The application of ecological principles to accelerate reclamation of well pad sites
Eldridge, Joshua David
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Western Colorado is experiencing a boom in natural gas development. However, the semi-arid ecosystems of this area have difficulty recovering from energy related disturbances. The purpose of this study was to improve reclamation techniques of natural gas well pads on the Western Slope of Colorado to establish viable native plant populations. The reclamation techniques studied are intended to repair damaged ecological processes and help guide the trajectory of natural plant succession toward a more desired plant community. The study examined the effects and interactions of seedbed preparation, soil amendments, seed mixtures, and seeding methods. The experiment was conducted in pinyon-juniper and sagebrush steppe/salt desert scrub plant communities on five natural gas well pads near Parachute, Colorado. Soil and plant cover data were collected to assess the effectiveness of 16 different treatment combinations. The data were analyzed by using a generalized linear mixed model. There was a significant difference in precipitation between 2007 and 2008, with 2007 receiving only 53% of average precipitation while 2008 was slightly above the average precipitation of 300 mm. After two growing seasons, the data show that the use of wood chips as a soil amendment increased organic matter content and reduced non-native species. Rough seedbed preparation increased the establishment of native species, especially during years of below average precipitation. Island broadcasting resulted in an increase of noxious plant cover in 2008. Additional monitoring over time is still needed before more conclusive statements can be made about the effects of the different seed mixtures. Soil testing revealed that soil salinity will need to be ameliorated in some areas for successful reclamation to occur.