Fig. 1a. The Colorado Plateau, a 195,000 km2 area of northern AZ, northwestern NM, western CO, and southern UT.

Fig 1b. Oil/gas wells are particularly concentrated in this region with ~100,000 abandoned and current wells spanning 60 years of activity. These numbers are dramatically increasing with time.

Southwest Energy Exploration, Development, and Drought (SWEDD)

The Southwest Energy Exploration, Development, and Drought (SWEDD) project provides robust scientific tools and information to inform natural resource management decision making to address complex social-ecological issues on the Colorado Plateau. The SWEDD initiative consists of USGS scientists, university collaborators, and partner institutions working directly with federal land and water managers on the Colorado Plateau to define information needs, collect data, and produce relevant, actionable products. Producing usable science that facilitates decision making and ultimately benefits the American public is at the heart of the SWEDD effort.

Approximately 35 % of US landscapes are drylands, all located west of the Mississippi River. These regions are replete with oil, gas, oil shale, shale oil, and tar sand deposits and represent potential sites for solar, wind, and geothermal energy production. In the past, many of these resources have been too expensive to develop, but increased demand and new technologies have led to increased exploration and development. Deserts are water-limited systems and can be extremely sensitive to droughts and human activity, including those that disturb soils. Consequently, there is a need for new science to mitigate the impacts of development on desert ecosystems and facilitate energy development in an informed fashion that minimizes deleterious impacts to humans and ecosystems. This project is focuses on how to mitigate the impacts of energy exploration and development and drought on soils, plants, wildlife, and societies of the desert Southwest. During the first five years (2016-2021), we are focusing on Colorado Plateau landscapes (Fig. 1a) and two topics: 1) developing models to predict where landscapes can most readily be restored following energy exploration and development activities (Fig. 1b) ; 2) identifying site-specific best management practices for use by industry and federal and state resource managers; and 3) developing modelling frameworks to estimate cumulative impacts from energy exploration and development in landscapes and how those impacts can be mitigated with reclamation and restoration.

The Colorado Plateau is an excellent place for this project, as it contains a wide range of soil types, climate zones, elevations, and vegetation communities, all with varying exposure to disturbance. This provides the opportunity to more thoroughly understand the resistance and resilience of these communities to disturbance across different settings. With this information, we can better inform management decisions on siting of future energy development and reclamation needs.

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