Day Four: Pothole Preservation, O&G Development, Brine Spills

Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge: Preserving Prairie Pothole Habitat in an Oil Boom

Managing a national wildlife refuge is hard work. Managing one in the middle of a giant oil and gas boom is a whole different story. Since 2005, refuge managers at Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge (LNWR) have watched as 7,000 wells have gone into production within the greater LNWR complex. 900 of those wells are on easements that have been set aside to preserve Prairie Pothole habitat. While managers, for the most part, can’t tell companies where to drill, they can negotiate to minimize impacts to the 14,469 acres of mixed grass prairie – the largest tract of this kind of habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge system. The group headed to headquarters for a briefing before getting out into the field to see where these often-competing land-uses intersect and how agencies, landowners and industry are reaching compromises to keep both oil and gas and wildlife in production.   

Studying the Wildlife Impacts of Oil and Gas Development in the PPR

As oil began to be pumped out of the Bakken, a whole lot of machinery, activity and, well, humanity moved into what was previously a sparsely populated area of wide-open spaces. Now, as that boom begins to wane, infrastructure like roads, well pads and pipelines stays behind. Little is currently known, however, about what this all means for both resident and migratory wildlife and birds. The journalists visited with some scientists at their research field sites and heard about how they’re studying impacts and how the O & G industry goes about trying to minimize them. 

Brine Spills: Mitigating and Preventing a Pernicious Problem

While oil spills are a more commonly known risk of extracting and transporting oil and gas, fewer people are aware of the impact of brine spills, a byproduct of fracking. This fluid contains elevated levels of dissolved salts, other contaminants and radium. These spills can be more pernicious and difficult to clean than “standard” oil spills, as brine can make its way into the groundwater. The group visited the site of a fairly recent brine spill that occurred on land within the Lostwood NWR complex, and learned both about brine spill remediation and how companies work to prevent spills in the first place.