Assessment of Species at Risk Setback Distances Relative to Oil and Gas Activity

GL 905651
Corey Linnen

The federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) became enforceable on June 1, 2004 to provide for the legal protection of wildlife species and conservation of biodiversity. It applies to all wildlife species listed as being at risk and their critical habitat. There are currently over 100 species protected by SARA. Setback distances, outlined by the Standardized Guidelines for Petroleum Activity within Areas of Species at Risk, have been developed based on consultation with industry and biological authorities. These species setback distances and applicable timing are based on a 3D matrix, which includes the type, magnitude and associated risk of the disturbance. We proposed in 2005 to examine these distances for species, which are most commonly encountered in relation to oil and gas development in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The purpose of the study is to assess the required setback distances of wildlife species, which frequently impact oil and gas operations in southeast Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan. Expansion of the study in 2006 and 2007 will include additional species in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The initial proposal and research conducted in 2005
included assessing setback distances by conducting surveys to determine the proximity of ferruginous hawks (FEHA) relative to existing disturbances and studying the behavioral responses of the species relative to operational activities by applying controlled disturbance. Application of controlled disturbance was not included in 2006 research due to regulations for species at risk and the associated difficulties of observing the behavior of many species. Research in 2006 was broadened to cover additional species and analyze setback distances by focusing on grassland bird species distribution relative to existing shallow gas activity.

Initial research in 2007 will again expand to involve the collection and compilation of historical species accounts relative to oil development. This will be followed by conducting field surveys to record observations and proximities of sensitive species relative to various oil developments and their associated disturbances. An assessment of adjacent disturbance types, magnitudes and risks will also be completed. Data analysis will include comparisons between the proximity of species at risk occurrences relative to adjacent disturbance types, magnitudes and risks.

Research in 2007 will build on that of 2005 and 2006 and will broaden to include oil development. Research in 2007 will also expand to central Alberta and Saskatchewan and include species found in these areas. Field work and data analysis will be concluded in late fall 2007 and a final report outlining the results submitted in winter 2007.