Date of Award

12-2017

Culminating Project Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Geography - Geographic Information Science: M.S.

Department

Geography and Planning

College

School of Public Affairs

First Advisor

Mikhail Blinnikov

Second Advisor

William Cook

Third Advisor

Jeffrey Torguson

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Abstract

Western North Dakota has seen the largest boom in U.S. domestic oil production in recent history, starting just after the turn of the millennium. This study quantifies the amount of habitat fragmentation experienced since the introduction of hydraulic fracturing in the state, using the Little Missouri National Grasslands as a study area. All development in and immediately surrounding the Grasslands were digitized for successive years between 2003 and 2016, using available National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) data as a primary resource. The populations of grassland bird species were used as a proxy for measuring the effects of development within the Grasslands during these same years. Results show hydraulic fracturing has had a measurable but small impact on the Grasslands overall; large portions of the Grassland have not yet seen large-scale oil development, while the northernmost portion of the Grassland has seen a substantial increase in fragmentation. Of the thirteen bird species investigated, two grassland bird species – the Sprague’s pipit (Anthus spragueii) and the vesper sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus) – decreased in average population as habitat fragmentation increases. An additional two species – western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) and brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) – had significant regression models, but regional population trends were more significant than the amount of habitat fragmentation.

Hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling is a unique form of oil development, as oil can be extracted from surrounding areas up to two miles from each well pad; hydraulic fracturing thus can create a smaller footprint on the landscape than more conventional forms of oil extraction. This study concludes by considering the possible impact on oil development if the entirety of the Little Missouri National Grassland was designated as a roadless area, concluding the effect of a such a designation would only minimally affect the ability to extract oil from within National Grassland boundaries, while preserving important habitat.

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