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Ecosystem services benefits from the restoration of non-producing US oil and gas lands

Abstract

Fossil fuel infrastructure has important land-use impacts within the United States, including the environmental consequences of affected land that persists beyond the lifespan of wells. Here, we estimate the ecoregion-specific fifty-year present-value net benefits of restoring lands that are associated with non-producing wells in the conterminous United States on the basis of select ecosystem services—agricultural sales and carbon sequestration. We identify more than 430,000 restorable wells that occupy more than 800,000 ha of land. The present value of ecosystem services benefits was US$21 billion (2018) while the restoration costs were US$7 billion. Deciduous forests, grasslands and Mediterranean ecoregions had large net benefits, whereas arid and semi-arid regions were often negative. Focusing on select ecoregions of the United States would provide higher returns on investment in the form of environmental and economic benefits. Although our results suggest an ecoregional hierarchy, the restoration of all abandoned fossil fuel lands will have benefits at the local, regional and national scales, including food security, protection of biodiversity and restoration-related job opportunities.

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Fig. 1: The effects of oil and gas development on landscapes across the United States.
Fig. 2: The benefits and costs of oil and gas lands eligible for restoration over a fifty-year time period.
Fig. 3: Map of restoration values in EPA Level II ecoregions.

Data availability

Raw data calculations and ecoregion information are available at Dryad (https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.ksn02v738). Questions about these data should be directed to the corresponding author. Individual well information is proprietary, but available on subscription to https://www.enverus.com/. Source data are provided with this paper.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Enverus for providing complimentary access to their well database. S. M. Jordaan and W. E. Snyder provided feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript.

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W.H.C., M.D.M. and M.R.M. designed the study. S.V., L.H.L. and V.N. collected data. W.H.C., M.D.M. and M.R.M. designed models, analysed data and were the primary writers. All of the authors edited the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Matthew D. Moran.

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Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Julia Haggerty, Urs Kreuter, Mark Paschke and Srikanta Sannigrahi for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Haden Chomphosy, W., Varriano, S., Lefler, L.H. et al. Ecosystem services benefits from the restoration of non-producing US oil and gas lands. Nat Sustain 4, 547–554 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00689-4

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