Abstract

As U.S. shale play activities move from appraisal to production phase, it is increasingly difficult for surface operations to avoid impacts to environmentally sensitive wetlands and streams. Many shale plays are located in areas more visible to the general public than ever before in the history of domestic onshore oil and gas field development. Shale play development for oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids, has therefore resulted in increased scrutiny by agencies causing successful operators to be more proactive in the siting of wells and associated field infrastructure including access roads, flowlines, and gathering systems. Complex regulatory regimes must be navigated by producers and operators in each shale play and, although operating under standardized Federal regulations, are required to address the preferences of each regulatory agency, and in many cases, individual regulators themselves.

Working under new rules since 2008, regulatory agencies require offsets for unavoidable impacts to wetlands and streams to occur in the watershed where the impacts will occur. With limited mitigation acreage available in areas where surface rights are locked up by landowners and operators, and the increased visibility of environmental risk and liability from field operations, the need for proactive, creative wetland and stream mitigation solutions is self-evident.

In the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale, streams need to be crossed every 2,000 feet, often needing both a state and Federal permit. In the Louisiana Haynesvlle Shale, every fifth well pad typically requires a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. In the Eagle Ford shale, what is now an access road was once a dry streambed, which potentially should have been permitted, if indeed it was not.

A multitude of functional assessment methodologies are employed by regulatory agencies to assess project-related impacts on habitat functions and values. Even within a single shale play, these methods abound. Only through proactive understanding of complex regulatory regimes in each shale play can operators, producers and infrastructure providers plan for solutions early in their project life cycle, to eliminate operational risk and control their own destiny with regard to managing risk and operational liability in these environmentally sensitive areas.

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