Oil and gas exploration and development is a highly regulated industry. To keep our business healthy and performing, AEC must comply with numerous complex environmental, water, operations, and administrative requirements to secure permits and drill wells. Therefore, it is important that we and our colleagues in the industry adopt and adhere to best practices for all aspects of our business. Such practices help standardize operations and assure ongoing compliance and performance. In late 2011, a special shale-gas development advisory board to the Secretary of the United States Department of Energy recommended a comprehensive set of practices. The full subcommittee report can be viewed here. Many of the practices outlined in the committee report also are applicable to oil exploration and development.
Note also that the following sampling of best practices is excerpted from an editorial titled “Drillers must employ best practices to keep ‘fracking’ boom alive,” by Dr. Stephen Holditch of Texas A&M University published on the Houston Chronicle’s website, www.chron.com, January 7, 2012:
- Improve casing and cementing procedures to isolate the gas-producing zone from overlaying formations and potable aquifers. Loss of well integrity is simply the result of poor well completion – or poor production-pressure management.
- AEC follows industry best practices to achieve sound well construction. As conditions require, we exceed industry standards to address contingencies. We apply rigorous analysis and quality-control measures to ensure proper well casing, cementing and zonal isolation.
- Control the entire lifecycle of the water used from acquisition to disposal. All water flows should be tracked and reported quantitatively throughout the process.
- AEC closely monitors and documents water use, treatment and disposal. We work with landowners, suppliers and regulators to maintain water-management data and produce accurate, timely reports.
- Limit water use by controlling vertical fracture growth. Periodic direct measurement of earth stresses and the micro-seismic monitoring of water and additive needs will eliminate rogue methane migration – and save production money.
- AEC uses microseismic monitoring equipment routinely to track and gather data on hydraulic fracture growth and optimize water and material usage.
- Use multi-well drilling pads to monitor processes and minimize truck traffic and surplus road construction. The use of mats, catchments, groundwater monitors and surface water buffers – all standard in the oil industry – should be industry standard in shale gas production as well.
- AEC implements multi-well pads in field development and has proactively developed water well protection plans and monitoring protocols for water wells.
- Declare unique and/or sensitive areas off-limits to drilling. There is such an abundance of natural gas reserves that have come from the fracking revolution that there is no need to be provocatively drilling beneath protected urban or wilderness spaces. This recommendation is also one of the most difficult to apply as the owners of the minerals in such areas have the right to produce those minerals. Fortunately, with long-reach horizontal drilling, many urban areas can be developed from remote pad sites with appropriate controls.
- AEC responds to recommendations generated by the environmental-assessment process. As a result of this process, we have altered plans and relocated drill sites to avoid environmentally and culturally sensitive sites.
- Mitigate noise, air and visual pollution. Conversion from diesel to natural gas or electrical power for equipment fuel is an important first step... and can be substantially accelerated.
- AEC includes pollution-prevention measures in all phases of well planning, development and operation.