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In the context of E&P, environment is a subsection of HSE that focuses on the effects E&P has on the external environment. Typically,the discipline deals with those effects that occur outside the E&P footprint. Included are the effects of air emissions, waste water discharges, and disposal of waste.

Air emissions

Recently, global climate change and air quality have become increasingly important environmental concerns.[1] Consequently, there has been a rise in collaborative international efforts to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), occuring naturally and as the result of human activity. Criteria pollutants include emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and total unburned hydrocarbons. International and national governments are implementing more regulations on air emissions. Drilling contractors can play an important role in environmental stewardship by reporting carbon emissions from drilling operations, eliminating redundant emission measurements, and leading the industry in efforts to reduce these emissions.

Carbon emissions

Carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels has been on the incline since the industrial era; and with more than 85% of the world’s energy coming from fossil fuels, it will remain an important energy source well into the future. As the demand for fossil fuels is growing, so is the volume of CO2 emitted each year. This has led to concerns over the impact of CO2 emissions on global climate change. Sequestration is one option that is gaining interest to stabilize and reduce the concentration of CO2.

Water use, produced water discharge and disposal

Water use and conservation

As water conservation becomes a more popular issue--in the oilfield and in other industries--many governments are creating new regulations to control the treatment, disposal, and storage of produced water.[2] As is often the case with new regulations, the unintended consequences of the regulations can be beneficial, but sometimes worse than the original problem they were designed to alleviate. The importance of investigating the effects of regulatory implementation cannot be overstated.

Waste management

Oil and gas companies are being increasingly confronted with problems related to drilled waste disposal. [3] To comply with regulations and be environmentally responsible, oil and gas companies need to set up comprehensive environmental management systems. This approach should include a management plan establishing appropriate procedures, environmental awareness, training of personnel, and a whole set of technical measures, such as:

  • Installation of the site: All equipment must be designed so that any effluent is caught and kept from discharging directly into the environment.
  • Protection of surface and groundwater: Protection through an accurate knowledge of local geology and hydro-geology should be validated by survey undertaken during the environmental baseline study.
  • Choice of drilling fluids: Recommendations about the use of water-based mud or low-toxicity-oil-based mud.
  • Chemical management: An effective management system of authorized chemicals is set up with a storage system, safety data files, and a good stock management system.
  • Reduction of waste volumes at the source: Water consumption, optimized mud recycling, reduction of cutting volumes.
  • Treatment of drill cuttings: Set up of a cuttings management plan, inerting (stabilization, solidification, encapsulation), incineration, controlled landfill, thermal desorption, cuttings re-injection, biological treatment.

As a general trend in the industry and particularly in oil and gas activities, the problem of waste disposal is becoming a key element of a good environmental management system.

Four principle factors contribute to this:

  • Regulatory constraints are becoming stricter--on an international and regional level,--and all countries have now environmental regulations, that are revised regularly.
  • One basic principle that has common practice is the accountability of the producer of waste from the time it is produced through their elimination or recovery.
  • Growing pressure from the media on the theme that is ultra-sensitive and where the explicit but restrictive concept of "zero discharge" is evident.
  • Greater scientific knowledge, making it possible to really grasp the true environmental impact, especially trough increasingly effective analytical techniques, with a finely tuned ecotoxicological approach.

Naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM)

The concern over possible health and environmental risks regarding Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) or Low Specific Activity Scale (LSA) in upstream operations arose during the 1970s and 1980s, and it continues today.[4] Early research on NORM, such as work by Gesell and E + P Forum, provided good background information and general guidelines, but did not lay out specific procedures and decision-logic steps for the variety of situations that occur in upstream and downstream settings. This was affected by the newness of the concerns as well as the complexity of trying to define two radioactive decay series along with the physical and chemical events that affect them over time in a variety of industrial environments.

Remediation and land reclamation

After an area of land is used for petroleum production, that land must be returned to a condition as close to its original state as possible. That can prove difficult because incidents like saline or oil spills can cause soil contamination that takes time and effort to repair.

The incorrect remediation of oil and gas field wastes can, at the very least, cause tension between the land owner and the production operator.[5] Unsatisfactory remediation could also lead to legal conflicts, wasting natural and capital resources. Fortunately, agricultural techniques are available by which most hydrocarbon releases and adverse environmental impacts can be corrected. Traditional hydrocarbon [TPH] remediation methods include biotreating, composting, dilution, dilution burial, road spreading, reuseable resource technology, and ultra-violet ray treatment.


2004-2005: Eliminating Environmental Risks in Well Construction and Workovers (SPE) 


  1. Cadigan, M.F., Peyton, K. 2005. Baselining and Reducing Air Emissions from an Offshore Drilling Contractor's Perspective. Presented at the SPE/EPA/DOE Exploration and Production Environmental Conference, Galveston, Texas, USA, 7-9 March. SPE-94432-MS.
  2. Leatherby, L., Wagner, N.M., Grabski, L., et al. 2014. Water: Regulatory and Community Impacts. Presented at the SPE Middle East Health, Safety, Environment & Sustainable Development Conference and Exhibition, Doha, Qatar, 22-24 September. SPE-170398-MS.
  3. Morillon, A., Vidalie, J.F., Hamzah, U.S. Drilling and Waste Management. 2002. Presented at the SPE International Conference on Health, Safety and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, Kuala Lumpur. 20-22 March. SPE-73931-MS.
  4. Thayer, E.C., Racioppi, L.M. 1991. Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials: The Next Step. Presented at the SPE Health, Safety and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Conference, The Hague, Netherlands, 11-14 November. SPE-23500-MS.
  5. Deuel, L.E.E., Holliday, G.H. 2003. Hydrocarbon Impacted Soil and Waste Remediation. Presented at the SPE/EPA/DOE Exploration and Production Environmental Conference, San Antonio, Texas, USA, 10-12 March. SPE-80596-MS.

Noteworthy papers in OnePetro

Bybee, K. 2002. Drilling Waste Management. J Pet Tech 54 (11): 50—52. SPE-1102-0050-JPT.

Caudle, D.D., Bansal, K.M. 1993. Environmental Considerations in Production Chemical Usage. Presented at the SPE/EPA Exploration and Production Environmental Conference, 7-10 March, San Antonio, Texas, USA. SPE-26010-MS.

Deuel, L.E., Holliday, G.H. 2003. Remediation of Salt-Impacted Soil and Waste. Presented at the SPE Production and Operations Symposium, Oklahoma City, 23-26 March. SPE-80947-MS.

Fedorov, A., Carrasquilla, J., Cox, A. 2014. Avoiding Damage Associated to Produced Water Use in Hydraulic Fracturing. Presented at the SPE International Symposium and Exhibition on Formation Damage Control, Lafayette, Louisiana, USA, 26-28 February. SPE-168193-MS.

Ferri, R.P., Uthe, M.T. 2001. Hydrocarbon Remediation Using Microwaves. Presented at the SPE/EPA/DOE Exploration and Production Environmental Conference, 26-28 February, San Antonio, Texas, USA. SPE-66519-MS.

Frederick, J.D. 1993. Air Emissions Trading. Presented at the SPE/EPA Exploration and Production Environmental Conference, 7-10 March, San Antonio, Texas, USA. SPE-25947-MS.

Garland, E., Kerr, J.M., Mundy, K., et al. 2008. OGP Exploration & Production Waste Management Guidelines. Presented at the SPE International Conference on Health, Safety, and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, 15-17 April, Nice, France SPE-112861-MS.

Gogan, R., Vencenzo, M., Ayapbergenov, Y. 2010. Waste Management for Drillers. Presented at the SPE Caspian Carbonates Technology Conference, Atyrau, Kazakhstan, 8-10 November. SPE-139627-MS.

Husdal, G. 1994. Air Emissions From Offshore Oil and Gas Production. Presented at the SPE Health, Safety and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Conference, Jakarta, 25-27 January.SPE-27127-MS.

Husain, T., Veitch, B.J., Hawboldt, K., et al. 2008. Produced Water Discharge Monitoring. OTC-19271-MS. Presented at the Offshore Technology Conference, Houston, 5-8 May.

Lunn, S.R.D. 2012. Water Use in Canada. Presented at the International Conference on Health, Safety and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, Perth, Australia, 11-13. SPE-156676-MS.

Mian, M.A., Al-Qubaisi, N. 2012. Air Emission Reduction and Zero Flaring and Venting. Presented at the SPE Middle East Health, Safety, Security, and Environment Conference and Exhibition, Abu Dhabi, 2-4 April. SPE-152709-MS.

Palidwar, T., Tucker, R., Noble, V. 2010. Multi-Interval, Horizontal-Completion Strategies Minimize Water Usage and Deliver Increased Production. Presented at the Canadian Unconventional Resources and International Petroleum Conference, Calgary, 19-21 October. SPE-137442-MS.

Polich, J. 2003. Cost Control in Site Remediation. Presented at the ASSE Professional Development Conference and Exposition, Denver, Colorado, USA, 22-25 June. ASSE.  

Rodeman, L., Stamp, N. 2014. Failsafe Polisher for Produced Water Discharge. Presented at the SPE Bergen One Day Seminar, Bergen, Norway, 2 April. SPE-169185-MS.

Shackelford, C.D., Jefferis, S.A. 2000. Geoenvironmental Engineering For In Situ Remediation. Presented at the ISRM International Symposium, 19-24 November, Melbourne, Australia. ISRM-IS-2000-003. -03-613.

 Wallace, S.D., Schmidt, M., Larson, E. 2011. Long Term Hydrocarbon Remediation Using Treatment Wetlands. Presented at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Denver, 30 October—2 November. SPE-145797-MS.

External links

Environment Committee. International Association of Oil & Gas Producers.

Norwegian Oil and Gas Association.

United States Environmental Protection Agency.

See also

Biological monitoring

Drilling fluid environmental considerations

Drilling waste management

Glossary:Ground water

Glossary:Water disposal well

Recycling hydraulic fracturing wastewater

Water for hydraulic fracturing