Oil and gas drilling has a major impact on land-use throughout many parts of the world. With the expansion of unconventional drilling techniques such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the impacts are expected to increase. We measured the land use impact and ecosystem services costs of the fossil fuel industry within the Chihuahuan Desert portion of the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, one of the largest oil and gas regions in the U.S.
From 1970-2016, over 190,000 hectares were developed and 275,000 hectares were modified, which resulted in approximately 20% of the Chihuahuan Desert becoming highly fragmented. Based on recently calculated ecosystem services values for the Chihuahuan Desert, we estimated the annual cost to these services is currently 182 million USD. Proposed expansion of drilling into new areas of this region will cause an increase in these costs and further degrade this sensitive and biodiverse habitat. The ecosystem services costs identified in this study could be partially mitigated by taxing the fossil fuel industry and diverting those funds to land rehabilitation and conservation of particularly sensitive areas.