The rapid pace of shale development in the United States raises a number of environmental concerns such as habitat fragmentation, loss of biodiversity, depletion of water resources and degradation of water resources and air quality. A Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) was completed for shale development activities in a North American shale play. The SEIA focused on environmental impacts associated with the proponent's current and future operations over a five-year period.

The objectives of the study were to establish environmental baseline through desktop research and GIS mapping and to assess environmental impacts to physical, biological and cultural resources at a high level and independent of regulatory context. Recommendations for avoidance or mitigation were integrated into a management plan.

The SEIA addressed a range of activities including construction, drilling and completions and operations. A series of environmental hazard identification (ENVID) workshops were held to aid in the identification and assessment of environmental impacts.

Applying a strategic EIA approach to full field development posed some challenges and lessons learned, but has ultimately come to serve as an important tool in helping to shape environmental management programs for operations across a widespread area with the potential to impact a number of sensitive resources. The approach could be applied to other shale operations to define an environmental footprint, characterize baseline conditions, assess impacts, and develop strategic recommendations for proactive environmental management as well as planning for future development and operational decisions.

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