We Couldn’t Beat ‘em . . . . So We Joined ‘em
When analyzing the environmental philosophical spectrum of twenty years ago, it was fair to generally refer to the “oil and gas industry” as being on one end and the “environmentalist community” on the other. The time has come for this industry to start representing itself as “environmentalists”. Conducting oil and gas operations in an environmentally prudent manner just makes sense. The definition of an “environmentalist” by Webster is “a person working to solve environmental problems, such as air and water pollution, the exhaustion of natural resources… etc.” With the evolving enforcement of environmental regulations including the National Environmental Protection Act, Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act to name a few, this industry has become what it once opposed. We are active environmentalists and we spend extensive time, capital and human resources in this effort. For instance a recent Environmental Impact Statement pending approval in Wyoming includes significant industry approved mitigation and monitoring measures that will minimize the environmental impacts brought about by development activities. A few examples are a Wildlife Protection Plan, a Transportation Plan, and a Reclamation Plan that will become part of operating procedures.
The Wildlife Protection Plan requires annual wildlife inventory, monitoring and protection measures. Inventory procedures include operator funding for aircraft rental, surveyor fees and biologist fees. The lease stipulations protect wildlife and prevent operators from conducting operations during nesting (e.g. sage grouse, falcons, hawks, eagles and mountain plover) or winter grazing seasons (e.g. antelope, deer, elk etc.) that many times last from November 15 through July 31st each year. The black-footed ferret (habitat is associated with prairie dog towns) is an example of another species that we routinely change our operations in order to protect.
Transportation Plans minimize surface disturbance because operators, counties and other users confer with each other prior to construction in order to design the correct road type and location to serve as many locations and purposes as possible, thereby eliminating unnecessary construction and minimizing surface disturbance.
Reclamation Plans are designed to restore the surface to a condition that is essentially better than it was prior to operations being conducted. Topsoil is stored for reclamation purposes. Two-thirds of the original well pad is reclaimed while a typical well is in its early stages of production leaving one-third of the original disturbance. Reseeding mixtures many times introduce species that are more successfully used than native species for revegetation purposes.
Industry has funded extensive air quality studies (i.e. Southwest Wyoming Technical Air Forum, Jonah II EIS and the Continental Divide/ Wamsutter II EIS) and implemented measures to minimize harmful emissions (e.g. utilization of more efficient compressors and the installation of vapor recovery systems).
The oil and gas industry has truly modified its behavior to that of an environmentalist. Our opposition can no longer be environmentalists since we have become environmentalists.
The other end of the environmental spectrum from this industry is no longer the environmental community at large but rather a few extremists that do not wish to compromise and would prefer no multiple use take place on our nation’s public domain. The goal of these extremists is to obstruct. Extremists are easier to overcome because their position by definition deviates to the greatest degree from the center of opinion. As industry deals with each legitimate environmental issue in a prudent and fair manner, there are fewer remaining. The extremist is left resorting to crying wolf and using scare tactics about possible environmental impacts. When industry takes the time to determine the facts and remove the unknowns, these “possible” environmental impacts are usually readily resolved or eliminated. If the oil and gas industry continues its approach whereby it is willing to implement reasonable environmental mitigation measures, we will continue to survive and prosper as the environmentalists we have become.
Tim Morris, CPL
Santa Fe Snyder Oil Corporation