One of the most fundamental approaches to oil and gas production is the use of abandoned formerly producing wells and plants- this is called brownfields. Brownfields can actually store hidden deposits of oil and gas that could not have been discovered before as a result of technical imperfections in the companies. In addition, the decision to use brownfields may be related to the company’s desire to stay in the region. However, this approach is associated with severe risks, ignoring which is disastrous for the company. In this study, as a result of an extensive literature review, seven clusters of such risks and constraints affecting brownfields directly or indirectly were identified. In addition, for each of the risks, recommendations for their management were proposed.
The oil and gas industry continues to be an essential source of fuel for efficient human activities. This industry is thought to be traditionally involved in the extraction, refining, transportation, storage, and sale of oil and related petroleum products, which include associated petroleum gases. It is generally estimated that daily demand for petroleum products will reach the 99.4 million barrels per day mark, which is about 10.6 percent higher than even a decade ago, as shown in Figure 1 (Sönnichsen, 2021). It is clear from these projections that consumption of oil and gas products is increasing smoothly every year — except in 2020, when there was a COVID-19 pandemic — which means that industrial, governmental, and public needs are also expanding. This includes an increasing demand to develop new fields and search for those territorial areas whose potential deposits have not yet been entirely consumed. Data reports that the world’s oil reserves have been proven to be 1,732.4 billion barrels by 2020, which creates an excellent prospect for their development production processes (Sönnichsen, 2021). Thus, stimulating the development of the oil and gas industry has a high commercial value since there is a clear gap between the current development opportunities and the potential reserves of oil and gas of the Earth.
Humanity has learned since the last century how to effectively search for potentially profitable oil deposits and use pumping stations to obtain crude oil. Using an integrated approach that combines analysis of the earth’s magnetic fields, historical trends, geological analysis, molecular trace, and exploration of gravity fields for areas makes it possible to predict the existence of large deposits of oil that would have high commercial potential. To put it another way, the global community is perfectly aware of the areas in which to expect deposits of oil and associated gases. Reference to Figure 2 allows us to trace which areas on the planet today are widely used or suspected to be used based on the results of a complex, unstoppable process. In other words, it would be correct to postulate that humankind is already actively using the oil industry for oil and petroleum products by the current moment.
However, there are no processes in the world that are not causally linked with consequences, including negative ones. In fact, the history of oil well development began more than 150 years ago, and during that time, a considerable number of reservoirs have been used and abandoned. Pumping oil, especially by companies of the last century, was rarely accompanied by concern for the environment, so extraction processes ended up leaving contaminated, oil-contaminated soil and ignoring the environmental consequences of such a disaster. Such lands turn out to be saturated with fuel because it is impossible to ensure a completely smooth, uninterrupted process of its extraction, not associated with possible leaks in the pipelines of drilling and transport rigs. On the other hand, existing oil and gas drilling rigs may not be used at full capacity because of problems related to technical, economic, and even political settlement. Therefore, a combined threat is created when already established oil and gas production plants not only do not show high productivity but also cause environmental damage. Such fields in this research paper we will conventionally refer to as brownfields.
The concept of brownfields emergence should be attributed to the core of the oil and gas industry — from this point of view, any oilfields are considered as purely business-project. One must admit that the oil map of the world is dynamic because changes occur almost every year; some fields are closed, others are opened. That is not surprising, given that much investment in the past decade has been directed at the oil industry. Researchers at S&P Global reported that “more investment is needed in the upstream oil and gas sector not only to sustain production as global demand grows but to drive the transition to cleaner energies” (Spencer, 2021). The discovery and development of new fields is not always a more profitable business project than the use of existing brownfields, even though there is a need to link new technological and managerial solutions with the existing production capacity of enterprises. One cannot, however, unify the reasons for working on brownfields because, in addition to saving some finances, this approach also helps to improve the environmental safety of the region and preserve the historical legacy of past eras when abandoned factories were actively used.
The methodological basis for this research paper was to identify the key risks, constraints, and consequences that a business project management team may face when deciding to use brownfields. A key academic interest was to increase knowledge of all the different facets of brownfields as field projects and the potentially associated advantages and disadvantages. While this paper does not focus on greenfields as lands that are only being developed from an oil and gas production perspective, some comparative analysis of brownfields is an important component of a holistic paper. The paper conducts an extensive literature analysis to identify all of the possible risks and limitations associated with the use of brownfields. In addition, it is determined why brownfields as a business project are significant at all; in other words, what benefits they can bring. As a conclusion of this study, the author proposes a number of recommendations and strategies, the use of which is predicted to cover the maximum number of risks and quickly adapt to any changes. Thus, the purpose of this study is to identify the risks and assumptions that are associated with brownfields in terms of managing fields as business projects.
A Brief History of Use
Throughout history, human communities have always attempted to make rational use of natural resources to meet the practical challenges of fuel supply. The use of wood, silt, rocks, and coal could not fully meet the consumption needs of an ever-growing population, so it was necessary to find additional sources of energy that were high in supply, high in energy efficiency, and high in capacity. Today it seems evident that oil satisfies most of these needs, but people were not always aware that oil existed at all, much less could be used for industrial purposes. Nevertheless, it is believed that ancient peoples accidentally discovered the energetic properties of the black viscous liquid and tried to use it in small-scale production. In particular, the ancient Chinese are believed to have been among the first to discover oil while mining salt deposits underground-an accidental discovery (Sun et al., 2019). The Chinese used bamboo rods with metal tips to excavate the earth and extract salt deposits from there; this extracted tiny drops of black liquid along with the salt, which the people of ancient China used as combustible fuel for lamps. The ancient Persians also used the black substance and, according to the records of Marco Polo, used oil not only for fuel but also for medical purposes (Imsirovic et al., 2021). However, the widespread use of oil as a critical fuel source occurred along with the development of the industrial milestone of civilization, when the issues of energy efficiency and fuel supply became particularly acute.
Although fragments of the history of oil use have survived from the records of the ancient world, the true pioneer of the oil industry is Edwin Drake. Drake was an American businessman who saw potential in oil, so he engaged in the rather risky activity of extracting this substance not on the surface of the earth but in its subsurface (Brice, 2019). Drake’s first years of work brought no results, causing his services even to be abandoned by his partner company, Seneca Oil. Soon, in late August 1859, the entrepreneur found large deposits of oil in what is now Titusville, Florida. Although Drake began making good money and gradually developed his own business, he made the mistake of not patenting the method of production, resulting in serious competition in the industry market. Since then, the market for oil and petroleum products has seriously expanded, and huge conglomerates are depleting the earth’s oil reserves every day by speculating on sales.
The Importance of Oil and Gas
By now, it is clear that oil is an important source of fuel, but of great interest is the study of oil in terms of its industrial significance. The standard view is that oil is a naturally occurring black or dark brown, the oily combustible liquid that releases large amounts of energy when burned (Chen, 2022). In terms of its chemical composition, oil is a colloidal mixture of high-order complex hydrocarbons based on substances of the alkane and cycloalkane classes. In addition to them, oil also has a high content of compounds with aromatic rings, i.e., substances of the arene class. Because of the complexity of the composition, there is no single chemical formula that would satisfy the composition of the oil. Oil deposits have probably been formed in the bowels of the planet for thousands of years, with geographic and terrain features influencing the final composition of the oil. This means that oil extracted from different fields will have different chemical compositions.
The physical properties of the oil are very different from the liquids the average person is accustomed to. As a colloidal solution in which there is a large variety of small molecular compounds, oil has a relatively low density and viscosity, which in turn are functions of temperature. Reference to Table 1 shows that the coefficient of dynamic viscosity of an oil is maximum at minimum temperatures, and at -25°C reaches 2440 mPa∙s, which is about two thousand times higher than the average viscosity of liquid water at low temperatures. At the same time the density of oil is also very low and often below that of water; for this reason, oil-water mixtures are often separated into fractions such that the oil is above the water level (Basaleh et al., 2020). However, it should be kept in mind that oil is heterogeneous in its consistency and differs in physicochemical properties depending on the region of origin, so each particular grade of crude oil is measured with its own characteristics.
The geological neighbor of oil is thought to be natural gas, which is also a mixture. Natural gas consists mainly of methane, CH4, but can also include heavy gaseous hydrocarbons, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide (EIA, 2021). In fact, some distinction should be drawn between naturally occurring gas and what is called associated gas for oil. Natural gases are formed naturally independently of oil deposits, whereas associated petroleum gases are the dissolved component of oil and are released later during its extraction and diffusion. However, when using the term oil and gas industry, this division of gases into different types is generally not used, so here and below the analysis of the gas part of the oil and gas industry will mean both types of gases at once, natural and natural, since their chemical composition is highly similar.
From a biological point of view, there are different hypotheses as to how oil was accumulated. According to one of the most recognized theories, oil is the product of the biological decomposition of organic residues. For example, the biogenic theory implies that the remains of zooplankton and primitive plants may have been transformed into oil over tens of thousands of years (Volkova et al., 2021). Such remains were deposited at the bottom of the oceans for a long time, accumulating a single organic layer impregnated with kerogen. This viewpoint raises concerns because it indicates that oil is finite at the moment. Indeed, the biogenic mechanism implies that living organisms will be transformed into oil during degradative development after death, but in the altered anthropogenic reality of today’s world, such transformation seems complicated. Moreover, existing oil may be pumped entirely out of the bowels of the earth, and it would take tens of thousands of years to produce new reserves naturally. On the other hand, oil could be of inorganic origin, with water interacting with iron carbides as a result of sedimentation and mass diffusion. The idea that oil can really be obtained by the interaction of water with iron compounds was first suggested by the Russian chemist Mendeleev (Punanova, 2020). From this point of view, oil is of mineral origin, and given the existence of cycles of elements in nature, oil is conventionally inexhaustible and, in general, can easily be synthesized artificially. In fact, there are many more valuable assumptions and theories about how oil was created, but they are all based primarily on the recognition that oil is an inexhaustible resource that is critical to the industry.
Consequently, it is appropriate to emphasize that life in modern society is strongly connected to the daily use of oil and petroleum products, including associated gases. Oil is the primary energy-producing industry, and this industry not only creates tens of thousands of jobs all over the planet but also develops scientific and technical equipment for extractive processes and environmental awareness of communities. Using oil and gas as fuel saves other natural resources, including coal, and increases the energy efficiency and logistical burden of transportation systems through the use of pipelines. Every day, communities use petroleum products, whether gasoline, kerosene, or bitumen, as fuel and construction resources, but the importance of oil goes beyond that. Today’s textile, cosmetics, and plastics industries also cannot exist without petroleum, as it is petroleum products that make up synthetic fabrics, facial cosmetics, and plastic products. In this sense, assuming that oil as a resource will abruptly run out one day, the whole of humanity will find itself in a severe crisis deficit — the remaining oil will rise in price dramatically, and demand is expected to decline. Communities will have to find alternatives to using oil urgently, and the period of search will be marked by probably one of the most significant social and economic crises in the world.
It is noteworthy to emphasize that oil and gas deposits are rarely located in close proximity to the earth’s surface but instead lie at great depths. According to Aera (2019), oil and gas cavities can be as deep as 30,000 feet or 9 kilometers, but such deposits are rarely used because of technical difficulty. In contrast, most of the wells used are rarely deeper than two kilometers (EIA, 2018). In this context, it is especially noteworthy that the longer humankind has been using a particular field, the deeper the oil and gas reservoirs are. Figure 3 perfectly illustrates this pattern, with the average depth of field exploration missions increasing rapidly over time. Consequently, it is appropriate to conclude that as time passes, the average depth of oil-drilling rigs will naturally increase, which means that more and more technical capacity will be required to do so.
Meanwhile, gas cavities turn out to be even more technically complex because gas is formed in the earth cavities under high pressure. It is for this reason that gas often escapes on its own; humanity knows many examples of stationary burning areas above the ground, which traditionally had a religious-mythical origin. Gas is not always a by-product of oil, so additional methods of exploring for natural gas are necessary for companies that are interested in finding purely natural gas.
Processing Crude Oil
As noted, crude oil is a multicomponent system, which means that separating it into separate fractions is of prospective importance to the oil and gas industry. Fractional distillation of crude oil is used as the primary production process, where as the temperature of the mixture increases, it begins to effectively separate into components depending on the boiling point of each fraction (Abou Rjeily et al., 2021). Thus, the oil fractions have similar chemical and physical characteristics but are primarily united by a common boiling point. In the rectification column, an example of which is shown in Fig. 4, substances with the highest boiling points will condense at the lower levels of the vertical column, while the upper strata separate substances with the lowest molecular weight, including associated petroleum gas. This separation is based on the process of chemical cracking, when, as a result of heating oil and petroleum products, hydrocarbons of a large order are symmetrically separated into substances of alkane and alkenes classes (Abou Rjeily et al., 2021). Thus, the rectification of oil is a crucial step in its processing. Oil refining almost never takes place in the field because serious production facilities are required, which are impossible to use in the field. Therefore, crude oil in its crude form is delivered to refineries, where it is first subjected to primary separation from impurities and then loaded at high temperature into a rectification column.
The individual oil fractions are much more convenient to work with because, although they remain blended, they are components of a similar chemical and physical nature. For example, one of the primary processing procedures in petroleum processing, according to Abou Rjeily et al., is reforming it (Abou Rjeily et al., 2021). During catalytic reforming, the gasoline fractions of the oil undergo aromatization, which leads to an increase in the aromatic arenes in the composition. This is a valuable practice to increase the octane number, allowing the energy efficiency of gasoline to be improved as well. As it is known, different types of gasoline at gas stations are labeled with numbers that actually indicate the percentage of isooctane in particular gasoline — the higher the number, the higher the quality and energy efficiency of the fuel and, consequently, the more expensive it is. In addition, post-rectification processing of crude oil is carried out using technical processes of coking, cracking, alkylation, and isomerization: each of the processes solves the applied problem of modifying fractions to improve its energy or technological characteristics.
The Exploitation of Oil Fields
Understanding the oil production potential of a particular area of land is a fundamental idea in field development. The multiplicity of existing fields today and the discovery of new oil and gas deposits, however, raises the legitimate question of how companies even determine where oil and gas deposits are located. It is clear that the first wells were installed purely by chance, as centuries ago, there was not enough technical equipment for accurate prediction and correction of the drilling course. At the same time, the first oil wells were installed only where oil was coming out — meaning that large layers of oil in the deep bowels of the earth were ignored. With time, however, it became clear that oil is not only deposited in the immediate vicinity of the soil surface or granite but also accumulates underground, so the production capacity began to turn towards the improvement of deep drilling systems.
By now, humankind has sufficient knowledge to predict the location of hidden oil and gas deposits. The commonality of all methods to search for oil in potentially new fields should be conditionally divided into three categories, including geological, geophysical, and geochemical tactics. It should be noted that this division is very relative because it was developed by the authors of the current article individually in order to classify the methods of prognosis of oil and gas fields, so in the literature of other authors of such a classification cannot be found.
First is the geological data, which are collected purely in the analysis of the surface structures of the potential field. These methods are based on the geological study of local rock and sedimentary rocks pushed by lithospheric plates to the surface or deposited at shallow depths-so that only shallow drilling can be used as the basis for geological forecasting (Sevastianov et al., 2018). Studying relief structures using satellite imagery is also a suitable strategy since the shape of the topography can often inform any deposits that are hidden underground.
Nevertheless, it is incorrect to assume that geological analysis is sufficient to locate a deposit thoroughly. Reference to Figure 5 shows that oil and gas reservoirs are not isotropic in location, and there may be less in certain areas than in others; therefore, it is critical to make sure that the chosen location will effectively pump out all the oil reserves. Geophysical analysis techniques increase the accuracy of predictions: as the name implies, in this case, experts use physical methods to find oil and gas deposits. This is a very large layer of specialized techniques, which includes any processes associated with seismic activity, sound vibrations, and gravity dynamics (Sun et al., 2020). For example, the Department of Energy points out that modern oil and gas geology often uses sound vibration resonance, where multiple sound waves are sent in different directions from a machine-generator; reflected from rock layers and oil reservoirs, these waves are distorted and recorded by sensors, effectively providing an underground structural picture-this is the basis of seismological site exploration (Department of Energy, 2020). An additional practice, also popular among prospectors, is the use of gravity fields to estimate suspected deposits. Specifically, gravity exploration is based on the use of gravity-in this case, rocks that are filled with oil and gas accumulations have a lower density as standard (Zhang et al., 2019). For this reason, the task of geological explorers is to find such areas which sometimes have anomalously low values of gravity.
Finally, in addition to geological and geophysical techniques, any technical practices associated with geochemical methods should be highlighted. In fact, it is fair to say that these are the most rarely used techniques since they require the most significant amount of resources and are not highly accurate. During the implementation of geochemical exploration, specialists examine the chemical compositions of rocks, study spectrometric characteristics, and conduct gas surveys (Wang et al., 2019). However, despite an ever-improving variety of predictive techniques, none of them can guarantee where the oil and gas field is located. For this reason, drilling remains the only reliable methodology, which involves the maximum amount of “heavy” resources and is ambiguous in terms of results. Sources report that the daily rate of drilling programs runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars (Lavis, 2018). The lack of results in such a case (i.e., not finding oil) significantly affects project budgets. For this reason, the decision to drill vertically must be based purely on convincing mathematical modeling results. It is also not uncommon for vertical drilling to fail, even though experts believe they have found oil. Then, slant-vertical drilling techniques are used, in which the drilling needle is not directed perpendicularly downward but tilts several times during the drilling process — for this reason, drilling diagrams often look like a tree.
A separate, unrelated exploration method that is nevertheless extremely promising in terms of cost-effectiveness is the use of drones. The use of uncrewed aerial vehicles in the oil and gas industry has been frequently written about recently by Gulf authors. The probable reason for such increased attention to this solution is not only the abundance of oil and gas fields in the territories of the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia but also the high technological development of these regions. In fact, in this context, the cause-and-effect relationship is excellent: due to the abundance of oil production in the Persian Gulf regions, a considerable amount of investment is attracted there, so the governments of the countries are trying to expand the technological capabilities of the extractive industry. The use of drones in the fields allows high-quality images of the terrain without the need for a physical presence. In addition, drones make it possible to monitor the stages of construction and detect problems that may not be visible to humans (Baghirov, 2018). In particular, this applies to the presence of any leaks and cracks in pipelines, especially if such drones are equipped with additional infrared vision sensors. Thus, the use of drones greatly optimizes reconnaissance and management missions, providing unique technical opportunities for companies.
In the discussion of oil and gas fields as business projects, well localization cannot be ignored because it is a fundamental criterion for the construction of pumping rigs. Typically, oil wells are located on land since most existing exploration activities are performed on “dry” land. However, oil and gas reservoirs, due to their likely historical development, are often located in the subsurface of the seafloor, which creates technical challenges not only for exploration missions but also for the installation of drilling machines. Figure 6 shows examples of an oil station located on the water: in this case, it is legitimate to talk about extreme construction because, unlike onshore oil wells, such installations are associated with much more significant risks (Tang et al., 2018). Notably, such platforms can be either stationary or mobile, which is especially useful if there are many oil fields in a given region but they are isolated from each other. In either case, an offshore oil station cannot adequately transport the pumped oil, so the recovered mixture of oil, gas, and impurities is stored in tanks at the station until the transport vehicles unload it onshore. Unlike onshore wells, these rigs, it turns out, take longer to deliver the oil. Literature does not tell us whether there are enough oil reservoirs in the water void for such water platforms to be cost-effective. Nevertheless, the fact that the number of oil wells on the water is increasing indicates that these projects are indeed profitable, although they are technically more complex.
A large body of academic and public literature regarding field management focuses on environmental risks. It is paramount to recognize that oil and gas mixtures have biologically proven toxic risks to living organisms (McLaughlin et al., 2020). Crude oil is a mixture of high-carbon hydrocarbons and aromatics that are carcinogenic to life. Toxicosis from oil and gas products reportedly “may involve the respiratory, GI, or integumentary systems or the CNS” (Mostrom, 2021, para. 7). The biological hazards of oil are complicated by the potential multiplicity of its effects; in addition to the apparent ingestion, oil can enter the body through inhalation since polyaromatic hydrocarbons vaporize very well in the air giving petroleum products a crude odor. There is also credible evidence that oil ingested in animals leads to reproductive problems, including suppression, which can cause infertility (Dike et al., 2018). Thus, oil extraction is associated with severe biohazards, so it should be subject to critically intelligent management that does not allow negligence.
In fact, oil extraction is dangerous not only in terms of its intrinsic destructive health effects but also in terms of its physical effects. As noted earlier, oil has a lower density than water, even more so if sea salt water is used. Because of this, any oil spill spreads out in a large slick on the surface of the water surface, which poses a number of severe threats to the welfare of hydrobionts. Official data reports that oil spills are not uncommon for the oil and gas industry; specifically, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, approximately 11 spills occurred globally each month by 2018 (Cassidy, 2019). Oil slicks (Figure 7) contaminate the habitats of marine residents, enter their organisms, and cause destructive effects. In addition, such slicks inhibit sunlight from reaching the water column, which prevents effective photosynthesis and has a negative effect on oxygen and carbon dioxide cycling in underwater ecosystems. The problem is that crude oil is highly oily to the touch and cannot be collected directly, so expensive sorbents are used to remove it, which absorb colloidal molecules — hence oil cannot be easily removed from the water. Additionally, since oil is primarily an organic mixture, it is highly combustible, causing even more severe damage to marine and coastal crops.
However, not only accidental spills but also deliberate unmistakable drilling wells have negative consequences in terms of environmental safety. One of the most obvious problems is the sound pollution that occurs when production wells are operated around the clock. Studies report that sound pollution has an essential impact on the well-being of marine crops, causing mass mortalities (Yu et al., 2021; Rosa & Koper, 2022). In addition, the operation of oil wells is associated with the constant burning of fuel in large quantities and changes in landscape structure, which affects the quality of life of nearby communities. For example, in Texas, home to one of the largest oil industries in the world, more than 2.8 million people are exposed to oil and gas wells every day — a finding that correlates well with the fact that more than 144,000 local children suffer from asthma, as shown in Figure 8.
Meanwhile, oil production affects climate change for several reasons. First, unsustainable production releases oil not only on water (Figure 7) but also on land; when ignited, these spills release vast amounts of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide. It has been scientifically proven that accumulations of such gas intensify the development of global warming (Schneising et al., 2020). The indirect effects of oil and gas extraction on climate warming are also undeniable; due to landscape changes caused by drilling operations, gas accumulations can be rapidly released outward, ignited by direct sunlight. As a consequence, such open fires create stationary hotbeds (Figure 9), which systematically release large amounts of combustion products, including carbon monoxide, into the atmosphere.
When oil and gas fields are used as projects, potential ecosystem security risks must be taken into account. Any oil and gas operations not only alter the shape of the topography but also interfere with the adequate habitation of local flora and fauna. Vibration and sound pollution, oiling of soil, and trampling of plants prove devastating to wildlands. If such areas have not been subject to succession, the changes are often irreversible. In fact, even if mining activities have ended, after companies leave the site for a long time, the land is rendered unsuitable for settlement by plants and animals, so in fact, we should speak of the destruction of wildlands as a result of systematic damage.
One of the unobvious consequences of industrial use of oil and gas fields is light pollution. Studies report that light pollution is detrimental to animals because it not only destructively affects their circadian rhythms but also alters behavior, including migration and mating patterns (Menéndez-Velázquez et al., 2022). Statistics show that up to 99% of the planet is exposed to light pollution, with the quality of life of nightlife and local farm dwellers rapidly deteriorating (Drake, 2019). The uninterrupted operation of oil and gas installations requires sufficient light, so their activities are associated with severe damage to ecosystems in terms of light pollution.
Managing the Fields as a Project
Despite all the risks and damages, the use of oil and gas plants is still a serious necessity for the normal functioning of communities. No fuel industry can do without oil: different fractions of oil are used by cars, aircraft, military, and construction equipment. The exploitation of deposits is, therefore, a critical human need; nevertheless, it is in the power of the managers of such projects to manage the field in such a way that it causes the least risk. In this context, it should be clarified that industrial practice to date has included two approaches to field management: greenfields and brownfields. In short, the term greenfields refers to any new fields that have never been used for industrial activity before. This is one of the most complicated approaches since a field is created from scratch, including all the previously described methods of forecasting the construction of oil production platforms and transport networks.
A much better approach is to use brownfields. In fact, a reference to the definition of this term gives ambiguous interpretations. According to the Schlumberger Topic Dictionary (n.d.), brownfields are “an oil or gas accumulation that has matured to a production plateau or even progressed to a stage of declining production. Another definition can be found in Pavolová et al. (2019), which reports that “brownfield is a property that is not effectively used, is neglected and possibly contaminated. This is a property that cannot be effectively used without a process of its regeneration”. Table 2 also offers some interesting interpretations on how to describe the concept of brownfields. Based on the information found, it is reasonable to create a generalized definition of a brownfield. Thus, a brownfield should be referred to as any existing oil and gas field where extraction was previously underway, but the project was shut down as a result of loss of profitability or exhaustion of resources. Such areas are prone to pollution due to oil and gas production activities and, at the same time, negatively affect local ecosystems, as described earlier.
Whether it is creating new oil and gas stations or using them as brownfields, any business projects should be carefully planned and organized in order to eliminate any risks associated with forfeits, delays, and unforeseen costs. In this regard, the field should not be regarded as some unique project but rather should be perceived as any business with a high level of social and environmental responsibility. It is necessary to briefly discuss all the critical management steps that will allow implementing a business project to develop the fields as efficiently as possible with minimal risks. To be more specific, the following plan is written for brownfields, but with some adjustments, it can be used for new fields.
First, any project begins with finding out general information about a field. This includes determining the potential location of the field identifying the climatic-natural conditions and the economic development of the region that will be used to support the work. Any fluctuations in weather conditions must be taken into account so that climatic risks can be eliminated. For example, ignoring temperature fluctuations could result in the freezing of the oil and gas station’s pipeline tracks, temporarily putting the platform out of service (Douglas, 2021). Once a potential field has been found, it is necessary to use the previously described predictive methods for geophysical analysis. In fact, at this stage, experts must obtain sufficient assurance to use the field effectively. In the absence of practical analysis and with improper management, companies run a significant risk of unnecessarily using production capacity to pump small amounts of oil and gas or not getting any at all if the field is found to be idle. The results of this step are presented as geophysical maps and spatial representations of a cross-section of the topography. For example, some scientists report that oil producers today often use 4D mapping technology to obtain a near-accurate picture of the topography at depth (Adeola et al., 2021). In addition, exploration missions provide insight into the quantitative and qualitative hydrocarbon content of the ground by geochemical analysis, so experts can not only understand whether to develop a field but also assess the potential profitability of the produced oil.
The next stage of managing a field as a project is to draw up engineering and process maps, which are based on the results of the pilot operation. The use of already completed fields brownfields dramatically facilitates this process because, in this case, at least minimal production facilities, including transport routes and electricity, remain at the well, as shown in Figure 10. At the same stage, mathematical models of re-construction are created, figuring out which of the remaining resources can be re-used and which should be replaced. The models created need to be adapted to actual field conditions at a later date.
If a company has decided to use brownfields, behind this decision is usually the conviction of specialists in additional oil and gas reservoirs that have not been depleted before. In this case, it is clear that the use of already drilled paths will not prove effective, so the next stage of the project is the design of drilling techniques, choosing specific methodologies as well as drilling regimes: several of the most frequent types of drilling are shown in Figure 11.
Once the engineering calculations have been completed and models built, it is necessary to address the environmental side of good design. Specifically, any subsurface and environmental protection activities are performed. Such activities include the design of subsoil protection from waterflooding and oiling of soils the reduction of any leaks and losses, which are associated with oil production. It should be understood that it is impossible to provide a one hundred percent yield of oil because there are always leaks; however, it is the task of specialists to ensure minimal losses. The company must then plan the social side of the project, including an analysis of the number of jobs and the development of a list of institutions of social importance. For example, Pritchard (2021) reports that the oil and gas industry creates more than 11 million jobs in the United States alone. Therefore, careful planning of a company’s social and human resources policy is critical to adequate functioning.
Parallel to the engineering design and social and environmental significance phases of the entire project is careful financial planning as a tool for expert evaluation of profitability, economic viability, and turnaround time. In fact, this is one of the most critical steps of a business project because it is associated with the study of direct risks and all the possible costs associated with the design of the well. The critical question that the financial analysis must answer can be formulated as “Is there an economic benefit to this project, and if so, what financial performance is expected?” Finally, based on all of the available numbers, projections, and models, the company must assess the full risks of the excellent design and make a final decision on whether to proceed with the project.
Risks of Using Brownfields
A study of the literature demonstrates that a myriad of risks, both financial and socio-environmental, are associated with the decision to invest in brownfields. This vast array of risks must be discussed carefully, so it is appropriate to propose a conditional division of all the risks of brownfield use into several categories. This division keeps the logic of the narrative intact while covering as many threats as possible.
In discussing the threats associated with the industrial use of abandoned wells, we should first emphasize the physical risks. For example, one of the first hazards is the physical suitability of previously abandoned facilities (EPA, 2021). Typically, over time, building structures have properties of deterioration and breakage, especially when left unattended for long periods of time. In addition, abandoned facilities without 24-hour security are often used by vandals and extreme tourists as places of particular interest — a telling example is the popularity of visits to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which even after 36 years is still visited by independent and group tourists (Gregorová et al., 2020). Visitors are not always inclined to cherish abandoned equipment and facilities, so the risk of intensive deterioration increases. Therefore, their reuse is associated with severe risks of collapse, which may entail not only threats to the physical health of employees but also the breakdown of new equipment installed on old platforms.
The environmental risks of brownfields involve potential threats of flooding and inundation. It is a proven fact that pumping oil and gas out of earthen voids changes the landscape, which increases the threat of unwanted flooding (Shkitsa et al., 2020). The ground softens and soaks up, which also increases the risk of land collapsing — as a consequence, all facilities and plants can completely collapse even when design work begins. The risk of this is incredibly high if multi-ton equipment is placed on such land without prior foundation reinforcement. Sources also say that due to the increased devastation of land during periods of the oil boom, there is an increased risk of earthquakes on the ground (Kamenev, 2022). Additionally, the fact that not all companies of the past have been able to conduct extraction activities in good faith should be taken into account; as a consequence, remedial environmental measures have not been implemented. Due to the lack of proper management, oil residues may have entered the soil groundwater, contaminating it and damaging both aquatic ecosystems and soil health, as well as the sewage waters of local regions. Consequently, ignoring these problems when restoring brownfield activity could exacerbate this deleterious effect. It is clear that such earthquakes adversely affect both the health and even lives of employees, as well as the operability of equipment and the viability of the well as a whole, so the use of brownfields cannot but be associated with severe environmental hazards.
In terms of additional environmental risks, we should recognize the need to follow the established environmental safety regulations carefully. It is a fact that a large number of national laws and regulations have been developed over the past decades (EPA, 2021). As a consequence, companies coming into brownfields cannot simply rebuild former production and use it, but instead often must completely rebuild production facilities and circuits in order to maintain compliance with the new regulations. This includes work to dispose of waste products from previous site owners, even if such wastes are toxic. This places an additional financial and time burden on mining companies.
We should also recognize the fact that most of the oil and gas production plants are city-forming enterprises and significantly expand the investment potential of the region. When companies abandon wells due to the inability to continue commercial activities, it causes severe damage to the socioeconomic agenda of the city. Increased unemployment, increased crime, and the disruption of the economic system become the consequences of the departure of a city-forming enterprise. For this reason, the arrival of new companies in brownfields is associated with risks of social tension, heightened expectations, and even protests. The decline in the quality of life of local residents also affects the employability of the population; it is very likely that local workers will not be overly motivated to work since they have not been employed for a long time. Among other things, this decline creates the threat of a talent crisis, in which communities lack the employees who can bring maximum productivity to the company (GETI, 2021). Thus, socioeconomic risks are primarily crucial in terms of the social relevance of the brownfield project to local communities.
Interestingly, stigmatized brownfields are a severe problem for urban economies since abandoned businesses generate no profit but occupy strategically essential areas. Often, however, the failure to revitalize such businesses is due to the high cost of repair or rehabilitation work combined with the serious risks that force majeure can bring. Therefore, rehabilitation programs cannot be implemented by mining companies alone, and revitalization often requires the involvement of federal or municipal authorities. This seems fair since not only the company is interested in using abandoned sites, but the authorities are also interested in solving the problem of brownfields in the region and increasing the socioeconomic and environmental agenda.
A serious risk to the decision to invest in the use of brownfields is the consequence arising from the previously discussed threats. Since brownfields as projects, in general, involve risks to the health and safety of not only people but also to the new equipment installed, the financial risk is decisive. One of the most serious problems for the company will turn out to be if the team encounters unforeseen costs as a result of construction and operation. This could include any monetary losses related to equipment reimbursement, repairs, compensation for victims, and reduced investment flows to the company. The use of insurance programs is also not ubiquitous in the decision to invest in brownfields and generally depends on the region of use. In the U.S., for example, there is a model of environmental insurance that allows some of the risks associated with brownfields to be covered (EPA, 2015). This particular tool to protect entrepreneurs from unforeseen circumstances helps to deal with risks and threats but cannot cover absolutely all types of risks. In addition, as stated, the ability to insure is strictly dependent on the region of the fields and companies, so not all brownfields on the planet can be protected by this right.
It is known that critical to any business project is the resource of time, and in the case of brownfields, the risks of its irrational use are growing. In particular, due to the above-mentioned threats, the time to implement the project may be increased as a result of unforeseen circumstances. The discovery of previously unknown debris stockpiles or unexplored problems related to well drilling patterns also leads to increased time. This is an important problem not only for completing the project on time but also for the credit obligations of companies that rent construction equipment and pay third-party workers. Extending the project timeframe leads to problems of additional costs, which only puts more strain on the financial responsibility of the oil and gas production company in the brownfield.
Unexpected but nevertheless important to discuss is the risk of an epidemiological crisis that could put the company on hold. A prime example of such a crisis is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly changed the global market, including the oil and gas market, since 2020. Due to social constraints and the disruption of the integrity of the economic-transportation chains created earlier, the global oil market has experienced a major collapse (Bora & Basistha, 2021). Insufficient resource extraction has led to the need to lower its price; it has been shown that the average market price of oil has fallen by 71% as a result of the deleterious effects of the pandemic (USBLS, 2020). From a brownfield’s perspective, this illustrative example reflects the impossibility of carefully predicting all risks. There are no guarantees that similar pandemics will not occur in the future, so companies can always be suddenly liquidated and wells reserved due to external factors. This risk is challenging to predict, but instead of investing in constantly evolving models, brownfield companies should have developed strategies to adapt to change.
In the context of the above-mentioned problems, we should also note the increased volatility in the oil and gas market as a result of the development of the investment stock market. The OECD reports that “the global oil price has become increasingly volatile since the 1970s” (OECD, 2020, para. 3). The emergence of futures offers and vigorous stock market speculation cause oil prices to fall almost every year, hurting producing companies, as shown in Figure 12. This is a transparent relationship: a drop in the price of produced oil leads to a decrease in a company’s capital, which affects its financial well-being. The company can then afford to pay fewer employees, which also affects their motivation and productivity. Thus, producing companies have to “survive” in a pressurized market, an adjustment that requires an additional investment of time and corporate resources.
At the end of the literature review block, it would be appropriate to determine the general literary relevance of the problem discussed. A reference to Figure 13 makes it clear that the problem of brownfields in the oil and gas industry has been quite popular in recent years. A likely reason for the almost exponential growth in topical publications and citations is the increased focus of companies on the reuse of resources, including suitable areas for oil production. Figure 13 perfectly demonstrates the trend toward expanding general knowledge on brownfield use, which means we can expect to see more and more risks and benefits from this approach to use.
On the other hand, it would be wrong to think that emerging research studies only examine the industrial or financial aspects of brownfields. Turning to Figure 14 shows the opposite picture: a large number of independent researchers are studying brownfields from different angles. This includes geographical and urban sciences, questions of effective management, and the use of computer technology to increase the innovativeness of such projects. In other words, the problem of studying brownfields is academically significant and attracts a large number of new scholars interested in studying this approach to the oil and gas industry.
A literature review was chosen as the basis for this study to examine the academic and public representation of the issue. The literature review sought to identify common themes and relevance to the issue of the use of brownfields in the research field, so its results reported both the significance of such works and the significant risks and limitations associated with choosing this approach to well management. The literature search strategy was based on the use of publicly available digital databases: in particular, platforms such as Web of Science, Google Scholar, and ResearchGate were used. For each of the platforms, a syntax was used to focus the output on a specific topic; this was usually implemented using quotation marks. A few examples of queries used include “brownfields oil fields,” “brownfields as projects,” “oil and gas production,” and “brownfield risks.”
Any source found in the early stages had to go through the gate of primary filtration. In particular, this concerned the year of writing: works were written earlier than 2017 were not considered in this paper. It is true that several of the sources used did not advertise publication dates, so they were marked as “n.d.” — to establish the present time of their writing could not be ascertained. In addition, the material had to be available for full-text reading, with the language of the paper set as English. The authors’ and publications’ authoritativeness was checked by evaluating their thematic focus. In the case of authors, their additional works (if any) were checked in order to understand how they were related to a common theme. Thus, only authoritative academic materials were used.
However, public sources and government data, including news websites and federal reports, were also used for the literature review. This was necessary in order to assess the public agenda on this issue — in addition, not all authors of articles tend to cite government regulations. A separate category of sources used should be statistical data that is highly relevant. This included any charts and quantitative data that were collected by reputable publications or authors. Thus, the extensive literature review presented qualitative, reliable, and verified data with appropriate citations of all facts used.
The ethics of this study are based on a commitment to standards of academic integrity. Any of the papers found were not copied, no plagiarism was realized, and all sources were carefully cited. Academic resources were accessed strictly either through their open access or through university links, so no unauthorized access to materials was used either. It is also pertinent to note that the literature review was built on the principles of critical reflection, which means that authorial bias was minimized. Facts found in some sources were verified so as to provide the reader with a high-quality overview of the academic and public literature.
Evaluating the Results of the Literature Review
This study was designed to evaluate the key risks and limitations associated with the use of brownfields in oil and gas well design decisions. Since this is a reasonably broad problem, an extensive literature search was used. Its key results allow us to assess the overall significance of the problem and emphasize the main conclusions. Thus, it is paramount to recognize that the use of brownfields is a trendy topic among academic sources: the number of citations to topical publications has increased by almost 5000 percent in the last fifty years. The number of publications and citations is expected to continue to increase for several reasons at once. First, it is impossible to ignore the apparent public demand for environmental awareness, which extends to the corporate activities of companies as well. Resource reuse trends extrapolate to oil and gas production as well, so brownfields are highly relevant to today’s agenda. Secondly, modern technological and predictive systems have expanded significantly, making it possible to detect even hidden deposits in the areas of abandoned oil wells. Thirdly, as has been shown, the global oil market is highly volatile, and any external pressures can significantly affect it. This also applies to increased competition, so many companies have to invest not in the development of new fields but in the reuse of existing wells.
Against the backdrop of expanded academic interest, the idea of investigating similar dynamics for public sources became attractive. The result in Figure 15, however, shows a surprising pattern, namely a gradual decline in public interest in the brownfields issue. The number of Google queries on this topic has been falling precipitously over the past eighteen years, and there is reason to believe that this trend will continue in the future. On the one hand, this may indicate that ordinary users have lost interest in learning about brownfields. A study of similar dynamics on the opposite request, greenfields, shows that public interest in this problem has been relatively stable, and thus we can rule out the possibility that society is becoming more and more interested in the development of new fields than in the reuse of old ones. On the other hand, which is very likely, the drop in public demand is due to the growing academic interest in this topic, especially in view of its narrow specificity. Users are less and less eager to use unreliable sources, so the number of scholarly articles continues to grow vigorously.
In terms of the actual results of the literature review, it should be emphasized that investing in brownfields is associated with a number of serious risks. Based on the literature reviewed, a cloud chart (Figure 16) was constructed to reflect all of the key findings. Reference to the chart shows that investing in the use of brownfields is associated with at least seven clusters of risks, from physical and environmental, to market and epidemiological. Each of these risks continually influences the decision to pursue industrial activities. That said, it must be said that their impact does not exclude the effects of other risks, which means that, in reality, a particular mining company is affected by at least seven clusters of risks every day. Although some of them turn out to be the least probable — be it epidemiological or earthquake risks — their detrimental effect is one of the most devastating for companies, and therefore it is unacceptable to ignore them. In this sense, it is also worth noting that despite the vastness of the literature review conducted, it is not excluded that not all possible risks have been detected; nevertheless, it seems that the proposed concept covers the maximum number of areas for possible business threats.
Probable Strategies for Responding to Risks
While this was not part of the literature review, several options for managing strategies to cover the risks described need to be suggested. In fact, the response strategies discussed are the results of a careful reading of the literature and thinking about how risks could be managed as effectively as possible. It is a helpful section for entrepreneurs and other interested parties to report on recommended actions. In order to systematize and structure such strategies, Table 3 is provided, describing the results of the reflections. Using each of the solutions described is expected to cover all possible risks and create a commercially successful brownfield company, but it is clear that such recommendations require a serious financial and resource investment on the part of the enterprise management; therefore, it is recommended to start with several ideas in each area. The earlier the threat of risks is accepted by the leaders of the company, the more likely it is that when such a scenario occurs, the company will be fully prepared and will survive the crisis in the least painful way.
|RISK||LIKELY RESPONSE STRATEGY|
|Financial||Creation of financial reserve funds; use of insurance coverage; requests for additional investment; involvement of the state budget; more flexible risk-based project planning; development of an equity financing system; use of profits from the sale of shares and bonds for additional activities;|
|Environmental||Providing 24/7 environmental monitoring; bringing in a third-party audit to assess the problem; focusing on environmental issues before construction; thoroughly researching local environmental laws and regulations; reinforcing foundations and physically delineating the area to prevent spills from infiltrating ecosystems.|
|Physical||Investing in repair work; refraining from ignoring potential problems “because now they don’t exist”; bringing in a third-party audit for assessment; following safety procedures; training employees; keeping potentially hazardous areas away from visitors; investing in innovative monitoring and control systems to predict likely force majeure events.|
|Socioeconomic||Strong marketing campaign to attract local labor; cooperation with regional authorities; generous salaries and compensation (if possible); strong training program for new employees; inviting qualified, experienced professionals to supervise new employees; cooperation with schools and colleges for tours; cooperation with universities to create contract forms for students who have no money for tuition; providing 24-hour security for the institution and implementing|
|Temporary||Flexible planning and putting a little leverage into the final project deadline to allow for sudden extensions; loan agreements with force majeure provisions; using a time insurance system (if possible); increasing manpower to complete the project more quickly; hiring a third-party auditor to monitor turnaround time and adherence to the schedule.|
|Epidemiological||Long-term risk-based planning procedures; investing in the development of adaptation and change management programs; building storage reserves for medical personal protective equipment; seeking additional clients whose communication channels are least likely to be affected by global action.|
|Market*.||Creating additional funds in the event of a collapse in the price of oil and gas; expanding the list of clients (increasing demand); hiring qualified market analysts who predict the behavior of prices for these natural resources; creating an additional investment fund in industries that benefit from falling oil and gas prices as a safety cushion; participating in the OPEC+ commodity alliance.|
Table 3. Ideas and recommendations on risk management for the company on brownfields. Market risks are marked for a reason: it is impossible to control the outside market, unlike other types of threats, so companies cannot provide complete protection against oil price drops and industry market volatility. Therefore, marked with an asterisk means that these recommendations are not preventive but rather reactive in nature.
Another important recommendation, which cannot be placed in Table 3 for obvious reasons, is to strive to develop alternative energy sources. It is clear that when companies turn to brownfields, the key desire is motivated either by a desire to reuse resources or a desire to stay in the producing region for cultural and economic reasons. However, brownfields have not always been shown to have the potential to bring profits to a company because there are serious limitations to their use. In this sense, it would make sense for a company to turn to additional energy sources in parallel with oil production in order to increase commercial profitability. In fact, we are talking about horizontal integration, in which a conglomerate company sells not only oil and gas production but also deals with hydroelectricity or invests in the extraction of other minerals on the ground. In this context, we should note the trend towards the decarbonization of energy, which affects the oil and gas extraction industry today (Fane, 2021). As a result, this trend leads to the underfunding of the oil and gas extraction industry, which affects the overall capital of the enterprise. From this point of view, horizontal integration allows to secure the company and create reserve funds and sources of profit, which can cover the weaknesses of brownfields when a crisis occurs. In addition, investing in green energy sources will increase the social perception of the company in the eyes of society, which can lead to active stock purchases and increased loyalty.
The oil and gas production industry is under dual pressure today: on the one hand, due to the instability of the industry market, companies are forced to reduce staff and curtail production, but on the other hand, oil is becoming an increasingly valuable resource, the production of which can guarantee the financial success of the company. In this sense, using brownfields as field business projects is a viable strategy. Brownfields are formerly former oil and gas production wells that, for a variety of reasons, have been shut down; they have now abandoned areas and slowly aging equipment that is causing serious damage to the city’s economy. When companies seek to use brownfields, they are counting on the ability to produce more resources through improved production capacity and technological advances. However, such companies must take into account the multiple risks and threats associated with the use of brownfields.
Based on the results of the literature review, this paper identified several key clusters of risks and constraints that are associated with the use of brownfields. These include financial, environmental, socioeconomic, physical, market and temporal, and even epidemiological threats, ignoring which has the potential to lead a company into a state of crisis. In this study, in response to the identified risks, a pool of recommendations and strategies has been proposed, the use of which is expected to protect the company from force majeure as much as possible. These recommendations were personally developed by the author, but many of these solutions are already in use at manufacturing facilities as protective measures. However, it is also true to note that no company can provide the integrity of protection from all types of threats, so even the implementation of preventive programs does not guarantee complete safety from risks. Nevertheless, initiating protective measures will ultimately yield more profit from their use than completely ignoring the risks.
The strengths of this study lay in the extensive literature analysis that resulted in the conceptual cloud map. This allows one to be confident that a large number of sources and knowledge has been covered. In addition, the study offers a number of personal recommendations from the author, reflecting its academic novelty and relevance. The work also offers a comprehensive look at the problem of using brownfields from the beginning, so even inexperienced readers without qualifications will be able to discover useful insights from the work.
The present study had several important limitations for discussion that may have affected the scalability of the findings. First, the literature review was based on primary filtering criteria, and all sources used were written in English. As we know, there are a huge number of oil and gas reservoirs in the Gulf regions, and local scientists are probably also actively investing in brownfield research. However, ignoring the Arab work may not provide complete knowledge, so not all possible risks and limitations may have been investigated. Second, review articles are notoriously prone to bias and prejudice; although fact-checking and source-comparison procedures have been followed for the current analysis, this possibility has not been completely eliminated.
The present study has the potential to be continued and expanded, and several possible ways forward are suggested below. First, it is critical to cover more sources and expand the filtering criteria so that not only English-language research papers are taken into account. Second, it would be useful for future papers to address specific brownfields in order to describe in detail their technical, environmental, and economic significance. Such a solution would combine the theoretical lessons learned in this work with real-world practical examples. In addition, it would be useful to conduct additional interviews with entrepreneurs and engineers who have had experience with brownfield remediation; it seems that such a solution would be useful in expanding knowledge of the risks and limitations of such fields.
As a result of this study, it would be appropriate to create several recommendations for stakeholders. First, it is critical to invest in and review as many risks as possible. The more risks that have been reviewed, the more likely it is that preventive action will make sense. Second, it is wise to initiate risk management programs as early as possible so that businesses are prepared. Third, the decision to use brownfields must be weighed and carefully considered because this type of business is associated with severe risks. Fourth, disregarding safety techniques in order to economize budgets should be eliminated and discouraged. It is assumed that the implementation of these four recommendations will allow the most painless commercial activities on brownfields.
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