On the Ground
Depletion of conventional oil and natural gas reserves coupled to rising world demand for fossil fuels will have major impacts on US rangelands and ranches over the next 30 years.
Shale oil and gas are unconventional fossil fuels now being aggressively developed on US rangelands. Their development involves a larger physical footprint in terms of roads, drill pads, mining pits, and water disposal ponds than conventional oil and gas development, but their development techniques are improving in terms of extraction efficiency and reduction of adverse environmental impacts. Groundwater contamination is the biggest potential threat to ranchers from shale oil and gas development.
US ranchers will likely experience continued rising prices for their livestock due to world farmland loss, increased human population, and rising affluency in Asian countries, but their production costs will also rise due to higher energy costs. Implementing management practices involving risk aversion and minimization of fossil fuel use will be important for their future success.
Basic principles of range management such as control of grazing intensity, grazing timing, animal distribution, and mix of animal species can be modified for management of energy developments on rangelands.