- Corporate Responsibility
- Royalty Owners
SWN is committed to the responsible use of water, a vital resource to our operations as well as the world. At all times we seek to minimize our company’s impact on water resources, and the centerpiece of this approach is our goal to be “Fresh Water Neutral,”1 which we have achieved for the past five years. This commitment is unprecedented in the oil and gas industry.
Fresh Water Neutral – Five Years of Giving Back to the Environment
SWN is the leader in a fresh water stewardship initiative unmatched by any other operator in the oil and gas industry. We celebrated our five-year anniversary of being Fresh Water Neutral in 2020, having returned 14.3 billion gallons of water to the environment from 10 conservation projects. SWN is the only shale producer with a net fresh water intensity of zero for five straight years.
Hydraulic fracturing requires more water than any other aspect of our operations, as we use it as the base for fracturing fluids. SWN employs advanced analytics to optimize water usage, and incorporates produced water recycling as much as possible. We also use fresh water to mix well cement and drilling mud, pressure-test pipelines, cool compressor stations and conduct other minor operational functions. We do not operate in any areas of baseline water stress based on the World Resources Institute’s Water Risk Atlas.
Water needs vary basin-to-basin, and even pad-to-pad, due to differences in reservoir geology, well depth, lateral length and other operational factors. SWN’s overall water use increased in 2020 from 2019. SWN’s average water use per well also increased in both Northeast Appalachia and Southwest Appalachia, attributable to increased lateral lengths and evolving fracturing fluid designs that require more water per well.
Fresh Water Neutral
SWN’s commitment to being Fresh Water Neutral is a key part of meeting our goal to be a model operator and lead the way in responsible energy development. Even though we do not operate or withdraw water in any areas of water scarcity, we seek to minimize our use of fresh water as much as possible. We accomplish this primarily through water reuse and recycling as our operations will continue to need fresh water. That is why we have committed ourselves to achieve and maintain Fresh Water Neutral operations. We have attained this goal every year since 2016, including 2020, and we believe we are the only oil and gas operator to achieve this benchmark.
Companywide Freshwater Use Compared to Fresh Water Neutral Offsets from Conservation Projects + Operational Offsets millions of barrels (MMbbl)
Companywide Freshwater Use
Fresh Water Neutral Offsets from Conservation Projects + Operational Offsets
A key part of our Fresh Water Neutral commitment is undertaking conservation projects in our operational areas to provide the volumetric freshwater benefits that match or exceed our operational freshwater usage. We work with governmental agencies, nonprofit partners and local community organizations to restore wetlands and natural flow regimes, improve water quality and aquatic habitat, and positively contribute to natural watershed functions, thereby protecting and increasing aquatic biodiversity. Most of the projects we have undertaken address legacy water pollution issues unrelated to oil and gas operations or activities, and provide a positive, lasting benefit to local communities. “New” fresh water from these projects provides a net “credit” of fresh water returned to the environment, which we use in our Fresh Water Neutral program to offset freshwater usage in our operations.
major conservation projects completed since 2014 in Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and West Virginia
gallons of beneficial fresh water from our 7 active conservation projects in 2020
gallons of beneficial fresh water from our 10 conservation projects since launching the Fresh Water Neutral program
Fresh Water Neutral in Appalachia Basin 2
Responsible Produced Water Management
Typically, between 5% and 20% of the water we use downhole flows back out of the well after hydraulic fracturing and during production. We manage this produced water safely and responsibly through storage, transport, reuse/recycling and, when necessary, disposal.
Recycling Produced Water
We recycle produced water back into our operations as much as feasible, which reduces our need for fresh water. We have increased produced water recycling rates across our operations through infrastructure investments, including pipelines and storage systems and improvements in our fracture fluid designs. Using pipelines instead of trucks to move water reduces a primary spill risk and significantly reduces truck traffic, further minimizing the environmental and community impacts of our business.
In 2020, we recycled 94.9% of the produced water we generated companywide.
If we are not able to reuse water ourselves, we work to safely share it with other operators for use in their operations. In 2020, we shared a total of 443,491 barrels of our produced water with other operators, sparing it from disposal. We also receive produced water from other operators when logistics and water quality are aligned with our operational needs.
The graphic below illustrates our water sources, water recycling and water disposal in 2020.3
Note: *Water use as shown here does not represent a closed system. Recycled and disposal volumes include rainfall inadvertently captured within production equipment and secondary containment. This water is collected and managed with produced water. Volumes shown may also be affected by storage and operational timing.
When we dispose of produced water, we do so in approved salt water injection wells and through vetted third-party service companies, as discussed below.
Produced Water Storage
We use a range of options to safely store produced water, including aboveground storage tanks and impoundments. We consider multiple factors to determine the appropriate storage method – most importantly, the safety of personnel and the environment. Other key considerations include regulations and permitting, topography, surface footprint, subgrade suitability, the quantity of produced water we need to store, operational support services (i.e., trucking, pipelines, etc.), proximity to disposal, economics (capital and operating expenses), length of storage and closure requirements.
In West Virginia, we store produced water in aboveground tanks, with lined containment berms under the tanks, appropriately sized for spill containment. In Pennsylvania, we use a combination of aboveground tanks and permitted impoundments. The impoundments are double-lined and equipped with leak-detection monitoring zones between and under the two synthetic liners. We also use groundwater monitoring wells around the impoundments to identify and address any potential leaks or spills.
Reducing Freshwater “Capture”
Inadvertent freshwater capture – or the collection of rainwater, surface water and groundwater in water storage impoundments, reuse/recycling facilities, secondary containment systems, groundwater monitoring systems or other facilities – results in water lost from the natural water cycle. We thus try to limit this capture. For example, we are reassessing the size and design of secondary containment systems. We have also developed and implemented a process to monitor, test and discharge uncontaminated groundwater rather than impound it with produced water. This process is conducted in accordance with state regulations, which allow for this option when the captured rainfall meets certain criteria.
When we are unable to recycle produced water, we dispose of it in accordance with applicable laws, regulations and best practices. For our operations in the Southwest Appalachia Division, produced water is trucked to Ohio for injection, and we avoid areas of seismic concern in this region. In Pennsylvania, we transport produced water to vetted third-party facilities equipped and permitted to reuse it or treat and discharge it. We do not discharge produced water to ground water, surface water or sea water, or to municipal water treatment systems.
In all regions, we are mindful of concerns and the latest scientific knowledge about wastewater disposal. We also conduct thorough assessments of salt water disposal wells and operators, which guide our site and vendor selection. In 2020, 3.9 million barrels of wastewater were disposed from our primary operating areas.
Protecting Water Resources
Hydraulic fracturing occurs thousands of feet below the surface, well below any freshwater aquifer zones and with layers of impermeable rock in between. Thus, the primary way we avoid impacts to surface water and groundwater supplies from our hydraulic fracturing is ensuring proper wellbore construction and integrity.
SWN uses industry best management practices (BMPs) for well construction, drilling, completion and maintenance, to ensure the integrity and soundness of our wellbores. These BMPs meet or exceed applicable regulations and are updated regularly as new technologies, practices and information become available.
Examples of BMPs include baseline water-quality testing whenever possible; monitoring each phase of drilling, completion and production; and verifying the mechanical integrity of the steel casings.4 When planning wells, we investigate historical drilling activity in the vicinity to ensure we avoid affecting nearby wells, including investigating public records of oil and gas and water wells and communicating with landowners about previous drilling.
During the initial drilling and completion of our wells, we use cement bond logs whenever required by applicable regulations. In addition, we use cement bond logging tools to evaluate wellbore construction integrity whenever shortcomings in the cementing process of casings are considered possible. When using these logs, we rerun the testing/logging process with pressure on the casing to test for good bonding. In addition, we place pressure gauges on all wellbore annuli for the life of the well and monitor these gauges remotely and through daily human interface to ensure wellbore integrity at all times. This allows any wellbore integrity issues to be detected early in the life of an issue.
We are also certifying our wells through Project Canary’s TrustWell™ program. In 2020, we renewed our Platinum certification on 20 of our wells in Northeast Appalachia through this program.
In 2021, SWN announced a larger agreement with Project Canary for certification and continuous monitoring across its Appalachia Basin operations.
In West Virginia and Ohio, we test all water sources within 3,000 feet of the drilling location, which exceeds the regulatory requirement to test sources within 1,500 feet. In Pennsylvania, we test all water sources within 2,500 feet of drilling locations, which matches state regulatory standards. We perform post-drill testing in all areas in response to water well complaints, if requested by landowners, or in cases where it is written into a lease agreement.
Ensuring Wellbore Integrity in a Typical Marcellus Shale Well
SWN takes very seriously any landowner or community concerns about surface water and groundwater, and we investigate every source-specific issue brought to our attention. We drilled 98 unconventional wells during 2020, bringing our total number of unconventional wells drilled through year-end 2020 to 5,853. Since 2005, we have recorded 250 instances where individuals have voiced concerns regarding privately owned groundwater wells in relation to our exploration and production operations (each, a “claim”). Of those claims, 171 were in Arkansas,5 64 were in Pennsylvania, 14 were in West Virginia and one was in Colorado. As the pie chart below illustrates, investigations ultimately revealed that in 32% of claims, no water quality problems were found at all.6 Further, 58% of the claims were conclusively shown to be attributable to bacteria7 (38%), drought (10%), stray gas8 (3%) and mechanical failure9 of the water well itself (7%). Note that scenarios where no diagnosis was possible (e.g., landowner permission was not granted for water well sampling/analysis) or where an investigation is still open or the claim is otherwise not yet resolved are classified as “Miscellaneous.”10
Well Water Impairment Claim Findings
SWN’s Unique Approach to Fracturing Additives
The fracturing fluid used in SWN’s operations is 99.9% water and sand. The remaining portion is made up of additives necessary for safe and effective completion operations and includes biocides, friction reducers, hydrochloric acid, scale inhibitors and corrosion inhibitors. These additives do not include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene or xylenes (BTEX) or diesel.
Breakdown of 0.1% Fracturing Fluid Additives by Type
SWN reports fracturing fluid composition for 100 percent of our hydraulically fractured wells to the voluntary FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry.11
Right Products Program
To better understand and address any potential risks associated with fracture fluid additives, we employ our Right Products program. Through Right Products, each fracturing fluid chemical is assessed at the component level against key environmental and health hazards (e.g., toxicity, bioaccumulation potential, appearance on a regulatory list of chemicals of concern, developmental toxins, carcinogens, etc.). The program has enabled us to honor suppliers’ right to protect proprietary information, while allowing us to assess the profile of our fluid additives.
We utilize a third-party toxicologist to conduct Right Products hazard assessments, and each product is given a numerical score. The toxicologist works with our suppliers to ascertain details as to a product’s chemical makeup, and SWN then receives the final score for the product and a corresponding summary report. Based on these results, SWN’s Chemical Advisory Board deems the product as being either approved or denied for use in SWN operations, or recommended for further evaluation. If a product receives a high hazard assessment score (implying potential concerns) and a ready substitute is not available, a more detailed risk assessment is conducted. Risk assessment findings are presented to SWN’s Chemical Advisory Board for a decision and are elevated for senior leadership consideration, as may be appropriate.
Right Products Program Scoring Results
357 products scored for 31 service companies and chemical suppliers
- Fresh Water Neutral means that, for every gallon of fresh water we use, we offset or replenish that gallon through aquatic environmental conservation projects or treatment technologies that return beneficial fresh water to the environment.
- Water use as shown here does not represent a closed system. Recycled and disposal volumes include rainfall inadvertently captured within production equipment and secondary containment. This water is collected and managed with produced water. Volumes shown may also be affected by storage and operational timing.
- Water use as shown here does not represent a closed system. Recycled and disposal volumes include rainfall inadvertently captured within production and secondary containment. This water, in some cases, is collected and managed with produced water. Volumes shown may also be affected by storage and operational timing.
- Casing is hollow steel pipe. See a video that details our horizontal drilling and fracturing practices and how we seek to ensure wellbore integrity. (Flash plugin is required.)
- We divested our Arkansas assets on December 3, 2018.
- “No problem” includes situations where the complaint is only due to aesthetics (e.g., naturally occurring iron or manganese).
- Naturally occurring bacteria in water wells is common in our areas of operation.
- Naturally occurring stray gas or methane is common throughout our operational areas and can affect groundwater. The term “stray gas” is used herein with no distinction between biogenic or thermogenic.
- “Mechanical” refers to a mechanical or equipment problem with the given water well (e.g., a broken pump).
- The “Miscellaneous” classification as used herein encompasses any claim not falling within another claim classification (e.g., brine contamination and diminution).
- See http://www.fracfocus.org.