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You are here:  Oil & Natural Gas Technologies > Environmental Program

Oil & Natural Gas Environmental Solutions Program

DOE's Oil & Gas Environmental Protection Programs

Improvements in oil and natural gas drilling technology over the past 40 years have dramatically reduced industry's footprint on the fragile tundra, minimized waste produced, and protected the land for resident and migratory wildlife.

From the tundra of Alaska to the wetlands of Louisiana, a host of advanced technologies now make it possible for America's oil and gas industry to produce resources from beneath sensitive environments.

In the past 30 years, production facility footprints have shrunk dramatically. The size of drilling pads has been reduced by up to 80 percent.  If Alaska's Prudhoe Bay oil field was opened with today's technology, its footprint would be almost a third of its current size.

New seismic and remote sensing technologies, including satellite and aerial surveying, now boost the likelihood that an oil or gas well will be successful and there will be fewer dry holes to disturb the environment. More environmentally-friendly drilling fluids have been developed, and new techniques for cleaning the contaminants in water produced during oil and gas operations are now being adopted. For example, reverse osmosis and new filtration systems funded by the Department of Energy significantly improve water quality for surface discharge, injection or beneficial use.

Today, industry can drill a single well from the surface, then turn the drill bit directionally or horizontally underground, to reach an oil or gas production zone miles away from the drill site. Multiple completions from the same wellbore, extending like the spokes of a wheel, can reach different oil and gas production zones and avoid disturbing surface ecosystems. And, smaller diameter holes and new drilling techniques are cutting wastes, noise, visual impacts, fuel consumption and emissions.

Because of technological advances, today it takes 22,000 fewer wells annually to develop the same amount of oil and gas reserves as it did in 1985. And where oil and gas production operations are underway, new technologies have dramatically reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants, practically eliminated spills from offshore platforms, reduced the risks of blowouts, and provided better protection of groundwater resources.

Technology Innovations Yielding Environmental Benefits 


Technological advances resulting in many instances from industry and government collaboration -- are making exploration, production, processing and distribution of oil and natural gas cheaper, more efficient, and more protective of the environment. DOE's oil and natural gas exploration and production (E&P) research has focused on developing advanced technologies to find new reserves, improve drilling efficiency, reduce costs, increase production through enhanced recovery methods, and prevent mature domestic fields from abandonment. These improved technologies and strategies have environmental benefits.

In 2006, the Department's Office of Fossil Energy began the Low-Impact Natural Gas and Oil (LINGO) initiative that integrates current technologies and practices in ways that minimize adverse environmental impacts from recovery of oil and gas over the life of the projects. The initiative also seeks to boost the economic recovery of oil and gas by addressing the environmental concerns that block such recovery.  LINGO seeks to demonstrate that ultra-low impact technologies and practices can be deployed in environmentally-sensitive onshore areas without environmental harm. In time, this can bolster the public's confidence that oil and gas development can proceed in these areas without adverse effects to ecosystems.


DOE, under the LINGO program, recently selected three research projects in 2006 designed to demonstrate a new operating paradigm for America's oil and natural gas producers: finding and producing oil and gas with ultra-low environmental impact.

The New Environmental Challenges

Even with the environmental progress of the last 20 to 30 years, the costs of environmental compliance have risen steadily in recent years and are likely to continue to rise in the future as state and federal requirements become more stringent. Today's U.S. petroleum industry spends over $9 billion a year on protecting the environment and these costs could grow in the future.

Higher costs could cause valuable oil and gas resources, including many beneath federal lands, to become uneconomical to produce. The result would be further increases in oil imports and the nation's trade deficit, potential constraints on the availability of clean-burning natural gas, and a dampening impact on the nation's economic growth.

Working with state and federal regulators and the oil and gas industry, the Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy is helping to ensure that approaches to environmental protection make technical, environmental, and economic sense. The program pursues improvements in regulatory decision making, supports development of new technologies, and helps promote energy policies that encourage more efficient and environmentally responsible oil and gas production.




Research Projects Addressing Technical Challenges to Environmentally Acceptable Shale Gas Development Selected by DOE



Report  on Environmental Benefits of Advanced Oil & Gas Technology


  DOE Oil and Natural Gas Water Resources Program Brochure
[2.77MB PDF]


Sustainable Development of North America's Oil and Natural Gas - Ensuring Plentiful Energy and a Clean Environment
[491KB PDF]


More Publications



Nancy Johnson
Office of Fossil Energy
U.S. Department of Energy
Washington, DC 20585


Albert Yost
National Energy Technology Laboratory
PO Box 880
U.S. Dept. of Energy
Morgantown, WV 26507


Natenna Dobson
Office of Fossil Energy
U.S. Department of Energy
Washington, DC 20585


Olayinka Ogunsola
Office of Fossil Energy
U.S. Department of Energy
Washington, DC 20585

 Page owner:  Fossil Energy Office of Communications
Page updated on: February 08, 2011 

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