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There are better, cleaner, more efficient ways to extract and produce oil and gas.

In some cases these “best” practices are developed and used by companies to save money.

In other cases alternative practices, or best management practices (BMPs), are required by regulatory requirement.

Voluntary best practices

Some oil and gas companies innovate and improve their systems to cut costs. By cutting air emissions, reducing water use, controlling erosion, and employing other practices that increase revenue, they also reduce impacts on communities and the environment.

Closed loop/pitless waste disposal

For example, technologies have been developed that allow oil and gas operators to forego digging earthen waste pits.  Instead, they used “close loop” systems where wastes enter steel tanks.  For more information on this process and the benefits and profits that it brings to the industry, see Alternatives to Pits.

Natural Gas STAR

Through Natural Gas STAR, a voluntary EPA program, participating companies implement approximately 150 cost-effective technologies and practices that reduce emissions of air pollution from oil and gas development.  In the process, they reduced emissions by 114 billion cubic feet (bcf) in 2008. 

By capturing and selling gas that would have otherwise leaked into the atmosphere, U.S. companies gained revenue of more than $802 million.

Required best practices

Oil and gas production regulations vary in stringency from state to state.  If states with the most rigorous (in terms of protecting communities and the environment) rules – the “best practices” — still have an active oil and gas industry, it demonstrates that companies can be better actors and still be competitive.

When these best practices are first codified industry will often challenge the new rules.  They invariably argue that the cost of implementing the best practices will force them to go elsewhere. 

Colorado’s Pit Rule

This happened in 2008 when the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission updated its rules.

One update required the disposal of pit liners in accordance with solid waste regulations — using certified landfills or recycling them.  Previously, operators were allowed to bury potentially toxic pit liners at the drilling site. 

The Colorado Petroleum Association initially objected to the rule, but ultimately reconsidered. Meanwhile, one company, Williams, developed innovative ways to work with the rule – by “turning the waste into a resource.” Williams bales the liner and sells them to industries that recycle them into non-food-grade industrial products like bumpers or pallets; and by circumventing the need for drilling pit liners by switching to closed loop drilling systems.