Oil and gas related caliche land cover in the Llano Estacado region: Opportunities for a resilient future

Date

2021-08

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Abstract

The Southern High Plains of Texas called the Llano Estacado, has shown resilient characteristics throughout history from its people, profitable land use, and ecosystems. The adaptive cycles connected to the region’s resilient characteristics have changed over time with settlement, agricultural production, irrigation from groundwater sources, transportation, and the extraction of oil and gas. The discovery of oil and gas in 1921 created both positive and negative impacts on resilient qualities. Over the last 100 years, oil and gas exploration and production operations have drilled 210,181 wells producing over 21.7 billion barrels of oil making the Llano Estacado one of the top oil producing regions in the world. This case study uses GIS image classification methods to quantify oil and gas land use using caliche land cover. Six Llano Estacado oil production counties (three increasing and three decreasing over the last 20 years) where selected for detailed study using ArcGIS Pro imagery classification techniques. The study found that 8-12% of the region’s land cover in study areas had been impacted by oil and gas operations and infrastructure defined by caliche used for access roads, storage tank pads, and well pads. Caliche is mined in the region and transported to sites for oil and gas operations. The study found that within the six separate study areas totaling 42 square miles (26,880 acres), there are 2,590 acres of caliche land cover at an average depth of 5.5 inches equaling a volume of 55.7 million cubic feet of mined and placed caliche. While the oil and gas industry has provided county jobs and economy over the past 100 years, alternate land-use and cover options must be considered if a resilient future is to be realized in the region. Over the last 20 years, oil production has declined in 25 of the 43 counties in the region and transitions to renewable energy sources like wind and solar are increasing. Simulations and calculations indicate that much of the caliche could be recycled or re-used in future landscape planning projects as base material. The volume of caliche estimated for the 210,081 wells in the Llano could be used to create 8,005 miles of trails, 52,834 housing foundations, or 247,969 wind turbine sites. The re-use of caliche can help the adaptive cycle of the region remain above a critical threshold and aid in the transition to alternative land uses and covers key to a resilient future. Ecosystem restoration and phytoremediation approaches are considered as important aspects of future research, along with the potential land use of produced water from oil and gas wells.

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Keywords

Oil, Gas, Resilience, Caliche, Llano Estacado, Landscape

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