Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Ultra-deepwater and Unconventional Resources Program)
Field Site Testing of Low Impact Oil Field Access Roads: Reducing the Environmental Footprint in Desert Ecosystems
The goal of this project is to collect quantitative information on the performance of a variety of novel low environmental impact lease road construction alternatives. This information will be used to determine if such alternatives can be employed to reduce the footprint of oil and gas operations in ecologically sensitive desert locations.
Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), Texas A&M University (TAMU), College Station, TX 77843 (actual test site will be the TAMU Desert Test Site in TX on the edge of the Chihuahua Desert)
Public concerns about the footprint of human activity (ORV tracks and oil and gas operation lease roads) in ecologically sensitive desert locations have resulted in regulatory impediments to E&P activities. At the same time, significant amounts of oil and gas resources remain to be discovered and developed in arid regions of the U.S. This is particularly true of natural gas resources in the Rocky Mountains.
Lease roads are a significant component of the impact of drilling and producing operations. It technologies can be developed to reduce the ecological impact of these roads it may become possible to lessen regulatory impediments to development as well as impact to sensitive arid landscapes. Constructing roads with materials that can be readily removed or using recycling drilling waste as native road construction material could serve both environmental and economic objectives.
Deliverables for this project will include a series of reports on the various tasks as they are completed and a final report integrating the results of the project.
There are two potential impacts that could result from this research. First, if the research shows that low impact roads can provide the same degree of safety and performance as conventional roads, use of these roads could lead to reduced environmental impact, which in turn could lead to increased resource development. Studies have demonstrated that removing environmental concerns (and thus restrictions) to E&P operations can boost recoverable gas resources (perhaps by trillions of cubic feet).
A second impact could result if the low impact roads are also less expensive to construct and maintain. Reduced operating costs could also lead to increased production. Any technology or practice that reduces the cost of operations will increase reserves and increase production. A $1/BOE ($170/MMcf) decrease in operating cost for a producing field can add 1% to its reserves (Burnett, 2004).
Work on this project began on September 3, 2008. A Project Management Plan was completed with a work breakdown structure for each task with all major milestones and decision points, and Technology Status Assessment describing the state-of-the-art of the proposed technology was also completed.
Soil sampling was completed in 2009 and two artificial roads were laid out and deployed (the Scott Environmental Road in November 2009 and NewPark Mats in September 2010). Weather issues and subcontractor issues caused delay in deployment of the NewPark road material. Evaluation of the road performance is under way.
Current Status (January 2011)
The key tasks to be undertaken following the submission of the Project Management plan and Technology Status Assessment are outlined below.
Texas A&M University will construct low impact lease roads and then test their performance over a year’s time span. The project will construct three new types of low impact roads and one standard gravel lease road for testing and comparison purposes. A fifth type of low impact road (a “disappearing road”) is also planned at the test site. The TAMU Desert Test Site is located southeast of significant oil and gas production region in Texas and New Mexico on the edge of the Chihuahua Desert.
These roads will be instrumented for remote measurement and evaluated for their ability to withstand both normal and heavy truck traffic over intermittent periods through a complete calendar year. After collecting data on the condition and level of use of each of the test roads over time the researchers will analyze the data to determine the best option for a low impact lease road that meets operational and safety needs.
Throughout the duration of the project all of the results and information collected, including any analyses and final reports, will be made publically available.
Project Start: September 3, 2008
Project End: September 2, 2010(extended)
DOE Contribution: $284,839
Performer Contribution: $160,000
RPSEA – Martha Cather (firstname.lastname@example.org or 575-835-5685)
NETL – Chandra Nautiyal (Chandra.Nautiyal@netl.doe.gov or 281-494-2488)
Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TAMU) – David Burnett (email@example.com or 979-845-2274)
Technology Assessment Report [PDF] March, 2009