Environment
Reuters | 16 February 2017

Alberta Orphan Oil Well Tally Jumps as Lexin Licenses Suspended

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) suspended licenses on all oil and gas well facilities and pipelines belonging to Lexin Resources on 15 February, nearly doubling the number of orphaned wells in Canada’s main crude-producing province.

An oil pump jack pumps oil in a field near Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Credit: Todd Korol/Reuters.

The provincial regulator ordered privately-held Lexin to cease all production, saying it failed to comply with multiple orders and lacked enough staff to manage its more than 1,600 sites.

Calgary-based Lexin also owes more than CAD 1 million to Alberta’s orphan fund and more than CAD 70 million in security for its obligations to clean up its oil and gas facilities at the end of their producing life.

“The closure order is the result of a year of trying to work with the company to come into compliance,” said AER spokeswoman Cara Tobin. “With the number of noncompliances and the debt that was owed, we felt it was important to take these steps.”

Lexin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Alberta’s Orphan Well Association (OWA) is responsible for cleaning up wells that have no owners financially able to deal with abandonment and decommissioning costs. It is overseen by the AER and funded by levies from the oil and gas industry.

The enforcement action by the regulator means the 1,380 wells belonging to Lexin are now in the care and custody of the OWA, taking the total numbers of ownerless wells in Alberta to 2,970.

Read the full story here.

BMT Cordah | 16 February 2017

Experts Team Up for Environmental Assessment in Israel

Environmental experts from BMT Cordah have collaborated with Israel-based consulting firm Geo-Prospect to provide independent expert advice and guidance for Israel’s Ministry of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Resources. Geo-Prospect was contracted as the lead consultant to undertake a strategic environment assessment (SEA) for offshore oil and natural gas exploration and extraction.

Sharon Cohen, head of the SEA team at Geo-Prospect, said, “The BMT team significantly contributed to this project, providing us with integral support in a number of key areas.”

BMT identified and defined potential sources of environmental impact, based on the operating criteria for offshore drilling and production in Israel. This intelligence, in conjunction with a review by BMT, of the habitats assessment undertaken by the Israel Oceanographic Limnological Research Institute was then used to inform and support Geo-Prospect with the development of Israel’s SEA. The SEA is the first of its kind and an important milestone in helping to set new standards in the way natural resources are administered in Israel.

Gareth Jones, Principal Consultant at BMT Cordah, a multidisciplinary environmental consultancy, said, “For over 30 years, we have provided in-country support to governments and oil and gas majors around the globe in the preparation of these assessments, as well as environmental impact assessments and environmental statements.  Drawing on our extensive experience and best practice models, we can provide customers with the confidence that environmental and other sustainability aspects have been duly considered.”

Read more about BMT Cordah here.

WBAA | 27 January 2017

To Fight Coastal Damage, Louisiana Parishes Pushed To Sue Energy Industry

For a man with a mural of an oil refinery in his office, deciding to sue the oil and gas industry wasn’t an easy choice.

Wetlands and marshlands that once protected New Orleans and the surrounding areas from storm surge have been depleted over the years. Here is seen the USD 1.1 billion Lake Borgne Surge Barrier outside New Orleans in 2015. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images.

But it was a necessary one for Guy McInnis, the president of Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish, just south of New Orleans.

On a recent day, McInnis stands overlooking Lake Borgne. Now an open lake, the area was once prime wetlands and marshlands that protected St. Bernard from storm surge. It took a big hit during Hurricane Katrina.

Oil companies would dig through the marshy area to get to their shallow-water wells.

“They would dig a ditch to get their boat to the oil well, and that ditch was not replaced or filled in at the end of the time that they used that oil well,” McInnis said.

These small channels created mazes through the marshes that eventually eroded into open water.

New projections say Louisiana is losing land much faster than officials thought. Each mile of land that washes into the Gulf of Mexico costs the state; industry, infrastructure, and populations are all disrupted.

Now, it has a plan to fight coastal land loss, but needs an estimated USD 90 billion to do it.

An oil and gas state, Louisiana has long relied on money from offshore sales to fund part of its budget. But the USD 90 billion price tag will require support from Congress. That’s why the state’s new Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, is urging officials like McInnis to sue oil and gas companies for that damage.

Read the full story here.

Reuters | 27 January 2017

BP Says Trump’s Energy Policy Unlikely To Have Big Effect on Carbon Dioxide Fight

Changes to US energy policies under new President Donald Trump are unlikely to have a big effect on global action to curb a rise in greenhouse gas emissions, oil major BP’s chief economist said on 25 January.

On 24 January, Trump signed orders to smooth the path for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines in a move to expand energy infrastructure and roll back key Obama administration environmental decisions.

As part of his election campaign, Trump promised to bolster the US oil, gas, and coal industries, partly by undoing federal regulations curbing carbon dioxide emissions.

“The actual implications of change in US policy are unlikely to be a big game changer,” Spencer Dale, group chief economist at BP, told journalists in London.

“The US has played an enormous leadership role together with China in galvanizing international support (for action on climate change). … Much of that improvement in the outlook for carbon emissions isn’t happening in America,” he added.

“Improvements within America are due to energy efficiency … which are still quite valued in an economy that encourages growth and competitiveness.”

Read the full story here.

Bloomberg | 27 January 2017

Trump Wants to Downplay Global Warming; Louisiana Won’t Let Him

On a recent morning in Baton Rouge, a thousand miles from where Senate Democrats were jousting with Donald Trump’s nominee to run the US Environmental Protection Agency about whether humans are warming the planet, the future of US climate policy was being crafted in a small room in the east wing of the Louisiana Capitol. The state’s 7,700-mile shoreline is disappearing at the fastest rate in the country. Officials had gathered to consider a method of deciding which communities to save—and which to abandon to the Gulf of Mexico.

Bren Haase, chief of planning for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, was presenting his team’s updated Coastal Master Plan. Five years in the making and comprising 6,000 pages of text and appendices, the document details USD 50 billion in investments over 5 decades in ridges, barrier islands, and marsh creation. Tucked into the plan was a number whose significance surpasses all others: 14 ft, the height beyond which Haase’s agency has concluded homes couldn’t feasibly be elevated.

Bren Haase, chief of planning for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, listens to public comments following an update on the 2017 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan during a hearing at the Port of New Orleans on 18 January. Credit: Derick Hingle/Bloomberg.

In areas where a so-called 100-year flood is expected to produce between 3 and 14 ft of water, the plan recommends paying for homes to be raised and communities preserved. In places where flood depths are expected to exceed that height, residents would be offered money to leave. “We’re trying to make the best decisions for the most people,” said Haase, adding that Louisiana’s strategy could become a model for other states. “The plan is really a framework to make those tough decisions.”

As Trump’s administration prepares to unravel federal policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions, state and local governments are trying increasingly aggressive steps to cope with the consequences of those emissions. In New Jersey, a state program offers residents in flood zones the pre-Hurricane Sandy value of their homes, turning the land into a buffer against the next storm. In Alaska, entire coastal towns are petitioning the federal government for money to move inland.

But nowhere is the rush to adapt to climate change more urgent than in Louisiana. Levees built in the aftermath of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 reduced inundations but also the deposit of sediment that had offset the gradual sinking of the marshlands—a process that accelerated with the expansion of the area’s oil and gas industry. Meanwhile, canals built to service the oil and gas wells let salt water penetrate deeper into the marshes, killing vegetation and speeding erosion. Since 1932, the state has lost 1,800 sq miles of land, roughly equivalent to 80 Manhattans. On top of all that, Louisiana must contend with sea-level rise. If it does nothing, the state is expected to lose as much as 4,000 additional sq miles of land in the next half-century. Its residents have no choice but to retreat from the coast; the question officials are trying to answer is where that retreat can be postponed and for how long.

Read the full story here.

Reuters | 18 January 2017

Dakota Access Company Files Motion To Halt Environmental Study

Energy Transfer Partners has filed a motion to bar the US Army Corps of Engineers from initiating an environmental study for its controversial Dakota Access pipeline crossing at Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

Dakota Access Pipeline equipment is seen near Lake Oahe, near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, in this picture taken from across the Missouri River in Linton, North Dakota, on 9 November 2016. Credit: Reuters/Stephanie Keith.

Dakota Access Pipeline equipment is seen near Lake Oahe, near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, in this picture taken from across the Missouri River in Linton, North Dakota, on 9 November 2016. Credit: Reuters/Stephanie Keith.

Energy Transfer Partners requested on 16 January that a US District Court judge for the District of Columbia stop the Corps from initiating the environmental impact statement process until a ruling has been made on whether the company already has necessary approvals for the pipeline crossing.

The Corps said it would publish a notice in the Federal Register on 18 January stating its intent to prepare an environmental impact statement for the requested easement at Lake Oahe. The notice will invite interested parties to comment on potential issues and concerns, as well as alternatives to the proposed route, which should be considered in the study.

The Corps in December denied Energy Transfer Partners an easement to drill under Lake Oahe, a water source upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation that has been the focus of protests. Members from the Standing Rock Sioux and others say the line could damage drinking water and desecrate sacred grounds.

The Associated Press | 17 January 2017

Trudeau Says the Canadian Oil Sands Needs To Be “Phased Out”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sparked anger in the oil-rich province of Alberta on 13 January for saying Canada needs to phase out the oil sands.

Trudeau told a town-hall meeting in Peterborough, Ontario, that they can’t shut down the oil sands tomorrow but they need to phase it out eventually.

The prime minister was asked about his government’s approval of pipelines and whether that was consistent with the promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He said there needs to be a transition off dependence on fossil fuels.

Trudeau’s comments caused outrage on social media and criticism from Alberta politicians. Premier Rachel Notley said the oil sands are not going anywhere any time soon.

Alberta opposition leader Brian Jean said the oil and gas industry provides thousands of good-paying jobs and if Trudeau wants to shut it down he’ll have to go through him and four million Albertans first.

Read the full story here.

ABC News | 4 January 2017

Judge Orders Ohio To Let Company Reopen Brine Injection Well

The pumping of waste from hydraulic fracturing operations into a closed Ohio injection well is expected to resume after a judge’s ruling that the state’s oil-and-gas regulator failed to consider a new plan after shutting down the well in 2014 because of two small earthquakes nearby.

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Kimberly Cocroft ordered the state and well operator, American Water Management Services, to submit language for a judgment order to reopen the well in Trumbull County’s Weathersfield Township, about 65 miles southeast of Cleveland.

Cocroft’s ruling last month said the state had the authority to shut down the well after earthquakes were detected below ground in July and August of 2014. But the ruling said the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management should have allowed American Water to resume operations after submitting a plan that called for pumping brine at lower pressures and volumes. At least 20 other small seismic events were recorded in 2014 near the well before it was closed.

The ruling noted that American Water was operating within state guidelines when the shutdown order came.

San Francisco Chronicle | 30 December 2016

Oil Companies Face Deadline To Stop Polluting California Groundwater

Seven oil companies, including petroleum giant Chevron, have been given until the end of December by state officials to stop their decades-old practice of injecting oily wastewater into Central Valley aquifers or face penalties.

In this January 2015 file photo, a person walks past pump jacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. Credit: Jae C. Hong/Associated Press.

In this January 2015 file photo, a person walks past pump jacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. Credit: Jae C. Hong/Associated Press.

The state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources ordered the companies to stop pumping wastewater from drilling operations into 10 underground aquifers, which the oil companies were using despite federal regulations protecting the groundwater.

The regulations require 30 active injection wells to be closed by 31 December or “we would pursue legal action and/or penalties,” said Teresa Schilling, spokeswoman for the resources agency. Violations carry fines of USD 2,500 to USD 25,000 apiece. Schilling said most operators are complying or have already complied with the order.

None of the aquifers is now used for drinking water, but environmentalists say they could be tapped in the future. Most are in the Bakersfield area, but one is in Solano County, near the Bunker Gas Field south of Dixon.

“This is a big deal because it’s about protecting underground drinking water,” said Keith Nakatani, the oil and gas program manager for the environmental group Clean Water Action. “We are increasingly reliant on groundwater because of the recent drought and a loss of snowpack—all the more reason to be protective of our resources. Yet the oil and gas industry has been allowed to pollute those resources for decades.”

StateImpact | 28 December 2016

EPA Says Hydraulic Fracturing Study’s Data Gaps Are an Important Contribution to Science

A hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania The central missile of the operation connects 16 compression generators, water, sand, and other fluids before entering the well. Credit: Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY.

A hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania The central missile of the operation connects 16 compression generators, water, sand, and other fluids before entering the well. Credit: Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says its hydraulic fracturing study, published in December, is the most comprehensive look so far at all the science available on whether hydraulic fracturing pollutes drinking water. Critics have pointed to a lack of data in the report, which led to limitations in the agency’s conclusion that hydraulic fracturing “impacts drinking water under some circumstances.” The EPA’s science adviser, Tom Burke, says the gaps in data represent the “state of the science.”

“The identification of data gaps is actually an important contribution to the science and not a failure,” Burke said.

“We are really just beginning to understand fracking,” he said.  ”And there are not really a lot of reports about what’s going on during the fracking process. For instance, basic information about where are the wells. The location of the wells.”

Burke says that, in addition to lack of information about all the shale gas wells, there is a lack of information about locations of groundwater aquifers and the quality of the water.

Read the full story here.

The New York Times | 26 December 2016

Obama Bans Drilling in Parts of the Atlantic and the Arctic

President Obama announced on 20 December what he called a permanent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling along wide areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic Seaboard as he tried to nail down an environmental legacy that cannot quickly be reversed by Donald J. Trump.

The Polar Pioneer was the first of two oil drilling rigs Royal Dutch Shell was outfitting for Arctic oil exploration before the company ended its contract last year. Credit: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press.

The Polar Pioneer was the first of two oil drilling rigs Royal Dutch Shell was outfitting for Arctic oil exploration before the company ended its contract last year. Credit: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press.

Obama invoked an obscure provision of a 1953 law, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which he said gives him the authority to act unilaterally. While some presidents have used that law to temporarily protect smaller portions of federal waters, Obama’s declaration of a permanent drilling ban on portions of the ocean floor from Virginia to Maine and along much of Alaska’s coast is breaking new ground. The declaration’s fate will almost certainly be decided by the federal courts.

“It’s never been done before,” said Patrick Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at Vermont Law School. “There is no case law on this. It’s uncharted waters.”

Offshore Engineer | 14 December 2016

Up Against Ospar

In Europe, and in other regions, the guiding principle for the rules governing oil and gas infrastructure decommissioning have been a return to a clean seabed. These principles are being challenged.

Anadarko’s Red Hawk topsides being lifted off. Credit: InterMoor.

Anadarko’s Red Hawk topsides being lifted off. Credit: InterMoor.

As decommissioning work mounts in areas such as the UK North Sea, where huge platforms were built to withstand harsh environments, there is now push back and calls for a different approach to decommissioning (i.e., one where substructures can be left in place).

Indeed, in the Netherlands, one firm, Engie, is taking the bull by the horns. Engie has proposed a rigs-to-reef pilot project in the Dutch North Sea in a move that will test the established rules—that anything weighing under 10,000-tonne has to be removed and anything, regardless of weight, built after 1999 has to be removed.

Engie is part of a growing group that is arguing that more not only could but should be left in place than what is currently the norm. They say that more damage would be caused to the environment by removing the likes of footings and large seafloor-based structures than leaving them in place and that current practices need to be reassessed. This is because these structures have become marine life havens, protected as they are from fishing.

“A funny thing happens. Corals and barnacles form [on structures] and fish start feeding on them, using the platform as a habitat,” said Tom Campbell, partner at law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, based in Houston. “What we have is not rigs-to-reefs; these platforms are the reef,” he told an audience during the EXT:end event in Aberdeen in September.

“The question is,” said Campbell, who played a role in formulating the US government’s response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, “is all decommissioning appropriate?” The usual challenge is whether a clean seabed is appropriate, he said. “But, I put forward a different challenge: The ecological cost of a clean seabed is too high, and we should re-examine all our conclusions based on that hypothesis.”