News Center

Hendrix Research Team Calculates Cost of Habitat Loss at Fracking Sites Across the U.S.

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 for a synopsis of the research paper, as well as a related video featuring Moran and McClung. 

About Hendrix College

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