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Energy footprint: How oil, natural gas, and wind energy affect land for biodiversity and the flow of ecosystem services  

Author:  | Environment | Environment | Environment

In comparison with oil and gas (and all fossil fuels), wind energy has the lowest lifecycle emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Many studies have indicated a significant loss in global biodiversity and ecosystem services as a result of increasing global temperatures from the use of fossil fuels. As such, wind energy development is being promoted as a “clean” alternative. However, this perspective often overlooks the ever-growing impacts of energy development on the landscape, which have been termed energy sprawl. Like oil and gas, wind energy requires a network of roads, transmission lines, and associated infrastructure to capture and transport the power. Information on the current and projected impacts of oil, gas, and wind energy development on habitat for biodiversity and land-based ecosystem services is scarce and warrants further investigation, given the potential of energy development to transform natural and human-dominated landscapes. …

Compared with other energy sources, such as hydroelectric or coal, oil, gas, and wind require less infrastructure but result in higher levels of habitat fragmentation, because their impacts are geographically scattered rather than concentrated. … In Europe, the loss of habitat and fragmentation associated with wind energy facilities is considered a greater impact than are collision-related fatalities on bird populations.

Aerial imagery of (a) a natural gas field and (b) a wind energy facility. Each image includes five turbines or well pads plus the associated infrastructure within a 1-kilometer diameter circular plot. The environmental footprint of each site has been digitized using geographic information systems (c, d). This geospatial data, paired with site-level data from these locations or similar areas, can be used to estimate relative impacts on indicators such as habitat loss, fragmentation, impervious surfaces, annual potential wildlife mortality, invasive plant infestation, changes in carbon stocks, and changes to water resources. The production of the five natural gas wells is approximately 2.6 times the production of the five wind turbines; therefore, energy production should also be taken into account when calculating the relative impact of alternative energy sources.

Nathan F. Jones, Liba Pejchar, Joseph M. Kiesecker
BioScience, Volume 65, Issue 3, 1 March 2015, Pages 290–301, doi: 10.1093/biosci/biu224

Download original document: “The energy footprint: How oil, natural gas, and wind energy affect land for biodiversity and the flow of ecosystem services

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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