Washington Examiner | 19 October 2015

Energy Companies Lend Support for Climate Deal

Some of the world’s largest oil and coal companies lent support on 15 October to a strong climate change deal slated to be hashed out in December that President Obama badly wants to succeed.

Shell and BP joined global mining companies Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, and a number of other large industrial firms, in a statement endorsing a successful deal. The statement also included Alcoa, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, LafargeHolcim, National Grid, PG&E, Schneider Electric, Calpine, and the Siemens Corp.

The companies are calling for “a more balanced and durable multilateral framework guiding and strengthening national efforts to address climate change.” What this translates to: They want everyone contributing and all countries held accountable.

Although the statement is congenial, it does imply that the companies are concerned that not all the countries will do their fair share, which could make it more difficult for the energy firms to plan for and make investments.

WSIL-TV | 15 October 2015

Yale Releases New Hydraulic Fracturing Study

New research by Yale University found no evidence of chemicals migrating to the drinking water supply.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers have found groundwater contamination seems to come more from contamination at the surface seeping down into the water than from the fracking operation seeping upward.

The study found a much bigger chance of water contamination from containment ponds than from the actual act of breaking gas and oil out of layers of rock below.

The argument over hydraulic fracturing has divided people in southern Illinois and across the country.

“It’s a hot topic right now, and there’s still a lot of unanswered questions,” said Yale PhD student Brian Drollette.

The process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure fractures shale rocks to release natural gas inside. The biggest concerns involve whether or not it affects drinking water.

“We’re not trying to say whether it’s a bad or good thing,” added assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering Desiree Plata.

Researchers at Yale University set out to see if any appearance of organic chemicals showed up naturally or from recent activities associated with hydraulic fracturing. Sixty-four groundwater samples collected from private residents in northeastern Pennsylvania went to researchers.

ABC News | 15 October 2015

State, Feds Won’t Pursue USD 92 Million More in 1989 Exxon Valdez Spill

The state and federal governments have decided not to pursue USD 92 million in additional damages from Exxon Mobil, citing the recovery of ducks and sea otters in Alaska’sPrince William Sound following a devastating oil spill more than 2 decades ago.

In a court filing made on 14 October, government attorneys said patches of lingering oil that remain can no longer be considered an impediment to the recovery of sea otters or harlequin ducks or a significant ongoing threat to their now-restored populations in the area affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The filing came ahead of a scheduled status hearing in federal court in Anchorage on 15 October.

Ocean News & Technology | 15 October 2015

National Academies Select Leading Scientists for BOEM Committee on Ocean Energy Management

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced on 13 October that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have selected 14 distinguished experts to serve on the new standing committee on environmental science and assessment for offshore energy and mineral resources. The committee will provide independent information on issues relevant to BOEM’s environmental studies and assessment activities and support discussions on relevant issues. The first meeting is scheduled for 8 and 9 December at the Academies in Washington, D.C.

“BOEM is honored to have these extraordinary scientists provide their guidance to the bureau on scientific matters,” said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper. “We look forward to engaging with and learning from them as we continue to address complex offshore energy and marine mineral issues in an environmentally responsible manner.”

The committee encompasses a broad range of expertise in both natural and social sciences, and relevant disciplines within those broad areas. They include ecology and habitat, sea ice, economics, noise, the application of science to policy and other topics. With their collective expertise in all four outer continental shelf (OCS) regions, they bring a wealth of knowledge from their academic, industry, government, and nonprofit experience.

Members of the committee are

  • Chairperson: Gary B. Griggs, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Peter J. Auster, University of Connecticut
  • Deerin Babb-Brott, SeaPlan
  • Keith R. Criddle, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
  • Hajo Eicken, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
  • Paul G. Falkowski, Rutgers University
  • Mary (Missy) H. Feeley, ExxonMobil (retired)
  • Mardi C. Hastings, Georgia Institute of Technology (retired)
  • Bonnie J. McCay, Rutgers University
  • Richard McLaughlin, Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University
  • Jacqueline Michel, Research Planning
  • Timothy J. Ragen, Marine Mammal Commission (retired)
  • Mary Ruckelshaus, Stanford University
  • William C. Webster, University of California, Berkeley (retired)

API | 13 October 2015

API Issues Updated Standards for Shale Development

New editions of API’s hydraulic fracturing standards provide the latest technical direction for operators working to continuously improve well integrity, groundwater protection, and environmental safety. Last updated in 2011, API’s standards for shale development have worked alongside robust state regulations to ensure safe and responsible energy development with hydraulic fracturing for over 65 years.

“Hydraulic fracturing has unlocked vast energy resources, saving billions for consumers and putting America on a path to true energy security,” said API Director of Standards David Miller. “Strong standards are key to America’s success as an energy leader, and that’s why we bring together regulators and operators to promote proven practices for environmental protection. This update provides the latest guidance on equipment, monitoring, storage, and installation.”

Dubbed ANSI/API RP 100-1 and 100-2, the two new standards provide detailed specifications for pressure containment and well integrity, as well as environmental safeguards, including groundwater protection, waste management, emissions reduction, site planning, and worker training. The release follows last year’s publication of ANSI/API Bulletin 100-3, which outlines community engagement guidelines to help operators communicate effectively with local residents and pursue mutual goals for community growth.

Ocean News & Technology | 6 October 2015

New Report Details 10 Years of Improvements in Gulf Observation Systems

A new report from the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association (GCOOS-RA) details the first 10 years of the nonprofit organization’s work to improve access to ocean observing data that helps to protect and preserve the Gulf and its residents.

The report, “The Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System: 10 Years of Protecting and Preserving the Gulf,” was published in recognition of the organization’s 10th anniversary and released at its September board meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida. The report outlines improvements made in

  • Developing early warning systems for harmful algal blooms
  • Integrating data that supports improved weather and hurricane forecasts
  • Safer navigation in the Gulf’s ports
  • Educating residents on the important role the Gulf plays in their daily lives

At the heart of these improvements is the GCOOS-RA. As a member of the US Integrated Ocean Observing System, GCOOS-RA is responsible for bringing together representatives from the maritime industry, governmental and nongovernmental organizations, marine scientists and resource managers to combine ocean data to provide timely information about the Gulf of Mexico. The data comes from instruments mounted on things such as buoys, autonomous underwater vehicles, and even oil platforms.

BakerHostetler via Mondaq | 1 October 2015

Greater Sage-Grouse Decision Shows That Conservation and Energy Development Can Flock Together

On 22 September, energy developers in the west breathed a sigh of relief when the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the greater sage-grouse does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The FWS noted that, in 2010, it believed that “habitat loss, fragmentation, and inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms” could warrant ESA listing for the grouse. Yet 5 years later, focused public/private conservation partnerships have borne fruit, as FWS now says that “[b]ased on the best available scientific and commercial information, we have determined that the primary threats to greater sage-grouse have been ameliorated by conservation efforts implemented by federal, state, and private landowners.”

The greater sage-grouse’s range historically extends across 11 western states, including prime areas for oil, gas, wind, solar, coal, and uranium development. Given that, billions of dollars of current and prospective investment potentially hinged on the FWS’s recent decision not to list the greater sage-grouse.

The energy industry was understandably nervous because, in November 2014, the FWS placed the Gunnison sage-grouse, a close relative of the greater sage-grouse, under ESA protection. That decision directly impacted 1.4 million acres of designated habitat in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah where Gunnison sage-grouse make their home.

The Associated Press | 25 September 2015

With No Protections for Western Bird, Focus Is on Land Use

Before the applause faded from the US government’s announcement that there would be no endangered species protections for the greater sage grouse, the criticism began over wide-reaching federal conservation plans meant to protect the bird’s habitat across 11 Western states.

The land-use plans were released 22 September after Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said additional federal protections weren’t needed for the ground-dwelling bird that’s seen its habitat shrink due to oil and gas drilling, grazing, and other human activity.

The US Bureau of Land Management plans outline measures to help sage grouse across 67 million acres of public lands throughout the west, including 12 million acres of prime habitat where strict limits on oil and gas limits will be enforced.

Federal lands make up more than half the bird’s habitat.

Many of the same state officials who cheered Jewell’s announcement have previously said the new BLM conservation plans were overly restrictive, particularly with oil and gas drilling. Their next step is to try to bring those federal conservation plans in line with their own.

“This doesn’t end the discussion of where we’re going to be,” Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said after Jewell’s announcement.

In Wyoming, where the biggest concentrations of sage grouse are found, the plans would limit disruptions like oil and gas drilling as far as six-tenths of a mile away from any sage-grouse breeding area.

Mines and oil and gas drilling pads would need to be spaced no closer than every square mile. Also, drilling would be prohibited for three and a half months each spring during breeding season.

Those restrictions apply only to designated “priority habitat” for the birds, not everywhere they are found. And they are far more permissive than the three-mile limit on breeding sites that scientists recommended.

The State Port Pilot | 25 September 2015

Researchers State Case Against Seismic Testing of Potential Oil, Gas Sites Off Coast

As at least four companies seek permission to conduct seismic airgun testing for oil and gas off the coast of North Carolina, researchers from Duke and seven other universities or environmental groups are calling for such high-decibel activities to be regulated and monitored like other forms of pollution.

One of loudest sounds caused by humans in the ocean, seismic airguns use intense blasts of air to create impulses that can reveal the geologic patterns beneath the ocean floor. The sound, generally in the range of 230 decibels, can be detected as far as 2,500 miles away and can mask the sounds whales and dolphins depend on to navigate, find food, communicate with each other, and avoid predators, wrote Duke’s Douglas Nowacek, an expert on marine ecology and bioacoustics. Nowacek and his colleagues published their findings 1 September in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Nowacek contends it is time for new global standards and strategies to mitigate high-decibel activities.

“In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the use of seismic surveys for oil and gas exploration and research and for establishing national resource claims on ever-larger geographic scales,” Nowacek said. “Surveys are now occurring in, or proposed for, many previously unexploited regions including parts of the Arctic Ocean and off the US Atlantic coast. The time has come for industries, governments, scientists, and environmental organizations to work together to set practical guidelines to minimize the risks.”

The paper states that long-term exposure to high-decibel noise can lead to chronic stress, disorientation, and hearing damage among marine mammals.

SNL | 25 September 2015

Oil, Gas Industry Leads Private-Sector Push To Reduce Greenhouse Gases, Study Finds

The American Petroleum Institute praised a report that portrays the oil and gas industry as one of the leaders in bringing about a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2000 and 2014.

The report, conducted by T2 and Associates for the industry group, tallied federal and private investments in zero- and low-emissions technologies over the time frame. The report’s findings indicated that the oil and gas sector invested approximately USD 90 billion in emissions technologies during the 14-year period, more than the automotive, electric utility, and agriculture sectors combined.

“This report once again illustrates how the oil and gas industry is continuing to lead all other industries in developing technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard said. “No other industry’s investment comes close to what the oil and gas industry has invested.”

Offshore Energy Today | 17 September 2015

BSEE Inspects Shell’s Oil Spill Response Equipment in Alaska

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has inspected Shell’s oil spill response equipment staged in northern Alaska.

The bureau said that two members of its Oil Spill Preparedness Division recently traveled to communities along the Arctic to verify and inspect oil spill response equipment staged to support ongoing oil exploration in the Chukchi Sea.

Along with several members of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the team traveled to Wainwright and Prudhoe Bay to verify equipment preparedness and inspect required items in Shell’s approved Chukchi and Beaufort Sea Regional Exploration Program Oil Spill Response Plans.

According to the bureau, the equipment is owned or operated by Alaska Clean Seas and Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation Arctic Response Services, two of Shell’s oil spill removal organizations listed in the company’s plans. The joint inspection team verified that the equipment was available and maintained as detailed in the plans, following inspections of specified equipment, maintenance records, and equipment operability, the BSEE said.

BSEE added that the inspections were a continuation of its commitment and comprehensive effort to ensure safe and environmentally responsible offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic.

The Associated Press | 11 September 2015

North Dakota Oil Spill Cleanup Slowed by Lack of Natural Gas

The cleanup of a massive 2013 oil spill in northwestern North Dakota is being hampered by a lack of natural gas needed to power special equipment that cooks hydrocarbons from crude-soaked soil, a state regulator said.

This 11 October 2013 file photo shows cleanup at the site of a Tesoro pipeline break that spilled more than 20,000 bbl of oil into a Tioga, N.D., wheat field. Cleanup is being hampered by a lack of natural gas needed to power special equipment that cooks hydrocarbons from crude-soaked soil, a state regulator said. (AP Photo/Kevin Cederstrom, File)

Crews have been working around the clock to deal with the Tesoro pipeline break that spilled more than 20,000 bbl of oil into a Tioga wheat field 2 years ago this month.

Bill Suess, an environmental scientist with the state Health Department, said on 9 September that workers will be at the site at least another 2 years baking oil from the soil using a process called thermal desorption, which involves excavating contaminated soil and heating it before putting it back in place.

Workers are trying to bring a second thermal desorption machine online but there is not enough natural gas available commercially in the area to power it, Suess said. A pipeline that feeds the primary unit does not have enough pressure to run a second unit that vaporizes contaminants through heat and pressure, he said.

Read the full story here.