A growing percentage of the nation’s untapped oil and gas resources are located in sensitive environments, such as the Arctic, wetlands, coastal areas, and the outer continental shelf. Over the past four decades, the oil and gas industry has been developing new technologies and approaches for operating in these environments without harming them. For example, acoustical and vibration devices have replaced explosives for generating seismic signals. This approach protects wildlife in both onshore and offshore operations.
Improved drilling technology has also allowed today’s oil and gas operators to get more production from fewer wells, which means less effect on the environment. Today, we can use just one well for the same production capacity as two wells in 1985.
Taking Advantage of the Cold in Arctic Environments
The Arctic presents logistical challenges such as extremely low temperatures, freezing and thawing of tundra, and remote locations far from existing infrastructure. To cope with these challenges and protect this sensitive environment, operators use the climate to their advantage by building roads, drilling pads, and airstrips out of an ice-based material. This icy infrastructure has become the standard on North Slope exploration projects because it leaves virtually no environmental footprint -the structures simply melt in the spring. For this reason, operations typically take place during the winter.
If wells are too far from existing infrastructure to build ice roads, operators use large all-terrain vehicles with low-pressure balloon-like tires to carry equipment. These machines leave virtually no tracks. Advances in drilling technology have also allowed for reservoir development using fewer wells, with horizontal drilling accounting for 90% of the wells in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. Using fewer wells significantly reduces the environmental footprint.
Safer Drilling and Data Processing for Wetland, Coastal, and Offshore Environments
The oil and gas industry takes extreme care to minimize risks in wetland, coastal, and offshore environments. In wetland and coastal areas, directional drilling minimizes surface disturbance, and the use of a closed loop solids control system (see image below) reduces the threat of drilling fluid spills. Drilling systems are also designed to use less noise, and reduce air emissions.
Technology has been instrumental in the ability to access remote deepwater resources while minimizing disruption to the environment and aquatic species. Advanced 3D seismic and 4D time-lapse data processing allows operators to locate oil and gas far more accurately, resulting in fewer dry holes, less drilling and better resource recovery. Advances in subsea technologies including subsea production systems supported by remotely operated vehicles, all-electric subsea monitoring systems, and minimally sized umbilicals allow for connecting a remote subsea satellite well to a production facility more than fifty miles away. Computer monitoring also provides the ability to open and close the wells if necessary.
Other uses of technology and best practices by operators in reducing environmental impact include:
- Through-tubing rotary drilling – Allows drilling a new well through the existing production tubing of an older well, without having to develop a completely new well site
- “Designer wells” technology – Advanced form of directional drilling where wells curve around and behind geological barriers to reach smaller pay zones and avoid ecologically sensitive areas
- Extended reach drilling – Directional drilling of very long horizontal wells can extend the life of a single well, reducing the number of additional wells that may be necessary to maximize recovery
- Project Management – Adoption in overall project planning to emphasize reducing the size of production-related facilities
- Site restoration and habitat enhancement – Best practice in well site post-production
New imaging, drilling, and infrastructure technologies are helping the oil and gas industry protect sensitive environments. These technologies protect wildlife, reduce waste, and reduce the overall environmental footprint of the industry.
Clover specializes in placing professionals in the oil and gas industry. If you are an Operator seeking to augment Project Teams, contact Jeff.W@clovergs.com
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