Skip to content

Industry’s Future In Electric Rigs, Carbon Offsets

Read Time: 3 mins

In a Denver suburb, an oil drilling rig plumbs the earth near a wealthy enclave framed by snow-capped mountains. The site is quieter, cleaner and less visible than similar oil and gas operations. It might just be the future of drilling in the United States.

Oil firm Civitas Resources designed the operation to run largely on the city’s electric grid, eliminating daily runs by more than a dozen diesel fuel trucks. The electric rig has none of the soot or sulfur smell of diesel exhaust and is muffled enough that rig hands can converse without yelling.

As investors and lawmakers push the oil industry to lower its carbon emissions, this drill site and others run by Civitas offer one model for drillers looking to migrate to low- or no-carbon emissions operations.

An extra incentive for Civitas is that it must be mindful of neighbors of its drilling sites in relatively affluent suburban areas, where it also has easier access to the power grid. It is unclear whether drillers in more remote areas will be able to adopt the same technology as easily.

Civitas, Colorado’s largest oil and gas producer, says it is the state’s first “carbon neutral” producer. To get there, it has eliminated some diesel-powered pumps, makes modifications to drilling and hydraulic fracturing equipment and its production sites. It also buys carbon credits to offset remaining emissions.

A few miles away, another Civitas pad with 18 wells is hidden behind an earthen berm, largely invisible to the surrounding community. It has dozens of air-monitoring sensors to detect greenhouse gas emissions. Its pneumatic controls have been adapted to avoid methane leaks. It is Civitas’ first facility to do away with oil and waste water storage tanks.

“Everything is piped directly off location. There is no dust, no truck traffic necessary to produce the hydrocarbons,” said Matt Owens, Civitas’ chief operating officer.

Colorado, among the top oil producers among US states, also has some of the toughest state emissions regulations. It has told energy firms they must cut methane emissions from drilling by 2030 to less than half of 2005 levels. More drillers also face stricter mandates as President Joe Biden’s administration enacts tougher federal methane rules.

“Electrifying drilling, upgrading pneumatics and going tankless are certainly steps in the right direction,” said Deborah Gordon, a senior principal in the Rocky Mountain Institute’s climate intelligence group.

Colorado’s tougher regulatory environment has partially evolved from the industry’s proximity to homes and businesses. For Civitas, that suburban life means strong local electric power supplies.

“All the power lines that have been built out for urban expansion, we’re able to tap into those,” said Brian Cain, Civitas’ chief sustainability officer during a tour of a drilling site. He estimates switching from diesel to line power reduces emissions by 20 percent to 25 percent. “The landscape is a lot different than west Texas,” where operators do not have easy access to the adequate electric power,” he said.

For more information visit