Unintended Consequences to Anticipated Issues

After reading Doug Wyatt’s (now past president of DEG) last column in the June EXPLORER, which summarized DEG’s progress during the past year, I’m reminded of two things:

  • How far we’ve come in the last few years.
  • How important it is that we sustain those advances in the coming year.

While serving DEG in elected and volunteer roles is an honor, it is also a call to do something special with the opportunity we have to shape our society and our profession.

Congratulations, Doug; I hope you’ll help us continue the progress in this and future years!


I remember when I was a young boy in the early 1960s, and my grandfather driving me around the oilfields near Burkburnett, Texas – climbing rusty, rickety stairs on tank batteries to check the level of crude, and watching him periodically open his car door a crack to expectorate some Beech-Nut residue on the Wichita County gravel roads.

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After reading Doug Wyatt’s (now past president of DEG) last column in the June EXPLORER, which summarized DEG’s progress during the past year, I’m reminded of two things:

  • How far we’ve come in the last few years.
  • How important it is that we sustain those advances in the coming year.

While serving DEG in elected and volunteer roles is an honor, it is also a call to do something special with the opportunity we have to shape our society and our profession.

Congratulations, Doug; I hope you’ll help us continue the progress in this and future years!


I remember when I was a young boy in the early 1960s, and my grandfather driving me around the oilfields near Burkburnett, Texas – climbing rusty, rickety stairs on tank batteries to check the level of crude, and watching him periodically open his car door a crack to expectorate some Beech-Nut residue on the Wichita County gravel roads.

I also remember crossing salt-crusted draws that received the brines produced from those same fields, giving nary a thought to the ultimate fate of that salty water and what its effect on soil and water might be.

Most of that water undoubtedly ended up in the already salty Red River or in shallow alluvial aquifers along the drainages, slowly diluting over the subsequent decades with rainfall and runoff.

By the late 1960s, surface discharge of produced waters was banned in Texas, replaced with the requirement to dispose into the subsurface.

Now that process, once seen as the perfect solution to near-surface salinization, is itself under public scrutiny as a possible cause of induced seismicity.


This brings me to an overarching DEG theme for the coming year: Migrating our perspective away from dealing with unintended consequences of exploration and production activities to a mindset in which we try more rigorously to anticipate possible environmental impacts before they become an issue.

Our industry is overwhelmingly filled with professionals who want to do the right thing the right way, yet real or suspected environmental impacts recur with some regularity.

Some of these are small-scale accidents that would be difficult to avoid no matter the preparation, but more major ones could likely be anticipated and, much like the effects of a defensive-driving mindset that we cultivate while on the road, minimized or avoided entirely with adequate forethought.

Consider a few examples of environmental issues we have faced over recent decades:

  • The debate over climate change and the role of fossil fuels as a driver.
  • Salinization of soil and water through surface discharge and legacy wellbore leakage.
  • Hydraulic fracturing and the ongoing controversy over water usage, fugitive gas and induced seismicity.

Each of these issues could have been anticipated – and impacts avoided or minimized (or perhaps consciously accepted as an unavoidable side effect by society as a whole) – if we considered a broader view of potential environmental impacts as a routine part of our planning and development process.

With this in mind, I encourage all of those with an interest in environmental topics to participate in the conferences, meetings, workshops and short courses planned for the coming year to help shape the broader environmental discussion and spread the word about the issues we face and the effort we’re expending to address them.

At the 2015 Annual Convention and Exhibitioncxxuwyaszyxqybyxfaavsswv in Denver, for example, an entire theme will be devoted to Energy and the Environment. There are seven subthemes that address many of the environmental issues facing the industry today, including:

  • Carbon sequestration and EOR.
  • Water access, use and recycling.
  • How geophysics can help address environmental issues.
  • Public policy and relations.
  • Solar and wind energy in oil and gas production.
  • Unintended consequences – and better anticipating – of possible environmental impacts!

Please consider submitting abstracts on these and other environmental topics to the annual convention in Denver next May (abstract deadline Oct. 2!), the international meetings and the Section meetings to help us continue to cultivate a broader, more anticipatory environmental approach in our exploration and development activities that play such a crucial role in support of our civilization.

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