Texas’ oil and gas industry supplies energy to support daily life and economic growth. Daily activities around oil and gas operations may be affected in various ways. Out in West Texas, dark skies are vital to the work performed at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory.
Since 2005 the Environmentally Friendly Drilling Systems (EFD) program, managed by HARC, has been providing unbiased science to address the environmental footprint of all oil and gas activities. Recently the EFD Team held their annual sponsors/advisors meeting to reflect on the past and set the course for the future.
Much has been accomplished. There is much to be done.
Drilling efficiency has been investigated in numerous publications discussing potential improvements in productive, non-productive and invisible lost time. New challenges driven by the development of unconventional gas reservoirs require a continued effort looking deeper into improvement potentials of drilling operations in terms of efficiency, but even more so in environmental compliance and friendliness. The EFD Team’s objective was to identify the improvement potential from increasing the energy efficiency of a land rig through design and alternative drilling techniques. Huisman, an EFD sponsor, started the design of the LOC drilling rigs in 2003. After two years of drilling in South Texas the lessons learned were incorporated in the next generation. The LOC series of rigs are characterized by being fully containerized, highly automated and built to include modern drilling techniques. These modular rigs are also completely electrically driven, electronically controlled, fully integrated and can be scaled in size by adding more containers. They are designed for fast rig moves, and able to compete globally with local rigs. The EFD Team performed a case study on the new rig, the LOC 400, and published the findings in AADE-11-NTCE-61 as well as being documented in two of the EFD annual program meetings and in an open field tour of the rig which EFD and Huisman sponsored. The EFD third party documentation and the EFD report of this type of rig has help “raise the bar” for other rig manufacturing companies to follow.
As the reality of America’s natural gas age comes into view, it seems fitting that more of the equipment used to free that gas will also be powered by it. As a cleaner fuel, natural gas offers the promise of reducing emissions, site footprint and cost. Natural gas fuel has great appeal because it offers opportunities to reduce pollution and other environmental impacts along with cost savings. Technologies that will utilize natural gas in new and more efficient ways are burgeoning along with development of domestic gas supplies. Research is important to understand the benefits and limitations of these new technologies. Fueling technologies and infrastructure are rapidly evolving to process and deliver natural gas fuel to more users in all sectors. Using ‘field gas’ as fuel near the wellhead where it is produced greatly shortens the supply chain. As with other locally sourced commodities, impacts associated with processing and transportation are significantly reduced. Methane emissions are a key concern with expanded production and utilization of natural gas, and must be addressed with engineering controls throughout the system. EFD is exploring the important issues around natural gas fuel. Technologies that will advance dual-fuel diesels and deliver turbine-electric power are being configured and deployed in new ways to make natural gas the fuel of choice for shale development. Working with diesel engine science specialists, the EFD Team is building analytical capability to measure and characterize engine exhaust from dual fuel diesel engines in the field. Enhancements to measurement instrumentation, including fuel-specific calibration methods for exhaust gas analysis and new equipment for measurement of particulate matter have now been successfully tested in the field.
Issues related to water availability for public, agriculture and industrial use present challenges, particularly in many semi-arid regions of the country where shale oil and gas development activity is increasing. The EFD Team has enabled program sponsors to reduce their fresh water usage by over 50%. Sourcing water which does not compete with existing fresh water sources, recycling produced water (rather than disposing of it as a waste) becomes high priority and more viable option for the oil and gas industry. However, recycling produced water is a complex procedure since the water tends to react with itself and is literally different water from day to day as new chemical and biological components react, form, volatize and precipitate. On site, real time water analysis and treatment is the key to success for produced water recycling. The EFD team conducted the most comprehensive study ever done to increase the understanding and beneficial use of produced water from hydraulic fracturing options. The EFD Team used a state of the art mobile lab to support field trials of flowback and produced water. The results have made a significant impact to encourage companies to use produced water. It has assisted service companies to provide reliable technologies including new analytics, advanced membrane filtration systems, new micro-filtration, advanced cleaning systems, biological screening and mitigation technologies. It has informed industry, regulators, land managers and the public on what options are viable. Additionally, the EFD Team has worked with partners to identify brackish formations which could provide water for future oil and gas production. Program sponsors are now using new data throughout their operations to reduce or eliminate their dependence upon fresh water.
One of the promising technologies the EFD Team has tested in research and field trials is the use of composite mats for well sites and access roads. Every natural gas pad/drilling site needs a road to link it to the outside world. With the development and use of these roads come expected impacts such as soil compaction, disturbances to the vegetation, and the potential for habitat fragmentation. Access roads and pad sites can have immediate as well as long term effects on the surrounding terrain. In 2013, Newpark Mats and Integrated Services, an EFD Sponsor, achieved a production milestone as they completed their 250,000th mat. By utilizing reusable and recyclable mats rather than lumber translates to the preservation of over 1 million trees (or approximately 1.25 million wooden mats). An added benefit comes from the reduced emissions and road dust associated with transporting mats to/from locations.
The EFD Program is working to develop a workforce skilled in addressing environmental aspects of exploration and production. In order to reach the largest audience, the EFD Team developed the free, online ‘EFD Virtual Site’ (www.efdvirtualsite.org). The EFD Virtual Site offers visitors the options to ‘Tour’ by watching a short video that explains the oil and gas process, history, and terminology, or ‘Explore’ by visiting either the Virtual Drilling Rig, Virtual Hydraulic Fracturing Site, Virtual Pad Site or the Virtual Offshore Safety Awareness Site.
These great efforts by the EFD Team have been well recognized throughout the years. The Team has been honored twice by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission with their Chairman’s Stewardship Award (won in 2009, honorable mention in 2016), the Texas Oil and Gas Awards for Environmental Partnership (2015) and most recently by the South Texas Energy and Economic Roundtable’s Impact Award (2016).
The EFD sponsors provide guidance, expertise and financial support to the program. The November 2016 EFD Sponsors meeting set the course for the future as the EFD Team expands the effort to include offshore/near-shore efforts, additional emissions measurements and further reviews of technologies.