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Increasing transparency about the responsible and safe development of hydraulic fracturing is an ongoing challenge for the industry.
As hydraulic fracturing continues to draw criticism from its uninformed naysayers and industry opponents, increasing transparency as well as rebuilding and reinforcing public confidence in oil and gas operations has become mission-critical to furthering the development of unconventional resources.
This is according to an environment and operating excellence panel that convened at the DUG Canada conference in Calgary, Alberta, June 20.
“Today the public questions the ability of the industry to responsibly develop its resources and to manage its impact on the environment and on communities,” moderator Kevin Heffernan, vice president, Canadian Society of Unconventional Resources, said in his introduction.
“I think environmental issues are the issues of our time,” Tamboran Resources CEO Richard Moorman underscored.
In terms of global transparency, Moorman pointed to the effects both good and bad that mass dissemination of industry news and myths concerning hydraulic fracturing, in particular, have had in a digital age. “Thanks to the internet and thanks to a very active information network [that is] sometimes fed by people who simply don’t want any hydrocarbon development, information is transferred that can really impact [resource] development and practices in many countries,” he said. “It’s a real shame because so many countries have much to benefit from cheaper energy sources.”
Transparency, according to Moorman, is integral to Tamboran’s corporate culture. Interestingly, the company takes its name from a type of ancestral worship house in Papua New Guinea that also serves as a meeting and spirit house for the local community. “We chose the name to reflect Tamboran’s open and transparent approach to stakeholder relations,” the company website explains, adding that Tamboran “will always make the effort to include all stakeholders, including community residents, elected and appointed officials, investors, as well as teammates and their families in its project plans.”
As a new entrant in a shale play, Moorman said most important is the question of how a company will “get its message across” to the community in terms of its best practices in unconventional resource development. “It’s our responsibility to have an environmental footprint” and for the industry to stray away from the attitude that it “can do whatever it wants in the community because that is doing good in the community,” he said.
“For example, if you’re the small-town farmer whose family has lived on the same land for 50 or 100 years in Western Canada and somebody just parked a noisy compressor station on the edge of your property that’s going to be there for 30 years, 24/7, there’s no such thing as [that] ‘doing good’ in the community,” he explained. “So I think we have a huge responsibility to minimize our footprint, and by footprint I mean absolutely anything that has physical and social impacts that change the situation and the way of life in the community.”
According to Moorman, in many international areas the industry needs an environmental impact assessment, which is one of the benefits of working in Europe – “it takes longer, but it forces us to truly try to understand what we will do to the community if everything we plans happens,” he said.
Dave Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, outlined the public concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing with the idea that producers must earn and maintain “social license” within the community. In terms of people, the health effects of hydraulic fracturing chemicals have been called into question, he noted. And in terms of the environment, the surface footprint; induced seismicity; wildlife disruption; air quality during the extraction, processing, delivery, and end-use of hydrocarbon resources; and the potential for groundwater contamination through the migration of fracturing fluids all must be considered when creating and communicating industry best practices.
CAPP’s mission is to enhance the economic sustainability of the Canadian upstream petroleum industry in a safe and environmentally and socially responsible manner, through constructive engagement and communication with governments, the public, and stakeholders in the communicates in which it operates. According to Collyer’s presentation, the association’s guiding principles for hydraulic fracturing are as follows:
• We will safeguard the quality and quantity of regional surface and groundwater resources, through sound wellbore construction practices, sourcing freshwater alternatives where appropriate, and recycling water for reuse as much as practical;
• We will measure and disclose our water use with the goal of continuing to reduce our effect on the environment;
• We will support the development of fracturing fluid additives with the least environmental risks;
• We will support the disclosure of fracturing fluid additives; and
• We will continue to advance, collaborate on and communicate technologies and best practices that reduce the potential environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing.
“We do firmly believe shale gas is a game-changer,” Collyer said, “and it’s a great technology success story that has created a dynamic around social license that is very different. So if we look at what the industry needs to do to continue to be successful, we have to maintain an enhanced support from the public and stakeholders to allow us to do what we do (and to continue to do it well), and that’s fundamentally about social license.”
For sustainable water use, the industry is making efforts to reuse flowback and produced water via closed-loop systems, as well as using new technologies to treat flowback and produced water to minimize the environmental impact that might occur in unconventional resource development, according to the panel.
As part of its efforts to reduce its environmental footprint, Tamboran acknowledges the need to fracture without chemicals, Moorman said. Effective September 2011, the Tamboran board signed a declaration committing the company to hydraulically fracture without any chemicals in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Additionally, the company is taking better care to manage its water at the well site more efficiently by using rainwater and groundwater rather than taking from public sources. Tamboran also has deployed a chemical-free, closed-loop water cleaning system with 100% recycling.
This approach, according to Moorman’s presentation, will eliminate 90% of truck traffic per well in comparison to typical projects, and at peak, the project would use as much as 0.31 million gal/d of water based on 1 million gal/well, of which 25% is reused (this peak usage is equivalent to 0.11% of Ireland’s consumption and about 0.002% of Ireland’s rainfall).
Understanding resource availability is crucial to creating better practices that can be conveyed to local stakeholders and communities, Sheldon Harbinson, vice president, Tervita, reiterated. Leading practices in mitigating such risks, he said, include a baseline aquifer data assessment that allows for accurate monitoring and real-time adjustment in operations, a comprehensive environment and geology assessment to facilitate effective “frac planning,” pad development for drilling to minimize surface impact, improved fracture and produced water storage and treatment to minimize contamination risk, and improved isolation through cement additives.
This issue of aging infrastructure and poorly constructed existing wells also is a significant factor producers face when assessing the safety and reliability of their oil and gas operations, which could in turn affect public trust and confidence in unconventional resource development and hydraulic fracturing if infrastructure and well integrity is compromised, according to the panel.
The bottom line is that transparency provides a corporate competitive advantage, Moorman said. “Those operators that can’t show the community that they’re going to operate safely, quietly, and with minimal impact in their communities probably will find a lot of doors closed to them, and those individuals will find it difficult to make progress in the world,” he concluded.
Contact the author, Nancy Agin, at email@example.com.