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Vote for Good Stewardship - Vote4Energy

Kate Wallace

Kate Wallace
Posted November 10, 2016

Chesapeake Energy has developed a strong water stewardship program, its Aqua Renew® initiative. Through this initiative, Chesapeake Energy is treating its produced water on-site or transporting it to a central location for treatment and testing. As a result, the company reuses 128 million gallons of water annually in its Marcellus North District. Once treated, the water can be used again in various parts of the energy production process.

Along with Chesapeake’s Aqua Renew program, Marathon, Shell, Newfield, Southwestern, Apache and numerous other companies have showcased creative company efforts, both onshore and offshore, to reuse precious natural resources. 

Good stewardship does not end with ensuring our nation has a plentiful and affordable oil and natural gas supply. Many companies are also prioritizing efforts to reduce waste by constantly developing and applying innovative and productive ways to use and reuse the various byproducts of energy development. These efforts, which have grown in the last few decades, have been successful both for companies that innovate and for the communities where they operate.

Whether it is reusing drilling fluid and water or turning retired offshore oil rigs into artificial reefs, the oil and natural gas industry has a keen focus on reducing and reusing waste. These efforts have resulted in a new pipeline of operational materials (such as re-purposed water and construction aggregates), less waste going to landfills and improved environmental standards.

beneficial reuse

Transforming Drilling Waste – from the Fluid to the Concrete

The drilling process is much more than simply boring a hole into the ground. It is a carefully engineered and managed event. And for success, the drill, like the engine in your car, needs proper lubrication to efficiently and effectively reach the oil and gas that we depend on for our energy needs. The lubrication, or drilling fluid, cools the drill head and brings drill cuttings (the stone and other materials the drill is cutting through) back up to the surface.

Once the drilling is finished, the resulting fluids, solids and muds need to be properly managed, which industry typically accomplishes in a variety of ways. These options can include (but are not limited to) land application, burial (use of reserve pits and municipal landfills), treatment (inerting, thermal and biological), recycle, reuse, reclamation or reinjection into onsite or commercial injection wells. These onshore methods are managed by state regulatory authorities and the reinjection of fluids into deep injection wells is permitted under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

To ensure byproducts are handled effectively, industry proactively developed systems and procedures that range from reclaiming the water from drilling mud to using the solid matter for land farming and lining landfills, in accordance with appropriate permitting regulations. Additionally, drill cuttings are being reused for road bases, in asphalt and as a concrete aggregate. The U.S. Department of Energy has even tested the use of drill cuttings in restoring coastal wetlands.

Marathon Oil Company has been repurposing drilling mud for well over a decade. Working with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Marathon successfully implemented its Exploration and Production Drilling Waste Beneficial Reuse Management Plan at its Cook Inlet operation in 2001. The plan provides guidance for two byproducts of drilling mud – the cutting fines (which are ground and injected into a disposal well) and the oversize cuttings (which become clean sand and gravel that can be used for the maintenance and/or construction of roads and berms). The plan ensures that the drill cuttings do not pose a threat to the environment and that Marathon is able to reduce the disposal volume of cuttings and associated costs.

Shell also reuses drilling mud. After establishing a Rig Waste Reduction Pilot Project in 2001, Shell discovered its largest waste component was drilling discharges and non-hazardous oilfield waste. The company implemented a reuse and reduction strategy, which saw mud use decrease by 20 percent and mud component packaging decrease by 90 percent. Shell achieved this by implementing efficiency measures, new technology and a sorting, compaction and recycling process for solid waste (consumables and trash) as part of an effort to reduce landfill disposal.

Giving Wastewater a Second Life

Water is a key component in modern natural gas production. Although it is sometimes necessary or advantageous to dispose of the produced water resulting from energy production, companies are continuing to find new uses for produced water while also helping to conserve potable water. (Learn more about companies’ other water management and conservation efforts.)

Newfield Exploration started its state-of-the-art Sand Wash water treatment facility in Utah in 2011. The facility uses two processes to repurpose produced water. Its conventional treatment can process up to 10,000 barrels of produced water per day. Meanwhile, its more comprehensive “environmentally clean systems” treatment can process up to 18,000 barrels a day of water that requires additional treatment. The water from both can be safely reinjected.  The Sand Wash facility is not the only water treatment facility that Newfield operates. It currently has more than half a dozen facilities that allow the company to treat and reuse produced water.

Southwestern Energy has achieved near-zero disposal of wastewater, meaning that its recycling and reuse program is able to fully treat nearly 100 percent of produced water from its operations. This eliminates the need to haul wastewater long distances to disposal wells and allows for returning freshwater to the environment. In fact, in 2014 Southwestern recycled 99 percent of flowback and produced water in the Fayetteville Shale and the Marcellus Shale regions. This made up 40 percent of the water used for hydraulic fracturing in these regions, an increase from 28 percent in 2013.

byproduct management

Transforming Offshore Rigs into Aquatic Ecosystems

Another way the industry is making productive use of the byproducts of energy production is by turning decommissioned offshore oil rigs into artificial reefs. Known as Rigs-to-Reefs, the creation of artificial reefs out of former production platforms has helped create thriving ecosystems for fish and other aquatic life.

For instance, when Apache Corporation’s Ship Shoal 26 reached the end of its life, the company understood the benefit it could have for local sport fishers. So Apache joined with the Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana, the state of Louisiana and Fieldwood Energy – which acquired Ship Shoal 26 in 2013 – to create a new use for it. After removing Ship Shoal 26’s pilings, they used 15,000 tons of concrete rip-rap to create three artificial reefs, resulting in a popular fishery for saltwater anglers. (Learn more about industry’s other reclamation efforts.)

Being good stewards of natural resources and reducing waste is an important part of energy development. And industry leaders, such as those highlighted here and others, are constantly developing innovative new ways to make use of the byproducts from their operations – from supporting the agricultural industry and underwater ecosystems, to restoring coastal wetlands, to providing material for road maintenance and construction. 


Kate Wallace is an associate of research and content development for the American Petroleum Institute. Before joining API she was a researcher and policy analyst at America’s Natural Gas Alliance, and worked on pollinator conservation programs and state wildlife conservation policies before entering the energy industry. Kate graduated from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor’s degree in Resource Economics, and earned her Master of Public Administration from George Mason University. She loves taking her dogs on hikes, travelling and navigating the northern Virginia/DC craft beer and wine scenes with her friends and family.