Well Integrity and the Environment
The US oil and gas industry has fallen under many regulatory regimes for almost all the years of its existence. Protecting the environment, health of workers and communities, safety for all stakeholders have been the most important aspects of regulation. A renewed emphasis on air and water quality as it relates to well integrity and the environment in areas of oil and gas development have accompanied the so called “shale revolution”. This revolution dominates US oil and gas development and environmental regulation in the present century. Oil and gas well integrity and the environment will always be important issues.
Industry and Regulation
The social contract
Federal, state, and local government entities regulate various facets of oil and gas exploration and production. The nature of oil and gas exploration and production operation-cycles include many environmental impacts that must be monitored. Drilling a hydrocarbon well is one-step in a process that may take years. Hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) is yet another. All the processes and operations in exploration and production may take decades or even a century to complete. Well integrity and the environment are important considerations. All of these processes are closely monitored by government entities and the operators of the wells. The safety of communities and workers in proximity of these work processes are the most important aspect of the social contract. Part of that social contract is to keep the air we breathe and the water we drink safe and clean.
Clean Air Clean Water
There are many federal regulations that regulate air and water that include the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Many revisions to these important regulations require all industries to re-appraise the operational practices that may be affected by the changing regulations. Oil and gas operators employ teams of Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) operators to assess, monitor and mitigate operations that may require constant observation and action. The skills of these technical personnel require knowledge of oil and gas engineering operations, atmospheric processes, and geological processes occurring at the surface and the subsurface. Combine this with a constantly changing regulatory requirements and it is easy to see why these teams are so important to the oil and gas producers.
This is where we live
State regulations tend to be the most comprehensive. (e.g. COGCC) Oil and gas producing states have long understood the importance of protecting all stakeholders. The mineral rights owners, landowners (not always the same) and the populations that settle near oil and gas operations are important for regulatory protection. The states’ regulatory framework has evolved over the decades into an all-inclusive framework meant to protect water and air quality in all areas. These protections have become the foundation of current efforts.
Oil doesn’t happen where we want to live, right? Wrong!
Around the turn of the current century, geologists and engineers in the US oil and gas industry began to fully understand the importance of organic-rich rocks, or “shale” to a petroleum geologist. As a result, the present oil boom catapulted the US to the top of the list as world’s largest oil and gas producer. The geopolitical implications of this newfound technology and resulting production are vast. This is because energy is a resource that many countries lack and must import all sources. The US is an important exception to this rule. Existing oil and gas developments in the US were revitalized with these new technologies and the regulatory environment struggled to keep pace. Because oil fields that may have been developed in sparsely populated areas in the past, now may be centered in growing population centers that require additional noise abatement, special care for well integrity, operational equipment and the environment. Additional regulatory measures are now catching up with the development. A knowledge of where we have been and where we are headed from a regulatory perspective is an important part of any oil and gas development program.
The talent is out there.
Petroleum geologists and engineers that possess the additional environmental science knowledge hold important positions in these new development areas. Well integrity and the environment have always been a critical concern. The knowledge of what oil and gas activity has occurred many decades before in an area and how they might affect the development of the same area today are critical. The US has been producing oil and gas since before Colonel Drake drilled his first successful well in Titusville, PA in 1859. Technology in the oil and gas industry has been developing ever since. Continued regulation is part of any continued success.
We are all the solution
Regulation complexity has been expanding in recent years. As a result, an important directive to protect our population centers and our climate continue to dominate these regulatory discussions. Well integrity and the environment are important concerns. Experts in these areas continue to be those scientists and engineers with an understanding of what fluids exist where and why at the surface, in the sub-surface and in our atmosphere. Air quality and water quality have been, and will continue to be, important to every stakeholder in this discussion. DIG has always been committed to these important issues.