The pipeline’s path avoids critical habitats as much as possible but still crosses forests, shrublands, grasslands, and deserts that are home to more than 1,000 plant and animal species – some only known to live in areas near the pipeline.
During construction, the company made efforts to minimize environmental impacts. For example, they reduced the width of the right-of-way – the path along the pipeline’s route where people, machinery and materials travel – when critical habitats were crossed. Once the pipeline was buried and operational, a restoration program began, allowing native plants and animals to gradually return.
Evaluation and Analysis
When pipeline construction began, it was the standard for most biodiversity monitoring programs to focus on entire groups of plants or animals. For example, a program would focus solely on the mammal species in a study area. The Center for Conservation and Sustainability took a new approach, based on the mitigation hierarchy. The mitigation hierarchy is a set of guidelines designed to help development projects, like pipelines, achieve no net loss of biodiversity. It includes steps to avoid impacts, minimize those that can’t be avoided, and restore ecosystems so that biodiversity remains at a level equal to or greater than before a project began (no net loss of biodiversity).
Using this framework, CCS developed a hypothesis-driven Biodiversity Monitoring and Assessment Program specific to the pipeline’s path through the Andes. The research team identified 14 landscapes the pipeline crossed, each with a unique combination of plant life, water, geology and climate. Within each landscape, the team set recovery goals for species and habitats.
In a 2005 study, they identified 1,058 species of plants and animals native to the ecosystems crossed by the pipeline. In a complex setting like the Andes, monitoring this many species would not be possible. Instead, the team selected 145 species that could be sensitive to pipeline construction and operations.
In the early stages of the BMAP, they gathered data on the health and function of ecosystems in response to pipeline construction. More recently, they have studied how habitats are regaining their connectivity. The scientists continue to assess the pipeline’s impacts on a yearly basis to help guide the company’s restoration efforts.
Question-driven biodiversity monitoring
CCS scientists asked company engineers and environmental managers what concerns they had about biodiversity. Based on those concerns, they devised questions that could be answered with scientific monitoring and selected key species or habitats to function as indicators of:
- the habitat fragmentation that resulted from the pipeline (pictured above) and
- the recovery of ecosystems affected during construction (pictured below)
For example, the rodent communities in Andean grasslands include two endemic, rare cloud forest mouse species. During construction, all vegetation along the pipeline route was removed, and with it, the availability of shelter and food for the rodents. With time, native grasses recolonized the area and the rodent populations were reestablished.
The guiding principles of the BMAP included:
Clear objectives, questions, and conceptual models linking drivers of change (the factors responsible for inducing change, like land-use or pollution) and their effects on species or habitats
Replicable and peer-reviewed research protocols, adapted to the local environmental conditions. Protocols were also flexible, so they could be adjusted after each iteration of monitoring
Plans for data management, analysis and quality control
Helping the company interpret the results, so they can make informed decisions and meet their goals to restore habitat around the pipeline