What Spurs Change?

When change does happen, it is usually foisted on the industry by excessive costs, fear of catastrophe, or regulations.

Chesapeake Energy began a pilot program to recycle wastewater from its Texas wells after drought and aquifer depletion threatened the industry’s water supply there. The pressure to reuse rather than dispose of wastewater also may have been increased by a series of earthquakes this year near Dallas. Researchers said the earthquakes may have been caused by the company’s normal disposal process: injecting wastewater underground.

Drillers in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania speeded up their search for new water recycling technologies last year, after Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection sharply limited treatment plants from accepting large quantities of drilling waste. Range Resources now recycles much of the wastewater from its Pennsylvania wells. “In the long term the biggest problem is going to be wastewater treatment,” said spokesman Matt Pitzarella. “And we have to figure out how to deal with it.”

Asked why his company pursued “green” drilling and fracturing fluid innovations for drilling in the North Sea – products that it now sometimes used onshore too — BJ Services’ Dunlap was unequivocal: The law made him do it.

“It’s because of local regulations,” Dunlap said. “That’s typically what drives us to develop and bring to market these environmentally friendly products.”

But given the choice, energy companies prefer that they, rather than government regulators, decide when, where or whether to use the environmentally friendly technologies they’ve developed. They oppose state-wide or regional mandates, arguing that a best practice may be less effective – or less affordable — in one place more than another. They also say that formal regulations can institutionalize technologies that may later be proved ineffective, or could be improved on.

“No matter what we do we are capitalists here in the U.S.,” said Richard Haut, the Houston Advanced Research Center project director. “We do have to look for a balance between environmental issues and development.”

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