A methodology to prioritize ecosystem restoration of in-situ well pads in the Permian Basin of western Texas and southeastern New Mexico, USA

The Science of the total environment(2024)

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Since the mid-2000s, drilling and production of oil and gas activities have grown exponentially in the southwestern United States. The clearing of pre-existing vegetation and topsoil to build well pads is known to have a broad range of ecological, biological, hydrological, and health impacts, therefore ecosystem restoration of the well pads is generally required. This process, however, is often complicated by limited funding, various governing bodies and ownership, and frequent extreme weather events. To ensure that well pad construction does not result in damaging, irreversible environmental change in the region, a prioritization strategy is needed to maximize the effectiveness of restoration efforts. The objective of this study is to develop a methodology to prioritize well pads where ecosystem restoration is urgently needed. In this methodology, a set of locational soil (e.g., soil fragility, wind and water erodibility) and land cover (e.g., land cover, proximity to streams) attributes were derived from publicly available datasets and a restoration priority score system along with a weighting factor were assigned to individual attributes. Accordingly, a total restoration priority score (TRPS) was calculated for individual well pads. This methodology was applied to a dataset of >10,000 well pads located in the Permian Basin and the surrounding area. This method effectively filtered out a large number of sites with low TRPS, and identified a small portion of high-score, clustered well pads. The identification of such well pads makes the logistical challenge of targeted restoration much easier for stakeholders tasked with maximizing the effectiveness of restoration efforts with limited funding. Despite some known limitations and inaccuracies, this method is low-cost and can be easily adaptable to humid and sub-humid systems, and even to restoration relevant to non-oil and gas exploration activities, such as solar and wind development, in the southwestern United States and many other areas worldwide.
Ecosystem restoration,Erosion,Energy exploration,Arid and semiarid
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