Distance effects of gas field infrastructure on pygmy rabbits in southwestern Wyoming

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Using data collected from 120 plots over three years (2011–2013) and 2012 National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) imagery, we evaluated (1) whether well pads are more likely to be located in areas of pygmy rabbit habitat, (2) whether the presence and abundance of pygmy rabbits are related to distance from infrastructure, and, if so, (3) how much of the total surface area on a gas field is affected. Well pads on three gas fields occurred in higher quality pygmy rabbit habitat than did a set of randomly generated points, and the abundance and probability of pygmy rabbits being present were lower within approximately 0.5–1.5 km of the nearest road and 2 km of well pads and utilities. Buffering a digital layer of roads and well pads on one gas field revealed that nearly 82% of the (4417 km2) surface area was within 1 km of infrastructure, and over 95% of the gas field surface area was within 2 km. This need not be the case on future gas fields. Directional and horizontal well drilling technologies now make it possible for gas to be recovered from a greater area per well pad, enabling future gas field developments that require fewer well pads, roads, and pipeline corridors. Such changes would enable increased well pad spacing and provide the opportunity to locate gas field infrastructure in areas of poor quality wildlife habitat, avoid high priority habitat, and conserve a greater amount of on‐field wildlife habitat overall.

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