Responding to criticism of hydraulic fracturing in the US

By Hans Jakob Hegge, country manager for Equinor in the US from 2018 to 2020

9 December 2020

NRK Brennpunkt on Wednesday 9 December aired a documentary on onshore oil and gas activity in the US. They paint a picture of risk, environmental consequences and lack of transparency that we don’t recognize.

I have been country manager for Equinor in the US and seen how the industry takes safety very seriously, and not least how much effort Equinor’s own employees are making to ensure transparency around our business and avoiding unwanted incidents.

Equinor has had activity onshore US since 2009. Enormous oil and gas resources were made accessible through a combination of new technology and a willingness to invest as a result of high prices.

Hans Jakob Hegge, Country manager for Equinor in the US from 2018 to 2020

The oil and gas is produced through a technology called hydraulic fracturing. The method involves injecting mainly water and sand, but also some chemicals, to create cracks in shale that contains oil and gas to produce it.

Today there are around two million such wells in the US, and the development has made the US into an energy exporter for the first time for many decades. A large-scale development like this also impacts those who live nearby. The development is more decentralized that what we know in countries like Norway, and in many cases occurs close to homes, farms and other settlements.

There is support for this type of production in the US. In addition to providing energy independence, value creation and good jobs, this type of production has also led to significant reductions in GHG emissions as gas has outcompeted coal. Our CO2 emissions from the Appalachian basin is among the lowest in Equinor. In Bakken, the CO2 emissions is around the global average and we are therefore working diligently to reduce emissions. We have over time managed to reduce flaring and therefore the emissions significantly. In the last quarter, the emissions were reduced to around 10 kg CO2 per barrel, which is far below the global average but still somewhat above the Equinor average.

As Brennpunkt shows, there are also voices critical of this business, and a concern that is often brough up in the US is the use of chemicals in the process. The chemicals are used in closed systems and handled according to requirements and guidelines from both local and federal authorities. Equinor has not had any incidents where chemicals or other products have contaminated groundwater sources. 

Since our entrance onshore, US Equinor has been a driver for transparency on which chemicals are used and which negative effects they can have if the are not handled correctly. This is done both through the website FracFocus, where Equinor was actively engaged in implementing it, and is available for anyone that wants information – and through safety data sheets that are posted at our drilling sites. 

Brennpunkt points to the fact that some chemical blends are considered commercially sensitive by the suppliers. Even if the suppliers don’t publish confidential details, all use of chemicals in the process is done according to regulations by the environmental authorities in the US.

In Equinor we fully understand that neighbours of our activities want information about what is going on. That’s why we support transparency on chemical use and our business. At the same time, we are sometimes restricted by what the suppliers themselves are willing to share for competitive reasons. But even for these products information is openly available on potential harmful effects, requirements for handling and types of chemicals. The authorities in each state also can require further information when needed.

The activities we carry out mainly take place on land owned by private landowners and where we need contracts and trust from the landowners to drill and produce. This responsibility we take very seriously. Our employees themselves live and work in the same communities and are of course equally concerned as everyone else with the business being run in a safe and proper way.

No industrial activity is fully risk free, and Equinor has had some accidents and unwanted incidents onshore in the US. These have been investigated to ensure learning and to avoid similar incidents in the future. We have seen a significant improvement in recent years of our results with health, safety and the environment in the US. This has been done at the same time as we have worked hard to improve profitability in this part of the company. Equinor will continue to support increased transparency and good regulation for the onshore business in the US.