US Onshore

Equinor has been active in the development and production of onshore oil and gas in the US since 2009.  Our onshore portfolio is focused on the Bakken play in North Dakota and the Marcellus/Utica formations in the Appalachian Basins. From these assets we are now producing over 321,000 boepd.

 

These production numbers are inclusive of our Eagle Ford asset which was divested in December 2019.

Equinor is also leveraging our US experience with our international partner-operated unconventional assets in Argentina.

illustration of Equinor activities in the US and office locations

What is unconventional oil and gas?

The term unconventional refers to a variety of hydrocarbon resources that historically have been more technically challenging to access. For decades geologists have known that large quantities of hydrocarbons are trapped in tight, low porosity shale formations around the world – natural resources that have until recently been out of reach for the industry.

It wasn’t until the coming together of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing methods that made developing these resources commercially feasible for US domestic energy production. The combination of these proven technologies would propel the US to becoming the leading global producer in oil and gas today. 

Unconventional oil and gas resources are an important part of Equinor’s portfolio and have contributed significant production growth over the last decade.

Equinor is committed to being a responsible operator by conducting our operations safely, reducing our environmental footprint, earning the trust of the communities where we operate and continuously improving. Read more about our approach:

Shale Production Lifecycle

Access Phase

In order to explore for and produce oil and gas within a specified geographical area, Equinor must first be granted the right to drill. The right to drill can be acquired through government (for Federal or State lands), direct negotiations with mineral and surface owners, or through business deals with other companies that have those rights.  Equinor’ s US Land Owner Relations pays royalties to mineral and surface owners for the use of their property.

Preparing the land

When the land has been selected and approved for drilling according to regulations and guidelines, an access road is created if required before land clearance begins. An area of roughly 5,000 square meters (54,000 square feet), the equivalent of a soccer field, is cleared for a single-well pad.

Where possible, we build pipeline gathering systems to transport oil, gas and water, reducing traffic and impact on roads and local infrastructure. We also limit site development to not disturb local wildlife, hunting and fishing seasons, and, when appropriate, use sound dampening rig technology.

Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing

The total time required to drill and complete a well depends on the target depth, the length of the lateral and the geological conditions encountered.

A well is first drilled vertically until it reaches just above the target zone, where it curves before drilling horizontally into the production zone. Geologists advise on the best place to begin horizontal drilling based on geological and geophysical evaluation.

All well sites are equipped with a Blow Out Preventer (BOP) at the surface during the drilling phase. The BOP is a set of valves designed to seal off the well should oil and gas unexpectedly enter the wellbore – the shaft being drilled into the rock (for example, as the result of encountering unexpected pressures). BOPs are inspected, tested and maintained at regular intervals.

After the well is drilled, multiple layers of steel casing are cemented in place to secure and isolate the well from the surrounding environment.  Once isolation is complete hydraulic fracturing begins at the farthest end of the well and proceeds to the vertical wellbore. A mixture of water, proppant (sand or ceramic pellets) and chemicals are then pumped into the well at high pressure, creating fractures in the rock allowing oil and gas to flow into the wellbore and up to the surface. This operation is continuously monitored to ensure both the casing in the well and equipment on the surface remain in place and retain their integrity.

Production and Marketing

Pipelines are installed for the transportation of water and produced oil and gas to and from site. In some areas, trucks or trains may be used to transport the resources to market.

In the absence of suitable infrastructure or storage for the natural gas which comes out of a well, it may be necessary to burn - or “flare” - the gas. The main by-product of this burning process is carbon dioxide. Equinor is committed to continuously working to reduce flaring at all our shale projects. By reducing flaring, we prevent wastage of a valuable energy source, and lower emissions. Our aim will always be to utilize the resource, industrially or commercially.

As operator, Equinor aims to stop all production flaring by 2030. In the US we are ambitiously working to reduce our methane emissions and carbon intensity towards a zero emissions future.

Reclamation

When the drilling and well completion steps are finished, all drilling equipment is removed. During production the bare minimum of equipment remains on site. According to the location, replanting may be performed.

When a well no longer produces oil or gas in economic quantities, the well is safely plugged. The well head is cut off below ground level and cemented closed to safely isolate and prevent any movement of fluids across reservoirs, into freshwater zones or up to the surface. The well pad is then removed, and the land is reclaimed or returned to its former state. 

Safe & Responsible Operations

Water usage

Drilling fluids (water combined with additives) are used during the drilling process to transport drill cuttings to the surface, stabilize the formation around the wellbore, and clean, cool and lubricate the drill bit. When “completing” the well utilizing hydraulic fracturing, a mixture of water and proppant (typically sand or ceramic beads constituting ~99.5% of the mixture) and a small amount of chemical additive (0.5%) is pumped into the well. The fluid is injected at high pressure which fractures the rock around the well releasing hydrocarbons.

Water used in oil and gas production is sourced from rivers, creeks, lakes, and man-made ponds in compliance with regulations and permits. In some cases, recovered water may be recycled and reused in hydraulic fracturing process.

Chemical Usage and Reporting

Most of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid are common ingredients in food, cosmetics and household goods. We report all materials used in hydraulic fracturing to the FracFocus database. This database, created jointly by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (representing state oil and gas regulators), contains information on the names and types of chemicals used in any individual well.

Groundwater Protection

Producing wells are drilled at depths thousands of feet greater than the geologic layers where aquifers and groundwater flow. This means that there are many layers of impervious rock between our operations and any drinking water sources. We conduct baseline assessments to evaluate the quality of the groundwater to ensure that our activities are not negatively affecting the freshwater sources in the area.

In order to protect groundwater, steel casing (solid steel tubes) and cement are used to create a multi-layer barrier between the well and any ground water sources. The tubes are placed in the well and cemented in place to create a strong physical barrier the runs the length of the well. The types of materials used and testing requirements for these materials is highly regulated. Before hydraulic fracturing can begin the wells are tested at pressures exceeding maximum operating pressures to ensure mechanical integrity before operations begin. After being put in use, wells are continually monitored to ensure that there are no cracks or leaks in the well casing.

Produced Water

During well completion and production operations, water that was trapped within the oil and gas producing formations is returned to the surface and captured. This water is alternately called produced water, saltwater, or brine (as it generally contains large concentrations of dissolved minerals and salts). After being injected into the well, a portion of the fracturing fluid will be produced back (returned) to the surface. The amount of fluid that returns to the surface depends on the local geological characteristics. The rest of the water remains in the formation and may be slowly produced over a long period of time.

Any water captured during the drilling and hydraulic fracturing process is either recycled and reused in operations or disposed of according to government guidelines and regulations. The primary method of disposal method for all water used in oil and gas extraction is to inject the water into a Class II disposal well. This practice has been used for years as a safe method for the disposal of wastewater from industrial activities and is stringently regulated.

Radioactivity/NORM

Low concentrations of naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) are found in all soil and rock formations. As a result of drilling, these elements are brought to the surface as radioactive solid waste and may also be present in produced water. These materials emit low-level radiation, which generally is so low as to not present a health hazard. The potential accumulation of these radioactive elements within equipment and in waste materials can also present a very low exposure risk. Therefore, equipment is regularly inspected for accumulation and any materials are carefully collected and disposed of. The disposal of NORM waste is regulated by local authorities and is often done at specially permitted sites.

Induced Seismicity

Induced seismicity refers to any vibration or minor earthquake caused by human activity. Seismicity can be initiated by impounding water, quarrying, tunneling or heavy vehicle movement. By design, hydraulic fracturing releases energy deep underground creating very low levels of induced seismic activity. In most cases, these vibrations are of very low magnitude and cannot be felt at the surface or cause damage to surface structures or nearby wells. In some areas of the U.S., where seismicity has been detected in the past, seismicity is monitored and reported to ensure that activities do not create larger magnitude events.

Flaring & Air Emissions

In the absence of suitable infrastructure or storage for the natural gas which comes out of a well, it may be necessary to burn - or “flare” - the gas. The main by-product of this burning process is carbon dioxide. We have set stringent internal targets to reduce our own emissions and are committed to ending routine flaring in our operations by 2030. By reducing flaring, we prevent wastage of a valuable energy source, and lower emissions. Our aim will always be to utilize the resource, industrially or commercially. For example, in North Dakota, US we have taken gas that would be flared and used it to fuel our drilling rigs.

The processing and storing of hydrocarbons can also have the potential to release unintended air emissions generally referred to as “fugitive emissions”. These types of emissions typically include carbon dioxide as well as methane. Equinor regularly monitors, reports, and works to continuously reduce these types of emissions. When leaks are identified, we replace or upgrade the leaking equipment and incorporate what we’ve learned into future system designs.

Air emissions from our operations are regulated at the local, state, and federal levels in the US, and Equinor follows all regulatory requirements.

Equinor has partnered with multiple organizations to further drone technology to enable accurate and regular measurement and monitoring of fugitive emissions. Learn more about these activities and our position on the regulation of methane emissions: We're reducing methane emissions in the US - Supporting direct methane regulation - equinor.com

Reducing air emissions from our operations is a critical component of our ambition toward becoming net-zero by 2050. Read more about our climate roadmap: Our new Climate Roadmap - equinor.com

Community Impacts

We strive to be a good neighbor and live our corporate values of caring and openness with all our stakeholders. Many of our employees and contractors live, work, and are active members of the communities in which we operate. We are actively engaged in keeping local stakeholders informed about our activities. We have regular dialogues with officials at all levels of government to share our plans and address concerns. We also support community needs with giving and service initiatives focused on public education, emergency response, and the environment.

Equinor has worked closely with other operators to develop a best practice guide for engaging local communities; addressing needs and concerns where oil and gas operations occur. These guidelines are available here: ANSI/API Bulletin 100-3, Community Engagement Guidelines