Impacts of Onshore Oil and Gas Development: Managing Societal and Environmental Risks

By Frank Verrastro, Sarah Ladislaw, Adam Sieminski, and Andrew Stanley

Over the past decade, tight oil and shale gas output in the United States has rapidly risen from next to nothing to account for the majority of U.S. oil and natural gas production. A critical component for prudently developing these onshore resources relates to addressing concerns regarding societal and environmental risks. Three such fundamental concerns include efforts to:

• Protect and manage water resources

• Reduce methane emissions

• Monitor and manage induced seismic events

In the past 5 years, the process of producing shale gas and tight oil resources has changed in several important ways driven by the desire to reduce cost, improve well productivity and recovery, and manage the environmental and social impacts of production. Key takeaways include:

Water

• Water resource availability and conditions vary widely and regionally. States and local communities have made advancements in regulation to protect local water resources — although the regulatory environment is still not uniform, as is the data collection with respect to spills.

• Companies have made advancements in the chemistry and processes around reuse of produced water in drilling operations to reduce overall water consumption, but economic and logistical challenges still exist.

Methane

  • Certain states and companies have taken leadership roles in measuring and managing methane emissions, but for a variety of reasons not all companies and states prioritize methane capture to the same extent.
  • More data is needed to understand the stochastic nature of methane releases and determine how best to ensure that emissions capture from oil and gas operations is improved.

Seismicity

• Seismic risk is a function of both geologic conditions and operational practices. In these states that have prioritized reducing induced seismic events, diagnostic tools and regulatory and other best practices have combined to reduce the incidence of induced seismic events from water disposal and hydraulic fracturing.

• Not all states and companies take the same approach to managing induced seismicity issues and problems tend to arise when heightened activity takes place near fault zones.

Societal

BEHROUZ MEHRI / Staff

• Companies and local communities are still grappling with how to achieve optimal resource development while minimizing adverse effects on local communities.

• Service companies, by virtue of the cross-cutting role they play, can often facilitate technology transfer and improve operational practices across basins, but achieving a basin or communitywide solution is often complicated.

• Despite operational and technological progress, failure to manage these issues effectively will continue to create public concern for onshore oil and gas development.

The risks associated with properly managing water resources, fugitive methane emissions, and induced seismicity in the development of onshore resources are at the forefront of concerns with onshore oil and gas development in the United States. With the onset of the shale revolution over a decade ago, addressing the risks associated with each of these areas has markedly improved from when the boom began, thanks to state and federal regulations, as well as the initiative of certain operators within the industry. While progress has been made, in certain areas of the country issues persist while other associated risks within these areas have arisen as production continues to increase. Continuous improvement in efforts of data collection and the monitoring of this data, as well as continued research efforts, are critical components in ensuring that issues are effectively identified in order to ensure the prudent development of these onshore resources.

To learn more about the impacts of onshore oil and gas development, read the report here.

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