Oil and Gas Industry Continues Innovating to Reduce Environmental Footprints

This week, oil and gas operators have been getting a lot of coverage for what they do best – innovation. We all know that, thanks to advancements in technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the industry has been able to reverse the U.S. energy outlook from heavy reliance on imports to greater self-sufficiency. Furthermore, thanks to shale gas development, the United States has driven down carbon dioxide emissions to 1994 levels. These economic and environmental gains are worth celebrating, and energy companies are taking them a step further by increasing investments in efficiency and recycling.

In Colorado, Anadarko serves as an example for industry best practices. According to the Denver Business Journal, the company’s conservation efforts include:

  • Drilling multiple wells on a single well pad, reducing the land impact needed to drill oil and gas wells.
  • Drilling horizontal wells that can stretch up to two miles underground, decreasing the number of wells needed to produce the same amount of oil.
  • Using closed loop, or “pitless,” drilling operations to eliminate waste pits.
  • Reducing the amount of truck traffic by concentrating the hydraulic fracturing operations into a single location, and also increasing the use of pipelines.
  • Using “field gas,” or natural gas produced at the well, for compression operations.
  • Recycling water used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing where possible.

Steps such as these to protect the environment are nothing new, and operators across the country are rapidly employing similar procedures. Little wonder, then, why Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel recently said: “By using directional drilling and fracking, we have an opportunity to have a softer footprint on the land.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that energy companies are working to further reduce the already low level of methane leakage. In case you missed last year’s bombshell study, the University of Texas and the Environmental Defense Fund – using first of their kind direct measurements – estimated a leakage rate of only about 1.5 percent; this rate is comfortably below the threshold required for shale to maintain its obvious and significant environmental benefits.

In an effort to further decrease flaring, companies such as Statoil are piping natural gas from the well straight to onsite equipment, to be used as a power source. This results in less flaring and fewer air emissions. Hess is also expanding a major gas processing facility near Tioga, N.D., which is expected to cut down on flaring significantly.

On the water usage front, operators continue to advance recycling technologies. According to the Pennsylvania DEP, producers in the Marcellus Shale recycle 90 percent of their flowback water. In Texas, Apache Corporation is employing treatments and ceramic membranes to filter out solids, and obtaining its water from deeper, brackish sources —which means less than half of the of the company’s water use consists of fresh water.

The industry understands that putting innovative people in the same room lends itself to big leaps forward. That’s why oil and gas companies are working with General Electric to replace water use in shale development. Currently, GE is working on pressurizing gases into gels and foams as a substitute for fresh or even recycled water.

The industry has a long history of proving skeptics wrong with measurable action. First it was unlocking decades’ worth of previously unrecoverable oil and natural gas. Today, the focus is on redefining efficiency processes. Don’t be surprised as operators continue to uphold environmental stewardship in ways never thought possible.


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