Wildlife Responses to Marcellus-Utica Shale Gas Development and the Next Steps for Wildlife Conservation

Symposium
ROOM: HCCC, Room 26B
SESSION NUMBER: 56
 
The expansion of the shale gas extraction industry in the last 20 years within the Marcellus-Utica shale play has made its footprint on the biologically diverse Appalachian region. Meanwhile, wildlife researchers have been able to make tremendous gains in studying the responses of a variety of wildlife species to the ecological disturbances caused by the shale gas industry. In this symposium, speakers will provide a general overview, with highlights from their own research, of the terrestrial and aquatic wildlife responses to disturbances such as forest fragmentation, noise, and the degradation and contamination of water resources. Next, we will examine management practices used in conjunction with shale gas infrastructure that can benefit wildlife, such as birds, herpetofauna, and pollinators. In addition, we will explore the human dimensions of the interaction between the shale gas industry and the wildlife conservation community. In a concluding panel discussion, we will identify important gaps remaining in understanding wildlife responses to shale gas development, and discuss approaches for working together with the shale gas industry to improve conservation of wildlife.

8:10AM Status of the Shale Gas Industry in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Summary of Assessment and Planning Tools
  Petra Wood; Thomas Minney
The Central Appalachians is rich in natural resources.  Major expansion of shale gas exploration and extraction into the Marcellus shale prompted region-wide development in the Central Appalachians and a growing “boom” in infrastructure development to get to the gas and get gas to the market.  The overlap of this development with some of the most highly diverse, intact, and connected landscapes in North America which serve as significant biodiversity hotspots as well as the “stage” of refuge, resilience, and connectivity under a changing climate calls for analyses that can help indicate where impacts could happen, and the development of tools and practices that can help industry avoid and lessen impacts.  In this session Thomas Minney will introduce the tools The Nature Conservancy and partners in NGOs, industry, and academia have developed to understand development trends as and provide tools for avoiding or lessening impacts.
8:30AM Region-Wide Assessment of Marcellus-Utica Shale Gas Development on Bird Abundance and Diversity
  Laura Farwell; Petra B. Wood; Randy Dettmers; Margaret C. Brittingham
In a region-wide assessment of impacts of Marcellus-Utica shale gas development on forests and breeding songbirds in the central Appalachian region, we aimed to: (1) quantify the footprint of shale gas infrastructure in forested landscapes; (2) assess whether bird communities respond differently to shale gas development relative to other types of anthropogenic forest disturbance; and (3) evaluate patterns of bird response to specific types of shale gas development. We evaluated land cover and bird count data from 2,576 points at 190 forested sites across the Marcellus-Utica region: 120 sites affected by shale gas development and 70 sites affected only by human development unrelated to shale gas. We found that linear shale gas infrastructure was a larger driver of forest loss and fragmentation than well pad development, across the region. A broad comparison of bird communities at sites with and without shale gas development showed little difference, suggesting bird communities generally respond similarly to shale gas development and other types of anthropogenic forest disturbance in the region, at the site level. However, finer-resolution analyses of bird counts across gradients of forest cover and human development revealed some distinct effects of shale gas development, at the point level. We observed lower species richness and abundance among forest interior birds relative to shale gas development, while early successional and synanthropic birds showed higher richness and abundance relative to shale gas development. Our results suggest efforts to reduce forest fragmentation due to shale gas development may reduce negative impacts on native biological communities in the region, particularly for area-sensitive and forest dependent species.
8:50AM Impacts of Human Disturbance Resulting From the Shale Gas Industry on the Reproductive Success of Birds
  Emily H. Thomas; Lewis M. Loyla; Margaret C. Brittingham; Scott H. Stoleson; Gabriel R. Karns; Stephen N. Matthews
The recent surge in both conventional and unconventional shale gas development in the Appalachian basin has raised concerns about its ecological impacts on wildlife populations and their habitats. Both types of development include construction of infrastructure that fragment the landscape, including well pads, access roads, and pipeline rights-of-ways. Previous studies in the region have shown that both forms of oil and gas development alter songbird communities. However, little research examines the vitally important demographic parameter – nest success. In 3 different studies, we examined songbird nest success within conventional and unconventional oil and gas development sites in Pennsylvania and Ohio. In each study, researchers conducted point counts or spot-mapping while simultaneously monitoring nests and collecting nest-site vegetation measurements around varying forms of oil and gas infrastructure and also within unimpacted control sites. All 3 studies found species that preferred experimental sites over control sites and vice versa. None of the studies found a significant difference in nest success between the experimental and control sites; however, we observed a slight increase in nest success of birds nesting further from well-associated disturbances. We also found the occurrence of nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) was higher at experimental sites than control sites. Use of habitat directly created by oil and gas development by nesting birds varied between the 3 studies, with use increasing with length of time since disturbance. Although nest success does not appear to be significantly impacted by either conventional wells or Marcellus-Utica pipelines, a trend of decreasing nest success approaching development and an increase in nest parasitism around development warrant further study in these areas.
9:10AM Louisiana Waterthrush Demography in Response to Shale Gas Development
  Mack Frantz; Petra Wood; James Sheehan; Greg George
We examined demographic responses of the Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla) to shale gas development during 2009-2011 and 2013-2015 in a predominantly forested landscape in northwestern West Virginia. We quantified nest survival and productivity, a source-sink threshold, riparian habitat quality, territory density, and territory length by monitoring 58.1 km of 14 forested headwater streams. Across years, we saw annual variability in nest survival, with a general declining trend over time. Of 11 a priori models tested to explain nest survival (n = 280 nests), 4 models that included temporal, habitat, and shale gas covariates were supported, and 2 of these models accounted for most of the variation in daily nest survival rate. After accounting for temporal effects (rainfall, nest age, and time within season), shale gas development had negative effects on nest survival. Population-level nest productivity declined, individual productivity was lower in areas disturbed by shale gas development than in undisturbed areas, and a source-sink threshold suggested that disturbed areas were more at risk of being sink habitat. Riparian habitat quality scores, as measured by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency index and a waterthrush-specific habitat suitability index, differed by year and were negatively related to the amount of each territory disturbed by shale gas development. Territory density was not related to the amount of shale gas disturbance, but decreased over time as territory lengths increased. Overall, our results suggest a decline in site quality for waterthrush as shale gas development increased, despite a relatively small site-wide forest loss.
9:30AM Impacts of Shale Gas Development on Benthic Organisms and Water Quality
  George T. Merovich; Mack W. Frantz; Petra B. Wood
We sampled headwater streams over 3 years around known shale gas development activities (i.e., hydraulic fracking; HF) to characterize effects on water chemistry and macroinvertebrates. The study area was relatively un-impacted by confounding land use activities. Impacts from HF (e.g., well-pad construction, sedimentation, etc.) over the duration of the study decreased then increased again but not to levels seen the first year. Both water chemistry and macroinvertebrates showed weak but definitive responses to HF; the magnitude of these responses tended to following the change in magnitude of HF intensity over the study. PH, total dissolved solids (TDS) and specific conductance (SpC) tended to be lower in reaches upstream of HF, as expected. HF activity was associated with increased pH, TDS, and SpC as landscape disturbances like HF deliver more materials to stream channels. Likewise, common metrics summarizing the integrity of macroinvertebrate assemblages (e.g., richness) tended to be better upstream of HF, even if not statistically better. GLIMPSS, a multimetric index of biotic integrity, however, did not differ statistically between upstream and downstream reaches. Multivariate analyses indicated that macroinvertebrate assemblages became more different between impacted and un-impacted stream reaches over the study, suggesting cumulative and persistent signals of landscape impacts on aquatic communities. This assemblage-level divergence between impacted and un-impacted reaches was related to patterns in water chemistry. Finally, indicator species analysis linked a few key genera to downstream impacted conditions, but several sensitive taxa were also statistically related to downstream conditions during the study when HF intensity was lower. Our study shows that HF was related to lower quality in water chemistry and benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages; those changes may have consequences for quality of food resources available to wildlife that rely on aquatic prey both in stream and in riparian zones of relatively intact forests.
09:50AM Break
12:50PM Evidence for Impacts on Birds From Bioaccumulation of Chemical Markers Associated with Hydraulic Fracturing
  Leesia C. Marshall; Chung-Ho Lin; Mack Frantz; Petra B. Wood; Nathaniel R. Warner; Christopher D. Kassotis; Phuc Vo; Tom Geeza; Bonnie McDevitt; Steven C. Latta
Unconventional oil and natural gas operations (UOG) began in 2004 in the Fayetteville and Marcellus Shale Plays and quickly bypassed efforts to ascertain effects on wildlife, ecosystems, and human health. One of many impacts associated with UOG is contamination of surface waters which may occur as a result of migration from shale layers or as a result of flowback and produced water (FPW) entering surface water through pathways such as leaks, spills, illegal disposal, and inadequate waste treatment. Our research determined that alkaline earth metals (Barium and Strontium) that often are at high levels in FPW, were accumulating in feathers of Louisiana Waterthrush at the aquatic-terrestrial interface in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas. Feather samples from birds known to have grown feathers on sites associated with UOG had higher levels of Barium and Strontium compared to reference feathers grown geographically and temporally without presence of UOG activity. Therefore, riparian bird feathers may further be used as forensic tools to evaluate potential accumulation and/or long-term risks of contaminants. Our current objectives are two-fold and include using feathers to further elucidate pathways of contamination and to discern if FPW contaminants serve as endocrine disruptors and drive reduced reproductive success in the Louisiana Waterthrush. Pathway analysis involves studies of elemental and isotopic tracers (Sr/Ca and 87Sr/86Sr) that can be indicative of sources of wastewater (i.e., unconventional versus conventional). Feathers collected in areas of UOG development in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia reveal 87Sr/86Sr and Sr/Ca ratios consistent with UOG wastewaters. However, preliminary results show this relationship appears in active and non-active drilling areas. Preliminary results on endocrine disruption suggest feathers from birds on impacted sites show significantly higher levels of chemicals that serve as antagonists for estrogen, androgen, and progesterone receptors which could be related to declines in Louisiana Waterthrush reproductive success.
1:10PM Shale Gas Drilling: Looking for Evidence of an Impact on Aquatic Communities
  David Keller
We have conducted a series a studies looking for shale drilling related impacts to aquatic communities. We first tested the hypothesis that animal abundances would differ among groups of watersheds with different well pad densities (the number of well pads/km2). Sites were sampled in Pennsylvania between July and September 2011 (N=28), and we did not detect evidence of an impact on fish, salamander and crayfish assemblages. Watersheds under investigation in this study area included no stream withdrawals for drilling and relatively low well pad density (≤ 0.541 well pads/km2), which reduces the amount of roads and pipeline as well as sediment runoff reaching the stream from this and other infrastructure during development. In addition, setback and landscape limitations also kept well pads relatively far from surface waters, and these watersheds remained highly forested after development because most were in state forests. Therefore, these findings represent the least intrusive scenario for impacts to aquatic communities while extracting natural gas. Understanding that spills and leaks of mining wastewater to streams were of great concern, in 2014, we conducted a laboratory study to investigate the use of fish otolith (ear bone) microchemistry as a tool for monitoring for surface water contamination. We determined Brook Trout exposed to a 0.01-1.0% concentration of surrogate hydraulic fracturing wastewater for 2, 15, and 30 days showed a significant (p<0.05) relationship of increasing otolith Sr and Ba concentration, two elements associated with mining wastewater. In November 2017, Inflection Energy spilled 63,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing wastewater into a small tributary in Pennsylvania. Using the Inflection spill as a case study, in 2018, we began field testing our method for using otolith microchemistry as a diagnostic tool. Our findings and the challenges of using animal abundances and otolith microchemistry to assess shale drilling impacts will be discussed.
1:30PM Understanding and Mitigating the Impacts of Noise Resulting From the Shale Gas Industry on Wildlife
  Danielle Williams; Julian D. Avery; Margaret C. Brittingham
Shale gas development has a variety of effects on wildlife such as habitat loss, fragmentation, and impacts on water quality. A less obvious consequence of shale gas development is sound disturbance. Sound disturbance from shale gas compressors and other anthropogenic sources can cause changes in settlement patterns, physiology, predator detection, and reproductive success. The goal of this study was to determine at what point in the nesting cycle noise from shale gas compressors affects breeding songbirds. We established 80 paired nest boxes to attract eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) and tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) and played chronic shale gas compressor noise to half the boxes using speakers. Neither species demonstrated a preference for treatment type when choosing a nesting site. Eastern bluebirds in noise-exposed nest boxes had reduced incubation time (p < 0.001), reduced hatching success (p = 0.04), and smaller brood sizes (p = 0.02) but showed no differences in feeding rates, nestling body condition, or fledging rates. Tree swallows in noise-exposed boxes had reduced hatching success (p = 0.05) and fed nestlings at a higher rate in noise-exposed boxes than in quiet ones (p < 0.001), though this did not lead to better body condition in noise-exposed chicks. This study demonstrates that anthropogenic noise causes behavioral changes throughout the nesting cycle that can lead to reduced reproductive success even in species adapted to breeding near people. It also provides evidence that sound disturbance can act as an ecological trap, turning seemingly desirable habitat into an area where birds experience reduced fitness.
1:50PM Managing for Pollinators Within Pipeline Corridors
  Claire Beck
Long-term and steady declines of native bee and Lepidopteran populations are well documented. Within highly-modified landscapes, overall pollinator habitat has deteriorated, yet these environments also hold several opportunities for pollinator habitat conservation within transportation and utility rights-of-way (ROWs). In particular, pipeline ROWs are required to be clear of woody encroachment and remain in some form of early successional habitat. In a pipeline ROW study from the Ohio State University initiated in 2016, correlational analysis indicated positive associations between flower abundance and Lepidopteran abundance (r2=0.480), Lepidopteran abundance and ROWs width (r2=0.455), and flowering species richness and Lepidopteran species richness (r2=0.515). Pipe zone-border zone concepts and Integrated Vegetation Management practices provide mechanisms for managers to reduce mechanical vegetation maintenance (e.g., periodic mowing) and stabilize high-quality habitat for pollinators predominantly through conservation application of selective herbicides. Due to the recent listing petition for monarch butterflies, energy ROW managers are currently assessing the existing and potential monarch habitat within their ROWs as well as exploring options for regulatory certainty in the event the monarch is listed under the ESA. This presentation will give an overview of the role and scope of energy ROWs in the big picture of monarch habitat conservation and restoration, with particular emphasis on the regions represented in the Mid-America Monarch Conservation Strategy. Special considerations for monarch habitat conservation within pipeline ROWs identified by the Rights-of-Way as Habitat Working Group will also be addressed, as well as an update on this group’s efforts to implement a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA).
2:10PM Managing for Herpetofauna Within Pipeline Corridors
  Gabriel R. Karns
Marcellus-Utica shale gas development has been the most impactful land use disturbance in eastern Ohio for nearly a decade. Pipeline rights-of-way (hereafter ROWs) constitute approximately two-thirds of the industry’s cumulative infrastructure footprint. ROWs present regional conservation challenges (e.g., fragmentation) as well as opportunities (e.g., early successional habitat) for the region’s wildlife and wildlife habitat. We examined how microhabitat and microclimate influenced salamander and snake populations along and adjacent to ROWs in a forested landscape. Plots (n = 16) were 200 meters long by ROWs width and randomly assigned to treatment levels: 1) ROWs vegetation management (annual mowing in late growing season or selective backpack-applied herbicides) and 2) forest/ROWs edge (hard edge with no modification or softened edge by implementing plot-length 10 meter cutback zone to reduce basal area and increase sunlight exposure and coarse woody debris). One parallel transect of tin and wood cover boards (CBs) and another perpendicular transect (reaching into adjacent forest) was placed at each plot (24/plot; 384 total) and checked every 3 weeks. We conducted 133 plot-level checks in 2016-2017 (>3,000 CBs sampled) and continued sampling in spring-summer 2018. Temperature and microhabitat characteristics were collected pre- and post-treatment. Edge habitats had higher temperature than interior forest locations, and microclimate temperatures initially declined at increased distance from ROWs/forest edge but quickly stabilized. Downed coarse woody debris and ground surface temperature increased in cutback zones post-treatment. In total, we observed 6 different salamander and 5 snake species, respectively. Northern slimy salamander and eastern gartersnake were most common. Proportionally, we detected salamanders more often in unmodified edge plots, and data suggest fewer salamanders in plots maintained via herbicides. Though snakes showed no preference for edge type, 88% of snake detections occurred at CBs along the forest/ROWs edge and 73% of salamander detections occurred at interior forest CBs.
2:30PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM Managing for Birds and Salamanders along Forested Edges of Energy Corridors
  Eric L. Margenau; Petra B. Wood; Donald J. Brown
Energy corridors create linear openings that are maintained via mowing or cutting, resulting in a distinct forest edge. Abrupt edges are generally less suitable for many wildlife species and could be managed to improve habitat for animal communities associated with young forests. Young forests provide important resources for many wildlife species, but their distribution and total area have declined in the eastern United States. We studied the effects of young forest management using cut-back borders (small tree cuttings 0.5-1.4 ha in size) along energy corridors to assess which combination of width (15, 30, and 45 m) and harvest intensity (5 and 14 m2/ha canopy tree removal) was most effective for managing for young forest birds using a before-after-control-impact study design. We also studied response of the overall avian community and terrestrial salamanders. We sampled birds (via point counts) and salamanders (via coverboards and area constrained searches) along six energy corridors throughout West Virginia in seven treatments that included six width and harvest intensity combinations and an unharvested control. We will compare avian guild richness, avian focal species abundances, and salamander focal species occupancy among the seven cut-back border treatments accounting for detection probability and pre-harvest abundance or occurrence. Post-harvest data collected in 2018 will be included in analyses.
3:40PM Human Dimensions of the Engagement between the Wildlife Conservation Community and the Shale Gas Industry: How to Promote Effective Working Relationships Related to BMPs, Policy, and Advocacy to Benefit Wildlife
  Ben Gamble
For nearly a decade, Benjamin Gamble has managed ~50,000 acres of unconventional natural gas development (leased to three separate multinational corporations) in the Marcellus shale on state forest lands in northcentral Pennsylvania. On the ground, this development exceeds 1,000 previously forested acres and includes 56 well pads, 14 fresh water impoundments, 5 compressors, and 64 miles of new pipelines. With rare exception, natural resource professionals are inherently different from those who seek employment in the oil and gas industries. Working through those differences to achieve goals that best benefit wildlife, native plants, natural ecosystems, etc. is an incredible challenge. Ben will share his experiences and advice on successfully engaging with the shale gas industry to achieve natural resource goals that may or may not impact the industry’s bottom line. Ben’s background and education is in forestry he has a strong interest in the conservation of native plants and forested ecosystems. Ben and his family live in Waterville, PA. Despite being surrounded by fossil fuel development, Ben rides a bicycle to work and heats his house with wood.
4:00PM Conservation Measures in Response to Interior Forest Impacts From Natural Gas Pipeline Projects in West Virginia
  Clifford L. Brown
Construction of natural gas pipelines has resulted in new, cleared corridors in forested areas of West Virginia. Habitat fragmentation from creation of new forest edges can impact interspersion and juxtaposition of vegetation communities including their suitability for interior forest wildlife species. Recently certificated projects by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in West Virginia and will result in clearing of approximately 500 miles of pipeline rights of way (ROW). In response to fragmentation of interior forest from pipeline construction, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) analyzed a dataset produced by the Natural Resource Analysis Center at West Virginia University to designate core forest areas. Habitat replacement ratios were developed for the permanent pipeline ROW, construction ROW and a 300 foot buffer on both sides of the ROW using Visual HEA software. Criteria for replacement habitat included a required core forest component and acquisition in a HUC 6 watershed of the area of impact. Priority for habitat replacement will be given to property acquisition based on the following parameters: property is located within a WVDNR acquisition priority area; property is located within a State Wildlife Action Plan Conservation Focus Area and/or; property is located within a high priority conservation area of one or more land trusts accredited by the Land Trust Alliance. Acquisitions must be open to perpetual access for wildlife oriented recreation. A suitability index was developed to prioritize potential property acquisitions based on components of landscape integrity, ecological integrity, biodiversity ranks, acres of public land available per hunter and cerulean warbler density. Voluntary conservation measures in the form of avoidance, minimization, and habitat replacement were, or will be, provided for the Supply Header Project, Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Mountaineer XPress Project, and Mountain Valley Pipeline. Currently executed agreements provide for replacement of approximately 15,000 acres of interior forest habitat.
4:20PM Panel Discussion
 

 
Organizers: Laura Kearns, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Columbus, OH; Petra Wood, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV; Gabe Karns, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
 
Supported by: Appalachian Mountain Joint Venture

Symposium
Location: Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland Date: October 10, 2018 Time: 8:10 am - 5:00 pm