ExxonMobil funds habitat research in Colorado

[email protected] Make sure to check out the latest issue of Energy Digital magazine Can Colorados native plants and animals live in harmony with ex...

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|Feb 7|magazine9 min read

Make sure to check out the latest issue of Energy Digital magazine

Can Colorado’s native plants and animals live in harmony with expanding energy production in the state? Colorado State University and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) are working on a comprehensive study of potential impacts of natural gas development on wildlife and their habitats, and are working to enhance mitigation measures to reduce any identified impacts.

XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, contributed nearly $5 million to support the ongoing research, which is being conducted on both private and public land in the Piceance Creek Basin in Western Colorado.

The impacts of energy production have been found to be typically species-specific and system-specific, creating an important need for customized investigations and greater collaboration between researchers, regulators and industry. The research is at the epicenter of wildlife issues in the state, and was the focus at The Colorado Chapter of The Wildlife Society's 2014 Annual Winter Meeting in Fort Collins.

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The studies are led by the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology and Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship in CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources and in collaboration with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. XTO Energy’s funding has supported more than 20 researchers (seven faculty, nine graduate students, and five CPW scientists) working on 12 projects, all aimed at improving natural resource management practices for wildlife and habitat in areas alongside natural gas production.

XTO Energy has a significant presence in Colorado and more than 250 employees in Denver, Durango, Rifle, and Trinidad.

The partnered research focuses on improving natural resource management strategies for native mule deer and greater sage-grouse populations in particular as well as their habitats. The teams of researchers and wildlife managers are working to provide answers to conservation questions such as:

  • What measures can best mitigate the impacts of natural gas development on mule deer behavior?
  • Do deer become tolerant to natural gas production impacts over time?
  • Which greater sage-grouse population monitoring methods are most accurate and efficient?
  • How can we improve recommendations to conserve greater sage-grouse in this population?
  • Will mechanical habitat improvements near development activities successfully improve deer condition and site fidelity, and what techniques are best to increase mule deer forage?
  • Does mechanical habitat manipulation affect small mammal and songbird communities?
  • Does natural gas development affect neonatal mule deer survival?

Preliminary results from a mule deer behavior study utilizing GPS collars indicates that deer avoid well pads during drilling, the most active phase of development. Ongoing analyses will compare movements in different phases of natural gas development as well as habitat modifications to identify potential changes in mule deer behavior, and aid in development of mitigation measures.