The problem of oil and gas infrastructure

snowy owl oil field

A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society that analyzed 17 years of migratory bird nesting data in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, found that nest survival dropped dramatically near high-use oil and gas infrastructure. and related noise, dust, traffic and air pollution. , and other disturbances. Prudhoe Bay is the site of intensive energy development and is located on the Arctic Coastal Plain, one of the most important avian breeding sites in the world. Millions of birds nest here, some then migrating through every state in the country to wintering grounds in Central and South America and even Africa, others crossing the Pacific Ocean to Russia, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica.

The results, described in the review Avian biology, comes as the United States recently approved the $8 billion Willow oil project – a controversial long-term effort to drill in the largest untouched Alaskan wilderness in the United States, the Willow National Preserve. oil (NPR-A) 36,875 square miles west of Prudhoe Bay. Willow’s planned infrastructure borders the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, one of five areas in PNR-A that have been set aside from production due to ecological significance or subsistence value – in in this case, waterfowl and nesting shorebirds, as well as caribou.

According to Martin Robards, regional director of WCS’s Arctic Beringia program and author of the study: “Birds that breed on the tundra face short breeding seasons, harsh climatic conditions and, now, environmental conditions shifting, variable and unpredictable caused by climate change. Additionally, as we demonstrate here, those that breed in industrial areas are also impacted by human activities. The urgency to better understand these relationships and mitigate impacts cannot be overstated, given the widely recognized declines of these species, our national and global obligations to protect migratory birds, and the potential impacts that are significant.

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Two Pacific loons swim on a lake in view of oil and gas installations. Photo by Kayla Schheimreif/WCS

The research team assessed factors influencing breeding parameters of breeding birds at Prudhoe Bay between 2003 and 2019. They monitored 1,265 shorebird nests, 378 passerine (songbird) nests and 231 waterfowl nests. . They found that nest survival decreased significantly near high-use infrastructure, which had not previously been detected in previous short-term studies. The authors note that long-term data sets are rare in the Arctic, but are essential for understanding the impacts on breeding birds of climate change and increased human activities.

Factors associated with industrial development that may directly or indirectly affect nesting include: habitat degradation through altered hydrology and road dust, vehicular and aircraft traffic, noise, pollution of the air and the increase in populations of nest predators associated with development, including Glaucous Gulls, Ravens and Arctic Fox. , and other species.

“In the face of current uncertainty, to protect migratory birds, the U.S. government should ensure that areas most important to birds continue to be set aside, as has been done in the NPR-A Special Areas “said John Calvelli, executive vice president of WCS. for public affairs.

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