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Analysis of Environmental Aspects

of Exploiting Unconventional Reservoirs

T his paper presents an analysis

of the environmental aspects of
the exploitation of unconventional
ment, 10–13 represented biotic or eco-
logical factors, and 14–20 represented
human environment:
affects hydraulic-fracturing
8. Land Quality—High-quality
reservoirs in order to evaluate the 1. Temperature—Low land results in greater risk
risk of the activity. To this end, the temperatures result in a longer to the environment from an
existing normative framework, the time for recovery; biochemical accidental spill or degradation
natural and socioeconomic conditions processes are slower. Extreme from occupation, erosion, or
of the area, and the applicable temperatures result in operational contamination.
technologies are considered. The technological challenges. 9. Hydrologic Regime—Increased
novelty of this work is the analysis 2. Precipitation—High levels of intermittence of the watercourse
of the factors that determine the precipitation make the land less increases the risk of torrential
environmental risk including stable, raising the risk of water activity, erosion, and flooding,
technologies, environmental conditions erosion, landslides, torrential raising the risk of accidents
at the site, and the legal context in phenomena, floods, and other during the operation phase.
the region. extreme events. 10. Ecoregion—The type of
3. Contour—Abrupt land contour ecoregion affects sensitivity
Methodology changes increase the risk of and vulnerability.
A review and comparative analysis was erosion, landslide, or mass 11. Physiognomic Diversity—A
performed of the general and environ- removal. higher diversity of species or life
mental regulatory framework in Argen- 4. Wind—Frequent and intense forms increases the risk to more
tina where unconventional exploration winds increase the dispersion species because the ecosystem is
or exploitation activities are carried of atmospheric pollutants, more vulnerable and has a greater
out. This analysis was completed with especially particulate matter, biotic wealth.
a review of the effluent-management and can lead to potential 12. Highland Ecosystems—High-
strategy, comparing it with criteria contamination of populated altitude ecosystems are more
used by other countries, especially the or  productive areas. vulnerable to human activity.
United States. 5. Water Depth—Deeper 13. Protected Ecosystems—
In order to perform a preliminary groundwater increases the Proximity to protected
evaluation of the environmental risk, a risk of contamination by ecosystems or species with
structured, conceptual, and qualitative intentional or accidental spills, legal protection presents a
analysis was conducted in specific sec- as well as contact with hazardous greater risk of degradation and
tors corresponding to each of the areas substances. environmental damage.
of exploration and exploitation. 6. Wetlands—The proximity to 14. Infrastructure—The lack of
Depending on the information avail- wetlands (e.g., streams, rivers, roads or paved roads increases
able at the regional level, and based on lakes, and ponds) increases the risk of accidents and leads to
the analysis of satellite images, each the risk of contamination by necessary adaptation, increasing
site was characterized according to intentional or accidental spill. the environmental effects of the
20 parameters. Parameters 1–9 rep- 7. Water Resources—The entire activity.
resented the natural physical environ- availability of water resources 15. Services—A deficiency in
public services (e.g., energy, gas,
water, and sewage) increases the
This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights
risks and environmental effects
of paper SPE 185546, “Importance of the Study of Environmental Aspects in the
associated with a greater human
Exploitation of Unconventional Reservoirs for Risk Assessment of the Activity in presence and an increase in the
Argentina,” by M.A. De La Zerda and E. Erdmann, SPE, Instituto Tecnológico de demand for natural resources.
Buenos Aires, and R. Sarandón, Universidad Nacional de La Plata, prepared for the 16. Waste Management—The
2017 SPE Latin America and Caribbean Petroleum Engineering Conference, Buenos availability of integrated solid-
Aires, 17–19 May. The paper has not been peer reviewed. waste-management systems or

For a limited time, the complete paper is free to SPE members at

JPT • AUGUST 2018 81

special- or hazardous-waste- The following three components with identification of the environmental
management systems increases make up the environmental risk of ex- effects and mitigation measures for
the environmental risk of ploration and exploitation—the envi- potential risks.
the activity by increasing the ronmental regulatory framework, the Although all stages of the activity may
generation of waste. conditions of the surrounding environ- be relevant to environmental risk, the
17. Populated Centers—Proximity ment, and the technology used. location of aquifers and the depth of res-
to populated centers increases ervoirs are critical during drilling, com-
the risk of interference with Evaluation of the Legal Framework. pletion, and hydraulic fracturing. The
local activities, the degradation Different types of environmental regu- completion of wells is the most critical
of essential natural resources lations exist for the exploitation of hy- stage because a barrier failure would
(e.g., water), the restriction of drocarbons: general and specific rules cause contact between the hydrocarbon
movement of people and goods, for the activity and the sector. The Ar- and the external environment.
the competition for natural gentine National Constitution, Article The availability of water is another
resources, the alteration of the 41, explicitly incorporates the right to a important factor. Drilling and fractur-
local economy, and spontaneous healthy, balanced environment suitable ing requires a large volume of water,
immigration. for human development so that pro- approximately 20,000 m3/d. The vol-
18. Productive Areas—Proximity ductive activities satisfy present needs ume of water used in fracturing is rare-
to areas of intense agricultural without compromising those of future ly 1–2% of the total water used in the
activity increases the risk of generations. Other regulatory measures area; however, if the region is suffering
interference with local activities, include national and provincial environ- from water shortages, any water extrac-
alteration of the pattern of land mental laws that contain principles of tion might cause concern to the pub-
use, degradation of resources, environmental management. lic. In areas of severe water scarcity, re-
and competition for inputs and cycling of produced water and mixing
local labor. Preliminary Environmental Site As- with high-salinity brines that are too
19. Territorial System—The sessment. The 20 indicators defined saline for agricultural use is possible,
intervention in unstructured earlier were analyzed for each of the 30 and surprisingly effective and economi-
territorial systems increases selected sites. Remote sensing provid- cal, in large-scale fracturing operations.
the risk of their degradation ed sufficient information on terrain and Technology should play an important
and the alteration of patterns geoforms, land cover, type of vegetation, role in increasing the water efficiency of
of occupation and mobility. proximity to bodies of water, land uses the activity.
20. Historical Areas—Intervention (e.g., agriculture, livestock, and forest Technology plays a fundamental role
in areas protected by their plantations), infrastructure (e.g., roads in all the stages involved in the exploi-
historical or archaeological value and electric lines), populated centers, tation of unconventional resources.
increases the risk of degradation areas of special management (e.g., natu- Identifying those stages with greater
or damage to local heritage. ral protected areas and aboriginal terri- risk potential is important in order to
For each of the 30 sites considered, tories), and territorial structure. It also be able to enhance technical and other
each parameter or indicator was ana- allowed mapping of study areas. Comple- mitigation measures.
lyzed and a value was assigned on a scale menting the analysis with a field visit to
of 1 to 5, corresponding to a lower (1) or the area under study also can be useful. Conclusions
greater (5) environmental risk. The environmental assessment of Environmental risk assessment is a
Finally, an analysis of exploitation the site, together with the evaluation useful tool at regional and subregional
activity was conducted, identifying for of the regulations, allows for defining levels. It can be conducted with back-
each stage the main activities, risks, and or adjusting the technological complex- ground information and can be comple-
environmental effects and possible mit- ity and the environmental-management mented with information from remote
igation measures. In addition, possible system to be used. sensing and, possibly, a visit to the area.
technologies for the treatment of flow- The result of the analysis of areas
back water and its reuse were analyzed Analysis of Applicable Technologies. with unconventional reservoirs high-
with respect to their physical/chemical Technological innovation plays an im- lights the most-relevant environmental
characteristics and the volume of water portant role in the development of un- factors at risk. Together with the eval-
to be treated. conventional hydrocarbons, to maxi- uation of regulations, the assessment
mize volumes with minimal production allows for the identification of techno-
Results and Discussions costs and to consider and internalize logical complexity or management sys-
Environmental aspects are critical to the challenges of fulfilling the environ- tems and the areas with the highest and
the development of unconventional- mental norms and conditions, including lowest levels of environmental risk. This
hydrocarbon exploitation. In this con- natural and social aspects. In order to allows for the identification, implemen-
text, environmental risk includes the set evaluate the influence of the technology tation, and development of potential
of factors related to environmental is- used on environmental risk, the main mitigation measures with the objective
sues that can affect the activity. stages of the activities were analyzed of achieving sustainability. JPT

82 JPT • AUGUST 2018