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Oil and gas development influences potential for dust emission from the Upper Colorado River Basin, USA

Tyree, Gayle L., Chappell, Adrian ORCID:, Villarreal, Miguel L., Dhital, Saroj, Duniway, Michael C., Edwards, Brandon L., Faist, Akasha M., Nauman, Travis W. and Webb, Nicholas P. 2024. Oil and gas development influences potential for dust emission from the Upper Colorado River Basin, USA. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 10.1002/esp.5887

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Wind erosion and dust emission from drylands have large consequences for ecosystem function and human health. Wind erosion is naturally reduced by soil crusting and sheltering by non-erodible roughness elements such as plants. Land uses that reduce surface roughness and disturb the soil surface can dramatically increase dust emission. Extraction of oil and gas is a common and growing land use in the western United States (US) that removes vegetation and other roughness elements for construction of well pads and unpaved access roads, resulting in thousands of small (1–4 ha), discrete patches of unprotected soil. Here, we use a satellite albedo-based model to assess the effect of oil/gas activity on surface roughness in the Uinta-Piceance Basin, an area of the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB) with dense oil and natural gas development and modelled how the change in surface roughness could impact aeolian sediment flux and dust emission. We also investigated how regional drought influences the response of surface roughness to well pads and access roads. Oil/gas activity reduced surface roughness and increased modelled aeolian sediment flux at the landscape scale across much of the study region, resulting in a modest increase of 10 139 kg of dust per year, which is small relative to dust loads from a single regional dust event observed in the region, but downwind impact could be significant. The magnitude of surface roughness reductions by oil/gas activity was generally consistent among land cover types. However, in parts of the basin that had high cover of annual forbs and grasses, oil/gas activity was associated with larger surface roughness and smaller potential dust emission. Drought decreased surface roughness across disturbed and undisturbed sites, but there was no interactive effect of oil/gas activity and drought on surface roughness. These results suggest that oil/gas activity may increase sediment fluxes and likely contributes to dust emission from landscapes in the UCRB. Understanding how drought and land use change contribute to dust emissions will benefit mitigation of undesirable impacts of wind erosion and dust transport.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: In Press
Schools: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 0197-9337
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 7 June 2024
Date of Acceptance: 3 May 2024
Last Modified: 03 Jul 2024 08:47

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