Technology: The Myth of Pollution from O&G Production

By Steven Berg, VP Operations

In our last version of The Hitch, I spoke about the change in drilling methods reducing the total amount of fuel to drill a well. But what else are contractors doing to help keep the carbon footprint low and clean up the environment?

Through a series of regulation changes in the US and Europe, engine manufacturers have developed different tiers of engines with different implementation dates that have been introduced to our rigs in both the drilling and service divisions.

The first changes to our modern tier of diesel engine came in 1994. These engines started replacing two-stroke diesel engines that used to belch black smoke and mono-nitrogen oxide (NOx) gases into the air.  Tier 1 engines started being implemented internationally in 1998 and increasingly more stringent standards for Tier 2 and Tier 3 were implemented from 2000 through 2008. The Tier 1 through Tier 3 engines have limited use or no use of exhaust aftertreatment.  This means the changes were maintained internally to the engine.

In May of 2004, the EPA signed the final rule introducing Tier 4 emission standards, which are phased-in over the period of 2008 to 2015. The Tier 4 standards require emissions of particulates and NOx be further reduced by about 90 percent.  These emissions reductions are achieved through the use of control technologies including advanced exhaust gas aftertreatment and diesel particulate filters (DPFs).  This introduced the need for urea injection in some engines, similar to what has already been implemented on pick-up trucks and heavy commercial on-road vehicles.

Operators of heavy-duty diesel engines can substantially reduce operation costs and lower emissions by substituting diesel fuel engines with newer, cleaner-burning natural gas engines like this one.
Operators of heavy-duty diesel engines can substantially reduce operation costs and lower emissions by substituting diesel fuel engines with newer, cleaner-burning natural gas engines like this one.

So what does all of this mean? Drilling and service rig contractors have been buying engines since the 1990s that have forever decreased the carbon footprint of our industry.  CAODC has 672 registered drilling rigs with between three and eight engines apiece. Each of these engines burn cleaner than their predecessors from the 1980s and earlier. We have more than 1,000 registered service rigs that have two or three engines each that are both on-road (Kenworth, Peterbilt, Freightliner, etc…) and off-road (rig engines), as well as generator engines.

The environmentalists distribute propaganda that argues the fossil fuel industry pollutes the environment. I find this funny and hypocritical that the exhaust from an average car produces more emissions than a diesel engine on a modern drilling rig.  When you multiply that by the hundreds of thousands of environmentalists who still drive cars (but oppose oil!), we can reasonably infer that they are polluting the atmosphere more than our industry is.

Further to these changes, the industry has developed an entire series of engines capable of burning 70 percent cleaner natural gas. These bi-fuel engines reduce the need for 70 percent of the diesel required by the engines and burns even cleaner.

So let’s put this into perspective. Our industry has made significant changes to help reduce our environmental footprint while the environmentalists preach wind and solar power which is carbon negative, meaning it takes more fuel to build them than they will ever produce. They preach electric cars which run off lithium batteries which are re-charged at stations that obtain electricity from coal-fired power plants. One lithium mine alone creates a more sizable environmental disaster than all of the tailings ponds in any heavy oil production.

Before you allow someone to throw stones at Canadian oil and gas, I suggest everyone google the differences in carbon input and output as we are the lowest carbon inputter to produce what everyone uses and needs. The drama placed on the industry is just hype for a bunch of know-nothings who are attempting to get their skewed points across.

We made these changes ahead of any policy change or government regulation because oil and gas contractors in Canada are ahead of the curve and know it’s simply the right thing to do.