Oil and gas drilling operators are increasingly using innovative new practices to minimize impacts on the community and environment, a recent study found.
The study by the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis, which is a partner of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, found that innovation pays dividends, not only in reduced costs, but also in minimizing impacts on the communities where drilling is occurring, which are increasingly suburban. Reduced environmental impacts, pollution, traffic, and noise also pay benefits in allowing companies to retain a “social license” to operate, the study determined.
“This social license to operate provides companies with a level of acceptance among stakeholders and the public that allows them to do business, which is particularly important in urban/suburban areas,” the study states.
The JISEA study focused on five key issues important to communities – air emissions and odors, water usage and treatment, traffic reduction, noise reduction, and clean energy development.
Gas drilling sites are a source of air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, particulates from road dust, and benzene and methane from equipment leaks. These emissions can cause health issues, odors, and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Companies are using technology such as natural gas, electric-powered, or dual-fuel drilling and fracking equipment instead of diesel-powered to reduce emissions, noise, and odors. They are also are conducting air quality monitoring to establish a baseline and prevent a rise in emissions.
Water usage and treatment is a huge issue, as each well fracked requires millions of gallons of water, which must be drawn from local sources and then treated after it is mixed with chemicals and other additives and used in the fracking process. Better treatment processes and ways to transport this produced water, including pipeline networks, are being developed.
Fracking a well also results in a large amount of truck traffic to carry materials and water to the site. The majority of this traffic is water transport. These heavy trucks are loud and can damage roads and increase safety hazards. Again, pipeline networks are an innovation being tried. Quieter equipment is another innovation, along with sound walls around well sites. These are about 20-foot tall walls covered in acoustic material that surround a well pad and can greatly reduce the decibel level around the well area.
Clean energy technologies are continuing to emerge, which allow operators to improve their efficiency and reduce environmental concerns. New ways to reduce methane, treat wastewater, and reduce gas flaring are being developed and electrification of drilling sites is being used in some areas where it is possible.
Gas operators, which have sometimes had a contentious relationship with local governments and residents, are also working to listen to community concerns and try to address them, the study found. They are also working to educate residents in an affected area about the technology.