Application of a companywide environmental management system (EMS) and guidelines is a best practice for environmental performance assurance in the oil and gas industry because it helps to institutionalize environmental protection efforts. While implementation of these systems and guidelines is a very positive step toward promoting sustainability and environmental stewardship, it sometimes fall short of fulfilling this goal with regards to designing and developing the most sustainable new projects possible. A key to this shortcoming is the alternatives analysis element of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. The EIA process is typically a company's first in-depth look at environmental components of a project and proper application can make the difference in defining the sustainability of development projects.

EIA is most valuable when used not only to help identify, predict, evaluate and mitigate potential impacts of proposed developments upstream in the decision-making process, but to support a robust decision-making process about the basic design and scope of the project. Environmental and social impacts of projects tend to be readily predictable, but unfortunately not readily quantifiable. Therefore, decision making tools used in alternatives analysis may not adequately reflect the external environmental and social costs associated with a given project. For this reason, economic and technological considerations are often unintentionally prioritized in the decision making process and become the true driving force of early project decision making. Environmental and social concerns are less often addressed up front, and are more often addressed in the EIA's Environmental Management Plan (EMP) where they are managed over the life of the project and sometimes beyond.

While EMPs are vital to minimizing and mitigating environmental and social impacts, there are risks to allowing environmental and social concerns to be addressed only after most technical and design planning has been largely finalized. This paper will demonstrate the importance of addressing environmental and social considerations through EIA alternatives analysis early in the project decision-making process, review cases in which this has or has not been accomplished and review tools that can be used by decision makers to support alternatives analysis in EIA. The tools explored, sustainability appraisal, true cost accounting, scenario planning and modeling software, take into consideration the true costs of environmental and social impacts. Their application in EIA alternatives analysis can help assure more sustainable projects.

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