The oil and gas industry has made significant strides to reduce the impact oil and gas exploration, drilling and production operations have on the environment. Companies are aware that minimizing their environmental impact both onshore and offshore is crucial to reducing environmental liabilities, controlling operational costs, and enhancing public acceptance of the U.S. oil and gas exploration and production. As Congress addresses high energy prices, energy security and our dependency upon foreign imports, an option is to open new areas for leasing, most of which are off-limits because they are located in environmentally sensitive areas of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), Arctic and Western lands. While technology has advanced to the point where the drilling footprint has been significantly reduced, there is a legitimate concern that there is currently no way to assure the public that all of the oil and gas industry and their supply chain will be fully compliant to ensure minimum environmental impact of operations in these areas. A new government program would be slow to implement, impractical and expensive and could hinder the objective of increasing production in a timely manner, while protecting the environment.
The Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) and Texas A&M University have been leading an industry consortium effort to investigate the development of low impact drilling systems. The work originated in 2005 and funding was obtained by the U.S. Department of Energy for 2006 through 2008. The goal of the Environmentally Friendly Drilling Systems program (EFD) is to reduce the environmental impact of rig operations through integration of low-impact site access and site operations. A scorecard has been developed to understand the tradeoffs associated with environmental and energy production issues. The methodology presents an ecological understanding of the tradeoffs associated with producing energy. This scorecard methodology was developed through a series of workshops held with ecologists, botanists, wildlife management experts and others in addition to oil and gas industry experts. All stakeholders (government agencies, academia, industry, environmental NGO’s and the general public) are active participants in the development of the process.
Today’s industry is accepting costs of environmental stewardship. These costs must be reconciled with commercial interests. Environmental restoration, economic prosperity and social stability may co-exist and do not have to be in conflict. The EFD scorecard methodology can ensure that adequate operational safeguards are employed for a variety of ecosystems. The process facilitates the adoption of energy exploration, production and delivery practices that are environmentally responsible through the creation and implementation of universally understood and accepted tools, techniques and performance criteria that are specific to a given location.