CSU to receive grant from Shell to study revegetation practices on oil shale leases

RBC — Colorado State University’s Warner College of Natural Resources announced today that it will receive $950,000 in the form of a research grant from Shell Oil Company to study revegetation practices on one of three research, development and demonstration leases on federal land in the Piceance Basin in northwestern Colorado.
CSU has a long history of conducting reclamation research and will be continuing in that tradition with this new partnership with Shell. In 1976, CSU began a substantial research project in the Piceance Basin to provide basic and applied information that would aid in the reclamation of land disturbances associated with energy development. This new partnership will allow scientists to revisit some of the original studies and make recommendations to the energy industry regarding the long-term effects of various revegetation approaches.
“Colorado State University’s rich history of environmental research in the Piceance Basin provides a prelude to this new partnership with Shell,” said Bill Farland, vice president for research at Colorado State. “CSU is committed to working with industry to tackle environmental problems and to serve as good environmental mentors and stewards on the local, national and international scale.”
“CSU is a major player in restoration ecology research, and its decades-long studies in the Piceance Basin have been instrumental in guiding successful land reclamation, particularly in high-altitude sites in the arid West,” said Tom Fowler, manager of research and engineering at Shell. “We are pleased to be able to partner with CSU in furthering this research on lands of such critical importance to our nation’s energy supply to assure that future development is managed in the most environmentally responsible manner.”
One of the original CSU researchers who worked on the Piceance Basin project for two decades, Edward Redente, will be joining CSU restoration ecology professor Mark Paschke as co-principal investigators for this new study.
In recent years, the Piceance Basin — located northeast of Grand Junction — has become a valuable study site as a source of long-term data on ecosystem development resulting from a variety of reclamation approaches that were initiated by CSU researchers in the 1970s. Redente, Paschke and their team of researchers and graduate students will work on three original studies with the goal of applying this knowledge to current challenges in the region.
“This grant will benefit students; reclamation researchers working in similar environments; oil, gas and mining companies looking for ways to improve their reclamation programs; state and federal regulatory agencies; and many others throughout Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West that are interested in reducing ecological impacts associated with energy development,” said Redente, MWH Americas Inc. vice president and principal ecologist.
Scientists will be studying long-term ecological dynamics including effects of disturbance on plant communities and ecosystems to help determine how to optimize ecosystem restoration following land uses such as temporary road construction associated with oil and gas drilling or oil shale development.
“Beyond training students in this important field of science, this grant will allow us to figure out where we should focus our efforts in restoring these disturbances,” Paschke said. “Too often we make recommendations based on just a few years of data collection. However, we know that what we observe in plant communities in the short term may be very different from what we see in the long run. Our research will be a unique assessment of what really matters in the long run and will allow us to make meaningful recommendations to the energy industry.”
As part of the research partnership, CSU researchers will host a symposium in 2011 that will feature research results from Piceance Basin.
“By publishing and synthesizing this research on restoration ecology, agency planners, reclamation scientists and ecologists will receive maximum benefit from this important research,” Fowler said.