Currently, human society is predominantly powered by fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) yet also ultimately depends on goods and services provided by biodiversity. Fossil fuel extraction impacts biodiversity indirectly through climate change and by increasing accessibility, and directly through habitat loss and pollution.
To address the fact that the quantification of the direct impacts of fossil fuel extraction have been relatively neglected (in contrast to the indirect effects), this study analysed the potential threat to >37,000 species and >190,000 protected areas globally from the locations of present and future fossil fuel extraction in marine and terrestrial environments.
The results show that sites that are currently exploited have higher species richness and endemism than unexploited sites, whereas, the authors state, known future hydrocarbon activities will predominantly move into less biodiverse locations.
The study identified 181 high-risk locations where oil or gas extraction suitability coincides with biodiversity importance, making conflicts between extraction and conservation probable. It is underlined that protected areas are located on $3-15 trillion of unexploited hydrocarbon reserves, posing challenges and potentially opportunities for protected areas management and sustainable financing.
The authors conclude that this study should help in developing new approaches to safeguarding areas of importance for biodiversity.
Harfoot MBJ et al. (2018) Present and future biodiversity risks from fossil fuel exploitation. Conservation Letters 11:e12448.