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Landscape Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing Development and Operations on Surface Water and Watersheds

Quinn, MS and Tyler, M-E and Ajaero, E and Arvai, J and Carlson, M and Dunmade, I and Hill, S and McCallum, J and McMartin, D and Megson, David and O’Sullivan, G and Parks, R and Poulton, D and Stelfox, B and Stewart, J and Serralde, CS and Tomblin, S and Van der Byl, C (2015) Landscape Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing Development and Operations on Surface Water and Watersheds. UNSPECIFIED. Canadian Water Network.

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Abstract

Landscapes and watersheds are complex cultural biogeoclimatic systems that are not easily bounded, measured or understood by a single body of expertise. This makes it very challenging to locate and synthesize the best available science to identify what decision‐makers need to know about landscape and watershed impacts of hydraulic fracturing. ‘Landscape’ is not a physical object as much as it is a spatial context for multiple natural processes and human activities. As such, what decision‐makers need to know depends upon the specific locations and situational conditions in which hydraulic fracturing is operating. Fracking exists in landscape and watershed contexts that are highly variable at different scales and across different regions. There is a relatively high degree of certainty, within predictable engineered limits, about specific well‐based fracking operations. In contrast, there is a lot of uncertainty about how complex social ecological landscape and watershed systems function. Potential landscape and watershed impacts exist in the context of a complex and integrated system of spatial and functional inter‐connections and inter‐relationships and needs to be understood in this system context (Figure A‐1). We approached landscape and watershed impacts of hydraulic fracturing from a multi‐disciplinary social and natural science framework in order to try and capture this complexity. We emerged with common agreement around the difficulties presented by ‘silos’ of expertise when trying to deal with complex systems. The primary learning from our multidisciplinary approach is the need for greater institutional opportunities to integrate and coordinate a spectrum of approaches to address knowledge gaps in multiple system interactions across scales and involving system threshold effects that may be social in nature as well as biogeochemical.

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