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Probabilistic, Risk-Based Decision Support for Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Facilities in Sensitive Ecosystems
Project Number

The project goal is the development of modules for a web-based decision support tool that will be used by mid- and small-sized oil and gas exploration and production companies as well as environmental regulators and other stakeholders to proactively minimize adverse ecosystem impacts associated with the recovery of oil and gas reserves in sensitive areas in the Fayetteville Shale Play in central Arkansas. This decision support tool will rely on creation of a database of existing exploration and production (E&P) technologies that are known to have low ecosystem impact.


University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas
Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), Washington DC


The Fayetteville Shale play is an unconventional natural gas play located in central Arkansas. It is a tight formation and requires fracturing to produce economic quantities of gas. The currently active play encompasses a region approximately 50 miles wide (from north to south) from approximately Fort Smith, AR east to Little Rock, AR. Initial estimates are that it may rival the prolific Barnett Shale play in Texas, currently the nation’s most active natural gas play. At present, there are about two million acres under lease in this play (Poynter, 2006). It is expected that thousands of wells will be drilled during the next several years—current field rules from the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission limit the number of wells to 16 per square mile section. This development will entail installation of massive support infrastructure of roads and pipelines, as well as drilling fluid disposal pits and infrastructure to handle millions of gallons of fracturing fluids. Arkansas also has coal-bed methane fields (Hartshorne Shale play) along the western edge of the state that are part of the Arkoma Basin that extends north through Oklahoma, Kansas, and western Missouri. The focus of the project is on gas production in Arkansas as the test bed for application of a proactive risk-management decision support system for natural gas exploration and production. The principal objective of this project is the development of tools that will allow industry to rapidly evaluate alternative leases through a GIS-based risk management approach so that location-specific environmental concerns can be identified early in the permitting process.


The tools being developed for this project will help operators better protect sensitive environments; allowing them to select locations within their leases and technologies that minimize environmental impacts in a way that satisfies their interests as well as those of regulatory agencies and other stakeholders. Once the tool is demonstrated in the Fayetteville Shale formation, the concept can be transferred to other locations.

The Fayetteville Shale Information Web Site [external site] is now available. In this site users can learn about the natural gas resources available in the Fayetteville Shale formation in Arkansas. The site explains the steps taken by natural gas development companies—from gaining access to the land to sending the gas to the marketplace—to utilize shale gas resources in the Fayetteville Shale play. For each step in the process, the site provides information about the state and federal regulatory requirements that developers must follow. The site also describes some of the technologies that can be used to minimize the environmental impacts of natural gas development.

Another tool that has been developed is the Fayetteville Shale natural gas Infrastructure Placement Analysis System (IPAS) [external site]. IPAS is a secure, web-based toolkit that can help streamline several critical tasks involved with the placement and permitting of new drilling pads, gathering lines, and other infrastructure:

  • Initial environmental screening of proposed locations is available to producers through a variety of models, including slope analysis, spill modeling, and proximity to sensitive areas.
  • Secure version control allows producers to compare model results for multiple possible locations.
  • Proposed locations can be reviewed by multiple users within the same company.
  • Finalized proposed locations can be submitted electronically to regulatory agencies.
  • Regulators can view the submittals in the same toolkit, allowing them to review the environmental screening model results.
  • Regulators can approve locations as submitted or propose changes, which are added to the producer’s database for examination.
  • Producers or regulators can add their own data to view on the system; added data is not accessible by others.
  • Producers can download their own features for use with desktop GIS applications.

IPAS allows users to propose a location for a well pad (with associated drill and reserve pit), gathering line, or road using all available layers as a guide. After placement, the system will report potential environmental impacts. In addition, the user will be able to see adjacent areas of potential environmental impact. Information, such as endangered species habitats, is integrated in the mapping system allowing producers to include it as part of an interactive planning process; this type of integrated information is not available anywhere else in the U.S.

The regulatory agencies in the state of Arkansas and independent producers are very much interested and have advised researchers in the development process of this system.

Researchers conducted a final stakeholder meeting in June 2009 in Little Rock. Industry and regulatory agencies were in attendance.

Current Status

(January 2010)
All project activities have been completed. The final report is listed below under "Additional Information".

Project Start
Project End
DOE Contribution


Performer Contribution

$136,832 (27% of total)

Contact Information

NETL - Jesse Garcia ( or 304-285-0256) 
UAF - Greg Thoma ( or 479-575-4951) 
ANL - John Veil ( or 202-288-2450)

Additional Information

Project Final Report [PDF-3.63MB] - January, 2010