Minimizing Surface Disturbance & Visual Impact

Well pads are often much larger than they need to be – sometimes exceeding several acres in size. At Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch, however, the well pads are only 0.6 acres.

After the drilling phase is over, the portion of the drilling pad not needed for oil or gas production can be reclaimed. This is known as interim reclamation, and it is required by law in many states. Unfortunately, lack of enforcement by state agencies means that interim reclamation does not occur in many jurisdictions.

During the drilling phase, pad size can be reduced by drilling multiple wells from one site.

Redesigning pits can decrease the amount of surface disturbance.

If a pitless drilling system is not used for drilling fluids, another approach may be to use a V-shaped pit instead of the traditional rectangular pit. This type of pit reduces water requirements, as well as the amount of surface disturbance.

The design is as follows: the open end of the “V” faces the drilling rig and the cross-sectional view resembles a squared-off funnel (about 10 feet deep with the upper 5 feet having slanted walls to a width of about 20 feet). Because the fluid must travel the full length of the pit, this design prevents mud from channeling between the discharge point and the suction point, and reduces the amount of water that must be added to maintain the desired fluid characteristics. In addition, because the V-shaped pit is long and narrow, it is easier to construct and leaves a smaller “footprint”.

A company installed a V-shaped reserve pit and compared the costs with those incurred at similar-sized wells using a traditional pit. The company determined that pit construction time was reduced by about 40 percent, water costs for the well were reduced by about 38 percent, and pit liner costs were reduced by about 43 percent. The total cost savings were about $10,800 per well.

Whenever earthen pits are used to store wastes, they should be lined with multiple layers of synthetic fabric with leak detection devices between the layers.

In addition to disturbing the surface level, oil and gas development can also be an eyesore.

While large facilities can be harder to hide, there are simple ways to reduce the visual impacts of wells such as landscaping. For example, soil can be formed into ridges or gentle berms around the well pad, and trees and other vegetation can be planted on the ridges to screen wells so that nearby residents don’t see them.

A low-profile pumping unit can replace the conventional unit, which uses a 30- to 40-foot beam and looks like a giant, bobbing horse’s head. The conventional pump is run on a gas- or diesel-powered engine, which is noisy and smelly.

Alternatives to this large pump include:

  • Pneumatic pumping device that don’t require an engine and therefore produce little or no noise. This pump stands about 10 to 15-feet tall.
  • Progressive cavity pumps come in different shapes and sizes, and like the pneumatic pump, can turn on electric motors and therefore be much quieter than conventional pumps.