Arrows Newsletter: Spring 2011
“Going green” is not just a fashion statement at Apache, it is part of our day-to-day business. The company continually strives to reduce its environmental footprint as it undertakes oil and gas exploration and development across the globe.
“We are part of the communities where we operate, and we must do everything we can to work in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,” said Tim Wall, president of Apache Canada.
Those environmental efforts may never have been more evident as the company develops new and improved methods for hydraulic fracturing, the process of extracting natural gas from deep shale formations.
To that end, Apache has moved forward with several innovations as it develops the shale formations in the Horn River basin in British Columbia. Key components in those efforts include the use of multiwell drilling pads and the construction of the Debolt Water Treatment Plant.
“By using this multiwell drilling method, we have substantially shrunk our environmental footprint,” Wall said. “It has far less impact on the wilderness area, which is so important to protect.”
The multiwell drilling method allows Apache to drill up to 16 horizontal wells from a single pad, vastly minimizing the surface impact to the surrounding environment. As many as 2,000 acres of shale reservoir can be tapped from a single, slightly larger drill pad, Wall explained.
Another Apache application in preserving the pristine wilds of the Horn River basin is the construction of the Debolt Water Treatment Plant. The Debolt Plant starts with the extraction of saltwater from up to 800 meters underground – well below any drinking water aquifers – for use in the fracture stimulations of the shale formations. It then recovers and reuses the stimulation fluids to create a sustainable cycle of water consumption.
“We’re minimizing our impact on fresh water,” Wall said. “The water treatment plant is an innovative idea that more folks in the industry could be picking up on.”
An alternative disposal method frequently used elsewhere involves injecting the water and sand fluids into porous reservoirs deep underground, far below fresh water supplies and separated by approximately one mile of impermeable rock.
Apache also is forging new environmental trails in Argentina. It is one of the first companies to drill a horizontal, multifractured well to test the resource potential of shale gas at the Neuquen basin. Results are expected later in 2011.
Despite different regulations in the rural plains of Argentina, Apache is adhering to the more strict internal environmental standards established at the company’s Horn River basin operations, said Jon Graham, vice president and country manager for Apache Energia Argentina.
“We are using Apache’s worldwide experience, the latest technology and greener fluids to minimize our environmental footprint,” Graham said.
In the United States, Apache has taken a prominent role encouraging the development of a chemical registry for hydraulic fracturing that is available online at www.fracfocus.org.
This web-based system publishes detailed information concerning chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and their application on a well-by-well basis. The project to protect groundwater was initiated jointly by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and the Ground Water Protection Council.
The fluids used to extract natural gas from typical shale formations are usually comprised of 99 percent water and sand, with less than one percent chemical additives. In Horn River, Apache found ways to reduce this additive level even further, using only about 0.3 percent additives with the main friction-reducer ingredient being a polymer commonly used in diapers.
“Transparency and full disclosure are very important in this process,” said Cal Cooper, manager of worldwide greenhouse gas programs. “Apache has committed to placing all of its U.S. hydraulic fracturing jobs in the registry and fully disclosing as much as we can the chemicals we use.”
Cooper noted that some chemical additives are considered by some vendors as confidential business information, or trade secrets, and are protected by law from disclosure.
The registry website also features a mapping function where the public can identify by specific location where fracturing jobs are taking place, he said.
Cooper said Apache is encouraging vendors and trade groups to participate in the voluntary registry.
“We believe transparency is critical not only for public support and preserving our right to operate, it will drive the industry to discover and employ more innovative and environmentally responsible solutions,” he said.
A long-term objective of the industry is to develop “greener,” non-hazardous additives in the fracturing process, said Kent Newsham, director of petrophysics.
“Developing cleaner but effective frac fluids is an important part of moving forward,” he said. “The balancing act we have to achieve is developing greener fluids that are cost-efficient, effective and meet or exceed environmental regulations.”
Much of the environmental debate over hydraulic fracturing is dominated by misinformation and half-truths in the mainstream media, Cooper said.
For instance, many people don’t realize state regulations require oil and gas wells to be constructed with multiple layers of protective steel casing and cement designed to isolate the wellbore in order to protect groundwater and freshwater aquifers. Specific tests such as well-pressure tests are required to prove the well system is appropriate for any hydraulic fracturing operation.
A big part of managing the debate involves fostering a constructive dialogue and presenting the facts through education, said George King, global technology consultant.
In April, Apache sponsored a one-day seminar in New York and invited environmentally minded investors, institutional investors, investment fund advisers, and others to hear the facts about hydraulic fracturing and well construction.
“What we are trying to do is educate people so they can understand the basics behind the frac process,” King said. “From day one, we have tried to work with concerned citizens and environmental groups, listen to their concerns and address them.”
Hydraulic fracturing is one of the most enabling and value-creating technologies in the energy business.
“Getting fracking right is essential and Apache is determined to explore what’s possible,” Cooper said.
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