RECOVERY AND ENVIRONMENTAL SAFETY: WHAT IS AT STAKE
Hydrocarbon is a natural resource, and it means that, whether we want it or not, the recovery of raw hydrocarbons is a direct intervention in nature. The incident on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico which took place in the spring of 2010 is undoubtedly the most resounding event of the last catastrophes in the oil and gas industry. Following a long and toilsome investigation of the causes of this accident, it was established that the main cause was the desire of British Petroleum, which rented the rig, to reduce the cost and work period at the field even to the detriment of safety.
Did the company manage to save? It did not. Do other companies continue saving in a similar way? They frequently do. However year after year the approach to environmental problems is becoming more serious in all the world, Russia included.
Petroleum companies try to account for risks at all stages. As is reported on the website of the largest Russian petroleum company Rosneft, “at the stage of exploration, the methods of theoretical forecasting, passive simulation, aerial and space survey allow very accurately establishing where oil is to be searched for, at the same time having next to no impact upon the environment”. The principle of minimal impact is the oilmen’s cornerstone, for instance, it is horizontal directional drilling that allows recovering as much oil as possible while having as few wells as possible. Subsoil oil recovery and water injection intrinsically and inevitably affect the condition of rock mass. Although this environmental risk has not been studied to a full degree, and attention is paid to the two fundamental types of environmental threats.
The first one is local contaminations. They include toxic contamination of soils, rivers and basis with oil products, landscape degradation caused by commercial development. According to data provided by the ecologists, in the most “resource-rich” region of Russia - Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug – 2% of territory can be classified as disturbed lands. The second important risk is atmosphere contamination. It is usually caused by the burning of associated petroleum gas which results in the emission of nitrogen dioxide, carbonous oxide, methanol, soot and methane into the air. 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Russia are the result of such burning of associated petroleum gas.
As for oil spills at various stages of recovery and transportation, there is simply no reliable data about that. Companies do record the number of spills, but their scales vary by a factor of 4. The first step toward safe recovery should at least be the creation of impartial statistics in order to understand the extent of the problem. The second step is to motivate all participants of the process to assume greater liability.
Today Russian companies are neither motivated by penalties, nor by any risk of losing their licenses. The environmental damage insurance system is at its origin, which means that “the invisible hand of the market” does not work in the interest of the environment either, as is the case in western countries. Essentially, the oilmen perform their work on the establishment of environmental standards upon their own initiative and in good faith. We are forced to hear from petroleum companies with increasing frequency that care for nature is important since, among other things, it is also ultimately beneficial to business. This is the understanding which was adopted by their western colleagues as well.
It is all clearer with the emissions of associated petroleum gas. The energy men faced a task of substantially decreasing associated emissions at the highest level. Its utilization volume should have risen up to 95% this year (i.e. only 5% of gas would have been emitted into the atmosphere). Companies from this industry tried to prove that the established time limits are intangible, but the government remained adamant. As a result the oil and gas industry exponentially increased its utilization expenses and made great progress in gas utilization. 76.2% was utilized in 2012, 78.8% - in 2013, and, according to preliminary data, a significant increase of up to 86.7% is expected this year, while 93.7% is expected next year. The required utilization figure of 95% is likely to be achieved in 2016. It is 2 years later than expected, but the progress is still dramatic.
Public companies endeavor to make their environmental initiatives as transparent as possible. In particular, NOVATEK participates in disclosure projects which provide information about greenhouse gas emissions and production energy efficiency - Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), and about the use of water resources — CDP Water Disclosure. The company’s representatives asserted that by participating in these projects they try to find a balance between risks related to climate change and the efficiency of investment projects. NOVATEK operates in the regions of the Extreme North, a region which entails increased risks, according to the ecologists. The company understands it. Apart from the associated petroleum gas sustainable use program, NOVATEK uses a stable gas condensate fractionalization and transfer facility in the port of Ust-Luga in the Baltic Sea, and sewage water treatment units with a capacity of 100 cubic meters per day.
Companies are gradually coming to the realization that it is more profitable to prevent the effects of contamination than to eliminate them. “The foremost goal is to shift from the practice of eliminating damage caused to the impartial assessment of environmental risks and to the implementation of preventive measures in order to forestall negative impacts and to ensure environmental safety”, people say at Gazprom Neft. For this very reason Gazprom Neft pays increased attention not only to disturbed lands rehabilitation programs, but to the actions related to monitoring and control. It is clear that it is impossible to entirely negate environmental damage, but it is possible to minimize this damage provided that the environmental component is sufficiently financed, and equipment and infrastructure are timely modernized.