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Four local energy companies honored

Modified: Thursday, Jul 16th, 2009

Four local energy companies were honored by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last week for their efforts to reduce emissions and improve air quality in Sublette County.

At the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s annual meeting in Denver last week, EnCana Oil and Gas, Questar Market Resources, Shell Exploration and Production and Ultra Resources were all presented with the awards, entitled Responsible Stewardship of Air Resources.

Ozone issues have plagued the area in recent years — particularly in the winter and spring of 2008, when several ozone alerts were issued for Sublette County due to levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s accepted threshold.

Due to that fact, companies have been hard at work combating the contributing emissions that result from natural gas development throughout the county.

EnCana’s award was given in light of the company’s work to combat those emissions in the Jonah Field, located in the southern end of the county.

“We were recognized for a number of things,” said EnCana spokesman Randy Teeuwen. “And for EnCana, we’re always honored and proud to receive awards that acknowledge the work that we do to protect the environment.”

That work includes the company’s effort to consolidate its production facilities, the natural gas rigs it uses in the Jonah, flareless flowback on completions and its workforce facility, among others.

“In the old days, we pretty much had a production unit for every well, and that’s just the way it was done,” said Teeuwen. “But we’ve devised new methods of tying numerous wells together, in kind of a hub-and-spoke arrangement.

“So we have vastly reduced the number of opportunities for emissions to escape into the atmosphere.”

EnCana has also installed natural gas engines on all of the drilling rigs it uses, which “reduces our NOx (nitrogen oxide) by more than 80 percent,” he continued.

EnCana’s workforce facility, or “man camp” as it’s commonly known, has also taken “more than 200,000 miles off the roads in Sublette County per year,” said Teeuwen, citing the reduced distance of employees’ daily commutes.

The “Big Three” of the Pinedale Anticline Project Area (PAPA), consisting of Questar, Shell and Ultra, have also made similar efforts to reduce emissions, and their award also recognized the collaborative nature of that effort.

“I think we have some of the best practices in the nation,” said Belinda Salinas, Ultra’s manager of environmental, safety and regulatory affairs. “And it’s not just one company doing it alone.

“It’s the three companies working together, sharing ideas, discussing successes, learning from each one’s success and building on that.”

“There was a lot of sharing of best practices and things that didn’t work,” echoed Diana Hoff, Questar’s general manager of the Pinedale Division. “So we were able to go up the learning curve a little faster.”

Questar has played a pivotal role in one aspect of that collaboration in particular — the liquid gathering system (LGS) now required by the BLM’s Record of Decision (ROD) that was issued in September of 2008.

“The big milestone was the ROD,” said Salinas. “It gave us the goals, in that we knew where we needed to get, and it opened the door to start implementing the changes.”

As part of its effort to continue limited drilling in winter months, Questar installed its own LGS in 2005, which uses pipelines to carry the gas, water and condensate to larger production facilities, thereby reducing 62,000 truck trips since it was completed.

“When all three (companies) are on LGS at the same time, it should eliminate 165,000 trips a year,” said Hoff. “And that’s pretty powerful.”

In light of the ROD requirements, Shell and Ultra have been working on construction of their own LGS infrastructure, and Questar has provided invaluable lessons for the companies to use in those efforts.

“The biggest thing out there is the LGS,” said Salinas. “That’s a success story. Questar put it in, and we’re looking to improve on that.”

Beyond the LGS, another strategy being implemented by the companies is the use of Selective Catalytic Reduction units (SCR), which have been added onto diesel-powered rig engines and reduce emissions by 90 percent.

“We’ve installed SCRs on all our rigs,” said Jim Sewell, environmental engineer at Shell. “And we’re having minimal, if any, problems.

“As I look at the (energy) industry, we’re setting a precedent with the technologies we’re employing.”

“The SCR control technologies — that was definitely a big piece that came out of (the collaboration) for the three operators,” said Hoff.

The companies have also been working on installing control devices on its production facilities to further reduce any minor emission leaks, which can add up quickly on the larger scale.

“We’ve controlled all of our tanks, just to reduce that as a source,” said Sewell. “We’ve also had significant reductions from heat trace pumps that are used to keep our facilities operating in winter.

“It makes more sense to reduce this as a group. We get more of an impact. As the award symbolizes, it’s Best Management Practices sharing.”

Despite the fact that these companies are competitors, they certainly agree and collaborate on that larger goal, and the BLM honored those mitigation efforts with the award last week.

“I see the competition more on how quickly we drill wells,” said Hoff. “On the air quality, everybody understands what an important issue that is. We’re all in the same boat, and we all need to succeed together.

“It demonstrates the power of companies and (regulatory) agencies working together for the greater good, because it really is a joint effort.”

For the complete article see the 07-17-2009 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 07-17-2009 paper.

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