Educating the public on oil and natural gas practices

3-1 Kathleen Sgamma, WECBy Kathleen Sgamma, vice-president of Government and Public Affairs, Western Energy Alliance

While the oil and natural gas industry provides abundant, affordable, clean energy with the associated job creation and economic prosperity, it has been proven that our good work can be threatened if the public does not believe we are developing in a safe and environmentally responsible way.

For that reason, Western Energy Alliance conducted a public relations campaign highlighting the environmental stewardship of the western exploration and production industry. Our Common Ground1 campaign delivered over 44 million radio and online messages to targeted audiences across the West and in Washington, D.C.

Our campaign centered on four short videos featuring a variety of western voices, helping to inform the public that producers are good stewards of the environment by protecting the land2, air3, water4 and wildlife5 in our daily operations.

Western Energy Alliance represents over 480 companies engaged in all aspects of exploration and production of oil and natural gas in North Dakota, Montana, and across the West. Over the past 30 years, we’ve been advocating for policies that help to improve the business climate, but are focusing increasingly on public outreach as it becomes clear that we need to ensure we have a social license to operate.

We take the word “Alliance” very seriously, and have cultivated deep relationships with stakeholders—landowners, ranchers, sportsmen’s groups, state officials, county commissioners, civic and business groups, and many others—who understand there’s common ground we share developing abundant, affordable energy while protecting the places in which we live, work, and raise our families.

The following are highlights of our Common Ground campaign. These are voices from within the industry and our partners—not paid actors. These individuals represent the focus to preserve vital resources in the environment where they work.

LAND

Besides complying with hundreds of regulatory requirements in laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and the Endangered Species Act, oil and natural gas companies go beyond what’s required by law to ensure the environment is protected.

It is important for the public to understand the lengths our industry goes to comply with regulations and the coordination that exists with other stakeholders on the land.

For example, Stephanie Tomkinson, a senior biologist with QEP Resources, describes a land reclamation project on ranch property where QEP operates. “We have a location that was reclaimed 14 years ago. We came in and we re-contoured. We planted native vegetation. You’ll never know we were here. In my line of work, a success is when you get a location reclaimed properly to blend in with the surrounding landscape. We work together to make sure it’s done right.”

Video

“The oil industry is relatively new as far as history. They’ve had to evolve faster than possibly ranching did, but we’ve learned, through communication, how to pat each other on the back and to help each other,” explains rancher Scott Chew. “Sometimes when energy companies go in and build locations, there’s an opportunity to damn-off a drainage and create a water hole. There are areas that are actually better now because of the reclamation work that was done, than they were before.”

AIR

In our campaign, we highlight how energy companies are committed to maintaining quality air in the regions where they work. We show the work they are doing on and around well sites to protect the air.

“Green completions has been our commitment to the general public that we want to operate cleaner, safer, and faster,” explains Susan Alvillar of WPX Energy. “We capture the gas and that’s good for the environment, but it’s also good for the company.”

Operations manager Kevin Williams highlights QEP Resources’ focus to reducing emissions from vehicles. “People do need to understand that industry has put a lot of time, effort and money into trying to improve air quality. We’ve looked in detail at every aspect of every operation to find ways to reduce and mitigate emissions. Early in our development we identified trucks were a big source of our emissions. Thus we implemented liquid gather systems to help eliminate trucking fluids from a well site and eliminate emissions from a truck, the exhaust and the dust they create. I think we’ve done a good job of collaborating, working together trying to find common ground.”

WATER

Water quality is a primary concern for citizens living near oil and natural gas operations, a concern shared by industry. Wells are constructed specifically with multiple layers of steel pipe and cement to ensure nothing inside the well can come into contact with underground drinking water aquifers. Spill prevention control and containment plans are in place at every site in the event of an accidental spill of produced water, drilling or hydraulic fracturing fluids, or hydrocarbons. These procedures ensure the vast majority of spills are contained and remediated on site.

Companies constantly work to reduce the amount of water used and to achieve higher rates of recycling and re-use. They cleanup and re-use produced water and return it to the hydrologic cycle. For this reason, our Common Ground campaign features the work of an environmental consultant whose work is dedicated to improving practices and technology in order to achieve high rates of water re-use.

“My charge is to make sure that we as an industry responsibly use water,” explains Tekla Taylor, environmental consultant with Golder Associates. “Companies have to have water to do the exploration that they do. As you look into the future with increasing needs for water, there may be potential to treat that and then put it back into the hydrologic cycle for other uses, and you’re actually seeing that happening now.”

WILDLIFE

Oil and natural gas development can co-exist with wildlife, and companies work hard to ensure that wildlife thrive in our operational areas. Besides complying with the Endangered Species Act and state wildlife regulations, oil and natural gas companies often further mitigate impacts by working with sportsmen and conservation groups for on-the-ground improvements to habitat and forage.

The industry, sportsmen and conservation groups are close partners when it comes to using natural resources. Denny Behrens of the Colorado Mule Deer Association highlights the lengths industry partners have gone to preserve wildlife.

“Hunting and fishing is a huge industry in this state. When the oil and gas companies moved in here and started doing exploration, we sat down and talked with them,” explains Behrens. “They’ve helped us out with water projects, they’ve helped us out to do vegetation projects for mule deer. Not only mule deer but elk, grouse, small game and non-game species all benefit from what we’re doing here. We’ve seen a constant decrease in funding by the federal government, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, when it comes to habitat restoration. The only ones that have really stepped up to the plate to do anything has been oil and gas.”

The oil and natural gas industry is part of the communities where we operate. We share the same values when it comes to protecting air, water, wildlife and the land. We do our part to deliver energy that people need to heat their homes, get safely to work and school, power their computers, produce their food, and generally support a high quality of life, while protecting the environment.

There’s truly common ground we share, and Western Energy Alliance will continue to promote safe and environmentally responsible oil and natural gas development. We’re expanding our campaign to focus on health and safety within our industry and the communities in which we operate.  Stay tuned for more.

REFERENCES:

1 http://www.westernenergyalliance.org/why-western-oil-natural-gas/protecting-environment/environmental-stewardship-video-series

2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDCLgcd-qZs&feature=share&list=UUsbktdkBYBPedFnyAuw81Tg&index=4

3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhMIUK_IV-s&list=UUsbktdkBYBPedFnyAuw81Tg&feature=share&index=3

4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEQDGWjH5pc&list=UUsbktdkBYBPedFnyAuw81Tg&feature=share&index=2

5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uN_8opDchBA&feature=share&list=UUsbktdkBYBPedFnyAuw81Tg&index=1

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