Best Practices Overview
There are better, cleaner, more efficient ways to extract and produce oil and gas.
In some cases these "best" practices are developed and used by companies to save money.
In other cases alternative practices, or best management practices (BMPs), are required by regulatory requirement.
Voluntary best practices
Some oil and gas companies innovate and improve their systems to cut costs. By cutting air emissions, reducing water use, controlling erosion, and employing other practices that increase revenue, they also reduce impacts on communities and the environment.
Closed loop/pitless waste disposal
For example, technologies have been developed that allow oil and gas operators to forego digging earthen waste pits. Instead, they used “close loop” systems where wastes enter steel tanks. For more information on this process and the benefits and profits that it brings to the industry, see Alternatives to Pits.
Natural Gas STAR
Through Natural Gas STAR, a voluntary EPA program, participating companies implement approximately 150 cost-effective technologies and practices that reduce emissions of air pollution from oil and gas development. In the process, they reduced emissions by 114 billion cubic feet (bcf) in 2008.
By capturing and selling gas that would have otherwise leaked into the atmosphere, U.S. companies gained revenue of more than $802 million.
Required best practices
Oil and gas production regulations vary in stringency from state to state. If states with the most rigorous (in terms of protecting communities and the environment) rules – the “best practices” -- still have an active oil and gas industry, it demonstrates that companies can be better actors and still be competitive.
When these best practices are first codified industry will often challenge the new rules. They invariably argue that the cost of implementing the best practices will force them to go elsewhere.
Colorado’s Pit Rule
This happened in 2008 when the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission updated its rules.
One update required the disposal of pit liners in accordance with solid waste regulations -- using certified landfills or recycling them. Previously, operators were allowed to bury potentially toxic pit liners at the drilling site.
The Colorado Petroleum Association initially objected to the rule, but ultimately reconsidered. Meanwhile, one company, Williams, developed innovative ways to work with the rule – by “turning the waste into a resource.” Williams bales the liner and sells them to industries that recycle them into non-food-grade industrial products like bumpers or pallets; and by circumventing the need for drilling pit liners by switching to closed loop drilling systems.
For more information:
Earthworks has compiled information regarding various best, better or alternative practices that can be used to minimize impacts during oil and gas operations.
- Alternatives to pits
- Closed-loop drilling systems
- Directional drilling
- Flareless (green) completions
- Minimizing waste
- Surface disturbance
- Visual impacts
- Air pollution
Oil and Gas BMPs - general
- Intermountain Oil and Gas Best Management Practices (BMP) Project. The Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado has developed a “searchable BMP database” that has examples of voluntary and required best practices in the Intermountain West (Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah and New Mexico).
- The federal Bureau of Land Management has compiled BMPs for road construction, visul resource management, wildlife, air resources, and general oil and gas operations.
- The Western Governor's Association has developed a handbook of Best Management Practices for Coalbed Methane Development.
Surface Owner and Wildlife Protections
- Doing it Right: Best Oil and Gas Development Practices for New Mexico. This EARTHWORKS fact sheet includes a framework for protecting surface owner rights, soil air and water, and wildlife habitat; and responsible energy development in New Mexico.
- Drill-Right Texas. This EARTHWORKS publication provides a reasonable and planned approach to reduce the long-term impacts of oil and gas development in Texas.
- Doing it Right - Protecting our water, farms and ranches, and communities from irresponsible coal bed methane development. This guide, written by Northern Plains Resource Council, outlines a strategy for ensuring that coal bed methane is developed responsibly in Montana.
- ALL Consulting. 2002. Handbook on Best Management Practices and Mitigation Strategies for Coal Bed Methane in the Montana Portion of the Powder River Basin.
- Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's Outstanding Oil and Gas Operation Awards may give landowners a sense of what some companies have done to set them apart from the rest of the industry.
- Petroleum Technology Transfer Center (PTTC) - Environmental and Water Case Studies.