Protecting the environment is a core commitment for Hess and a central part of the work we perform every day. We strive to reduce our footprint across the range of our potential environmental impacts, including water and energy use, air emissions, waste and spills. We dedicate significant staff and resources to this effort to help ensure compliance with environmental laws and regulations, international standards and voluntary commitments. We have developed key performance metrics to track our environmental performance and drive improvement over time at both the enterprise and asset levels. Some of these metrics are also factored into our annual incentive plan, helping to further advance our culture of environmental stewardship.
The communities and ecosystems where we operate depend on water to thrive. Hess operations have the potential to impact water resources, primarily through our use of fresh water and possible impacts on water quality that could occur due to well integrity issues, spills or discharges. We continue to employ a risk based, lifecycle approach to managing water through which we carefully assess and work to mitigate any potential impacts on water resources in both our onshore and offshore operations.
Water management, in particular reducing the potential for impacts to freshwater resources, continues to be one of our most material sustainability issues. In 2020, we updated our stressed water resource analysis in the Bakken region – the primary region where we use fresh water for our operations – and confirmed that we are not operating in any high baseline water stress areas. While the potential for us to impact fresh water is therefore limited, we know this is an issue of importance to our stakeholders and generally for safeguarding the environment.
Lifecycle Approach to Well Integrity
Maintaining the integrity of our wells – that is, preventing the uncontrolled or unintended release of oil, natural gas or produced fluids to the surface or belowground to aquifers – is fundamental to protecting the environment, the health and safety of our workforce and the communities where we operate and to safeguarding our product.
For all Hess wells, both offshore and onshore, we take a lifecycle approach to integrity. In the initial design phase, we identify the appropriate barrier systems for maintaining integrity throughout the well lifecycle. We establish these barriers during construction and maintain and monitor them through production and maintenance, and then we add new barriers during abandonment.
Our global standards for well integrity outline the criteria for installation, verification, maintenance and operating limits for barriers to be used through the lifecycle of the well, and they require completion of a detailed well barrier diagram before undertaking activities in the field. We use a combination of barriers – such as casing, wellheads, seal assemblies, blowout preventers, cement, packers and bridge plugs – that work together to prevent uncontrolled flow. For example, we use cement in the annular space between the casing and the underground formation as a key structural component to protect aquifers. See pages 58–59 of our 2020 Sustainability Report for more details on our approach to well integrity.
Leak Detection and Repair
Hess employs a leak detection and repair (LDAR) program at our production facilities in North Dakota. The LDAR program covers each fugitive emissions component at these facilities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a “production facility” as “all structures, piping, or equipment used in the production, extraction, recovery, lifting, stabilization, separation or treating of oil, or associated storage or measurement, and located in an oil or gas field.” The agency defines “fugitive emissions component” as “any component that has the potential to emit fugitive emissions of methane or volatile organic compounds at a well site, production facility or compressor station, including but not limited to valves, connectors, pressure relief devices, open-ended lines, flanges, covers and closed vent systems, thief hatches or other openings on a storage vessel, compressors, instruments and meters.”
In 2020, we continued to enhance our LDAR field assurance team. This team conducts audible, visual and olfactory (AVO) inspections and optical gas imaging (OGI) on equipment that has the potential to emit fugitive emissions. The AVO inspections are scheduled monthly. OGI is conducted semiannually by trained operational personnel at our production operations in North Dakota and quarterly at our gas plant and compressor stations in the state. Based on EPA standard leak rates, our repairs to fugitive emissions components in 2020 in North Dakota reduced carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to removing approximately 482 cars from the road.
AVO inspections involve making observations (e.g., of fluids dripping, spraying, misting or clouding from or around components), listening for sounds (e.g., hissing) and noting smells (because Hess equipment is typically in mixed hydrocarbon service and so volatile organic compounds are typically present when leaks are identified). During the monthly AVO inspections, and as part of their daily work, reliability operators monitor equipment for leaks and document the results. We require reliability operators to be trained and experienced in the appropriate operation of each piece of equipment involved in their work activities and familiar with Hess operations in the areas where they work. They are also required to complete training on the Hess standard work documents for each piece of equipment subject to AVO inspection.
OGI is performed by field assurance personnel in our regulatory group who are certified in the use of infrared thermal cameras and other monitoring techniques (such as EPA Method 21) to detect fugitive emissions.
If a leak is found during inspection, we have a “first attempt” deadline of five days for repair. If a repair within five days is not possible, the leak is documented and a fix is required within 30 days.
We have also committed to replace all remaining high bleed pneumatic controllers across our North Dakota operations by the third quarter of 2021 (see page 52 of our 2020 Sustainability Report for more detail).
These measures, together with the steps we are taking to reduce flaring, will help to further reduce our fugitive emissions in North Dakota.