One of the top executives of a Canonsburg-based natural gas production company provided a look inside its environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy, saying it was fundamentally ingrained in how it did business and approached drilling wells.
Olympus Energy is a privately held company, based at Southpointe, that holds 100,000 acres in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties and has drilled 14 wells, including Midas, which in 2020 became the longest drilled in the Appalachian at 4 miles underground. But Michael Wahl, SVP and COO of Olympus, told a virtual webinar on ESG efforts in the oil and gas industry that a commitment to the community and a concern for the environment are part of everything Olympus does.
Wahl, who last year was promoted to COO when industry vet Tim Dugan became CEO, said ESG permeates everything the company does, from planning and drilling its wells to its work in the community and continual assessment and improvement at every level of the company from the ground floor to the boardroom.
“ESG is part of our DNA,” Wahl said. “You see it in our values, in our mission, in our corporate motto, ‘Designed to make a difference.'”
Wahl said that Appalachian natural gas companies have traditionally excelled on innovation and greenhouse gas reduction: the Marcellus and Utica shales produce more than a third of the United States’ natural gas but only 10% of the natural gas emissions, predominantly because operators have made innovation a priority. A recent study found that three drillers — Range Resources Corp. (NYSE: RRC), EQT Corp. (NYSE: EQT) and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. (NYSE: COG) — lead all in the industry in terms of the least amount of emissions intensity.
“We can’t and we won’t stop there, simply saying that we’re low on emissions intensity,” Wahl said. He said that some operators were moving toward net zero emissions and the entire Appalachian natural gas industry continued to innovate and hold each other accountable.”
The Midas well — which was more than 4 miles wide underground — is an example of how Olympus has put ESG efforts into reality. He said the company takes into account the impact on the community of drilling and seeks, from the beginning, to minimize earth disturbance, heavily reuses water, and designed a pipeline system that eliminated the need for trucks to bring in water. That minimizes the impact on the roads in and around the drilling site and increases safety; Midas delivered fresh water via pipeline and its 2021 drilling program is also being planned without the need for freshwater trucks.
“Imagine a construction project being able to bring in its largest material without having to truck it in,” Wahl said. “That’s really what we’re talking about in the benefits to the community.”
The driller also uses no-bleed and electric pneumatics at the well site and increasingly electrifies its operations, using its own natural gas instead of diesel fuel, to cut down on emissions and noise.
“We see Midas as a nice example of what ESG looks like from an innovative development standpoint,” Wahl said. “It’s committing to doing the right things, doing the right things, and then continuing to ask questions and seek out improvements in every single aspect of the operation.”
ESG — environmental, social and governance issues — have a key role at Olympus, he said.
He also said Olympus Energy was committed to improving its performance in another aspect of ESG, diversity and inclusion. He said that was the area that needs the most work and it requires a continual commitment. Wahl said the natural gas industry was “severe laggards on racial diversity.”
“We aren’t where we need to be,” Wahl said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
He said the company has been spending time talking and learning about diversity and inclusion, starting up formal discussions and a diversity book club as well as having key partnerships in the community that can help it do better in the area.
“ESG … it can’t just be something that is part of a slide deck. It has to be ingrained in the decision-making,” Wahl said.
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