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SPE 86582

Responsible Exploration In A Tropical Forest

R. Ratanga; M. Lee; Drs. A. Louis & Dr. C.H. Smit/ Smithsonian Institution, Gabon Vert & Shell Gabon

Copyright 2004, Society of Petroleum Engineers Inc.

spills has top priority but is not always avoided. Our activities
This paper was prepared for presentation at The Seventh SPE International Conference on have required unavoidable forest felling (terminal operations,
Health, Safety, and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production held in Calgary,
Alberta, Canada, 29–31 March 2004. camps, roads etc.). On top, the sole presence of industrial
This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE Program Committee following review of
activity, staff and associated community extensions, is
information contained in a proposal submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper, as expected to impact the environment. Therefore, the nature of
presented, have not been reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to
correction by the author(s). The material, as presented, does not necessarily reflect any our activities is such that it will always have some impact on
position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its officers, or members. Papers presented at
SPE meetings are subject to publication review by Editorial Committees of the Society of
the environment.
Petroleum Engineers. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper
for commercial purposes without the written consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is
prohibited. Permission to reproduce in print is restricted to a proposal of not more than 300 Minimizing the impact to this environment while at the
words; illustrations may not be copied. The proposal must contain conspicuous same time exploiting this area rich in Oil is a continuous
acknowledgment of where and by whom the paper was presented. Write Librarian, SPE, P.O.
Box 833836, Richardson, TX 75083-3836, U.S.A., fax 01-972-952-9435. challenge. In that respect we are focusing on two criteria: (1)
minimizing the environmental impact of our operations and
Abstract (2) understanding the impact of our operations on the
The protection and conservation of the Earth’s nature and environment and using this information in new projects and
biodiversity is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Areas development of the region. To meet these criteria dedicated
of overwhelming richness and fragile environment are located in efforts are carried out :
Gabon with Shell Gabon’s major activities carried out in a Emissions Control. Several emission reducing projects
protected area in the heart of the rain-forest. Protective have been undertaken or are on the breach of being
environmental measures are considered of eminent importance. implemented. Novel but elsewhere proven environmental
These are critical to meet Shell’s objective of responsible technologies are tested on pilot scale, which should provide us
exploration combined with the conservation of an unique with the full control over all our emissions
ecology. In this context several initiatives are actively pursued: Revegetation programmes dedicated to demanding soil
(i) dedicated emissions reducing projects are either implemented conditions in this area are carried out on an increasing scale to
or nearing realisation (2) re-vegetation programmes are executed minimize the impact of inevitable localized deforestation and
to minimise the impact of deforestation and (3) a Biodiversity its ecological consequences
project was started to document biological diversity in areas in The Biodiversity programme,comprises a Smithsonian
and out of oil operations. Institution-led field research study of the biological diversity
of the Gamba Complex of Protected Areas, in which Shell
Introduction operates. This programme has provided new insights into
understanding nature itself and the sensitivities of operating in
Shell Gabon carries out its exploration and production in the a biologically diverse environment.
heart of the rain forest in Gabon at the west coast of Africa, an
area characterized by an overwhelming richness in Control of Emissions
biodiversity but therefore extremely sensitive towards
industrial activities. Controlling our emissions is key to minimise impact. In
Our production facilities are spread over two main areas, this context we focus on four core areas: (1) discharges of
in the North, the Rabi and Toucan fields producing some receiving waters (2) emissions to the air (3) control and
60000 bbls/day and in the South, the Gamba/Ivinga fields management of our wastes and (4) prevention of Oil and
with a production of some 10000 bbls/day. Our main Chemical spills.
operations are at the coats, in Gamba, where is also located the Gabon’s law on emissions is limited and leaves room to
terminal which receives both the production from the South industry to demonstrate own responsibility and show
Operations and a large part of the North operations. commitment. Therefore, on all these topics Shell Gabon has
Our operations involve continuous emissions (1) Oil which set itself stringent standards and targets.
is discharged with the production effluents and (2) green Having the technologies on emission reduction in place
house gas emissions as a results of flaring, venting and and the corresponding processes implemented this alone is not
combustion and (3) the generation of a wide range of different an implicit guarantee for good environmental performance.
types of wastes. Controlling the occasional Oil & Chemical Assurance that these technologies are applied in the best
manner and that environmental management is fully
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embedded in our routine operations proved a key factor to launched to fully map the various COC effluents and to
success. Significant improvement was observed in all four identify methods for reducing the quantities. In specific
areas when Shell Gabon had introduced the Environmental situations heavy contaminated COC effluent was recycled to
Management System EMS that is accredited and complies the dehydration tanks via dedicated (closed) drain systems.
with the ISO 14001 standard. All our emissions and This significantly off-loaded the API system and contributed
environmental performances are monitored and registered to the current good performance of the API showing values
monthly and an independent authority – Lloyd’s Register consistently below 15 ppm (below what normally can be
Quality Assurance - assesses the overall performance. This expected from these systems).
system requires demonstrable continual improvement and AOC. In principle all surface run-offs are classified AOC
requires that the environmental targets are progressively more and end up into the API before discharge. A new project is in
ambitious every year; a commitment reflected in the results on progress to further reduce effluent loads to the API and to
emission control presented below: segregate clean rainwaters.
Technologies novel to Shell Gabon are explored to fully
Emissions of Oil in Water. Three major types of effluent control the COC and AOC effluents prior to discharge. Early
streams arrive from the operations. These are classified as experiments with reed bed systems indicate that this system
Accidentally Oil Contaminated AOC effluents (mainly the may offer a final treatment removing also dissolved
surface run-offs and effluent clean operations) Continuously hydrocarbons. The problems faced here are salt fluctuations
Oil Contaminated COC effluent (tanks drains, sample points, (from tank drains) and investigation currently focuses on the
cleaning yards etc.) and Production Effluents. Each of these selection of resistant and effective crops.
streams is classified on the basis of their (potential) Green House Gas Emissions Our greenhouse gas
contamination and receives dedicated treatment. emissions expressed in tonnes CO2 equivalent Global
Production Effluents. With the Oil some 100000 bbls/day Warming Potential (GWP) primarily refer to the flaring of
of associated effluent is co-produced. In our Rabi operations associated production gas. On top of that we include in our
most of this effluent is re-injected into the wells. In Gamba GWP emissions the gas vented, the HC vapour losses and
terminal this effluent is treated to separate free Oil before it is CO2 production as a result of combustion (turbines-
discharged into the compressors and transport). The targets we have set for our
sea. In the early GWP emissions reflect the Shell Group firm commitment to
150 days only a simple contribute to the
Fig 2: Shell Gabon’s policy for gas flaring and venting:
gravity separation • to pursue the continuous reduction of gas flaring
minimisation of
system was and venting from our operations the greenhouse
• to comply with all relevant statutory provisions,
installed and the • to integrate the management of gas flaring and
effect on a global
effluent was venting into our business processes scale. These
• to eliminate continuous gas disposal by venting
discharged via a and flaring from existing installations by years commitments are
2003/2008 respectively and
sea line 6 km out of • to pursue no continuous gas disposal by venting
laid down in the
the shore. Typical or flaring in new project design Shell Gabon
Oil in water levels GWP policy (Fig
were 100 ppm. 2).
Marked Our efforts to comply with these group standards were
improvements were severely affected by the physical behaviour of our Oil fields In
achieved after the 2001 we were confronted with an earlier than expected gas
installation of the
1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
breakthrough and consequently, our flare levels and thus our
Fig. 1 OIL
EFFLUENT - PPM first Induced GWP values rose by a factor 3 to 4 higher and at some stage
Surface Flotation we were producing more than 1000 MM m3/annum gas. In
(ISF) unit, treating the effluent drained from the dehydration 2002 we reversed this trend by adopting measures that
tanks and achieving Oil in water concentrations of 20-30 ppm. significantly (by more than 20%) reduced these emissions.
In anticipation on more stringent Group guidelines on the The upgrade of our
discharge quality of production effluent, our targets were 1200 Gas Breakthrough
compressors to
sharpened to max 15 ppm Oil in water for this effluent. recycle more gas
Several alternative secondary treatment technologies were < target > back into the fields
compared but as this effluent is very high in salt content (up to 800 and a careful Gas
90000 ppm TDS) with high fluctuations it was decided to Oil Ratio GOR
select physical separation technology. As our crude is not 600 management
aromatic and BOD contamination levels are expected to be 400 operation are
low, we could justify technology removing only free Oil. With typical examples
the installation of a second ISF operated in series we 200 that result not only
nowadays comfortably meet Oil in water levels below 15 ppm. 0 in reduced
Fig 1. reflect this marked improvement of Oil in Water 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
emissions – we will
discharges over last years. Fig 3 GAS FLARED MM m3 by then have
COC. This effluent passes a gravity type separation - API - stopped routine
before discharge. As part of EMS a thorough campaign was flaring - but at the same time ensures a more favourable
SPE 86582 3

pressure within the oil field; a measure that eventually will However, Environmental Impact Studies are now required
allow us a higher recovery of the amount of oil from the and executed before any of these activities are contemplated
reservoir. and the absolute minimum of deforestation is now imposed
For the near future the large Rabi Phase III project is in and balanced against parameters of safe operation practices.
progress, which comprises the installation of new high As a result stringent limits and rules are now set for the
capacity compressors. That will provide Shell Gabon with the construction of roads to transport drilling rigs safely and with
tools to achieve our ultimate goal to totally eliminate the a minimal environmental impact. The benefit is that the area
routine flare and significantly boost our Oil recovery required to construct roads and operate rigs has been
Waste. Various types of waste are produced and a Waste minimized to small footprints.
Management system was developed to monitor quantities and Erosion is and remains a significant problem in Gabon: the
to track and manage the final disposal routes. This design storm averages 126 cm = 50 inches per 6 hours
Management system was introduced in 1999 together with our (Gumbel 5-year return interval). Initially, the deforested zones
ISO14001 EMS. The systems aims to ensure disposal in an along roads and drilling locations start to act as water
environmentally acceptable manner and at the same time to catchment areas, which produce high runoff rates. During the
maximise recycling opportunities. The efforts have been heavy tropical downpours, significant splash erosion,
rewarding with significant reductions of the waste being combined with heavy runoff rates erodes even horizontal
generated whilst for the wastes generated in largest quantities surfaces. Soil losses of up to 60T/ha/yr are common on 1 to
a cradle to grave solution is pursued. 2% sloped deforested areas. If Hydro-seeding is not
Drilling muds and cuttings are re-injected into the wells. immediately applied, the resulting eroded sediment flows have
This subsurface disposal will ensure no adverse effect to the an immediate detrimental effect on the surrounding trees in the
environment forest, which die when the newly deposited sediment on the
Oily wastes are collected in dedicated, roofed basins. A forest floor exceeds 5 cm.
gravity based phase separation technology was applied to In Gabon the practice of Hydro-seeding has now become a
significantly reduce – factor 5 - the volume of the Oily proven mitigation process, whereby the seeds of fast-growing
sludges. The water phase was discharged with the production native species are applied in a slurry mixture containing
effluent via secondary Oil/Water treatment. The Oily phase is fertilizers and various growth enhancing products. The
returned into the process. The solution for the Oil creation of the hydro-seed mixture has become quite complex
contaminated sand thus far and fine-tuning of the seed mixture (counting now >30
35 has been secure landfill. We species) was needed to obtain a satisfactory plant succession.
expect to have in the near This experience and improvement of the product composition
future dedicated land farms has made hydro-seeding virtually independent of the soil
available for this sludge, constitution and the practice works well. After hydro-seeding
which would provide then the the first plants typically begin to appear within a week and >
20 final environmentally friendly 90% reduction of the erosion rates become measurable down
disposal route. to 0,6 -0,7 T/ha/yr after roughly 6-8 weeks. The resulting new
Oil & Chemical Spills. hydro-seeding vegetation has proven to be able to repair itself
Over the years significant when subsequent rain erosion damage occurs, and the final
improvements have been result is that the new vegetation becomes permanent.
5 achieved with respect to Hydroseeding is now being used routinely for restoration
improved control over our Oil of abandoned road berms and on drill sites, which have been
spills. The actions that were taken out of operation. We have found that the average
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
taken to achieve this would application of hydro-seeding accelerates natural re-growth by
SPILLS fall into three categories: (i) a factor of 15-30 years, with an added benefit of increasing
ISO 14001 EMS procedures significantly the associated elephant, buffalo and antelope
improved the adherence and the awareness on the populations. In 2002 alone, a total of 75,000 m2 of eroded
environmental impact of our acts. As a result incidents bare land has been hydroseeded and restored. Over the past 7
involving Spills were more accurately reported and remedial years substantial efforts have led to minimize the effects of
actions were implemented. (ii) improved maintenance deforestation. Since 1998 more than 75 hectares have been
procedures and (iii) the installation of closed drain systems hydro-seeded, which has translated in the significant
and catchment area’s around well-heads, valves and sampling

Equatorial Rainforest Re-vegetation Programs

The most visible environmental impact of onshore oil and

gas production and exploration activities in Gabon has been
the construction of a network of roads, pipelines, production
facilities and drilling sites in the equatorial rain forest and
savannas. These activities go hand in hand with site clearing. restoration of the equatorial rain forest whilst cutting short any
erosion exposures.
4 SPE 86582

The photograph’s present typical Shell Gabon road construction sensitive areas brings added environmental responsibilities.
in the rain forest in Gabon. Left: during the dry season, road Over the time standards have rapidly become more stringent
banks vulnerable to erosion; Right: four weeks into the rainy and the measures to mitigate environmental impact improved
season, eight weeks after hydroseed application. Notice the significantly. As a result today’s environmental performance
improved vigor of the young tree at the left side of the road. can compete with stringent environmental requirements
considered for this type of industry. Our management systems
The Biodiversity Programme require us to demonstrate continual improvement, which
implicates an extra assurance that our environmental
The nature of our operations is such that it will always performance stays ahead or is in line with accepted industrial
have an impact on the environment. To minimise the effects standards
we execute the environmental, social and health impact studies Oil in water discharges are meeting requirement of << 15
prior to new projects or any major project change. In addition ppm Oil which refers to most stringent industrial norm for this
to these measures, in 2000, Shell Gabon in partnership with industry. Much focus is on emissions of green house gasses.
The Smithsonian Institution, the Shell Foundation and the Shell Gabon has committed and embarked on new investment
Gabonese government, embarked upon a Biodiversity study in programmes to ensure to stop the routine flaring of excess
the Gamba Complex of Protected Areas, within which Shell gasses by Jan. 2008 whilst all intentional venting must have
has operated for over 40 years. Biodiversity is the variability stopped. Meantime significant flare reductions of >> 20%
among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, have been reported since 2001. Similar successes were
marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological achieved in Waste Management and Reduction and Oil spill
complexes of which they are part. Biodiversity occurs at the control - a reduction of 300% over the past 5 years with
(i) genetic level, (ii) the species richness and abundance level, valume spilt some 5 m3 /annum.
and (iii) the ecosystem level. Operating in a biologically Hydro seeding is now being used routinely for restoration
diverse area requires that operations take into account the of road berms and on drill sites, which have been taken out of
environmental sensitivities necessary for minimal impact on operation. We have found that the average application of
biological systems. It will alert additional sensitivity hydro seeding accelerates natural re-growth by a factor of 15-
parameters, which need to be incorporated in the planning 30 years, with an added benefit of increasing significantly the
process of new projects. associated elephant, buffalo and antelope populations. In 2002
Several biodiversity assessment studies have been alone, a total of 75,000 m2 of eroded bare land has been
executed thus far by the Smithsoian Institution, with two hydro-seeded and restored. Over the past 7 years substantial
major foci in areas where Shell Gabon operates. The first efforts have led to minimize the effects of deforestation. Since
study area was where Shell Gabon’s presence has been most 1998 more than 75 hectares have been hydro seeded, which
profound, in the area around the 40 year old Gamba Oil fields. has translated in the significant restoration of the equatorial
Mammals, birds, arthropods, fish, and herpetiles were rain forest whilst cutting short any erosion exposures
examined in the Gamba area using a variety of techniques. Particularly inspiring are the results of the Biodiversity
Results show ecological disturbance in the area, for example studies conducted with the Smithsonian Institution. Their
birds found were often associated with secondary (or research programmes have demonstrated that Shell operates in
disturbed) habitats. The Smithsonian established a laboratory an area of great biological interest to the world, and thus
base in Gamba for research, training, and outreach activities reducing the impact of our operations is important to conserve
related to biodiversity. Another investigation in the Rabi area, the biodiversity of flora and fauna.
which is in the midst of the tropical forest, demonstrated that The above findings are the evidence that Oil field
this region has relatively high biological richness for several development, even the heavy demanding petroleum industry,
taxonomic groups for the country. For example, Rabi is now can be executed hand in hand with responsible environmental
the site of highest reptile diversity in all of Gabon. The fact performance. It also demonstrates that this can be
that Shell Gabon operates for some 15 years in such a accomplished without unrealistic measures and even in areas
biologically remarkable area means that environmental that are considered extremely vulnerable. If we as petroleum
consciousness is due. industry can commit to the minimum environmental efforts,
An important spin-off achieved in this partnership is the take the responsibility and foster successes, we can make the
development of local expertise in Biodiversity. Dedicated difference and we can ensure that this valuable and rather
training programmes have been organised and a Biodiversity unspoiled area of Africa remains the unique heritage for next
Laboratory was operational from project inception in the generations to come.
Gamba area. This will increase the in-country capability to
train technical experts and to improve the local understanding
of its unique potential. It may even open up the ways to
explore responsible and sustainable development of the area
via the introduction of eco-tourism for the region.

Shell has been present in Gabon in exploration and production
of Oil for more than 40 years in vulnerable areas of high
ecological value. We have realised that operating in these