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We implement high environmental standards for our operations in order to ensure that our actions today will not only provide the energy needed to drive economic growth and social well-being, but also secure a stable and healthy environment for tomorrow.

Responsible production of oil and natural gas requires practices that carefully manage and minimize any impact on the environment and the people who live near our operations.

We work with regulatory agencies, communities, landowners, business partners and other interested parties to design production systems that consider everyone's interests while caring for the environment – be it air, land or water. We focus on the safe and proper management of the well site and facilities, drilling and completion operations, and product transportation. We believe our job is not finished until proper site cleanup and restoration is completed.

Protecting Water

We are committed to protecting groundwater and surface water by adhering to strict well integrity procedures and safe water management practices at the surface.

During drilling activities, one of the most important objectives for us is to protect groundwater. To isolate and protect freshwater zones throughout the life of the well, we design and construct new wells with multiple barriers of steel casing and cement. We closely monitor system pressures during drilling and completion activities. When drilling through freshwater zones, we use air or freshwater-based fluids to prevent water contamination. We hold fluids recovered from fracking in tanks or lined pits and manage them in accordance with government-approved methods to ensure safety and environmental protection. Additionally, in some areas we have begun baseline groundwater sampling to assure we have no impact on drinking water aquifers. We plan to expand this program to other areas as new shale resources are developed.

At the end of a well’s productive life, we follow stringent site-closure requirements. These include setting cement plugs and/or mechanical barriers inside the well to isolate and protect freshwater sources.

We implement water management practices to use this vital resource efficiently.

Cooperation in Action

In the Permian Basin of West Texas, ConocoPhillips engineers Ramesh Sharma and Austin Shields recently collaborated on a project to use treated, recycled water during the completions process. Their goal was to utilize "produced water" - water produced normally during the course of drilling activities – instead of fresh water.

Water is scarce in the Permian Basin, where there is little rainfall, and energy companies compete with agriculture for fresh water. Sharma, a Water Solutions staff process engineer, and a multidisciplinary team from the region headed by Shields, a completions engineer, looked at ways to complete wells using "challenged" water – water that is unsuitable for human or agricultural use.

"Produced water is a plentiful resource, especially in the Permian, so it makes sense to use it instead of disposing of it," Sharma said.

In addition to reducing the need for freshwater, the use of produced water means there is no need to transport large quantities of water into the drill site, greatly reducing traffic in the area and wear and tear on local roads.

"We're trying to utilize less freshwater by developing technologies that will allow us to use more challenged water, and we're making good progress. In the Permian Basin pilot test where we used 100% recycled produced water, it cost less than if we'd used freshwater. That's good for the environment, the company and the shareholders,” said Greg Leveille, technology program manager, Unconventional Reservoirs.

Shields and Sharma consider this project just the beginning.

"We're getting experience under our belt. We worked up from using 50% recycled water on the first and 75% on the second well. We used 100 % recycled water to complete the fourth and fifth wells. A few months later we used 90,000 barrels of treated, recycled produced water in 30 stages of hydraulic fracturing," said Sharma.

We also founded the Eagle Ford Water Consortium, a group of oil and natural gas producers that meets regularly to share information about water use planning and to interact with local and state regulators. In addition, using our own research findings and technological advances within the industry, we continually strive to reduce and conserve the water we use in fracking. In the Eagle Ford, we have reduced our water usage by up to 45% by modifying the composition of our fracturing fluid. This change was first implemented in early 2011 and is now applied to all our new Eagle Ford wells.

Respecting the Land

In 2012, we had more than 40 scientists on the North Slope of Alaska conducting a variety of environmental studies from hydrology and archaeology to mammal and fish studies. We work cooperatively with local communities and agencies, along with other stakeholders, to ensure that we monitor and track changes to the ecosystems where we operate. To date, our studies have shown that impacts to the animals that call the North Slope home have been minimal.

We apply technology and design facilities to reduce land impact and also work diligently to restore former production sites in an environmentally responsible manner.

The use of horizontal and directional well drilling technologies allows us to access resources deep underground with less disturbance to land. We also strive to drill multiple wells from a single drilling pad. This reduces the equipment, roadways and pipelines needed to complete a project. In the Eagle Ford area of Texas, we routinely place up to 5 wells on a single well pad that occupies only 12 acres of land, roughly half the acreage traditionally required for separate well pads. “Drilling multiple wells from one pad also minimizes the amount of time we are actively developing an area because we don’t have to move the drilling rig,” says Lori Notor, Regulatory Supervisor for the ConocoPhillips Rockies Business Unit.

In addition, we work closely with land owners and government authorities to manage our operations in a way that protects wildlife and ecosystems. Our planning processes incorporate studies on local wildlife and natural resources to identify potential impacts from our operations. We use the data to make necessary modifications, such as locating well pads and facilities outside nesting habitats, adhering to timing restrictions and reclaiming land by planting vegetation that provides forage for animals and birds. Reseeding with native plants during our land restoration work gives us the opportunity to make a positive change that will improve the landscape for generations to come. “We work to minimize our disturbance to the environment,” said Donna Williams, Regulatory Advisor.

Cooperation in Action

Partnering with state government and industry peers over the past 4 years, ConocoPhillips has helped lead an unprecedented voluntary conservation effort to protect the habitat of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard on federal lands in Texas and New Mexico. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined in June 2012 that the lizard does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act. "The voluntary conservation efforts of Texas and New Mexico oil and gas operators, private landowners and other stakeholders show that we don't have to choose between energy development and the protection of our land and wildlife. We can do both," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar when he announced the decision.

We are proud to play a role in such environmental preservation efforts.

Monitoring Air Quality

We operate in a manner that protects air quality and reduces emissions.

We are committed to reducing emissions from our activities and following all applicable governmental regulations. Since 2000 we have instituted a variety of programs to achieve emission reductions, including the use of infrared cameras to detect minute natural gas releases, reducing methane venting during well completions and installing new automated flare-monitoring alarms. Over the past five years, such steps have helped reduce or prevent the release of nearly 9 billion cubic feet of methane emissions from our facilities within the Lower 48 U.S. states.

Forward Looking Infrared Radiometer (FLIR) cameras detect leaks in wellheads, tanks, emission-control equipment and pipelines. Rapidly scanning large areas, the cameras enable operators to pinpoint even small leaks in real time, well before they could be detected through conventional means. This allows us to find and repair leaks faster, reducing atmospheric emissions as well as associated safety and fire hazards.

We were also an early adopter of reduced emissions completion technology (“green completions”). Green completions occur after a well has been drilled. During well completions, following hydraulic fracturing, natural gas and hydrocarbon liquids flow to the surface, bringing with them a portion of the fluids injected as part of the completion process. In a green completion, operators bring temporary processing equipment to the well site to separate gas and liquid hydrocarbons from the water produced during the flowback period of the completion process. The gas is then captured to be flared or sent to pipelines for eventual delivery to consumers.

In our U.S. San Juan Business Unit, a pilot green completions project started in 2007 has captured approximately 3.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas. “That’s the equivalent of the production from 3 wells,” says Gary Hancock, an engineer in the San Juan region. “It makes sense both for the environment and for business.” All our wells in the San Juan Basin now utilize green completions, and the company plans to extend the project to as many other regions as possible.

In some cases, green completions are not feasible due to a lack of pipeline infrastructure, insufficient natural gas flow to the surface or flow of gas that is unsuitable for recovery. In such cases the gas is flared. Flaring is a controlled burning process that safely eliminates volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as well as methane, yielding carbon dioxide and water. If safety, environmental or other conditions prevent flaring, the natural gas is vented.

We have a sustainable development commitment to reduce flaring and venting when possible. We work to improve energy efficiency, recover product and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Examples include:

  • Use of closed loop gas handling systems for well completion and service.
  • Plunger lift optimization and controller upgrades.
  • Compressor and gas plant optimization.
  • Blowcase installations.
  • Small-scale solar for remote power.
  • Sale of CO2 from a gas processing plant for use in enhanced oil recovery.

Approximately 1,200,000 metric tons of CO2(e) emissions were reduced or avoided by implementing emission reduction projects in 2013 bringing the total from 2009 to 2013 up to 5.3 million metric tons, an average of 1.1 million metric tons (approximately 4%) per year.