Changes in drilling practices in the oil and gas industry have opened new regions to energy development across much of the United States, including areas that have large holdings of public lands of high conservation value. Using satellite images and GIS techniques, we measured public land use changes in the Fayetteville Shale, a region in north-central Arkansas that has undergone rapid natural gas development in the last 10 years. These public lands showed less development of gas infrastructure compared to the larger gas field, which is mostly privately owned. Gas activities led to less natural forest loss and edge habitat creation in public lands compared to private lands. However, one large public land property (Gulf Mountain Wildlife Management Area) showed much more development compared to the overall gas field (about 20% higher). This disparity was most likely due to differences in regulation and controversial leases that were allowed for this wildlife management area early in the Fayetteville Shale development. These results show that natural gas development can occur around public lands of high conservation value without large land use and habitat impacts, but we suggest such an outcome relies upon effective management practices and wise decision-making by public officials. In the case of Gulf Mountain Wildlife Management Area, strategic well-pad and pipeline placement could have substantially reduced impact to natural areas.
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Vol. 37 • No. 2