 2.7 times greater than recent development with much of the development occurring in five counties in the core Bakken development area. Direct land cover change and disturbance from recent and expected development are predicted to affect 0.4% of the landscape across the basin; however, in the core Bakken development area, 2.3% of the landscape will be affected including 2.1% of the remaining grassland. Although future development will result in significant land cover change, evolving industry practices and proactive siting decisions, such as development along energy corridors and placing pads in areas previously altered by human activity, have the potential to reduce the ecological effects of future energy development in the Williston Basin.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Land cover changes associated with recent energy development in the Williston Basin; Northern Great Plains, USA
Series title Science of the Total Environment
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.06.038
Volume 566-567
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 8 p.
First page 1511
Last page 1518
Country United States
Other Geospatial Williston Basin
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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