DOE - Fossil Energy Techline - Issued on:  October 5, 1999

Energy Department Releases Report Citing Environmental Benefits of Advanced Oil, Gas Technology

Washington, DC - It takes 22,000 fewer wells annually to develop the same amount of oil and gas reserves as it did in 1985. That's one of the interesting findings in a new Department of Energy report that chronicles the advancement of technology in U.S. oil and gas fields and the significant environmental benefits that have resulted.

"This report documents the significant innovations in oil and gas exploration and production," said Robert Gee, the Energy Department's Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy. "It illustrates how advanced technology has led to fewer dry holes, smaller drilling 'footprints,' more productive wells, and less waste. All of these advances have contributed to a cleaner environment, and even greater benefits are possible."

The report highlights 36 specific technological innovations as representative of a much larger set of improvements that have occurred during the last 30 years. These advances have enabled the domestic petroleum industry to increase the efficiency of its exploration and production efforts, while improving its environmental track record.

For example, according to the report:

  • If technology had not advanced in the last 15 years, four domestic wells would be required today to produce the oil that two wells produced in 1985. But because of more effective oil field technology, today the 1985-level production can be achieved with only one well.

  • Fewer wells mean less drilling waste. Based on the average amount of waste produced in a typical drilling operation, U.S. operators today avoid producing as much as 148 million barrels of drilling wastes annually because of increased well productivity - an amount equivalent to covering 1440 football fields to a depth of 10 feet.

  • Today's drilling technology has allowed operators to reduce the "footprint" of well pads by as much as 70 percent, especially important in environmentally sensitive areas such as Prudhoe Bay in Alaska.

  • Moreover, by using modular drilling rigs and "slimhole" drilling, operators can reduce the area cleared for drilling operations by as much as 75 percent compared to current conventional technology. If technology development had stopped in 1985, today's U.S. drill pads would cover an additional 17,000 acres of land.

  • New acoustical and vibration devices are being developed to replace explosives for generating seismic signals, reducing noise and protecting human, marine and animal life.

"We have only scratched the surface of what is possible - and of what technological improvements can do to benefit the energy security and environmental quality for future generations," Gee said.

For example, the report calls attention to new downhole oil and water separation devices that could increase the proportion of oil that flows from a well, while decreasing by as much as 95 percent the amount of water that must be disposed of. If these devices are widely deployed, as much as 5 billion barrels per year of produced water that otherwise would have been brought to the surface will remain in the ground.

The report also cites new technology being developed that can capture 95 percent or more of the methane gas now emitted in oil and gas operations, which contributes to greenhouse gas concerns. In the future, carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas, captured from factories and electric power plants may be injected into oil reservoirs to enhance oil recovery, or into coal seams, or into natural gas storage fields to prevent it from entering the atmosphere.

-End of TechLine-

For more information, contact:
Nancy Johnson, DOE Office of Fossil Energy, (202) 586-6458, e-mail: