Environment
Siskinds via Mondaq

Is a New Treaty Governing Ocean Biodiversity on the Horizon?

A new treaty governing biodiversity and the use of nearly 50% of the world’s oceans is inching closer to realization.

The biodiversity of the world’s oceans are increasingly under threat from overfishing, pollution, the decline of biodiversity, and acidification, among other perils. Currently, there is little formal international legal framework through which countries can share responsibility for addressing (or recognizing) these issues. With the exception of some activities, such as whaling and fishing, the health of the high seas—and its biodiversity in particular—is unprotected and unregulated.

To address the issue, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution in 2015 to lay the initial groundwork for a possible new treaty aimed at protecting the biodiversity of the world’s oceans. State representatives to the preparatory committee responsible for developing a framework for the treaty negotiations have now agreed to recommend the elements to be considered in the development of a new treaty.

This new treaty would be formed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) and would focus on “biodiversity beyond state jurisdiction.” UNCLOS establishes the exclusive jurisdiction of coastal states over marine areas extending 200 nautical miles from their coasts, known as exclusive economic zones (EEZs). The new treaty would aim to promote and regulate the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in the areas beyond state EEZs and, therefore, beyond state jurisdiction.

Read the full story here.

JPT | 14 August 2017

Risk Assessment of Fluid Migration Into Freshwater Aquifers in Colorado Basins

Wellbore-construction methods, especially casing-and-cementing practices for the protection of freshwater aquifers, have been reviewed in the Piceance, Raton, and San Juan Basins in Colorado. The assessment confirms that natural-gas migration occurs infrequently but can happen from poorly constructed wellbores. Analysis confirmed no occurrence of hydraulic-fracturing-fluid contamination. The significance of these results is to help quantify the risks associated with natural-gas development as related to the contamination of surface aquifers.

Introduction
The prevention of contamination of freshwater aquifers has been a prime concern in drilling operations since the inception of drilling. Surface casing has long been the primary barrier to prevent contamination of freshwater aquifers through wellbores. The probability of leakage into aquifers from wellbores during shale development has a wide range of estimates, complicated by the presence of hydrocarbons at shallow depths in many parts of the world. An earlier paper reviewed the process and outcomes of a study for the Wattenberg Field in the Denver-Julesberg Basin. This study continues the examination of the contamination of aquifers in the subsurface during the completion and the production phases of the well and quantifies the risk of contamination of aquifers through failure of the wellbore for three other major basins in Colorado, the Piceance, Raton, and San Juan Basins. This synopsis focuses on the assessment of the Piceance Basin.

Barrier Definition. Common vertical, deviated, and horizontal subsurface wellbore-barrier designs were grouped and ranked on the basis of the risk of multiple barrier failures (Fig. 1). For the sake of clarity, pressure monitoring of the casing annulus [surface annulus pressure (SAP)] was not assumed to be an additional barrier during the production phase even though it is frequent and often required by state regulations.

Fig. 1—Wellbore-barrier categories ranked from highest risk to lowest risk.

Well-barrier designs can vary from field to field depending on geology, trajectory, depths, anticipated pressures, expected hydraulic-treatment rates, and estimated production rates. Whether a well is horizontal, vertical, or deviated has no significance with respect to the ultimate protection of freshwater aquifers because the wells are designed to protect the shallow vertical section of each oil and gas well. Multiple barriers must be in place near the depth of the freshwater aquifer to prevent breaching of a single barrier potentially leading to contamination.

Failure Definition. This study defines two types of barrier failure—potential barrier failures and catastrophic barrier failures.

Potential barrier failures are the breakdown of a single or multiple barriers in a wellbore that did not result in the contamination of freshwater aquifers or surface soil from hydrocarbon or fracturing-fluid migration but required remediation of the failed barrier to further enhance the nested barrier system of the well.

Catastrophic barrier failures are the breakdown of a combination of various wellbore barriers (casing, cement, and hydrostatic pressure of annular fluids) protecting freshwater aquifers during hydraulic fracturing or production phases resulting in the contamination of freshwater aquifers or surface soil.

Risk Assessment of Oil and Gas Wells in the Piceance Basin
The Piceance Basin underlies western Colorado. Garfield County comprises the core of oil and gas exploration for the Piceance Basin in Colorado and is the focus of this study.

The first exploratory drilling operations were started in 1935; however, ­concentrated oil and gas exploration of the field did not begin until 2000. Wells are drilled to depths of 6,000–8,000 ft subsurface.

Horizontal wells began around 2008, but horizontal-drilling activity is negligible compared with the vertical- and deviated-well counts because of the complexity of drilling a horizontal well at increased depths of 10,000- to 12,500-ft true vertical depth. Wells in the Piceance Basin are subject to higher corrosion rates because of elevated levels of total dissolved solids (TDS) in the produced water and the presence of corrosive gas. In addition, cementing wells can be problematical because of fracturing in the Wasatch Group, which is above the Williams Fork Formation target zone. The Wasatch Group is composed of interbedded shale and sandstone and is highly fractured because of structural alterations and thermogenic gas migration from the underlying Williams Fork Formation.

Piceance Basin Water Sourcing. A defined geologic boundary between freshwater aquifers and deeper hydrocarbon formations is not present in Garfield County. Water is sourced from surface water, unconsolidated alluvial aquifers that are shallower than 60 ft subsurface, and deeper water wells that source fresh water from bedrock in the Wasatch Group at maximum depths of 600 ft.

The Wasatch Group has evidence of natural fractures that can act as a conduit to shallower depths from deeper and more-mature hydrocarbon deposits. The deepest water wells in Garfield County are drilled to 600 ft, sourcing water from the Wasatch Group. Water wells that are drilled into the bedrock of the Wasatch Group have the potential to test positive for thermogenic gas without any offset oil and gas wells contributing to thermogenic gas migration to the aquifer. It is challenging to ascertain the origin of thermogenic gas that appears in water wells, because of the complexity of the underlying strata in Garfield County.

Piceance Basin Data Sourcing and Assumptions. Oil- and gas-well data were collected for 10,998 wells completed between 1935 and mid-2014 in Garfield County. Shallow surface-casing-setting depth was defined as a depth less than the deepest water well in the field at 600 ft.

Potential barrier failures were defined as any cement remediation performed on the production casing, intermediate casing, or surface casing or as presence of SAP.

Catastrophic barrier failures were defined as wells that had barrier failures that directly caused a conduit for hydrocarbon migration to freshwater aquifers of the upper Wasatch Group or to alluvial aquifers at shallow depths, which was corroborated by isotopic and compositional analysis from an offset water well.

Piceance Basin Potential and Catastrophic Barrier Failures. All wells were categorized on the basis of their original casing and cement. Potential barrier failures were identified by any cement remediation of any casing string or by evidence of SAP. Potential barrier failures were identified in 377 of 10,842 originally producing wells in Garfield County. Category 8 wells had the highest potential-barrier-failure rate of 30.00%, occurring in 18 of 60 wells. Even though this design has deep surface casing and an intermediate-casing string, the top of the production-­casing cement was not above the top of gas. Higher-risk Category 2 wells had an 8.33% potential-barrier-failure rate, occurring on four of 48 wells, followed by Category 5 wells, which had a 6.99% potential-barrier-failure rate, occurring in 125 of 1,789 wells. This design has deep surface casing, but the top of the production-­casing cement was not above the top of gas.

Categories 6 and 7 (lower risk) had lower potential-barrier-failure rates of 2.33 and 3.01%, respectively. Even though these wells had production-­casing-cement tops above the top of gas, they demonstrate the challenging geologic conditions that are present in the Wasatch Group, confirming the difficulty in creating effective production-casing-cement isolation and indicating challenges in preventing SAP from shallow hydrocarbon deposits.

Higher concentrations of potential barrier failures occurred near the core of oil and gas exploration. Of wells that were originally completed in 2003, 18% had potential barrier failures, which represents the most potential barrier failures for wells completed in a calendar year.

The higher potential-barrier-failure rates experienced for lower-risk wellbore-barrier designs in the field are because of corrosion or ineffective cement coverage behind the casing strings. High carbon dioxide (CO2) mole fraction and higher relative TDS from the produced water can lead to corrosion of the carbon-steel pipe wall if untreated. Proper treatment of this corrosion potential is needed to prevent casing leaks and deterioration of the pipe wall.

Nine of 10,842 originally producing wells were identified as having catastrophic barrier failures related to hydrocarbon migration to freshwater aquifers in the Piceance Basin. All nine wells had experienced high SAP before thermogenic gas detection in offset water wells. No evidence of hydraulic-fracturing-fluid migration to freshwater aquifers or surface soil was found.

Catastrophic barrier failures occurred in two Category 3 wells, two Category 5 wells, four Category 6 wells, and one Category 7 well. Seven catastrophic barrier failures occurred on wells that had the top of production-casing cement above the top of gas in the basin. This demonstrates the challenges in effectively isolating shallow gas shows in the Wasatch Group and the challenges of higher carbon-steel corrosion rates and of annular-hydrostatic-pressure barriers in the field.

Catastrophic-barrier-failure rates were observed to be common in moderate- to low-risk wellbore-barrier designs because of the challenges of combating corrosion of the production casing, of effectively isolating hydrocarbon migration with cement in the casing annulus, and of creating effective annular hydrostatic barriers at shallow depths. No evidence of fracturing-fluid migration to freshwater aquifers was detected in the study. Formations that are hydraulically stimulated are at depths greater than 4,000 ft subsurface. Even with the highly fractured nature of the Wasatch Group above the top of the Williams Fork Formation, it still acts as a solid geologic barrier, preventing vertical growth of artificially stimulated fractures to freshwater strata.

Piceance Basin Existing Conditions. Six percent, or 602, of the 10,507 existing producing or shut-in wells in Garfield County currently have shallow surface-casing-setting depths in relation to the deepest water well drilled in the county. Of these 602 wells, 143 currently have higher-risk Category 2 and 3 well-barrier designs. These designs do not have the top of production-casing cement above the surface-casing shoe.

Of wells in the sample, 3.48% experienced SAP, had cement remediation, or had a combination of both. This higher potential-failure rate relative to the Wattenberg Field is explained by the shallow gas shows from the Wasatch Group, the difficulty in eliminating shallow gas shows with effective cement coverage, and higher rates of corrosion of the production casing because of the relatively higher TDS from the produced water and higher mole percent CO2 in the produced gas. In order to isolate annular migration, it is recommend-ed that operators extend production-casing cement above the preceding casing shoe and routinely perform chemical batch treatment of wells to reduce the effects of corrosion of the pipe walls.


This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper SPE 181680, “A Continued Assessment of the Risk of Migration of Hydrocarbons or Fracturing Fluids Into Freshwater Aquifers in the Piceance, Raton, and San Juan Basins of Colorado,” by C.H. Stone, SPE, A.W. Eustes, SPE, and W.W. Fleckenstein, SPE, Colorado School of Mines, prepared for the 2016 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Dubai, 26–28 September. The paper has not been peer reviewed.

Milestone | 9 August 2017

Milestone Begins Construction of Waste-Disposal Facility in Permian

Milestone Environmental Services has announced the ground breaking for its new oilfield waste-disposal facility south of Midland, Texas. The new South Midland facility marks Milestone’s second in the Permian Basin and their eighth in Texas.

The site is planned to open in the fourth quarter of 2017. Milestone plans to hire approximately 20 additional employees to run the facility, and hiring is scheduled to begin in September.

The South Midland facility will be capable of taking drilling, completion, and production waste streams, including oil-based and water-based muds, drilling fluids, flowback, tank bottoms, dirty water, and produced water. Using its proprietary slurry injection process, Milestone securely injects a mixture of the waste streams more than a mile below the Earth’s surface, where they are safely sequestered beneath multiple confining layers of stone. The facility has been designed to efficiently provide full-service washouts for trucks and frac tanks.

“This expansion reflects Milestone’s deep commitment to the Permian. We are proud to enable E&P (exploration and production) operators to produce energy in a more environmentally sustainable manner,” said Milestone’s president and chief executive officer, Gabriel Rio. “With the addition of our South Midland facility, Milestone will be well positioned to serve E&P operators in the Midland Basin.”

“The design of this facility will provide improved safety, efficiency, and capacity, plus reduce truck unloading and washout times for E&P customers,” said Jason Larchar, director of engineering. “We have incorporated sound engineering principles and the best equipment available, as well as feedback from our customers and our operations and safety teams at Milestone. The South Midland site will be our most efficient, safest and highest capacity oilfield waste disposal facility we have built so far.”

Read more about Milestone here.

Splash 24/7 | 8 August 2017

BOEM Says Seismic Surveys in Gulf of Mexico Harmful to Marine Wildlife

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has issued a final environmental impact statement (PEIS) for proposed geological and geophysical surveys of the Gulf of Mexico regarding possible oil and gas development.

It finds that the surveys would pose a danger of significant harm to marine mammals.

Projecting for air-gun blasting over the next decade, the statement estimates millions of creatures—including hundreds of sperm whales, plus other whales and dolphins—would be harmed.

Air-gun blasting involves seismic air-guns blasting compressed air through miles of water down to the seabed in the quest for oil and gas beneath the ocean floor. Blasts can occur continually at 10-second intervals for weeks or months at a time.

Environmental group Earth Justice and the Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity used the PEIS to highlight the danger represented to marine life and environments.

But the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC) criticized the PEIS.

An API statement said the PEIS was based on a “flawed interpretation of scientific data”. And IAGC said the PEIS “ignores the best available science.”

Read the full story here.

Read the PEIS here.

Reuters | 8 August 2017

US To Relax Rules Protecting Sage Grouse, in Win for Oil Drillers

The US Interior Department on 7 August launched an overhaul to an Obama-era plan to protect sage grouse that it says aims to preserve the species of bird while expanding opportunities for oil development in western states where they live.

A US Bureau of Land Management photo shows a sage grouse in this undated photo. Credit: Bob Wick/Courtesy BLM/Handout via Reuters.

The move is a win for the drilling industry, which had long argued that the plan developed by former President Barack Obama was too restrictive, but is a setback for conservation groups concerned that the Interior Department under President Donald Trump is watering down wildlife protections.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in a memo on 7 August, directed his deputy David Bernhardt to make nine broad changes to the program. In June, Zinke stated the sage grouse protection program needed to be revised to “protect sage grouse and its habitat while also ensuring conservation efforts do not impede local economic opportunities.”

The recommendations are intended to give states more flexibility to deal with habitat management, waivers, and mineral leasing and development.

Read the full story here.

The News & Observer | 24 July 2017

North Carolina Governor: No Offshore Oil Drilling in the Atlantic Ocean

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said on 20 July that his administration will oppose the Trump administration’s efforts to open Atlantic Ocean waters to offshore oil and gas drilling. Cooper’s decision reverses the state’s policy under former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who urged federal officials to promote energy exploration in ocean waters to help the nation achieve energy independence.

Angler Andy Hails, of Montgomery, Alabama, checks the fishing lines on his boat as he trolls the Gulf of Mexico near a natural gas well off the Alabama coast near Gulf Shores, Alabama. President Donald Trump on 28 April 2017 signed an executive order to consider new offshore drilling around the country. Credit: Dave Martin/AP.

Making his announcement from Fort Macon State Park in coastal Carteret County, Cooper said the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality will submit antidrilling arguments to the US Department of Commerce. Cooper said offshore energy exploration poses risks of oil spills to local ecosystems, tourist economies, and the commercial fishing industry but added that North Carolina workers and ports would see few benefits from drilling in federal ocean waters miles offshore.

“I can sum it up in four words: Not off our coast,” Cooper said. “It is simply not worth the risk.”

President Barack Obama had declared Atlantic and Arctic waters off-limits for future offshore energy drilling, but in April President Donald Trump issued an executive order to resume federal reviews for offshore drilling prospects.

The position of a governor is given greater deference than ordinary public comments, because state support is one of eight factors weighed by the Department of Interior in deciding whether to allow offshore energy exploration. Other factors include interest from energy companies, environmental sensitivity and the location of the drill pads in relation to the nation’s energy markets.

Read the full story here.

The Associated Press | 24 July 2017

Regulators Release Environmental Assessment of Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline intended to carry natural gas across West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina would have some adverse environmental effects, including effects on water resources, forest, and other habitats, but most could be reduced to insignificant levels, an assessment by federal regulators found.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate natural gas pipelines, released its final environmental impact statement on 21 July for the proposed 600-mile pipeline, which has broad support from political and business leaders but is staunchly opposed by environmentalists and many affected landowners.

The assessment found that the pipeline would also affect some endangered species in its path. But it concluded that, if developers use proper construction and mitigation techniques, most of environmental effects could be reduced to “less-than-significant” levels.

In a 6 June 2017 file photo, hydrologist William K. Jones walks up a mountain near the route of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Bolar, Va. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate natural gas pipelines, released its final environmental impact statement on 21 July 2017 for the proposed 600-mile pipeline, which has broad support from political and business leaders but is staunchly opposed by environmentalists and many affected landowners. Credit: Steve Helber/AP.

The leading company behind the USD 5 billion project called the assessment “favorable” and said it paved the way for final approval later this year.

“While some impacts on the environment and landowners are unavoidable with any infrastructure project, the report demonstrates that we’ve taken all necessary steps to minimize those impacts and balance them with the urgent public need for the project,” Leslie Hartz, Dominion Energy’s vice president for engineering and construction, said in a statement.

Environmental groups have argued that FERC’s process for approving pipelines is broken and doesn’t adequately evaluate the true need for additional infrastructure.

“FERC still hasn’t addressed the most basic question hanging over this project: Is it even needed?” Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Greg Buppert said in a statement. “It’s FERCs responsibility to determine if this pipeline is a public necessity before it allows developers to take private property, clear forests, and carve up mountainsides. Mounting evidence shows that it is not.”

The agency’s commissioners will weigh the environmental impact statement as well as whether the project meets a public need and whether its proposed gas rates are just and reasonable in making that decision, according to FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen.

Read the full story here.

The Associated Press | 24 July 2017

Months Needed for Additional Study of Dakota Access Pipeline

Additional environmental review of the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline is likely to take the rest of the year to complete, US officials said in court documents in which they also advocate for keeping the line operating during the study.

In this 5 October 2016 file photo, heavy equipment works at a site where sections of the Dakota Access pipeline are being buried near the town of St. Anthony in Morton County, N.D. The Army Corps of Engineers says additional environmental review of the already-operating pipeline ordered by a judge in June 2017 is likely to take the rest of the year. Credit: Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP.

Developer Energy Transfer Partners also is asking US District Judge James Boasberg to keep the line open, saying a shutdown would cost the Texas-based company USD 90 million each month.

The USD 3.8 billion pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois was finished after President Donald Trump pushed through its completion despite opposition and an ongoing lawsuit by American Indian tribes, who fear environmental harm. Since June 1, it has been moving nearly half of the daily oil production in North Dakota, the nation’s second-leading producer behind Texas—a total so far of more than 18 million bbl, or 756 million gallons.

Boasberg last month ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers largely complied with environmental law when permitting the pipeline but that it did not adequately consider how an oil spill under the Missouri River might affect the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. He ordered the Corps to reconsider certain areas of its environmental analysis and is accepting arguments from attorneys this summer on whether he should shut down the pipeline while the work is done—a move he has said “would carry serious consequences that a court should not lightly impose.”

Read the full story here.

Energyworld | 24 July 2017

Waste Human Hair Could Help Clean Up Oil Spills in Oceans, Say Scientists

Your chopped-off locks could help clean up oil spills in oceans, according to scientists who suggest that human hair waste from salons may be a valuable asset to remediate maritime disasters.

Using hair to deal with oil spills is a fairly new area of research. Only a couple of studies having been conducted where the hair was either ground up or changed in some way before being used.

Several environmental groups experimented with hair booms during the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 but did not conduct scientific research.

“Hair is a natural biosorbent. It’s been shown to adsorb three to nine times its weight in oil,” said Rebecca Pagnucco, from the University of Technology Sydney in Australia.

“Your hair gets oily and greasy the oil basically is stuck to the hair fibers. By a similar method, it would stick to other oils, such as crude oil,” Pagnucco said.

Read the full story here.

Reuters | 11 July 2017

Ohio Attorney General Urged To Penalize ETP for Rover Violations

Ohio regulators have asked the state’s attorney general to pursue civil penalties against Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) for environmental violations during construction of the Rover natural gas pipeline.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said in a filing made available on 10 July that ETP violated rules against storm water discharges; industrial waste disposal; and the release of bentonite slurry, a clay and water mix, into waterways. One of the spills contained traces of diesel in the slurry, which is not allowed.

“We have been and will continue to discuss these matters with the Ohio EPA in hopes of resolving all outstanding issues,” Alexis Daniel, a spokeswoman at ETP, said in an email.

The USD 4.2 billion Rover project from Pennsylvania to Ontario is the biggest gas pipeline under construction in the United States.

ETP has long said it expects the first phase of Rover to enter service in late July with the second phase by Nov. 1.

Read the full story here.

Statoil | 5 July 2017

Statoil Evaluating New Carbon Storage Project on the Norwegian Continental Shelf

Gassnova has assigned Statoil to evaluate the development of carbon storage on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS). This will be the first storage site in the world receiving carbon dioxide from several industrial sources.

Credit: Statoil.

The storage project is part of Norwegian authorities’ efforts to develop full-scale carbon capture and storage in Norway. It will capture carbon dioxide from three onshore industrial facilities in eastern Norway and transport it by ship from the capture area to a receiving plant onshore located on the west coast of Norway. At the receiving plant, carbon dioxide will be pumped over from the ship to tanks onshore before being sent through pipelines on the seabed to several injection wells east of the Troll field on the NCS. There are several possible locations for the receiving plant, and the final choice will be based on criteria such as safety, costs, and expansion flexibility.

Gassnova has previously been awarded the assignments for carbon capture and transportation in the project.

The storage solution to be evaluated by Statoil will have the potential to receive carbon dioxide from both Norwegian and European emission sources.

“Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is an important tool to reduce carbon emissions and to achieve the global climate targets as defined in the Paris Agreement,” said Irene Rummelhoff, Statoil’s executive vice president for New Energy Solutions. “The CCS project that has been assigned to us will require an entirely new collaboration model with carbon capture from several industrial sources, carbon transportation by ships, and carbon storage 1000–2000 m below the seabed. In addition, this may be the start of the world’s first CCS network across national borders. Much work remains, but if we are successful, this may open new business opportunities both for Statoil, our collaboration partners and Norwegian industry.”