Environment
Duane Morris via Mondaq | 22 December 2015

EPA Science Advisory Board Criticizes EPA’s Hydraulic Fracturing Study Report

On 4 December 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) made public its first formal comments on the EPA’s June 2015 hydraulic fracturing study report (“Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources,” External Review Draft, EPA/600/R-15/047). Specifically, the SAB issued “Preliminary Summary Responses to Charge Questions from Members of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel.” These preliminary responses are bullet-styled answers to the eight “charge questions” that were posed by EPA to its SAB about the draft hydraulic fracturing study report.

Charge Question 4 asks the SAB the following specific questions, among others: “Are the major findings concerning well injection fully supported by the information and data presented in the assessment? Do these major findings identify the potential impacts to drinking water resources due to this stage of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle? Are the factors affecting the frequency or severity of any impacts described to the extent possible and fully supported?”

In its preliminary responses, the SAB did not pull punches in criticizing EPA’s work: “In general, the conclusions regarding how many wells are leaking or not are not well supported. … It is not clear from the chapter, nor from the summary of the data at the end of the chapter, that either the frequency or the severity have been adequately addressed, nor dismissed as unable to assess such impact or severity. The anecdotal data is not statistical in nature, and therefore conclusions as to severity and true risk are difficult to assess. The reader is left to wonder if anything can happen anywhere at any time.”

The Hill | 14 December 2015

Column: How Hydraulic Fracturing Has Helped the US Lead on Climate

As representatives from around the world work to finalize an agreement in the last few days at the Paris COP21 climate conference, it is important to acknowledge the fact that hydraulic fracturing and the increased use of natural gas has done more to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than any other government scheme or agreement.

Without adopting stringent policies such as the Kyoto treaty or cap-and-trade, the United States, the largest economy in the world, has the distinction of being the only country in the world to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.  That is why, in his address to world leaders at COP21, President Obama was able to tout that the “advances we’ve made have helped drive our economic output to all-time highs and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly 2 decades.”

The evidence of shale gas’ enormous role in reducing emissions is all around us. In fact, the world’s most prominent climate scientists, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has credited the hydraulic fracturing boom and US natural gas for the great progress that has been made on climate change: “A key development since AR4 is the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal-drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply and allowed for a more extensive switching of power and heat production from coal to gas; this is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.”

Ocean News & Technology | 1 December 2015

Shedding Light on Oil Behaviors Before the Next Spill

A comprehensive scientific report released by The Royal Society of Canada (RSC) has concluded that there are still critical research gaps hampering efforts both to assess the environmental impacts of crude oil spills and to effectively remediate them.

The report, “The Behaviour and Environmental Impacts of Crude Oil Released into Aqueous Environments,” is designed to help the oil industry improve spill preparedness and response capabilities. It recommends prioritized research on the chemistry, properties, and spill behavior of various types of crude oil, from oil sands bitumen to diluted bitumen to other unconventional oils.

“There are essentially three challenge areas. We still don’t know enough about tar sand oil, or bitumen, which takes longer to break down due to its high viscosity but doesn’t spread. We also don’t know much about the behavior of oil from a blowout, such as the Deepwater Horizon BP blowout. And we know little of how crude oil behaves in the Arctic Ocean, where there is ice, or how to remediate it,” said Michel Boufadel, director of NJIT’s Center for Natural Resources Development and Protection and a member of the panel of experts charged with evaluating the impact of spills in Northern waters.

McCarthy Tétrault via Mondaq | 30 November 2015

Alberta Unveils Its New Climate Leadership Plan

On 22 November 2015, Alberta released its long-awaited Climate Leadership Plan. Contemporaneously with the climate plan, the government released the Climate Change Advisory Panel’s Report to the Minister, Climate Leadership.

Not surprisingly, carbon pricing has been identified by the climate panel as the primary policy tool for reducing emissions in the province. In particular, the panel recommends that the existing Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER) be replaced in 2018 by a Carbon Competitiveness Regulation that will broaden the reach of the province’s existing carbon pricing regime and implement additional policies to reduce the emissions intensity of the province’s electricity supply and its oil and gas production. Further, the plan will promote energy efficiency and add value to provincial resources through investments in technological innovation. To protect the competitiveness of Alberta’s core industries, the panel has recommended the allocation of emissions credits for industrial emitters.

Troutman Sanders via Mondaq | 30 November 2015

White House Issues New Mitigation Guidance, Including Net Benefit Goal

The White House has issued a Presidential Memorandum to several federal agencies regarding policies and principles for mitigating environmental impacts from land- and water-disturbing activities.

Mitigating Impacts on Natural Resources from Development and Encouraging Related Private Investment was published in early November and incorporates a new “net benefit goal” expectation for mitigation in federal projects or projects requiring approval by these federal agencies.

The President also set a backstop goal for mitigation of “no net loss for natural resources the agency manages that are important, scarce, or sensitive, or wherever doing so is consistent with agency mission and established natural resource objectives.” In addition to the “net benefit goal” the guidance focuses on landscape-scale planning, habitat mitigation banks, and advance conservation measures.

DNV GL Conducts Largest Controlled Release of Carbon Dioxide From an Underwater Pipeline

 

Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) is gaining momentum to meet stringent climate change goals and secure energy supplies for the future. To fully understand the environmental and safety implications associated with the development of carbon dioxide pipelines, DNV GL is conducting the oil and gas industry’s largest ever controlled release of carbon dioxide from an underwater pipeline at its full-scale Spadeadam Testing and Research Centre in Cumbria, UK.

Photo courtesy of DNV GL.

Photo courtesy of DNV GL.

The planned underwater release, scheduled to start in January, is part of an international joint industry project (JIP) to develop safety guidelines on the use of offshore carbon dioxide pipelines. Companies participating in the JIP are Norway’s Gassnova, Brazil’s Petrobras, the UK government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, the UK’s National Grid, and DNV GL. Italy’s Eni is expected to join the JIP in early 2016.

This is the second experimental phase, which will run for 3 months and will involve releases in a 40-m-diameter, 12-m-deep pond at the Spadeadam Testing and Research Centre.

“This is the largest experimental investigation to date of underwater CO2 releases, which will study the effects of depth on measured and observed parameters,” said Gary Tomlin, vice president of safety and risk, with DNV GL at Spadeadam. “The testing is designed around what is already known about underwater natural gas (methane) leaks and the possible occurrence of CO2 hydrates collecting on pipework. By using high-speed, underwater cameras and other measurement techniques, we can examine the configuration and characteristics of the released gas. It will allow us to see whether it reaches the surface and analyze what happens.”

The installation of offshore carbon dioxide pipelines linked to depleted subsea gas reservoirs is a possible solution to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and large industrial sources. The transportation of carbon dioxide through offshore pipelines may also increase due to enhanced oil recovery programs.

The first phase of experiments are currently under way at Spadeadam and involves small-scale, controlled carbon dioxide releases from a 3-in. nominal bore pipeline in a 8.5-m-diameter, 3-m-deep water tank and are expected to be completed by December.

Spadeadam is one of a network of 18 laboratories and testing centres operated by DNV GL on three continents. The facility provides companies with the rare opportunity to undertake full-scale fire, explosion, and release experiments, to demonstrate whether equipment and components are fit for purpose; to test new products, techniques or processes; and to provide data to validate computer models. DNV GL are opening a new major hazard training and conference facility at the site in April 2016.

“Developing best-practice guidance through this ground-breaking project will help the CCUS industry establish itself as it begins the rollout of vital carbon abatement technology,” said Hari Vamadevan, regional manager, UK and Sub-Saharan Africa, DNV GL—Oil & Gas. “Spadeadam puts theory and desktop modeling to the test to prove the limits, capabilities, and behaviors of both small- and large-scale operations in real-world situations. The data gathered from this large-scale experimental program will enable adjustments to be made to computer modelling of CO2 dispersion. Even larger-scale, controlled testing in the natural environment may subsequently take place.”

Experimental findings are shared periodically with JIP participants so that next steps can be refined. Carbon dioxide testing at Spadeadam will conclude by June 2016.

Reuters | 19 November 2015

Australian Regulator Rejects BP Oil Exploration on Environmental Grounds

An Australian regulator rejected an application from BP to explore for oil off the coast of Southern Australia, saying the energy major’s proposal failed to meet environmental standards.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority said BP’s plan to drill in an area known as the Great Australian Bight “does not yet meet the criteria for acceptance under the environment regulations”, in a statement posted on its website.

A spokesperson for BP in Australia was not immediately available for comment.

The Hill | 17 November 2015

Oil Group: Regulators Are Ignoring Impact of Natural Gas on Emissions

The oil and gas lobby says the Obama administration is ignoring the role of natural gas in reducing carbon emissions around the country.

In a report issued 16 November, the American Petroleum Institute (API) noted that the United States has done more to reduce its carbon emissions than other developed nations and attributed that decrease to an abundance of American natural gas.

The natural gas boom, API President Jack Gerard said, “has helped us achieve substantial and sustained emissions reductions without command-and-control style regulatory intervention.” The group said natural gas is a good way to produce power with lower emissions than other energy sources, noting that half of the 22 states with below-average emissions use natural gas more than any other fuel.

The industry has long said the US should rely on gas as it transitions to cleaner power and has pushed back against power plant regulations issued by President Obama.

Emissions reductions didn’t come “through government mandate. It wasn’t through a carbon tax. It wasn’t through any directive. It was done primarily driven by market forces within the context of all of the above,” Gerard said.

Coloradoan | 10 November 2015

CSU Study Finds Little Water Contamination From Oil, Gas

Colorado State University (CSU) scientists say there is virtually no evidence of water-based contaminants seeping into drinking water wells atop a vast oil and gas field in northeastern Colorado.

Ken Carlson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, has led a series of studies analyzing the effect of oil and gas drilling on groundwater in the 6,700-square-mile Denver-Julesburg basin. That basin extends north/south from Greeley to Colorado Springs and east/west from Limon to the foothills.

“There isn’t a chronic, the-sky-is-falling type of problem with water contamination,” Carlson said.

The studies have been performed under the auspices of Colorado Water Watch, a state-funded effort begun last year for real-time groundwater monitoring in the Denver-Julesburg basin. The basin shares space with more than 30,000 active or abandoned oil or natural gas wells.

The CSU researchers primarily looked at the 24,000 producing and 7,500 abandoned wells in the Wattenberg Field, which sits mainly in Weld County.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | 10 November 2015

Drilling Company Disputes New Evidence in Water Contamination Case

Range Resources and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection say a Washington County man who claims the shale gas drilling company contaminated his water well in 2011 should not be granted another hearing based on what he contends are new disclosures about federal water test results and the company’s use of chemical “tracers.”

Attorneys for Loren “Buzz” Kiskadden say those documents and facts were concealed by Range before and during a 20-day hearing last fall at the state Environmental Hearing Board, which ruled against Kiskadden in June.

His attorneys, John and Kendra Smith, are asking Commonwealth Court—where they appealed the hearing board’s ruling—to instead remand, or return, the case to the board for a rehearing on the new evidence. A hearing on that request is scheduled for 17 November.

But the drilling company and the department, in separate 34-page responses filed in Commonwealth Court, say some of the tracer and water test results were disclosed as long as 2 years ago and others by April 2015, so the claims of important “new” information don’t hold water.

The drilling company and the department also say that antimony, which is used as a tracer, was not found in Kiskadden’s water well, as his attorneys have claimed, and that no hydrogeologic connection exists between Range’s Yeager gas well in Amwell and the water well.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pennsylvania DEP Allows Shale Companies To Bury Wastewater Lines

John Swart has no interest in having a bulky water line draped across his Washington County, Pennsylvania, pasture, and neither do his cows.

“They are very big lines,” the West Finley farmer and township supervisor said. “Animals crossing them—they could break a leg.”

So when a shale gas operator wanted to run a fluids pipeline through Swart’s property to get to a planned gas well, he agreed on the condition that the line be buried.

This year, that option seemed in doubt, until a single word—“and”—was added to a suite of proposed drilling regulatory changes that will allow shale gas companies to continue to bury wastewater pipelines that ferry fluids between a network of well sites and storage facilities.

The economical edit by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) means that only temporary wastewater lines installed to serve one well site at a time will have to run above ground, where they can easily be monitored for leaks.

Only a few Marcellus Shale operators have installed buried wastewater lines, DEP officials said.

Buried pipelines that carry fresh water to well sites are far more common, and the proposed regulations have always allowed those to run below ground.

Companies use the buried pipelines in areas of concentrated well development, where the lines will link many wells over long periods of time during fluid-intense stages such as drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The lines are also installed where overland pipes or tanker traffic would be particularly disruptive. Or the pipelines are built to meet the standards of natural gas gathering lines so the same infrastructure can be used to carry gas away from the sites once wells are completed.

A push for the “and” started months ago, when the Marcellus Shale Coalition wrote in public comments that the way DEP defined “well development pipelines” in its revised oil and gas rules would prohibit the use of centralized semipermanent underground pipelines.

And that, the coalition said, would result in “hundreds of thousands of additional truck road hours per year to transport fluids.”

DEP made the edit only recently after Consol Energy and its joint venture partner Noble Energy, which have installed below-ground pipeline networks to transport fluids in their Marcellus Shale operating areas, met with regulators and helped community partners—including landowners, township officials, the Greene County Commissioner,s and the Pittsburgh Airport Area Chamber of Commerce—arrange a letter-writing campaign.

Mr. Swart sent in one of those letters.

“Reduced truck traffic, less risk of weather-related or accidental damage, less risk of vandalism, efficiencies that encourage water reuse and limit the need for disposal—all are benefits to maintaining this best practice,” Consol spokesman Brian Aiello said.

E&E Publishing | 29 October 2015

BLM Considers Leases for 5 Million Acres of Deferred Leases in Sage Grouse Habitat

For several years, the Bureau of Land Management imposed a de facto moratorium on oil and gas leasing in prime sage grouse habitat, deferring the sale of more than 5 million acres industry had nominated to drill in seven Western states. The idea was to wait until BLM had regulations in place that could allow drilling to proceed without destroying the bird’s sage-steppe habitat.

Now that sage grouse has been deemed safe from extinction, BLM is considering which of those lands to put on the auction block.

They include 2.2 million acres in Nevada, 1.6 million acres in Wyoming, 600,000 acres in Montana, and more than 300,000 acres each in Colorado and Utah, according to BLM data. Smaller acreage had also been deferred in the Dakotas.

The data cover lease sales from calendar years 2009 to 2014.

The total acreage —more than twice the size of Yellowstone National Park—is a “huge amount” of land, said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, a regional oil and gas trade group based in Denver whose members depend heavily on public lands.