Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
August 2018

Private Environmental Governance in Oil and Gas: Unlocking the Complex Universe of Leading Management Practices

Cover of Journal Article

Since the mid-2000s, the United States has witnessed a significant expansion of onshore fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, sparking calls for greater control of industry impacts. Alongside fractured regulatory efforts, a broad private governance movement has encouraged adoption of voluntary measures—often called "best management practices" to control environmental and social impacts. The extent to which operators have adopted these practices is unclear. But the growth of published best management practices is impressive and suggests an important trend. To explore the role of best management practices in unconventional oil and natural gas production, this article in the Florida State Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law focuses on surface spills of hydrocarbons, drilling wastes, fracturing fluid, and wastewater at production sites. It builds on earlier papers identifying the top pathways and causes of surface spills, based on an analysis of spill records associated with unconventional wells in four producing states: Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania. While much of the academic literature has focused on subsurface releases and the potential for well bores to create a conduit to aquifers, this essay focuses on surface spills that can pose risk to surface and underground water sources. The analysis draws from a survey of fifty-four best management practices publications and an extensive review of the most relevant subset, to describe a suite of leading management practices that target surface spills.