Environment
Investor's Business Daily | 24 May 2016

Column: We Don’t Have To Shut Oil and Gas Production To Curb Methane

Across the oil and gas industry, companies are struggling in the face of low energy prices. Belt tightening means companies can’t afford to pass up opportunities to curb waste—especially those that pay for themselves and benefit our environment in the process.

Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas and the key component of natural gas, escapes into our atmosphere every day across the oil and gas supply chain—both intentionally and accidentally. But some oil and gas companies are working with manufacturers and tapping into the American spirit of innovation and entrepreneurialism to reduce pollution caused by emissions of methane. In doing so, they boost US manufacturing and create much-needed jobs.

Reducing methane emissions offers opportunities for forward-thinking companies in the oil and gas sector to reduce risk, improve trust, and gain financially, while also providing clear and immediate environmental benefits. Every time methane is emitted into the atmosphere, oil and gas companies waste a valuable national energy resource and saleable product. A 2015 estimate placed the value of natural gas lost across the globe at USD 30 billion annually.  Just last week, the EPA finalized  rules curbing emissions of methane from new and modified oil and gas sources.

These emissions pose a serious threat to both the environment and public health. Initially, when released, methane is 84 times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years it is in the atmosphere and is frequently emitted alongside other pollutants that impact local air quality.

Luckily, cost-effective solutions for curbing emissions exist, and an entire industry stands ready to address the methane issue. More than 75 American companies—60% of which are small businesses—build, sell, and support technologies that minimize methane emissions from oil and gas operations. In the process, they create much-needed, well-paying, and skilled jobs such as mechanical engineers, machinists, and assemblers in states such as Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, and Ohio.

Reuters | 24 May 2016

Climate Change Takes Center Stage at Exxon, Chevron Annual Meetings

Exxon Mobil and Chevron will face their toughest-ever push by shareholders concerned about a warming world at annual meetings on 25 May, as the Paris accord to tackle climate change ratchets up investor pressure on two of the world’s largest oil companies.

The tension is most acute at Exxon, which has denied accusations from environmentalists that it purposely misled the public about climate change risks. The New York attorney general is investigating Exxon, and it has complained of being unfairly targeted by special interest groups.

The raft of proposals up for vote at the two companies more than doubled to 11 this year, the latest sign that environmental concerns once considered peripheral by many investors have become mainstream. Even the most traditional shareholder groups are now urging companies to detail how they will plan for the future after 195 governments agreed in December to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) through combined national pledges to cut carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

The Monitor | 16 May 2016

Column: Water Technology Innovation From Texas Gas and Oil Companies

Texans know that water is among our state’s most precious resources and it takes creative thinking and cooperation between the public and private sectors to address our water needs. Texans may not know, however, that the oil and natural gas industry is at the forefront of water conservation, innovation, and sustainability efforts in the Lone Star State.

Texas is the nation’s No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas because of a tried and tested well-stimulation technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Water used in fracking accounts for a small fraction of the state’s total water use. According to The University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, water use by the oil and natural gas industry is still projected to be less than 1% of water use in Texas when exploration and production water demands are expected to peak within the next 2 decades.

Even so, many Texas oil and natural gas companies are voluntarily leading the way to develop and deploy innovative technologies that are reducing water use, expanding water reuse and increasing use of naturally occurring saltwater (brackish water) in their operations.

The Brattle Group via Mondaq | 16 May 2016

Produced Water—Emerging Challenges, Risks, and Opportunities

Produced water should be viewed as an environmental asset—part of the water resource solution—not as a waste that contributes to environmental problems; its treatment and reuse can reduce the stress on fresh water resources.

Treatment cost is the most significant factor determining the volume of produced water that will be available for reuse. Water pricing, which is in large part a matter of public policy, must also be considered when reexamining how to maximize the use of this valuable resource. When deciding whether to treat and use produced water, companies will need to weigh the risk of litigation and regulatory enforcement actions against the benefits of introducing treated water into the stream of commerce.

Allaying the public’s fear of chemicals in the water supply is also a significant factor in determining whether produced water is viewed as part of a water resource solution or as a waste by-product.

Daily Camera | 12 May 2016

Scientists Shine Light on Methane Leakage at Shale Basin

Previous estimates of methane leaking from the Bakken oil and gas field appear to have been overstated, according to a new study by Boulder researchers, but the emissions are still significant.

Scientists representing Boulder’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder working at the NOAA, teamed with researchers at three other institutions, released their findings today.

The study calculated that about 275,000 tons of methane per year leak from the Bakken, which covers parts of Montana and North Dakota. That is comparable to the emission rate found for Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg basin.

That quantity, although considerable, is less than reported by some satellites and is also below the most recent Environmental Protection Agency inventory for petroleum systems.

Upstream | 10 May 2016

Scientists Crack Oil-Hungry Bacteria

Scientists have found a new way to clean up future big oil spills after cracking the genetic code of the marine bacteria that helped “eat” the oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, discovered that the oil-hungry bacteria “could aid clean-up efforts for the next major spill.”

A sample from the Deepwater Horizon spill site shows oil-eating bacteria (small shapes) and crude oil droplets (large shapes). Photo courtesy of Heriot-Watt University.

In collaboration with The University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, scientists performed experiments with samples from oil-contaminated waters of the Gulf of Mexico shortly after the Deepwater Horizon spill occurred—samples that contained key species of bacteria that fed on the oil.

The work revealed that certain bacteria had thrived on the oil that gushed into the Gulf by devouring the oil as a preferred food source.

“Oil is a very complex fluid that contains thousands of different types of hydrocarbon chemicals, many of which are toxic and difficult to break down. But some of these bacteria can,” associate professor of microbiology at Heriot-Watt University Tony Gutierrez said.

“Understanding which bacteria are important to breaking down oil could help lead to the design of emergency response plans that are more effective and environmentally friendly for combatting a major spill.”

“Different bacteria have different appetites for different hydrocarbons, but they can work beautifully in concert together to clean up polluted water,” Gutierrez said.

Billings Gazette | 10 May 2016

Special Camera Puts Bakken Gas Emissions in Clearer Focus

Gas emissions from the Bakken are having a global impact on the atmosphere, a recent study found, but health regulators say new technology they’re using to inspect oilfield sites should lead to a dramatic improvement.

Rene Heredia Nieves, environmental scientist with the North Dakota Department of Health, uses a FLIR camera to inspect a well site north of Killdeer, N.D. Photo courtesy of North Dakota Department of Health.

The North Dakota Department of Health recently began using a USD 100,000 camera that uses infrared technology to detect methane, ethane, and other emissions that leak from well sites.

“The huge advantage is that you now see any emissions that are coming out, which were previously invisible to your eye,” said Jim Semerad, with the health department’s Air Quality Division.

Natural gas produced in the Bakken as a byproduct of oil production is known as a “wet” gas, meaning it is rich in natural gas liquids such as propane, butane and ethane.

“They can be beneficial if they’re captured and separated out, but they can also go directly into the atmosphere if the controls aren’t there or if the controls aren’t working properly,” said David Glatt, chief of the Environmental Health Section.

On an individual basis, a Bakken oil and gas well is not a significant contributor to emissions, Semerad said.

But multiply that by 13,000 wells in North Dakota, and the impact can be substantial.

“The sheer numbers have grown such that we have to take a harder look at them,” Semerad said.

US Geological Survey | 10 May 2016

Evidence of Unconventional Oil and Gas Wastewater Found in Surface Waters Near Underground Injection Site

Evidence indicating the presence of waste waters from unconventional oil and gas production was found in surface waters and sediments near an underground injection well near Fayetteville, West Virginia, according to two recent studies by the US Geological Survey (USGS), the University of Missouri, and Duke University.

These are the first published studies to demonstrate water-quality impacts to a surface stream due to activities at an unconventional oil and gas wastewater deep well injection disposal site. The studies did not assess how the waste waters were able to migrate from the disposal site to the surface stream. The unconventional oil and gas waste water that was injected in the site came from coalbed methane and shale gas wells.

“Deep well injection is widely used by industry for the disposal of waste waters produced during unconventional oil and gas extraction,” said USGS scientist Denise Akob, lead author on the current study. “Our results demonstrate that activities at disposal facilities can potentially impact the quality of adjacent surface waters.”

Washington Examiner | 10 May 2016

Feds Point to Gas as Reason for Emissions Reductions

Carbon dioxide emissions continue to fall in the United States due to a switch from coal to natural gas derived from shale, the federal government reported on 9 May.

The Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department’s independent analysis arm, looked at what’s behind the recent declines in greenhouse gases, despite growing demand for electricity.

One of the major factors is the switch from coal-based electricity to highly efficient gas-fired power plants. “Overall, the fuel-use changes in the power sector have accounted for 68% of the total energy-related [carbon emissions] reductions from 2005–15,” the agency reported.

“Energy-related [carbon dioxide] emissions can be reduced by consuming less petroleum, coal, and natural gas or by switching from more carbon-intensive fuels to less carbon-intensive fuels,” it said. “Many of the changes in energy-related [carbon dioxide] emissions in recent history have occurred in the electric power sector because of the decreased use of coal and the increased use of natural gas for electricity generation.”

The Associated Press | 3 May 2016

Study: US Oil Field Source of Global Uptick in Air Pollution

An oil and natural gas field in the western United States is largely responsible for a global uptick of the air pollutant ethane, according to a new study.

The team led by researchers at the University of Michigan found that fossil fuel production at the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana is emitting roughly 2% of the ethane detected in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Along with its chemical cousin methane, ethane is a hydrocarbon that is a significant component of natural gas. Once in the atmosphere, ethane reacts with sunlight to form ozone, which can trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory problems, especially in children and the elderly. Ethane pollution can also harm agricultural crops. Ozone also ranks as the third-largest contributor to human-caused global warming after carbon dioxide and methane.

“We didn’t expect one region to have such a global influence,” said Eric Kort, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of climatic science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The study was launched after a mountaintop sensor in the European Alps began registering surprising spikes in ethane concentrations in the atmosphere starting in 2010, following decades of declines.

The New York Times | 3 May 2016

Colorado Court Strikes Down Local Bans on Hydraulic Fracturing

Colorado’s Supreme Court on 2 May struck down local government prohibitions on hydraulic fracturing, handing oil and gas companies a victory in a lengthy battle over energy production in the environmentally conscious state.

In separate rulings, the court said a moratorium in Fort Collins and a ban in Longmont were invalid because state law pre-empted them. A lower court had reached the same conclusion earlier.

Two other cities and Boulder County have prohibitions on hydraulic fracturing that presumably are affected by the decisions. With oil and gas exploration in a slump nationwide, the short-term effect of the rulings in Colorado will be small, industry officials said.

But when the slump ends, activity in urban areas across the Front Range—the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains and Colorado’s most populous region, where oil and gas production is concentrated—could be significant.

The land opened to exploration by the rulings is comparatively small. More significant, said experts on both sides of the conflict, is that the rulings shut down future efforts to stop hydraulic fracturing in local jurisdictions.

America's Wetland Foundation | 28 April 2016

America’s Wetland Foundation Responds to BSEE Well Control Rule

In response to the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the federal government and specific agencies of government acted to ensure that Gulf Coast oil and gas operations were conducted with utmost safety. The America’s Wetland Foundation is concerned that some provisions of the proposed Well Control Rule proposed by BSEE could have unintended consequences leading to less safety and environmental protection and a reduction in overall revenue sharing directed to financing coastal restoration.