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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Chesapeake Energy
- Cabot Oil and Gas
- Cimarex Energy
- Devon Energy
- EOG Resources
- Exxon Mobil subsidiary XTO Energy
- Marathon Oil
- Murphy Oil
- Noble Energy
- Occidental Petroleum
- Pioneer Natural Resources
- Southwestern Energy
- Western Gas Partners