Study: Oil, Gas Industry Seeking to Protect Greater Sage-Grouse

Oil and gas companies are investing time, capital and human resources to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse, a large, ground-dwelling bird that lives primarily in western North America and who some wildlife protection groups say are threatened by oil and gas activity, a recent study has found.

The study, conducted by Broomfield, Colo.-based SWCA Environmental Consultants for the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), a Denver-based oil and gas industry group, found that oil and gas companies implement an average of over six conversation measures per project to protect the bird in public land operations.

In its analysis of 103 project NEPA documents, SWCA found that companies implemented 773 conservation measures, or a 6.5 percent average per project, across 68,404 square miles of habitat in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Noting that the industry has made significant efforts for many years to avoid, minimize, mitigate and reduce the impact of oil and gas activity on the sage grouse and its habitat, the report documents specific conservation measures commit to in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) decisions on oil and gas project approvals.

Measures that the oil and gas industry is implementing through NEPA, which is designed to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse and other animal species, include limiting surface disturbance, or applying no surface occupancy restrictions around breeding areas, limiting activities during nesting and brood-rearing season, and strategically placing sources of noise and light to reduce disturbance.

Other measures include:

  • Locating multiple wells on a single pad and consolidating water management, hydraulic fracturing and other activities
  • Re-contouring the habitat to natural topography and re-vegetating with native seed mixtures
  • Eliminating perches for raptors or ravens that prey on sage grouse
  • Reducing noxious weeds that diminish the abundance of native plants used for food and cover
  • Reducing fugitive dust on vegetation, which can impact the health and quality of habitat and forage

“The binding commitments companies make are effective for protecting the species while enabling energy development that creates jobs, economic growth, and vital government revenue for local communities,” said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs of WEA, in a July 23 press release.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) currently is monitoring populations of Greater Sage-Grouse across the western U.S., and is debating whether to list the bird as an endangered species. In 2005, USFWS said it would not list the grouse as threatened, but environmental groups filed a lawsuit, and a federal judge overturned the finding two years later. In 2010, the agency said the bird warranted protection, according to the Washington Post.


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