NEWS RELEASE: New study examines relationship between oil production and invasive plant species within the Williston Basin

The Plains and Prairie Potholes Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC) today announced $60,980 in funding to support research examining the relationship between the presence and abundance of invasive plant species, mainly noxious weeds and perennial forage grasses, and the location and age of oil well pads in native prairie environments.

Energy development across the northern plains of Montana and North Dakota is occurring at a rapid speed, while invasive species continue to challenge conservation practitioners’ efforts to restore native prairie, grassland and wetland habitats.

“We don’t fully understand how the rapid and large scale development of oil may be changing the rate at which invasive plants are spreading,” said Rick Nelson, Plains and Prairie Potholes LCC coordinator. “It’s critical to stay ahead of the game by learning as much about these relationships as possible. As conservation stewards, we must arm ourselves with the necessary science and research to guide our responses to environmental challenges today and in the future.”

Led by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), this study will help resource managers understand how invasive plants are moving and the role of oil development in invasions.  Research results will assist wildlife managers, private landowners and the oil industry in developing effective ways to reduce the spread of invasive plant species.

More than 46,000 new petroleum-related wells have been drilled in the geographic extent of the Williston Basin and/or Bakken Formation since the first successful Bakken test well was drilled in 2000 (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. The above map outlines the geography associated with the Plains and Prairie Pothole LCC, Williston Basin, Bakken Formation, and all petroleum related wells drilled since 2000 (data for Alberta is not available).

Figure 1. The above map outlines the geography associated with the Plains and Prairie Pothole LCC, Williston Basin, Bakken Formation, and all petroleum related wells drilled since 2000 (data for Alberta is not available).

“An average well pad is typically five acres, which translates into 230,000 acres of soil disturbance. We have observed invasive plant species, including noxious weeds, on and around lands disturbed from recent energy development,” said lead project investigator Todd Preston. Preston is a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyst working as a contractor with the USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center.

“We will examine if there is a pathway for noxious weeds to become established in adjacent native prairie lands associated with well pad construction. This study will help the conservation community understand the interactions between recent energy development and the introduction and spread of invasive species across the plains and prairie pothole region.”

 

Plains and Prairie Potholes LCC

The fundamental objective of the Plains and Prairie Potholes LCC is to increase conservation delivery by reducing scientific uncertainty related to landscape level stressors which are important to our partnership. We will meet this fundamental objective by leveraging partner expertise to promote coordination, dissemination and development of applied science that will support landscape level conservation.
 

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Ashley Spratt
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ashley_spratt@fws.gov
573-234-2132 ext. 104
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