Shale gas operators who use best management practices for natural gas production:
- Prevent and reduce hazardous spills to land during drilling, waste handling, and hydraulic fracturing activities
- Improve the response to spill incidents
- Protect workers
- Reduce impact on the local community
Protect land from spills
Best management practices for shale gas drilling require operators to prevent and contain any potential leak or spill. Containment is handled by laying down temporary liners or constructing more permanent diversionary structures. A standard strategy is to surround tanks that contain hazardous fracking fluid or flowback with a secondary containment.
Every crew and operation needs a well-written and carefully followed safety plan in place that details how the crew will prevent spills and take countermeasures in case of an emergency. The plan should, for example, detail how heavy equipment is to be safely moved within a drill site to prevent collisions and other risks. Ideally, one individual on the production crew is personally tasked with monitoring safety measures and has no other conflicting responsibility. In cases of a spill, immediate cleanup, when safe, is the best practice.
Train and monitor workers
Operators are urged to adopt a zero-tolerance drug usage policy for employees who are working on drill sites. Best practices should also include pre-employment screening, ongoing education and training, clear employee guidelines for behavior, as well as random spot-checking.
Once employees or subcontractors are hired, they should receive regular, ongoing safety education that includes instructions on the proper protocol for reporting dangerous behavior or conditions at the job site. Ongoing safety training should include a yearly emergency response systems exercise, as well as participation in the appropriate jurisdiction’s emergency response plan for gas well operations.
Choose sites carefully and engage the community
Careful site selection, communication, respect for safety practices, a focus on health and well-being, and sense of place drive quality of life best practices.
Many gas shale resource development and drilling activities can disrupt quality of life in a community. Before any ground is broken, operators should proactively engage with local governmental entities to address concerns. Operators also need to reach out and communicate with potential or actual activists, landowners, and other interested parties, and when necessary, use a grievance process to engage affected stakeholders. As a gesture of good will and to demonstrate commitment to the community, operators often fund community projects.
Explore public health risks
Exposure to industrial materials and other gas exploration and production activities can cause health risks, and therefore should be evaluated before and during drilling commences. Proactively collaborating with the community and other members of the industry can help reduce health and welfare impacts.
It is a best practice when possible, to avoid drilling or industrial activities in culturally significant, environmentally or ecologically sensitive or prominent areas. Careful advance planning can reduce the habitat fragmentation along wildlife corridors caused by drilling activities, and minimize interference with human communities. Further, wells should be sited in areas with lowest potential impacts.
Often, state or local jurisdictions enforce well-siting setbacks for established residences and other occupied structures, such as schools or businesses. However, those requirements can vary widely between jurisdictions and smaller setbacks by definition offer less isolation of industrial activities.
Drilling multiple wells on single sites (pads) is a best practice to minimize surface and noise impacts. Further noise reductions are achieved by using effective sound dampening techniques such as surrounding sites with padded screens, using electric compressors and by enclosing equipment in structures.
Consider the visual impact and aesthetics around well sites, which have numerous components. Lights should be shrouded and directed on to the drilling platform or well pad to prevent undesired illumination of surrounding properties. Installing landscaping or using naturally occurring topographical features to provide visual concealment are practices successfully used by many operators.
By using closed-loop drilling systems, operators can avoid having to construct open pits to hold waste drilling fluids, which often emit unpleasant odors. The pits are replaced with storage tanks that separate liquids and solids. Equipment to separate solids and collection equipment minimize the amount of drilling waste that requires disposal, and maximize the amount of drilling fluid recycled and reused in the drilling process. The wastes created are typically transferred off-site for disposal at injection wells or oilfield waste disposal facilities. Off-site injection wells also require their own best practices, because when waste is injected into these wells at too high a pressure, earthquakes may result (in a phenomenon calledinduced seismicity).
Trucks hauling in water and hauling off waste fluid can affect human communities as well as wildlife. Efforts should be made to reduce all well-service vehicle traffic, and operators should develop and enforce speed limits of vehicles driven by their contractors and employees. When it’s necessary to build roads, these should be designed to avoid erosion and limit emission of airborne dust caused by traffic.