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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Awareness Leads to Cooperation

McDonald Observatory

"McDonald Observatory" by

Written by Richard Haut, Program Director, Energy Production

Texas’ oil and gas industry supplies energy to support daily life and economic growth. Daily activities around oil and gas operations may be affected in various ways. Out in West Texas, dark skies are vital to the work performed at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory.

We have had the good fortune of working with the Permian Basin Petroleum Association (PBPA) and the Observatory on the Dark Skies Advisory Group and have witnessed how industry has cooperatively worked with other stakeholders to develop cost effective recommendations for helping to keep the skies of West Texas dark. Implementing the recommendations can complement operator safety programs as well.

There are eight areas that are discussed in the recommendations ( These include:

    1. Prepare a Lighting Plan
    2. Use Audiovisual Warning System (AVWS) Technology for Hazard Lighting on Structures Taller than 200 feet
    3. Use Full Cutoff Luminaires
    4. Direct Lights Properly to Eliminate Light Spill and Trespass
    5. Use Amber instead of Bluish-White Lighting
    6. Minimize Lighting Usage during Construction and Operations
    7. Use Vehicle-Mounted Lights or Portable Light Towers for Nighttime Maintenance Activities
    8. Options if the Need to Flare Arise

    The Advisory Group met for several years, discussing needs and concerns of the Observatory and other stakeholders and then developing recommendations on how to keep the West Texas skies dark. With the recommendations issued, the focus is now on engaging operators and other stakeholders to learn about them and put them to use.

    Through our Environmentally Friendly Drilling Systems (EFD) program we have reached out to our industry sponsors and others to inform them of these recommendations. We have also incorporated the recommendations into our EFD Scorecard. We have received positive feedback from those that have implemented the strategies, several of whom have mentioned how directing the lights properly has also diminished shadows around equipment.

    Since 2005 the EFD program, managed by HARC, has been working with industry, academia and other stakeholders to provide unbiased science in addressing the environmental footprint of all oil and gas activities. Time and time again we have seen stakeholders coming together to identify issues that need to be dealt with and then figuring out how to get it done. Becoming aware of issues is that first step that leads to effective cooperation and collaboration.