Pipeline Impacts And Recovery Of Dry Mixed Grass Prairie Soil And Plant Communities

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Wilkinson, Sarah R , M Anne Naeth , David A Locky , Meghan R Nannt , Candace L Bryks and Caitlin H Low

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Agricultural practices have been the predominant disturbance on North American grasslands. However, recent disturbances from oil and gas activity have become increasingly problematic for conservation. With growing demand for oil and gas, industry is implementing minimal disturbance construction techniques to reduce impacts on grasslands. A study was undertaken to determine the impact of a large diameter pipeline right of way (ROW) on dry mixed grass prairie; if and how far these impacts extend beyond the ROW; and the effect of time on grassland recovery. Soil and vegetation on the ROW and transects extending 300 m on either side of the ROW were assessed over a ten year period, starting the year of construction, at six sites along the pipeline route in southern Alberta, Canada. There were significant impacts to soil and vegetation on the ROW and within 5 m in the first year. The trench was most impacted, followed by work and storage areas. Within two years, soil and plant communities were on a trajectory towards reference conditions. Ten years following construction, only soil pH and bare ground were greater and litter less on the trench relative to reference prairie. While native grass richness, dominance and cover were similar on and off ROW, abundance of some native forb species was less on ROW. Non native plant cover was less than 2 %. Use of minimal disturbance construction techniques reduced size and intensity of the disturbance footprint, allowing for even sensitive arid habitat to recover within a short period of time.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program