Offshore, oil, gas, drilling

Petroleum Engineers Play an Important Role in Sustainability

Some people balk at the idea that oil and gas has a role to play in a sustainable future, but the reality on the ground suggests otherwise.

“Supplying energy for the world is a monumental task. There continue to be improvements in renewable energy sources; however, reasonable forecasts of growth in renewables suggest fossil fuels will remain the primary source of the world’s energy for decades to come,” Nathan Meehan, president of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, wrote in an article published by SPE in March 2016.

Even with the increasing adoption of renewable energy resources, Meehan notes that fossil fuels still play an important role in meeting today’s energy needs and using them prudently is the best way to make sure that our generation does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The drive toward renewables is evident in the US where last year nearly half of utility-scale capacity additions on the power grid came from renewable sources like solar and wind, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

But even with the recent gains, renewables only account for a minority of total US power production and their intermittent nature creates the need for energy storage or backup generation that can be brought online quickly – like natural gas fired power plants – to stabilize the grid. The bulk of heavy lifting in the US power generation sector is still done by natural gas (34%), coal (30%) and nuclear (20%), according to EIA data.

This data suggests that fossil fuels will still be needed for decades to come in the power generation sector, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. A myriad of other industries count on energy and products derived from oil and natural gas.

Considering this, SPE takes seriously the need to extract these resources sustainably.

Though many people may not realize it, there are many things that petroleum engineers can do to help ensure that oil and gas is part of a sustainable energy solution. Meehan says these areas include:

  • Minimizing methane emissions
  • Reducing or eliminating flaring
  • Supporting energy efficiency and conservation
  • Ensuring wellbore integrity
  • Reducing the surface footprint of wells
  • Eliminating spills
  • Optimizing field development and management

SPE offers its members opportunities to train, share knowledge and advance practices to further these goals.

SPE’s efforts supplement work being done by a number of producers, several of which voluntarily release sustainability reports that highlight their unique measures – like Statoil, Shell, and Hess. To learn more about what petroleum engineers can do, visit SPE’s website or read Meehan’s full article on the subject here.

Top US Oil and Gas Producers Form Collaborative Partnership to Reduce Emissions

A host of oil and natural gas operators have joined together to create a partnership designed to reduce the environmental impact of oil and gas operations across the US. The voluntary effort, called the Environmental Partnership, is comprised of 26 producers who have pledged to initially focus on reducing emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from their operations.

At the time of its launch in early December, the American Petroleum Institute said the participating companies represent operations in every major US oil and natural gas basin. They include a host of shale-focused independent producers like Southwestern Energy and Chesapeake Energy as well as several larger integrated firms like Chevron, Occidental Petroleum and Shell. The partnership will provide a platform for these producers to collaborate with stakeholders and learn from one another.

“The Environmental Partnership will help America’s natural gas and oil industry share goals, technologies and best practices that will make our environmental stewardship even stronger,” said Mark Berg, executive vice president of corporate and vertically integrated operations at Pioneer Natural Resources.

“We are proactively taking steps to reduce methane emissions to ensure the sustainability of natural gas for generations to come,” added Greg Guidry, executive vice president for Shell’s Unconventionals business.

Focus Areas

The Environmental Partnership’s inaugural initiative will focus on reducing the methane and VOC emissions associated with oil and natural gas production across the US. The initiative is comprised of three separate Environmental Performance programs for participating companies to begin to implement and phase into their operations starting on January 1, 2018.

The three voluntary programs include:

  1. Leak Program for Natural Gas and Oil Production Sources: Calls for participants to implement monitoring and timely repair of fugitive emissions at selected sites using detection methods and technologies such as Method 21 or Optical Gas Imaging cameras.
  2. Program to Replace, Remove or Retrofit High-Bleed Pneumatic Controllers: Involves the replacement, removal or retrofitting of high-bleed pneumatic controllers with low-or zero-emitting devices.
  3. Program for Manual Liquids Unloading for Natural Gas Production Sources: This program asks participants to minimize emissions associated with the removal of liquids at aging wells that can build up and restrict natural gas flow.

The effort comes as the industry is trying to get out ahead of new federal rules that could force them to implement some of the same practices targeted in the partnerships initial programs.

Oil and gas producers narrowly avoided a federal mandate to begin using similar practices at federal and tribal lands when the implementation of a new methane reduction rule by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was delayed and suspended by the Trump administration in early December. The Methane and Waste Prevention Rule that was put on hold was designed to place new limits on the amount of natural gas that can be leaked from oil and gas well sites on these lands.

The BLM rules called for oil and gas producers to use technologies and processes to cut flaring in half at wells on federal and tribal lands. It also called for the periodic inspection of operations for leaks and the replacement of outdated equipment found to be venting large quantities of gas. The requirements also would have restricted venting from storage tanks and required operators to use best practices to limit gas losses when removing liquids from wells.

Some portions of the BLM rule had already gone into effect since it was first published in the Federal Register in November 2016. One aspect that came into effect in January 2017 called for operators to submit a waste minimization plan with their drilling operations. That and other requirements have been suspended while other parts of the rule that would have taken effect in January 2018 have been pushed back until January 2019.

The BLM rule is just one of several emissions restrictions to arise in recent years for the oil and gas industry.  Earlier this year, US lawmakers also voted to block the implementation of a pollution rule by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that is currently facing litigation.

Big shale producing states like Colorado and North Dakota have had more success than the federal government adopting their own unique methane reduction policies in recent years. Colorado was the first state to do so in 2014, when it adopted rules that required operators to routinely inspect for and correct methane leaks and use technology to capture 95% of emissions of VOCs and methane.

The same year, North Dakota also instituted its flaring reduction rules designed to curb the amount of associated natural gas flared by oil wells targeting the Bakken Shale.

The organization of the Environmental Partnership shows that the industry is taking such environmental concerns seriously and is taking steps to work together proactively to find ways to become better stewards of the environment.

“The industry has a long record of implementing technology and practices that have proven to increase efficiency and reduce the environmental footprint of operations,” said Jack Gerard, president and chief executive officer of the American Petroleum Institute. “In establishing the Environmental Partnership, the natural gas and oil industry is working together to promote the most effective programs and opportunities to improve environmental performance throughout our operations.”

Inaugural Environmental Partnership Participants

  • Anadarko
  • Apache
  • BHP
  • BP
  • Chesapeake Energy
  • Cabot Oil and Gas
  • Chevron
  • Cimarex Energy
  • ConocoPhillips
  • CrownQuest
  • Devon Energy
  • Encana
  • EOG Resources
  • Exxon Mobil subsidiary XTO Energy
  • Hess
  • Marathon Oil
  • Murphy Oil
  • Newfield
  • Noble Energy
  • Occidental Petroleum
  • Pioneer Natural Resources
  • Shell
  • Southwestern Energy
  • Statoil
  • Total
  • Western Gas Partners

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