The primary goal of reclamation on oil and gas lands is to restore site stability and ecosystem functions, returning disturbed lands to their original use or use prior to disturbance, such as crop production or wildlife habitat. The benchmark for successful reclamation typically is the establishment of a native plant community that is self-sustaining and meets standards for density and forage production, and the re-contouring of all disturbed surface areas to match or blend with the original landform.
In modern, environmentally friendly field developments, an operator’s permit to drill usually includes a limit on the total surface area that can be disturbed at one time. Because of this restriction, interim reclamation is conducted during the construction, drilling, and well production phases of oil and gas development to ensure that surface disturbance is within the limits established in the drilling permit. During interim reclamation, land on a well site that is not being used for production but has been disturbed should be undergoing the reclamation process through recontouring, topsoil replacement, and revegetation.
Encana's Lifespan Planning Approach
EnCana's approach to successful reclamation begins before the first shovel hits the ground.
Final reclamation is also required after a well is depleted or if it proves to be dry. The well must be plugged, and the well site and other areas disturbed by road or pipeline construction must be reclaimed and plant communities must be restored. The timeline for reclamation after a well is plugged varies by state.
QEP's Enhanced Reclamation Program
Steps to successful reclamation.
Operators on federal lands must include a reclamation plan in their surface use plan of operation to be approved by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). BLM and USFS expectations for a reclamation plan can be found in the Chapter 6 of the agencies’ Gold Book: Surface Operating Standards and Guidelines for Oil and Gas Exploration and Development. The BLM finalizes an operator’s final abandonment notice, with final approval being contingent upon reclamation meeting the standards of the surface managing agency. Throughout the reclamation process, the operator holds responsibility for monitoring reclamation progress and ensuring its success.
Primary Resource Document (applicable throughout the following section)
BLM & USFS Gold Book
Topsoil and Soil Amendments
Preserving and salvaging sufficient topsoil is an integral part of reclamation and is necessary for reclamation success. Until topsoil is used during interim or final reclamation, the Gold Book stipulates that it should be kept separate from subsurface materials and erosion controls should be implemented to protect the topsoil stockpile from wind and water erosion as well as impacts of heavy machinery.
Contouring and Erosion Control
Good reclamation of roads starts with good design and construction. For creative thinking on access roads, see the Environmentally Friendly Drilling Program's Low Impact Access Roads page. See the Global Petroleum Research Institute's Low Impact Testing of Oil Field Access Roads for the latest advancements being made in reducing the environmental footprint of oil and gas operations in desert ecosystems.
Recontouring is required during both interim and final reclamation. All disturbed surface areas, including the well pad, road areas, and pipeline flows, must be re-worked to sit at the original contour or blend with the original landform. Adequate erosion control will provide for site stability and generally comes with successful revegetation.
International Erosion Control Association
The establishment of a self-sustaining plant community is vital in marking reclamation success. Standards for revegetation on oil and gas lands vary by state but typically include a specified level of cover, density, vigor, resiliency, diversity; control of highly competitive non-native species; and freedom from noxious weeds.
There are many approved methods for re-seeding and culturing, including drilling, broadcast seeding, hydroseeding, dozer track walking, mulching, irrigating, and fertilizing. If seed fails due to drought or other extreme conditions, the surface management agency may grant the operator a delayed timeline for re-seeding until the adverse conditions have passed. They may also require additional culturing such as mulching or irrigating.
Soil type, market availability, wildlife needs, and agency or landowner requirements should all be considered when choosing a seed mix for a site. While the surface management agency or a private landowner may approve select non-native species for reseeding, mixes composed primarily of species indigenous to the area being seeded typically are preferred or required. In some cases, the appropriate agency field office will prescribe an already determined seed mix.
JIO Recommended Plant List
NRCS Wyoming Plant Materials Program Page
NRCS Plant Materials Reference
Weed Infestations and Invasive Species
Standards for successful reclamation include limits on noxious weeds and practices for successful weed control. For more information about non-native and invasive species, please visit our Rare and Native Plant Resources page.
USDA Federal Noxious Weed List
Colorado Noxious Weed Act
USDA State of Colorado Invasive and Noxious Weed List
Montana's Statewide Noxious Weed Awareness and Education Program
USDA State of Montana Invasive and Noxious Weed List
New Mexico Noxious Weed Information
USDA State of New Mexico Invasive and Noxious Weed List
Utah Noxious Weed Act
USDA State of Utah Invasive and Noxious Weed List
Wyoming Weed and Pest Control Act Designated List
Wyoming Weed and Pest Law
USDA State of Wyoming Invasive and Noxious Weed List
Reserve Pit Reclamation
Reserve pits are a holding area for the dumping and dilution of drilling fluids, drilling cuttings, and operation fluids produced by exploration and production in the natural gas industry. Because of the hazardous nature of pit storage materials and the potential for contamination, the Gold Book recommends operator’s use a closed-loop pit system or line open pits with an impermeable liner.
Regulatory standards for reserve pit structure (closed-loop or open¬-loop, lined or unlined) and reserve pit reclamation practices and timelines vary widely by state (see reclamation comparison table. Generally, pit materials must be dried or solidified prior to backfilling. Although oil and gas wastes are exempt from hazardous materials regulation by RCRA, some nonexempt materials do exist and must not exceed standards set forth in CERCLA prior to backfilling and reclamation. For more information on reserve pits, please visit the Water Quality Resources page.
Earthworks Alternative to Pits
Earthworks Pit Pollution
Administrative Rules of the State of Montana, Drilling Waste Disposal
RCRA Exempt Waste
Utah Department of Natural Resources Notice to Oil & Gas and Disposal Facility Operators Re: Drilling Mud
WOGCC Pit Closure Guide
WOGCC Approved Pit Treatment Companies
Regulatory Bodies and Resource Documents
In the Intermountain West the BLM and the USFS are the regulatory authorities for reclamation on federal lands, while oil and gas conservation commissions, boards, or divisions regulate reclamation on private and state lands. In Wyoming, extensive oil and gas activities and regulatory overlaps led to the creation of a coordinating office -- the Jonah Interagency Mitigation and Reclamation Office (JIO). Resource documents and agency contact information for these offices and other federal or state agencies that influence reclamation processes follows below.
Bureau of Land Management
The Bureau of Land Management manages energy development, including leasing, permitting, inspection, and enforcement for 256 million surface acres and 700 million sub-surface acres of mineral estate in the United States. Chapter six of the BLM’s Gold Book is a resource for those searching for the reclamation standards expected by the BLM and the USFS.
BLM and USFS Gold Book
BLM Gold Book Onshore Order #1 Reclamation and Abandonment
New Mexico BLM Restoration Page
Utah BLM Planning Page
Wyoming BLM Reclamation Page
Wyoming BLM Reclamation Policy
Jonah Interagency Mitigation and Reclamation Office
Created by the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Jonah Field, the JIO’s mandate is to "provide overall management of on-site monitoring and off-site mitigation activities." The JIO is responsible for assessing reclamation evaluations conducted by operators and making recommendations to the BLM about final acceptance of reclamation. The JIO developed criteria used to assess rollover (which determine if an acreage can be subtracted from the total land area considered disturbed) and final reclamation status. The BLM is then responsible for evaluating and accepting recommendations from the JIO regarding operators’ reclamation success or failure. If the JIO determines that reclamation criteria are not being met successfully, and the BLM accepts that assessment, the BLM then is responsible for suggesting remedial actions to the operator in question.
Jonah Interagency Office
U. S. Forest Service
Like the BLM, the USFS manages reclamation of disturbed lands, requiring a reclamation plan to be part of any surface operation plan that has the potential to disturb lands. Chapter 2840 of the Forest Service Manual offers regulatory guidance for reclamation activities.
USFS Reclamation Web Site
USFS Training Guide for Reclamation Bond Estimation and Administration
Oil and Gas Conservation Commissions, Divisions, and Boards
State oil and gas conservation commissions, divisions, and boards are an important regulatory authority for reclamation activities on state and private lands, and, in some cases, on federal lands. These include the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation; the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department Oil Conservation Division; the Utah Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining; and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
COGCC Oil & Gas Reclamation Rules (1000 Series)
COGCC, BLM and USFS Wildlife Management Guidelines for Oil & Gas Development
MBOGC Restoration Rules
New Mexico Oil and Gas Conservation Division Rules
Utah Oil and Gas Program
WOGCC Reclamation Guidelines
State Lands Offices
State lands offices, boards, and commissions may set reclamation bonding requirements and oversee reclamation activities for oil and gas disturbances on state lands.
Colorado State Lands Board
Montana Trust Land Management Division
New Mexico State Land Office
Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments
Utah State Lands
Other Organizations and Resource Documents
Healthy Lands Initiative
The Healthy Lands Initiative is a federal program focused on collaborative, landscape-level vegetation enhancement at energy-wildlife interfaces in critical sagebrush habitat in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada.
Healthy Lands Initiative Fact Sheet
Colorado Landscape Conservation Initiative Factsheet
New Mexico Landscape Restoration – Permian Basin Factsheet
New Mexico Landscape Restoration – San Juan Basin Factsheet
Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative Fact Sheet
Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative
Natural Resources Conservation Service
The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Plant Materials Program runs in partnership with the Bridger Plant Materials Center and the Upper Colorado Environmental Plant Center. Participants in the program work to identify plants that will meet specific conservation needs in Wyoming and the West. Species performance levels are tested, and those plants that are high-performing are released, along with cultivation techniques, to the private sector to be developed commercially.
Petroleum Association of Wyoming
Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center
Administered jointly by the College of Agriculture and the School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming, scientists at the Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center facilitate restoration programs for students, conduct research on disturbed lands, and also do outreach work.
Web Site: http://uwadmnweb.uwyo.edu/WRRC
Research Publications and Presentations