Exploration and Production Technologies
Field Testing of Environmentally Friendly Drilling System 



The goals of the project are to 1) identify critical enabling technologies for a prototype low-impact drilling system, 2) test the prototype systems in field laboratories, and 3) demonstrate the advanced technology to show how these practices would benefit the environment.

Legacy Performers 
Texas Engineering Experiment Station 
Texas A&M University 
College Station, TX

Noble Corporation/Maurer Technology Inc. 
Sugar Land, TX

Anadarko Petroleum Company, 
The Woodlands, TX

U.S. National Park Service 
(Padre Island National Seashore)
Padre Island, TX

American Civil Engineering Society (ASCE)
Geotechnology Institute
Reston, VA

San Ramon, CA

New Performers (sponsors)

Devon Energy
Oklahoma City OK

King Exploration
Houston TX

Rio Vista Bluff Ranch
McFaddin TX

Environmental issues are a significant part of every energy industry endeavor—whether exploiting new natural gas resources in the western United States or extending field development in coastal areas of the country. Almost one-third of all Society of Petroleum Engineering technical papers include environmental topics. Yet until now, no integrated petroleum resource environmental programs have been created.

Aware of this need, Texas A&M and Noble, through its subsidiary Maurer, are creating a dual-engineering environmental research program not only to address engineering challenges facing the energy industry but also to utilize the considerable resources of the university and industry in protecting our environment while exploring for and producing natural gas and oil. They are joined by Anadarko and other industry sponsors from GPRI to identify and develop environmentally friendly drilling systems that incorporate current and new drilling technology. These new systems will be designed to be compatible with environmentally sensitive or currently off-limits areas such as Federal lands in the western United States and the wetlands and marshes of the Gulf Coast.

Environmental issues are a significant component of every energy industry endeavor. The EFD partnership is identifying ways to reduce the impact of O&G activity on the environment. Our project is focusing on two types of environmentally sensitive environments, a desert ecosystem and a coastal margin.

During the first phase, EFD participants identified low-impact technologies suitable for operations in two extreme environmental conditions: a desert-like ecology and a coastal margin ecosystem. A special-task working group focused on methods to integrate novel wastewater and solid waste treatment processes into a system that captures and treats all runoff and effluent fluids, drill cuttings, and other waste streams.

The Industry Advisory Board provided oversight management of 7 Global Petroleum Research Institute (GPRI) projects, presented summaries of the Environmentally Friendly Drilling (EFD) program at six conventions, gave briefings at a number of individual companies, hosted four regular meetings of sponsors during 2007 and conducted three field trips to selected sites.

A team lead by Dr Eric Bickel (Industrial Engineering) has proposed a systems approach, an established solution to optimize decisions and ensure that the program selected satisfies chosen criteria (called attributes). (Recently this statistical approach has been proposed for locating infill wells in a developed field.) It is being used in the EFD program to arrive at the optimum system for a given site.

The EFD drilling systems analysis tool will be utilized in a graduate class project at Texas A&M by Dr. Jerome Schubert. In this class 10 teams will be drilling a well (on paper) for a hypothetical (but real) well site along the middle Texas coast. Each of the teams will independently choose the best combination of technology available to meet certain environmental conditions imposed on their group.

The Rig Power Efficiency Study: Energy and Emissions study is to develop theoretically and empirically an energy inventory of the drilling process from a rig perspective. During the drilling operations all of the design power of a specific rig is not needed (roughly 25%) power is needed the majority of the time The well site waste management project was established to investigate the possibility of developing a well site waste reduction process. The key deliverable for the project is a small footprint, low-impact environmental treatment process adaptable to real-life drilling operation, based on sound engineering and biological principles capable of converting drilling wastes to a useable product.

A&M and Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) have created a “Disappearing Road Competition” among U.S. Universities. The project is sponsored by Halliburton and has the dual goals of identifying novel new technology while providing an educational environment for students to team on multidisciplinary projects. Texas A&M University and its partners have announced the establishment of an Oil & Gas Desert Test Center (http://www.pecosrtc.org/) near Pecos Texas on the edge of the Chihuahua desert. The new Center will be set up to evaluate new low impact drilling technology in desert ecosystems such as is found in CBM developments in the Western U.S.

Other accomplishments are as follows:

  • Project to date has identified more than 90 specific technologies related to the footprint of oil and gas operations that indicate that the industry could achieve more than 90% reduction in the impact on the environment
  • Prototype Systems Engineering program has been used in two well location applications in environmentally sensitive areas
  • Program was developed to optimize selection of these low impact technologies for a specific drilling well plan; the process is to reduce reserve pit/mud pit sizes offers a way to provide liquid waste management at the well site for less expense than transport of waste fluids off site
  • Created an industry sponsored joint venture to develop a low impact drilling system
  • Began an effort to create an environmental “scorecard” that can be used to grade the benefits of a new EFD system if employed in a low impact drilling and production program
  • Environmental groups have been brought into the program to assist with identifying critical issues and are part of the design

The EFD program will continue to gain support and recognition after the NETL project activities are completed. Researchers and other collaborators have created an EFD Systems, National Lab and University Alliance. The press release was held on February 16, 2009. The goal of the University National Laboratories Alliance is to develop critical new technology to accelerate development of domestic reserves in a safe and environmentally friendly manner. The Alliance includes 7 top tier Universities, two National Laboratories (more to follow) and RPSEA.

Current Status (September 2009)
The project activities have been completed. A final report is available below under "Additional Information".

The EFD program held a project wrap up meeting on April 23, 2009 in The Woodlands, TX. The meeting participants (approximately 35) represented a variety of organizations; industry, academia and federal agencies. Dr. Burnett, PI gave a presentation on the many accomplishments and reports that have been generated during the three year project duration. Since the inception of the original EFD systems program in 2004, the program is now expanding and continuing its work. Phase II work will be continued under the RPSEA program and its increasing sponsorships from industry and other organizations. Phase II activities will be available on their designated website. See website links for additional information.


Project Start: September 30, 2005 
Project End: May 31, 2009

Anticipated DOE Contribution: $1,439,331
Performer Contribution: $775,027 (35% of total)

Contact Information 
NETL - Jesse Garcia (jesse.garcia@netl.doe.gov or 918-699-2036)
TEES - David Burnett (burnett@pe.tamu.edu or 979-845-2274)

Additional Information

Final Project Report [PDF-48.1MB] - August, 2010

NETL/DOE News Release DOE Project Leads to New Alliance to Promote Low-Impact Drilling - February, 2009

Anadarko's concept of platform drilling shown during construction of the system that was tested on Alaska's North Slope in 2003.

Anadarko platform deployed on the North Slope. Kadaster et al described the Anadarko platform, construction, and deployment in SPE 97264. A “disappearing” ice road was used for material transport to and from the well site.

Low-impact drilling site at the Pecos Research and Testing Center. Components of the Environmental Drilling system, including modules of the platform and low-impact access roads, will be tested here.