CONWAY, Ark. (June 26, 2017)
– Expanding on two previous research projects covering ecological changes at
hydraulic fracturing sites in the Fayetteville Shale, a research team from
Hendrix College has estimated the monetary value of the forest, grassland, and
desert habitat lost across the U.S. at sites developed for oil and gas drilling.
Dr. Matthew D. Moran and Dr.
Maureen R. McClung ’01, joined by Hendrix students Nathan T. Taylor ‘18, Tabitha
F. Mullins ‘17, and Sehrish S. Sardar ’16, conducted assessments of satellite
images taken before and after hydraulic fracturing (commonly called “fracking”)
operations began at sites around the country. The study, published in the June
2017 issue of Frontiers in Ecology and
the Environment, estimates that as of 2015, the cumulative impact of
ecosystem loss stood at $1.4 billion.
“The area developed for
drilling was about 500,000 acres as of 2015,” Moran said. “That’s an area
approaching the size of Rhode Island.” Depending upon drilling rates, the
cumulative financial impact of developing more land for oil and gas exploration
could reach anywhere between $9.4 and $31.9 billion between now and 2040.
With this project, previous
research focusing on the Fayetteville Shale published in 2015 and earlier this year, and other ongoing projects, Moran and
McClung have co-supervised more than a dozen students researching the
ecological impact of the changes fracking brings to the landscape.
“This research would be
impossible to do without the help of students,” Moran said. “They learn how to
do the tedious but important work of data collection, and they get an up-close
view of the whole process, from conceptualizing the project all the way through
disseminating it to the scientific community and the public.”
To calculate the cost of
lost forest, grassland, and desert biomes, the team applied to their findings
previously published values of ecosystem services—natural processes that
benefit humanity, which humans would have to pay to accomplish if nature did
not handle them.
“When we’re talking about
oil and gas development, something you hear a lot is that it’s a boon for the
economy: ‘We’re creating jobs, and we’re bringing revenue to these regions that
may not have a lot of revenue coming in,’” McClung said. “Something we need to
be talking about is the cost to the ecosystem. That’s part of this calculation.”
The researchers hope that calculating
monetary values for ecological losses will begin to help educate the public on how
replacing a patch of undeveloped land with a pad of gravel has a negative
impact on humanity, such as through the loss of natural water filtration.
“This should be a big
consideration: What do we stand to lose if we allow this?” she said. “We’re
trying to get ecology a seat at the table.”
Visit http://www.esa.org/esablog/research/fracking-costs-ecosystem-services for a synopsis of the research paper, as
well as a related video featuring Moran and McClung.
Hendrix College is a private
liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas. Founded in 1876 and affiliated with
the United Methodist Church since 1884, Hendrix is featured in Colleges That
Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think about Colleges and is nationally recognized in numerous
college guides, lists, and rankings for academic quality, community,
innovation, and value. For more information, visit www.hendrix.edu.