- Corporate Responsibility
- Royalty Owners
At SWN, to ensure that we minimize our operational footprint, we strive to leave the land we impact better than we found it. During our operations, we aim to minimize surface impacts, prevent spills, reduce waste and protect biodiversity.
We minimize our surface footprint by drilling multiple wells on each well pad (up to 10 wells per pad), where technically feasible. In 2020, we continued to increase the underground lateral length of our wells, allowing us to drill fewer wells to produce the same amount of gas.
Once a well is drilled, completed and producing, we implement restoration best practices – which meet, and in most cases, exceed regulatory requirements – to address potential erosion, invasive species and other site impacts. We continue to use a technology we pioneered for erosion and sedimentation control using pre-vegetated, natural materials. This technology provides immediate and ongoing erosion control, helps revegetate the area and reduces the amount of earth disturbance needed for site restoration.
When the time comes to close the final well on a pad, we generally restore the location to its original condition, absent landowner requests that the pad be left in place. Because most of our wells will produce for decades to come, our well closures at present are mostly older conventional wells that have ceased producing and exploratory wells that prove noncommercial. We employ best practices that guide the development and ultimate closure of our well pad sites and ensure we comply with applicable regulations.
We handle a variety of liquids in our operations – including natural gas liquids, fracturing fluid, produced water, recycled water and condensate – and our operational practices help ensure these liquids stay off the ground and out of waterways. We have spill prevention controls and spill response plans in place throughout our operations, and we regularly conduct spill response drills. Containment under facilities and equipment and catch basins under drilling rigs are designed to contain fluid that may fall, and the base area around each rig is covered with a heavy polyethylene liner. Shutoff valves on rigs enable us to immediately stop any leak or rupture. We keep records of every spill – even those captured by containment – and record near hits, so we can learn from those events and put preventative measures in place.
SWN defines, classifies and tracks Tier 1 and Tier 2 spills,1 portions of which are included as performance measures affecting our employees’ compensation and bonuses.
In 2020, Tier 1 and Tier 2 spills totaled 36 barrels. Approximately 84% of these spills were due to a produced water spill from a buried pipeline during water transfer for reuse. The remainder of the spills were small spills of produced water, oil, condensate, lubricating oil, oil-based mud and sediment during active operations. All spills of all types were remediated following regulations. Liquids were mopped up, and impacted soils were removed to ensure no impact to the environment.
We also benchmark ourselves against our peers based on a spill rate of Total Produced Fluid Spill Rate (TPSR). The TPSR is calculated as the barrels of produced fluid spilled outside primary containment divided by 1,000 barrels of fluid produced. In 2020, SWN had a TPSR of 0.009, ranking us in the top quartile among our peers.
Solid Waste Management
SWN’s primary solid waste stream is the mixture of rock cuttings and oil-based drilling mud that comes out of a well as it is being drilled. We have a companywide waste management policy and individual waste management plans for each operating region. We review the policy and plans annually, to ensure we stay aligned with any changes in state or local regulations. We also provide waste management and other waste-related training for all relevant personnel.
Our operations use closed-loop systems to manage drilling mud, meaning that cuttings and associated fluids are captured and then separated.
After separation, the liquid mud is reused for drilling and the solids are removed from the well pad in covered, lined trucks. This material is further processed and then disposed in approved disposal sites. Before choosing a landfill, our Health, Safety and Environment team conducts a rigorous audit to ensure appropriate regulatory compliance and conformity with SWN standards; periodic follow-up audits are also conducted once a landfill is selected. At this time, we are unable to beneficially reuse drill cuttings, due to regulations in our operating areas. However, we explore beneficial use options for this waste stream, to reduce the volume of cuttings that are disposed in landfills.
Naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) can occur in very small concentrations in some rock formations. Our NORM management program specifies procedures for detecting, managing and disposing of NORM-affected materials. All remediation or decommissioning of NORM waste is conducted by a third-party company licensed for that purpose. See the Health and Safety section for more on how we protect our employees from NORM.
In and around SWN facilities, we take care to protect ecosystems, plants and animals. In all of our operating areas, we survey for potentially threatened and endangered species before beginning any construction, and we meet or exceed all associated regulatory requirements. We continue to monitor and mitigate potential impacts on biodiversity throughout our operations, including the management of erosion and invasive species.
SWN’s assets overlap with the habitat of several bat species, including three listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as endangered or threatened.2 In 2018, we put 50 acres of land under conservation to provide habitat for threatened and endangered bats and installed bat boxes to encourage colonization of the area. In 2019, we began a monitoring program for bats in areas where we implemented conservation measures after operations in the area, and that monitoring continued during 2020. Monitoring of the bat boxes will continue until 2024.
Several of the conservation efforts we’ve undertaken as part of our Fresh Water Neutral work have had the effect of restoring habitat for threatened or endangered species.
- A Tier 1 spill is an unintentional release of a regulated or prohibited substance impacting a state/federal jurisdictional water body, an unintentional release of a regulated substance at or above its federal reportable quantity, or an unintentional air impact at or above a state/federal reporting threshold. A Tier 2 spill is an unintentional release of a regulated or prohibited substance impacting land off location or an unintentional air impact below a state/federal reporting threshold, to include only natural gas releases of 235,000 cubic feet or more.
- The Endangered Species Act defines a "take" as to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. An incidental take is a take that results from activities that are otherwise lawful.