The oil and gas industry plays a critical role in the ongoing production of fuel and petroleum-based products, such as plastics and medicines. However, the exploration, drilling and transportation of the natural resource crude oil can negatively affect the environment in a variety of ways, specifically from oil spills and hydraulic fracturing.
The industry is making significant advancements in technology and process to reduce the harmful effects and risks their activities may have on the planet. Additionally, the oil and gas industry is developing and engaging in special programs to participate in global environmental cleanup efforts.
Environmentally Friendly Technologies for Exploration, Drilling
Several very effective technologies have been created or augmented to reduce the impact that oil and gas exploration, drilling and shipping has on our planet. These machines and systems also make processes more efficient, to minimize energy consumption and the affect the industry’s activities have on local water and soil as well as the global biosphere.
Technologies that have improved crude oil exploration are particularly beneficial to the effort to decrease environmental harm. Some of these include the Global Positioning System (GPS) and satellites, seismic technology that records in 3- and 4-D, and remote sensory devices. Before these systems and tools were created, crude oil exploration endeavors took a more ‘rough’ approach because they were unable to efficiently identify the locations of more rich oil reserves. GPS and satellites enable companies to precisely locate surface and subterranean formations that could support oil, thus eliminating the need for trial-and-error and increasing the probability of discovery.
4-D seismic monitoring, which is commonly known as 4D seismic, time-lapse seismic reservoir monitoring, increases the capability of identifying and imaging the movement of fluid between crude oil wells. Remote sensory devices have also made an important impact on our ability to detect oil spills and natural seeps, in addition to facilitating oil well discovery.
According to a report from The Heritage Foundation, “offshore oil production has lowered the amount of oil released into the ocean by reducing natural seepage of oil, especially in areas with active offshore oil seeps, such as California’s Santa Barbara coast.”
Drilling practices have also benefited from these technologies; when crude oil is discovered, its established location is more accurate to minimize the size of the drilling site. Additionally, the development of techniques such as directional or horizontal drilling requires fewer wells to extract the oil, allowing for minimal impact on the site while still accessing a large production area.
With the new and developing technologies for more environmentally conscious exploration, retrieval and transportation, oil and gas companies can also enjoy improved efficiency and reduced cost. More accurate discovery technologies and streamlined drilling techniques save these companies on the time, labor, and operations processes to recover this vital natural commodity.
Regulations and Standards to Improve Environmental Cleanup
The improvements from technology and refined processes has made a big difference in reducing the environmental impacts of oil and gas production. However, the industry has a long history that has left a terrible legacy of waste and contamination, which must be confronted in addition to ceasing the harmful actions.
Governments around the world continue to update their standards and put regulations in place to advance environmental protection efforts and address cleanup. In the U.S. for example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has several laws and regulations in place to address dealing with industrial waste and protecting air and water from contamination. These protective measures include:
Voluntary Environmental Cleanup Programs
Environmental cleanup efforts go beyond government laws and regulations to voluntary initiatives and special programs. These elective measures provide an important supplement to legal policies, making the overall environmental cleanup endeavor more successful. Some examples of voluntary environmental cleanup programs include:
Since they are often tailored to address specific problems or needs, voluntary programs often lead to greater or quicker success in achieving their cleanup or restoration objectives. One voluntary program for dealing with uneconomic oil and gas rigs is Rigs to Reefs. This innovative recycling program involves toppling abandoned rigs, so that they may become the skeleton for a new reef to house thousands of fish and other marine life. It only takes about a year for coral and barnacles to cover these old rigs, and eventually these artificial reefs can support approximately 14,000 fish and other sea creatures. Rigs to Reefs has already converted 470 old rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, as of summer 2015.
The oil and gas industry continues to relieve its environmental impacts through the application of new technologies, implementation of refined processes, adherence to governmental regulations, and participation in voluntary programs. There are also considerable efforts underway to clean up old, abandoned oil and gas wells, with efficient methods to prioritize the work in order to complete it more quickly.