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.
The Trans-Pecos Region consists of the nine counties of west Texas bounded by the Rio Grande on the south and west and on the north by the Texas-New Mexico state boundary, Figure 1. It constitutes about 11 percent of the area of Texas. The population density of the region is around 27 persons per square mile, less than a third of the population density of the state as a whole (856,187 residents in an area of 31,479 sq. mi.). The region has the most varied, distinctive and spectacular scenery in Texas, combining the Chihuahuan desert flats with more humid mountain ranges of diverse geological origin. More rare and endemic species are found among its desert valleys, grassy plateaus, wooded mountains and protected canyons than in any other part of Texas. The average annual rainfall for the region is less than 12 inches, however, this varies greatly from year to year and from lower to higher elevations. July and August are usually the higher rainfall months. The climate is basically arid. Soils are based on Mountain outwash materials and are generally alkaline, having poor drainage in some areas.
McDonald Observatory, a research unit of The University of Texas at Austin, is one of the world’s leading centers for astronomical research, teaching, and public education and outreach. Observatory facilities are located atop Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes in the Davis Mountains in Jeff Davis County, and offer some of the darkest night skies in the continental United States. The Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) has worked with the Permian Basin Petroleum Association (PBPA) and the Observatory on the Dark Skies Advisory Group to develop cost effective recommendations for the oil and gas industry to assist in keeping the skies of West Texas dark.
The Permian Basin has been reliably pumping oil and gas since the 1920s. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies have led to a significant increase in activity that began around 2012. The basin has produced 29 Bbbl of oil since original output began in 1921. Between January 2007 and August 2015, crude oil production grew from about 843,000 b/d to 1,961,000 b/d, an annualized growth rate of 10.6%. The region now contributes a quarter of the country’s oil production averaging more than 2.3 million barrels per day. Figure 2, illustrates the location of the various oil and gas plays that are currently active. Break-even oil price for this region varies from $23.80 (Delaware-Bone Spring) to $63.38 (NW Shelf-Wolfcamp) as listed in Table 1. Table 2 lists the estimated cumulative production for the nine counties of the Trans-Pecos Region.
For the past dozen years, the EFD program, managed by HARC, has been working with industry, academia, government, environmental organizations and other stakeholders to provide unbiased science to address environmental and societal issues associated with oil and gas activities. As these activities continue to expand across the Permian Basin and the Trans-Pecos Region in particular, HARC-EFD could assist in measuring the implementation of cost-effective, environmentally sound practices, practices that address concerns about land use, water and air. Additionally, HARC-EFD can assist in proactive and/or pre-development activities that aim to minimize and mitigate impacts. HARC-EFD has assisted operators in reviewing their Health, Safety and Environment Management systems to ensure cost-effective, most-applicable-practices have been incorporated.
The EFD Scorecard was created as a voluntary, consensus-based tool that measures how industry addresses these issues. HARC-EFD has worked with industry sponsors to implement the Scorecard, illustrated in Figure 3, at various sites in different ecosystems across North America. The Scorecard methodology is designed to document how issues affecting stakeholders are being addressed. The intended result is to provide an adaptive ecosystem services management tool to assist operating companies in planning and implementing good practices. It can be used to objectively assess operators’ environmental performance. Industry can gain powerful insight in relaying their efforts at addressing environmental issues throughout E&P operations. As oil and gas activity continues to grow, a tool to measure and share the performance and commitment of operators can help allay unease about transparency. Benchmarking best management practices in action and making such data available can also provide the necessary improvement in communication with all stakeholders.
HARC-EFD is initiating a pilot test of the EFD Water Challenge Program, a mechanism through which oil and gas companies can make and track commitments to reduce potable water usage, increase the use of produced water in operations and increase the beneficial use of produced water. The Program complements state regulatory actions and provides incentives and opportunities for companies to undertake and document voluntary water conservation efforts through the development and implementation of cost-effective most applicable practices that address environmental issues. The Water Challenge provides a comprehensive and transparent manner to document how industry is performing.
The HARC-EFD Team is well equipped to handle the various needs of clients to perform engine performance and emissions measurements in the field as well as in the laboratory. HARC’s field capabilities are unique, having the only intrinsically safe data recording equipment available in the nation. Figure 4 shows members of the HARC-EFD Team setting up engine testing equipment at a drilling rig site. For laboratory engine testing, the HARC-EFD Team works with various EFD Alliance team members to satisfy the measurement requirements in the most cost effective manner.
The HARC-EFD Team has also performed various emissions measurements at compressor stations and other production operations. Baseline water measurements have also been performed.
The HARC-EFD Team is initiating a study in the Permian Basin to collect and evaluate defensible and repeatable air emissions data. Data from existing sources, including published studies and information surveyed from operators, are being compiled, evaluated for its usability and representativeness, and analyzed to ascertain what conclusions can be reliably drawn based on existing available information, and key gaps in the understanding of the relative frequency and magnitude of emission from marginal vs. non-marginal well sites. The findings of this desktop study will then be used to develop a focused and detailed scope of subsequent field investigations, as needed, to address critical data gaps, including potential identification and implementation of appropriate best management practices.
Safety and quality control are of priority in all aspects of the HARC-EFD Team activities. Over the past 4 years the team has performed over 40 field trials incident free. Throughout the years, the team has been recognized through numerous nominations and multiple awards for the quality of work that has been accomplished. Quality assurance and quality control ensures that data collected are defensible and comparable.
As oil and gas activities continue in the Trans-Pecos region, HARC-EFD will continue to work with industry and all stakeholders to provide unbiased science related to cost-effective, environmentally sound practices.