Throughout our operations, we focus on a systematic approach to caring for the land – from environmental assessments during our exploration activities, to wildlife and vegetation protection during production, to planning and implementing reclamation activities when drilling is complete. Our business units take a proactive approach to understanding the assets we own and/or operate, to assess both associated risks and potential opportunities. This involves a team approach, in which staff from Operations, Asset Integrity, Facilities, Engineering and HSE come together to identify priority sites for review. This may result in improvements to our internal processes or technologies, and to external elements such as updating community signage. These reviews are benefitting from the ever-increasing power of mapping and imaging technology, and from traditional observation techniques such as aircraft surveillance of pipeline routes, along with the personal observations from our staff as they visit these sites.
The following examples represent just a few of the related activities that we undertake.
We carefully consider issues such as traffic, noise, dust, light, and flora/fauna impacts in our development and operations activities. We work with local residents and independent environmental groups to help reduce our impact. This includes early engagement with local communities through town hall sessions and other communications avenues to discuss our full development plans, and listen to any concerns, questions or feedback that is provided to help shape our plans. For more detail on our stakeholder engagement, see our Report section.
Wherever possible, we reduce our footprint on the land by re-using existing well sites, flow lines and surface facilities to support development. This reduces the aerial impact of our operations and removes the need for the construction of new well sites or pipelines.
In Canada and the United States, we often employ the use of horizontal wells. Where sub-surface geometries are conducive, we program these wells from a single surface location or pad, with up to eight wells being drilled from a single location. Pad drilling reduces the aerial extent of the well site, surface facilities, pipelines and roads. To put this in perspective, a single vertical well has a surface impact of approximately 1.7 hectares, while an eight-well pad surface impact is only about 0.5 hectares per well. We also use this horizontal approach in France, in the Neocomian and Vulaines fields.
This reduction in surface footprint is amplified by the longer horizontal lengths of wells. In the past, one pad site would have developed about 20 sub-surface hectares (1,400 metres in horizontal length); today, we can develop 1,000 hectares from a single pad site (up to 3,000 metres of horizontal length).
Our Pembina stacked play in Canada has the added environmental benefit of being able to share surface infrastructure, such as roads, pipelines and processing facilities between several different geological plays. This higher well density reduces driving distances, and therefore emissions associated with development, monitoring and maintenance of wells. It also optimizes equipment and energy used during development and maintenance of productive reservoirs.
In The Netherlands we also re-used existing well sites. During our 2014/2015 drilling program, we drilled nine wells, six of which were from pre-existing well sites, thus reducing the need for the construction of new sites or pipelines. In addition, all of our lease sites are sealed with asphalt to isolate them from the groundwater table. We collect rainwater that falls on our lease sites in a series of berms, gutters and storage systems so we can confirm first that it is safe to release back to the environment.
In Australia, our leading edge use of horizontal drilling and the re-use of existing well sites also reduces disturbance of the sea floor and impact on marine life.
In France, thanks to a request from a local beekeeper, honey is now harvested from our Saint-Méry battery site. It turns out that our site is a strategic location for beehives due to the presence of many fruit trees and acacias that are favourable to the proper development of the hives. The eight hives were placed in a small grove mainly composed of acacias, to position the bees as close as possible to flowers around which they can forage, thus optimizing the quantity and quality of the honey produced. The bee chosen is part of the "Buckfast" species, which is particularly hardy and renowned to be minimally aggressive. 304-2
Also in France, Vermilion was honored to sign the Natura 2000 Charter in 2019 for the "Zones humides d’arrières dunes des Pays de Born et de Buch" site in Gastes (Landes). This site includes a chain of large lakes and their main tributaries in Northern Landes and Southern Gironde. As part of our preparation for committing to Natura 2000, Vermilion replaced phytosanitary products with mechanical brushing and mowing to maintain our lakeside platforms in the region.
In Australia, Vermilion has led the effort to develop the regional oiled wildlife response capability necessary to effectively manage the impact of a large oil spill on wildlife. We funded the necessary equipment (a rapid response unit that would receive, assess and treat oiled wildlife) and training, created a register of wildlife responders, and developed “at call” capacity for support specialists. To enable all-industry access, we subsequently donated this equipment to the Australian Marine Oil Spill Centre, which is funded by the Australia Upstream and Downstream Industry group, which includes Vermilion. This initial investment and follow-up support from Vermilion has enhanced oiled wildlife response within Western Australia. While we hope there is never a reason to use this equipment, we are proud to have meaningfully increased the spill response capabilities of industry in our operating area. Please also see our Rigs to Reef project. 203-2 304-2
As part of Vermilion’s Asset Integrity Management System, we actively strive to reduce environmental releases, or spills. We report on all spills (all liquid types including fresh water, produced water, emulsion, hydrocarbons) by both number of incidents and volume through our Performance Metrics. Our spills are generally contained within the infrastructure designed to prevent any releases or spills from reaching the environment. Our goal is to recover as close to 100% of the released volumes as possible within the shortest time frame as possible.
An example of our focus is the program our Canada Business Unit undertook in 2017, when it reduced spills from 164 m3 in 2016 to 14 m3 in 2017. This contributed significantly to the lowest spill volume since we began recording in 2004 (when Vermilion was less than one-third its current size), and is the result of activities that include assessments of infrastructure, process review and training for staff and contractors. In 2018 and 2019, as a result of the higher spill profile of the assets acquired from Spartan in southeast Saskatchewan, our spill metrics in the Canada Business Unit have increased. We are currently undertaking a program of assessment, prioritization and mitigation to once again reduce the numbers and volume of spills. In the meantime, our legacy base operation continues to reduce release volumes.
We are committed to ensuring the long-term environmental stewardship of the land on which we operate. This includes complying with regulatory requirements associated with the temporary or permanent closure of those operations – known in the oil and gas industry as the Asset Retirement Obligation (ARO), and also by the terms abandonment (when it is permanently sealed and taken out of service) and reclamation (returning the land around the well to how it looked and was used before development).
Our timing for the permanent retirement of an asset is associated with the reserves that it still contains, our projections for the production of those reserves, and regulatory requirements. Our work includes assessing the condition of each asset, the work that needs to be done to properly shut down the asset (for example, plugging the well with concrete to provide a shield against further hydrocarbon migration to the surface), land reclamation work that would be needed around the asset to return it to its previous condition, and the ability to leverage other ARO work in the area, as it can often be more economical to perform this work on several closely located assets at the same time.