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UW Graduate Students Work with British Petroleum to ID Effective Reclamation Practices

July 14, 2011

Two graduate students at the University of Wyoming will compile then sift through a database from British Petroleum of more than 1,000 gas well pads to glean the best restoration and reclamation practices in Wyoming's natural gas fields.

Renewable resources students Benjamin Wolff and Michael Curran, working with the Wyoming Restoration and Reclamation Center (WRRC) and BP, are collaborating with Conservation Seeding and Restoration (CSR), a reclamation contractor for BP, to identify effective and timely reclamation practices.

Both BP and WRRC are funding the project, said Pete Stahl, director of the WRRC, which is in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

"BP is contributing its large reclamation database developed over the past seven years working in Wyoming gasfields with an estimated value of $1.2 million," he said. BP is paying the salaries of two CSR employees to work on the project, and the WRRC is paying for the students' graduate assistantships and travel costs.

CSR is based in Kimberly, Idaho, with a field office in Rock Springs.

Gary Austin, BP America's regional regulatory adviser, and CSR restoration ecologist Steve Paulson, who have worked together on gasfield reclamation in western Wyoming for several years, initiated the project. They met with Steve Williams, a professor in the Department of Renewable Resources, who works with the WRRC, and Stahl, Wolff and Curran.

"I think they could see how much benefit could come from this kind of research - advancing the state of land reclamation in the cold, high deserts of Wyoming, not only for BP and CSR, who will certainly benefit, but for the whole industry and state of Wyoming," said Wolff of Laramie, who took on the project for his thesis.

"We all have very strong interests in reclamation and also in improving our ability to accomplish good land reclamation in the challenging environments we have in Wyoming," said Wolff.

Working out the details took time but, "All agreed the research and potential benefits are too important to let details get in the way," he said.

The database could help identify trends that lead to successful reclamation of sites disturbed by oil and gas drilling, said Curran of Manasquan, N.J., who will also develop his thesis from the project.

"If we can pinpoint and understand these trends leading to successful reclamation, that knowledge is going to play a huge role in implementing successful practices on future reclamation projects," he said.

Organizing the database is the first phase. The database will incorporate more than 1,000 BP well pads undergoing reclamation. Later this summer, general reclamation trends will be isolated and techniques for further examination identified.

The infusion of Geographic Information System information will boost the database horsepower.

"Without the geospatial component, essentially all we have is a database that can perform limited operations," said Wolff. "The geospatial component allows us to take the analysis several steps further by integrating space and time with data transformation to produce complex models and thematic maps. This allows us to better understand reclamation by isolating gaps in knowledge and identifying reclamation trends."

The results could have wide-ranging effects.

"Not only is this research going to be helpful to BP and CSR," said Curran, "but it will be a valuable tool for all of those involved with land reclamation associated with oil and gas extraction in the Rocky Mountain region."

Results and any recommendations coming out of the study, including best management practices, will be made publicly available, said Stahl. 

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