Alliance Aims to Open Fragile Areas to Oil and Gas Drilling

THE WOODLANDS, Texas, February 16, 2009 (ENS) – Low-impact oil and gas drilling is the goal of a new collaborative research program announced today by the Houston Advanced Research Center and the Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M University.

The research targets advanced technologies that can be used to open up environmentally sensitive areas currently off limits to drilling and production.

New systems will be designed to be compatible with environmentally sensitive or off-limits areas such as federal lands in the Western United States, the wetlands of the Gulf Coast, and the Alaskan North Slope.

“We will consider all aspects of energy resource recovery, not only traditional oil and natural gas production methods but also unconventional production, such as natural gas from shale or coal-bed methane,” said Dr. Rich Haut, senior research scientist at the Houston Advanced Research Center and manager of the University/National Laboratories Alliance, established as part of the HARC Environmentally Friendly Drilling Program.

“New technology and monitoring programs can show us how we can better manage precious natural resources while reducing our impact on the environment,” he said.

Haut says low impact drilling technologies might include small footprint drilling rigs, clustered wells with extended reach drilling, roll-out mats instead of permanent roads, and reduced emissions from operations.

Research on ways to develop new oil and gas production in sensitive and fragile areas has been taking place for years. The Environmentally Friendly Drilling program, created in 2005, is supported by the National Energy Technology Laboratory and the energy industry.

An inland platform that may be used to mitigate environmental risks associated with petroleum development in sensitive Arctic areas (Photo courtesy HARC)

The EFD partnership consists of universities, energy producers and service companies, environmental organizations, government agencies and the Argonne and Los Alamos national laboratories.

Environmental organizations involved in the partnership include – The Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense, the Clinton Climate Initiative, Conservation International, the Fort Worth Nature Center, the Rocky Mountain Clean Air, and the World Ocean Council.

David Burnett is manager of the Texas A&M Environmentally Friendly Drilling program and director of technology at the Global Petroleum Research Institute within the Texas A&M Engineering Department.

Burnett said the program is developing new low-impact technologies that can reduce the footprint of drilling activities. “For example,” he said, “we are currently examining the use of light-weight drilling rigs with reduced emission engine packages and efficient on-site waste management systems.”

In his view, the Alliance is “a great example of how federal funding of research and development can make important contributions to both energy security and environmental preservation.”

The impact of access roads and drilling pads has been identified by the Environmentally Friendly Drilling Program as one of the major problems to be managed when conducting oil and gas operations in environmentally sensitive areas.

Creative minds are already at work proposing ways to reduce the environmental impact of roadbuilding – energized by the incentive of competing for a cash prize.

The Disappearing Roads competition, sponsored by Halliburton Energy Services, awarded the University of Wyoming team $20,000 last year for a layered mat, roll-out road system and a modular frame design.

The concepts came from the need to minimize soil disruption and wildlife fragmentation from drilling in the upper Green River Valley, Wyoming. Developed in cooperation with advisers from Bureau of Land Management and upstream gas production companies, the U. of Wyoming submission provided testing procedures and engineering evaluations.

The Texas A&M team won $10,000 for its second place plan to transport equipment and materials to drill sites in environmentally protected areas, with a skylift system, similar to aerial tramways used in mining operations, installed via helicopter or airship. Pairing the skylift system with pipelines to transport drilling and production fluids outside the area would minimize the environmental impact, when compared to using a traditional road, the judges agreed.

Dr. Haut at HARC says the goal of the new collaboration is to investigate other cost-effective technologies that may be developed, tested and implemented “to ensure that we can effectively harvest our energy resources in an environmentally sensitive manner, in particular, at sites that are currently restricted or off-limits.”

Click here [] for a current list of participants in the Environmentally Friendly Drilling program.

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