Environment

Survey Shows Americans Agreeing on Methane Regulation

Source: American Lung Association | 19 December 2014

Americans overwhelmingly support the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishing the first federal limits on methane emissions, according to new data released today from a nationwide, bipartisan survey conducted for the American Lung Association. Moreover, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of American voters supports the efforts of the EPA to establish stricter air pollution standards overall and believes that EPA scientists, not Congress, should be the ones to make these decisions.

“It is clear that the public supports stronger public health safeguards for the air we breathe,” said Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association. “Cutting methane and toxic air pollutants like benzene is a winner with the American people.”

Respondents rated clean air as a higher priority than reducing regulations on businesses, with 80% of respondents rating it as extremely or very important. By more than a three-to-one margin (69% in favor to 21% opposed), voters want the EPA, not Congress, to set the nation’s air pollution standards.

On the specific issue of methane pollution standards to address air pollution from the oil and gas industry, an overwhelming two-to-one majority favors new methane emissions standards from the EPA. Support for the new standards actually grew after voters heard simulated and balanced arguments that included the strongest messages from both sides of the issue (including attacks from opponents on cost and jobs), resulting in majority support across the political spectrum, including from Republicans.

Read the full story here.

Read the survey results here.

Study Finds Lower Methane Emissions Than Previous Studies

Source: Rigzone | 11 December 2014

The level of methane emissions from the development and production of natural gas in the United States are down from previous studies. A recent field study conducted by The University of Texas at Austin (UT) and sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and natural gas producers has found that methane emissions now represent .38% of production, 10% lower than the findings of a September 2013 study conducted by the same research team.

Researchers found that the majority of hydraulically fractured well completions sampled in the study had equipment in place that reduces methane emissions by 99%. “Because of this equipment, methane emissions from well completions are 97% lower than calendar year 2011 national emission estimates, which were released by the US Environmental Protection Agency in April 2013,” UT said in a statement.

While the level of methane emissions are lower from hydraulically fractured well completions, the study found that emissions from certain types of pneumatic devices are 30% to several times higher than current EPA estimates for this equipment. Together, emissions from pneumatics and equipment leaks account for about 40% of estimated national emissions of methane from gas production, according to a press statement from UT.

The total methane emissions from gas production, from all sources measured by researchers, were comparable to the most recent EPA estimates. EPA reported in late September that methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing have declined by 73% since 2011, the American Petroleum Institute noted in a statement.

Production Up, but Methane Emissions Down in Permian Basin

Source: Fuel Fix | 11 December 2014

Even though energy companies are pulling more oil out of the Permian Basin, methane emissions have been declining in the west Texas drilling hotbed.

A report issued by the industry-funded program Energy In Depth shows emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, have fallen in the Permian Basin by 9% since 2011—from about 4.6 million to 4.2 million t. In the Gulf Coast region that includes southern Louisiana as well as the Eagle Ford shale of south Texas, emissions have dropped about 18%, from 5.1 million to 4.2 million t.

The numbers, which are derived from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, come despite a domestic drilling boom and a surge in the number of sources actually reporting numbers to the government. For instance, the Permian Basin’s oil production has climbed by nearly 28% since 2011, and, in the Eagle Ford, it has soared 450% over the same time frame.

Energy In Depth says that shows that “actions already being taken by the industry are delivering methane emission reductions, even as production skyrockets in Texas and all across the country.”

Studying the Sources of Methane Migration Into Groundwater

Source: JPT | 2 December 2014

The rapid development of shale formations over the past decade has led the United States to become the world’s undisputed leader in natural gas production. This success, though, has come with increased scrutiny over the environmental impact of high-density drilling activities required to maintain unconventional gas production. One of the issues that industry and environmental experts are working to understand involves the risk of stray gas migration into groundwater sources, which a recent university study linked to cementing and casing failures.

New scientific data suggest that faulty well casing and poor cement jobs can lead to stray methane gas migrating into water wells located near producing natural gas wells. The science is young and more studies will be required before experts agree on how prevalent the problem is. Photo courtesy of the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America.

In their paper, researchers from Ohio State University, Duke University, Stanford University, and several other academic institutions, said the industry can do more to prevent this type of problem, ensuring that future onshore development poses as little risk as possible to people who live near oil and natural gas fields. However, there is scientific debate on such findings and whether natural sources of methane found in water sources are far more common. The early research by various organizations hopes to provide answers to questions such as the best way to sample residential water wells, how to distinguish naturally occurring methane from stray production gas, and what can be done to prevent well failures that might contaminate water.

Beyond the Headlines: How Safe Is Our Drinking Water?

Source: JPT | 2 December 2014

Do shale oil and gas drilling present a real threat to drinking water supplies? This is likely the single greatest concern in the minds of those opposed to the exploitation of this resource. Can oil and gas wells leak fluids into the Earth? Yes. Can it be prevented? Yes, again.

In this essay, we will discuss the mechanisms involved, the measures to prevent these occurrences, and the most recent scientific studies on the topic. On the last point, I am happy to report that, to date, the news is uniformly very good. Happy because this resource must be developed in a sustainable fashion. It has transformed the United States economy and improved the lot of every US citizen. We have a duty to get it done right. Other countries with similar resources need the US to succeed.

There are two potential sources for contaminating fluids. One is the hydraulically fractured zone in the reservoir and the other is the vertical portion of the wellbore. Microseismic monitoring involves “listening” to the minor tremors generated by the hydraulic fracturing operation. Thousands of such operations have been monitored and fractures do not extend more than 1,000 ft in a vertical direction. Leaving a margin of error, 2,000 ft of vertical separation ought to be sufficient. Most producing zones are at vertical depths greater than 4,000 ft, and fresh water rarely extends beyond a few hundred feet.

Aging Offshore Fields Demand New Thinking

Source: JPT | 2 December 2014

When he started his firm focused on removing obsolete offshore structures, Brian Twomey chose the name: Reverse Engineering Services. The thinking was that taking out a structure is like building it, but in reverse.

Based on a career spent planning, managing, analyzing, and teaching classes on decommissioning, the managing director of Reverse Engineering has concluded: “It is the wrong name.”

“I started out thinking decommissioning is the reverse of installation; it is not,” Twomey said. “The first thing to know about decommissioning is there is a lot of uncertainty and unknowns that have developed over time due to wear and tear, changes, the environment, and loading all this other stuff” on the structure.

Those complications can lead to costly jobs and budget overruns when plugging wells and removing platforms. That adds to the pain of an obligation with no return on the investment.

“You are not really making money taking the platform out. You have made the money already,” said Jon Khachaturian, president and chief executive officer of Versabar. “We constantly hear: ‘We are going to take it out but we are going to do one more thing.’ ”

A Comparison of Methods for Boron Removal From Flowback and Produced Waters

Source: Oil and Gas Facilities | 2 December 2014

While storage and logistics are critical elements of the viability of water reuse, if the water chemistry is not fit for gel fracturing formulations, it will not matter how much is stored in centrally located impoundments.

Millions of barrels of flowback, produced, and fresh water or brackish waters are available daily for any number of uses, but only a select few exploration and production companies have taken the necessary steps to implement a quality program that works effectively. In addition, the commitment to instituting such a program is far more simplistic than most producers believe it to be. What is required, however, is a desire to manage for the long term, not just for a period of drought or in a reactionary way because of government regulatory rhetoric.

Report: Grouse Needs 3-Mile Buffer From Drilling

Source: The Associated Press | 21 November 2014

A government report with significant implications for the US energy industry says the breeding grounds of a struggling bird species need a 3-mile or larger buffer from oil and gas drilling, wind farms, and solar projects.

A Greater Sage Grouse at the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The study comes as the Obama administration weighs new protections for the greater sage grouse. The ground-dwelling bird ranges across 11 western states.

A 3-mile buffer is a much larger protective area than the no-occupancy zones where drilling and other activity is prohibited under some state and federal land management plans.

Those plans also contain more nuanced provisions that backers say will protect sage grouse, such as seasonal restrictions on drilling and limits on the number of oil and gas wells within key sage grouse habitat.

But some wildlife advocates say too much development is being allowed under those plans, undermining efforts to help grouse. Such opposition could be bolstered by the report from the US Geological Survey released on 21 November.

Feds Declare Gunnison Sage-Grouse ‘Threatened’

Source: Fuel Fix | 13 November 2014

The Obama administration on 12 November formally declared the Gunnison Sage-Grouse a “threatened” species, in effect ruling that years of efforts to protect the showy bird and its Colorado habitat were not sufficient to ensure its long-term survival.

The ruling by the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service is likely to set off a legal battle in Colorado, where Gov. John Hickenlooper threatened to file a lawsuit challenging the decision.

It will limit oil and gas development in the 1.7 million acres of Colorado and southeast Utah areas where the chicken-like Gunnison Sage-Grouse lives and struts.

In Final Hours, Coloradans Work To Avert ‘Threatened’ Ruling on Bird

Source: Fuel Fix | 10 November 2014

Just a few days are left until the Obama administration decides whether the Gunnison Sage-Grouse should be classified as a threatened species, a ruling that could thwart energy development in the bird’s Colorado and Utah habitat.

But county and state officials working to head off a listing say time may have already run out.

“We have every indication that they are going to list it,” said John Swartout, a senior policy adviser in the office of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “We are having some last-minute conversations and seeing if we can avert that.”

Hickenlooper has joined officials in Gunnison County, Colorado, and other stakeholders in making personal pleas to the Interior Department and its Fish and Wildlife Service, asking the agency to effectively reward conservation efforts, land-use regulations, and some $50 million in investments intended to protect the grouse.

Those voluntary efforts are now protecting 90% of the private land in the core habitat for the Gunnison Sage-Grouse, which is especially sensitive to disturbances during its showy, strutting courtship rituals each spring.

That core population in and around Gunnison County is now stabilized and climbing in number, after a devastating drought a decade ago. But the “satellite population,” scattered in small numbers across 10 Colorado counties and one in Utah, is more vulnerable and not faring as well.

State and local officials are pleading with the Fish and Wildlife Service to decide an Endangered Species Act listing is “not warranted” for the bird, ahead of a court-mandated Nov. 12 deadline.

“We feel we have met the threshold as far as conservation efforts and things we are doing: programs in place and land-use regulations, and, especially, the involvement we have with private property owners,” said Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Houck. “It’s been a challenge to have Fish and Wildlife fully comprehend all of the programs we’re doing at the local level.”

UK Environment Agency Likely To Grant Permits for Shale Firm

Source: Reuters | 10 November 2014

Britain’s Environment Agency said on 10 November that it would likely approve environmental permits for shale gas firm Cuadrilla Resources at a site in northwest England.

The approval, which is pending a second-stage consultation during which the public can comment on the agency’s draft permits, would be a next step for Cuadrilla to press ahead with a four-well exploration program at Preston New Road in Lancashire.

Britain is betting on the development of shale gas extraction to counter a decline in energy resources from the North Sea, but concerns about the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing have caused local protests.