The Permian Basin is poised to see a dramatic increase in drilling activity in 2017. This increase in drilling will be accompanied by a large ramping up of infrastructure projects to handle the new production. Therefore, the landscape of a few West Texas counties is about to change!
Historically, the upcoming hotspot counties in the Permian Basin were vast grassland prairies capable of producing 2200 to 2500 pounds of grass per acre. The prairie grass served as an opportunity for cattleman to grow more beef. Hence, the introduction of barbed-wire fences and livestock. With these introductions came the reduction of naturally occurring prairie fires. Fire played an important role in the natural ecology of the Permian Basin. The introduction of fences/livestock and the removal of fire has changed the landscape for the worse. This landscape, for anyone less than 90 years old, is and has always been a shrubby, desolate, useless landscape. But, that is not natural state of the Permian’s landscape.
It appears we (the oil/gas industry) may have an opportunity unlike ever before…to improve the ecology and landscape. We may have an opportunity to utilize drilling and infrastructure projects as a vehicle to restore the natural ecology and landscape to the natural prairies it once was. With proper guidance, direction, and equipment, these oil and gas operations will, in essence, be tilling the land; thereby creating the perfect opportunity to re-establish the native prairie species that are nonexistent today.
For instance, by re-establishing the native prairie vegetation the oil and gas industry will be creating wildlife corridors that currently do not exist. A wildlife corridor is an area of land that provides habitat (food and shelter) for wildlife species during migration. If restored correctly, Right-of-Ways [ROW] should be identified as a wildlife corridor. The Monarch butterfly’s migration pattern overlays the Permian Basin. The Monarch’s ability to survive while migrating is largely limited by the lack of native vegetation throughout the landscape. With proper guidance, direction, and equipment oil and gas projects can and should be used as a tool to create wildlife corridors and pollinator habitat in an environment that is currently barren.
These types of conservation efforts can only be accomplished with the help of the oil and gas industry. Ranchers, landowners, and land operators cannot justify investing in the establishment of wildlife corridors and/or pollinator habitat. The income from ranching, due to the condition of the land, struggles to pay the land taxes alone. It is only with an influx of capital, such as oil and gas development, will this area have an opportunity to restore areas to native prairies, wildlife corridors, and pollinator habitat.
The stage is being set for 2017 to be a year to remember in the Permian Basin. With guidance, direction, and the right equipment 2017 may be the year the oil and gas industry changed public perception from that of destroying the land to restoring the land to its natural, healthy, and sustainable condition.