US Onshore oil and gas
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 producing natural gas and natural gas liquids from the Marcellus/Utica formations in the Appalachian Basins. These assets produce ~260 boepd. (as of Q1 2021, includes non-operated and equity production).
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.
Our shale operator commitments
As shale and tight oil and gas development transforms communities, bringing opportunity and wealth, these activities also bring challenges.
Our operations are underpinned by four key pillars that make up our shale operator commitments. They explain our attitude and approach as we seek solutions to overcome those challenges.
- Our safety and security goal is zero harm to people and the environment through prevention of all accidents and avoidance of security threats
- Training our leaders, employees and consultants to ensure that they have the right skills and competencies to carry out safe and responsible operations, and continuously improve
- Utilizing contractors that have health, safety and security programs that meet or exceed our standards and expectations
- Continually improving our emergency response preparedness through the development and implementation of detailed plans, training, and response drills
- Working with regulatory agencies and local water authorities to avoid potential supply disruptions and diminished service to the community
- Conducting water quality assessments for groundwater resources within operated areas that, at a minimum, meet state and local requirements.
- Promptly communicating with affected landowners regarding operations and water quality
- Ensuring long-term well integrity through the application of rigorous technical and operational standards that govern wellbore design and drilling operations with a focus on the long-term protection of aquifers
- Working with our vendors to select chemicals that minimize impacts to personnel and the environment
- Reducing our greenhouse gas footprint and improve local air quality by implementing effective emissions control technologies and practices, and utilizing emissions targets to drive performance
- Conducting site selection evaluations of environmental, biodiversity, land use, safety & health, and community considerations to minimize impacts
- Ensure the proper handling and storage of produced water and chemicals in order to prevent a release to the environment
- Selecting qualified disposal sites that meet all regulatory requirements, ensuring responsible disposal of solid and liquid waste
- Working with communities to enhance the economic and social benefits of our activities by promoting and investing in workforce skills and capacity and local content
- Hosting community events to share information regarding our current and planned operations, and working with community and other stakeholders to collaborate around common issues
- Respecting our host communities by being responsive to issues and concerns related to impacts of our operations
- Disclosing information regarding the chemicals used in our hydraulic fracturing operations to FracFocus.org and encouraging our partners and suppliers to do the same
Continually learning and seeking out improvements in the way we do business to ensure safe, profitable and responsible development
Investing in technology, research and development to improve the value and sustainability of our onshore assets
Benchmarking ourselves against industry and pursuing improvements in drilling, completions and production activities
Selecting contractors and partners that have demonstrated integrity and a commitment to advancing industry performance
Shale Production Lifecycle
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Reducing air emissions from our operations is a critical component of our ambition toward becoming net-zero by 2050. Read more about our climate ambitions on our climate page: https://www.equinor.com/sustainability/climate-ambitions.
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