Tulsa, Oklahoma-based WPX Energy employs approximately 600 people and has more than 35 years of experience with innovative practices in energy development. Their core positions are in the Permian and Williston basins. Total production is approximately 80% oil/liquids and 20% natural gas.
WPX COO says, “Prior success can be the greatest enemy of future success. We’re always looking for the next step-change.”
WPX is constantly thinking ahead to have a competitive edge and because a positive reputation is of vital importance to their company’s values. WPX believes that doing what’s right is simply part of its responsibility. From conserving fresh water and protecting groundwater, reducing emissions, investing in prairie ecology and having utmost transparency, the environment is at the top of WPX’s mind. Not only is WPX protecting what’s on the ground and in the air, but they took it one step further to help protect Texas’ dark starry night skies through the Dark Skies Initiative–McDonald Observatory’s campaign of education and awareness to protect West Texas’ dark starry filled skies for ongoing astronomical research and education.
Project Description & History
In September of 2019, WPX invited the McDonald Observatory and Texan by Nature to attend their Annual Contractors Meeting and present on both organization’s missions and programs, with one program acting as a call to action for oil and gas companies operating in the Permian Basin to join: the Dark Skies Initiative.
Two weeks later the McDonald Observatory and Texan by Nature received an email from WPX outlining how the company took the Dark Skies Initiative message to heart and implemented dark skies friendly lighting at one of its compressor stations in the Permian Basin!
The feedback from employees has been very positive: “The employees love it! One commented that he could actually see the equipment and where he was walking now!…plans to implement field-wide” – Olivia McNamara, Manager HSE, WPX Energy
In the beginning of 2020, WPX continued their work with Bill Wren, Dark Skies Initiative Coordinator, for guidance on Recommended Lighting Practices for their rigs. From there, they identified 13 additional WPX facilities for Dark Skies Initiative upgrades in 2020, including compressor stations and saltwater disposal facilities located in both Texas and New Mexico. Facility upgrades included installation of warm white LED lightbulbs (equivalent to 3000 degrees Kelvin) and redirection of lighting fixtures to point downward to help safeguard dark skies and promote wildlife health and safety.
At their recently acquired Monument Draw area, WPX completed builds on four large facility locations, with lighting on each of the locations designed and installed using Dark Skies compliant lighting practices. Going forward, WPX will continue to review and evaluate the existing large facilities in the Monument Draw area for Dark Skies compliance. New builds in this area, as well as compressor stations and saltwater disposal (SWD) wells, will be designed and constructed to comply with Dark Skies Initiative lighting practices.
Located atop Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes in Fort Davis and under some of the darkest night skies in the continental United States, sits the 500-acre world-renowned University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory. The Observatory’s mission is to inform, educate, and inspire through their public programs, and support the teaching of the science and hobby of astronomy. The Observatory hosts approximately 100,000 visitors each year and is the second largest employer in Jeff Davis County.
Through a campaign of education and awareness, the Observatory’s Dark Skies Initiative seeks to protect the beautiful, milky-way filled night skies of West Texas for ongoing astronomical research and education. To protect the dark skies surrounding the Observatory, the seven counties (Jeff Davis, Brewster, Presidio, Hudspeth, Culberson, Reeves, and Pecos) surrounding the campus have outdoor lighting ordinances and all the cities within these counties have similar municipal ordinances. This represents 28,000 square miles of land with outdoor lighting ordinances, for the protection of dark skies–the largest area protected for dark skies in the world!
In recent years, the increase of oil and gas activity in the Permian Basin and all the development that comes along with that, has resulted in an increase of light pollution that threatens the dark skies. The Dark Skies Initiative staff have been working with oil and gas companies like WPX Energy, businesses, and homeowners in local communities to make all lighting dark skies friendly.
By implementing dark skies friendly lighting, WPX Energy is not only increasing their worker’s visibility and safety, but also helping to keep West Texas’ night skies dark to positively impact the McDonald Observatory’s research and education and the health of West Texas’ wildlife and people.
Is your company interested in joining the Dark Skies Initiative and gaining recognition for your efforts? Review the “Recommended Lighting Practices” and TxN Certification for Dark Skies guidance document to get started. If your company is interested in learning more, a presentation on the Dark Skies Initiative and/or a site visit, please email us at email@example.com. You can see examples of Dark Skies recognition here.
Contact Taylor Keys at firstname.lastname@example.org & 512-284-7482 or Bill Wren at email@example.com& 432-386-6947 if you would like to learn more, get involved, or be recognized for your Dark Skies Initiative efforts.