Environment
EPA | 10 March 2016

Column: EPA Taking Steps To Cut Methane Emissions From Existing Oil and Gas Sources

McCarthy

Today (10 March), as part of the Obama Administration’s ongoing commitment to act on climate, President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to new actions to reduce methane pollution from the oil and natural gas sector, the world’s largest industrial source of methane. These actions build on the historic agreement that nearly 200 nations made in Paris last December to combat climate change and ensure a more stable environment for future generations.

Methane is upward of 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet and is a key constituent of natural gas. By tackling methane emissions, we can unlock an amazing opportunity to spur US action to protect our environment but also unleash opportunities to think creatively and lead the world in developing a clean energy economy.

That’s why the Administration has been moving quickly and working hard to reduce emissions of this potent greenhouse gas. In 2012, we set emissions standards that cut pollution, including methane, emitted by fractured and refractured natural gas wells. This past summer, we proposed standards to directly address methane from new and modified sources in the oil and gas sector. Each of these steps moves the United States toward our goal of cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025.

The Washington Times | 15 March 2016

Study Undermines EPA, Blames Rising Methane Levels on Farming, not Hydraulic Fracturing

A newly released international study finds that farming, not hydraulic fracturing, is the likely culprit behind rising global methane levels, undermining the Obama administration’s crackdown on methane from oil and gas production in the name of climate change.

Photo by Jessica Hill/Associated Press

The research published 11 March in the journal Science came a day after President Obama unveiled a pact aimed at cutting methane emissions from oil and gas producers by 40 to 45% from 2012 levels by 2025.

Hinrich Schaefer, an atmospheric scientist at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in Wellington, New Zealand, and the lead author of the research team, called the results “a real surprise.”

“That was a real surprise, because, at that time, the US started fracking and we also know that the economy in Asia picked up again, and coal mining increased. However, that is not reflected in the atmosphere,” Schaefer told the website Phys.org.

He said agricultural practices are the likely reason for the spike of methane in the atmosphere since 2007, not fossil fuels as many have assumed.

“Our data indicate that the source of the increase was methane produced by bacteria, of which the most likely sources are natural, such as wetlands or agricultural, for example from rice paddies or livestock,” Schaefer said.

 

The New York Times | 8 March 2016

Marine Life Thrives in Unlikely Place: Offshore Oil Rigs

Eight miles off the coast of Long Beach, Calif., the oil rig Eureka, which has stood here for 40 years, is a study in contrasts. From a distance, it looks like just another offshore platform, an artifact of the modern industrial landscape.

Joe Platko/The New York Times

But beneath the waves, the Eureka and other rigs like it in the area are home to a vast and thriving community of sea life that some scientists say is one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet.

“They are more productive than coral reefs, more productive than estuaries,” said Milton Love, a professor of marine biology at the University of California Santa Barbara. “It just turns out by chance that platforms have a lot of animals that are growing really quickly.”

Scientists and divers have been aware of the abundant life here for years, but a 2014 paper that Love co-wrote, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirmed what many experts had already suspected: that most of the life was actually created at the rig rather than having come from other parts of the ocean and settled around the massive concrete pylons.

“For some of these major economic species like the rockfishes, there’s no question that there are more of them out in Southern California waters because the platform is there,” Love said.

 

The Free Press Standard | 7 March 2016

University of Cincinnati Study Finds No Effect on Groundwater From Hydraulic Fracturing

A 3-year study by the University of Cincinnati in Carroll, Ohio, and surrounding counties determined hydraulic fracturing has had no effect on groundwater in the Utica shale region.

A 3-year study by the University of Cincinnati in Carroll and surrounding counties determined hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells like the Rex Energy well shown above, has not contaminated ground water.

Amy Townsend-Small, the lead researcher for the University of Cincinnati Department of Geology, released the results during a meeting of the Carroll County Concerned Citizens in Carrollton, Ohio, on 4 February.

During her presentation, which was videotaped and is available for viewing on YouTube, Townsend-Small stated, “We haven’t seen anything to show that wells have been contaminated by fracking.”

When asked at that meeting if the university planned to publicize the results, Townsend-Small, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati Department of Geology and the leader of the study, said there were no plans to do so.

 

Bloomberg | 1 March 2016

Polar Bear Critical Habitat in Alaska Restored by Appeals Court

A 187,000 sq mile swath of land and sea in Alaska was restored by a federal appeals court as a “critical habitat” for polar bears, a boon for the endangered species and yet another blow to Alaska’s tumbling petroleum industry.

Monday’s ruling overturned a lower court decision siding with Alaska state officials and energy industry groups that argued that protections for the bears ordered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service 6 years ago were too arbitrary be enforced.

The decision by the US Court of Appeals in San Francisco will affect all proposed greenfield and expansion projects along the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Alaska and east of Russia. Existing projects are likely to be grandfathered in, said Brendan Cummings, a lawyer for the Center of Biological Diversity in Joshua Tree, California, representing environmental groups involved in the case.

“This is a critical decision for polar bears and the issue of climate change,” Cummings said. “But it’s not an absolute prohibition on activity and, in my experience and as a practical matter, the US Fish and Wildlife Service rarely sees a project they don’t like.”

Reuters | 25 February 2016

EPA Chief: US Energy Industry Emits More Methane Than Thought

The US oil and natural gas industry emits more methane than previously thought, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy said on 24 February as she defended efforts to curb its output.

The regulator last year said it would try to reduce emissions of methane, which is far more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide, by requiring new oil and gas processing and transmission facilities to find and repair methane leaks and for producers to capture or limit methane from shale wells.

As part of that rules process, the EPA collected new data on how much methane is emitted by oil drilling, transportation, and refining.

“Methane emissions from existing sources in the oil and gas sector are substantially higher than we previously understood,” McCarthy told IHS CERAWeek, the annual gathering of global oil executives, though she did not quantify the difference.

Environmental Protection | 24 February 2016

EPA Announces 2017–2019 Enforcement Initiatives

The US Environmental Protection Agency announced its seven national enforcement initiatives for fiscal years 2017–2019 on 18 February, saying they focus on national pollution challenges where EPA’s enforcement efforts will protect public health. Starting on 1 October 2016, the EPA will retain four of its current national enforcement initiatives, add two new ones, and expand one to include a new area of focus. The seven are

  • Keeping industrial pollutants out of the nation’s waters (new initiative)
  • Reducing risks of accidental releases at industrial and chemical facilities (new)
  • Cutting hazardous air pollutants (expanded)
  • Reducing air pollution from the largest sources
  • Ensuring energy extraction activities comply with environmental laws
  • Keeping raw sewage and contaminated stormwater out of the nation’s waters
  • Preventing animal waste from contaminating surface and groundwater

The EPA reported that it is expanding its initiative focused on reducing toxic air pollution by adding large storage tanks and hazardous waste facilities to its work to address public health threats.

“National enforcement initiatives help us focus time and resources on national pollution problems that impact Americans locally,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at EPA. “These initiatives were chosen so we can better protect communities, especially those overburdened by pollution, and were informed by extensive analysis and public input. We remain committed to a vigorous enforcement program that reduces pollution and protects public health.”

Rigzone | 11 February 2016

Total CEO: Oil, Gas Industry Must Engage in Climate Change Challenge

The boss of French oil major Total has told a conference in London that the oil and gas industry must engage with the challenge posed by climate change in a positive way.

Patrick Pouyanné, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Total

Speaking to delegates at International Petroleum Week, Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné noted that there has been little discussion among energy companies about climate change so far this year in spite of 195 nations signing the COP21 climate change deal in Paris only 2 months ago. He said that, while January’s Davos gathering of world political and business leaders, for example, had little mention of the problem climate change, the issue “is still there”.

“But, for oil companies, it is very important, and we should take it into account in our strategies,” Pouyanné said. “The oil industry still needs to be engaged in this climate change challenge, and positively.”

Pouyanné said the oil and gas industry has a key role to play in helping to tackle climate change and noted the role that natural gas—the least-polluting of the three main fossil fuels—has to play in the energy mix and that gas should be prioritized.

“We have the answers because we know the energy business and we have the engineers,” he said.

Environmental Protection | 9 February 2016

GE, Statoil Announce Winners of Open Innovation Challenge Focused on Reducing Water Usage in Onshore Oil and Gas Production

GE and Statoil recently announced the four winners of their Open Innovation Challenge, designed to utilize crowd sourcing to find solutions that reduce fresh water in shale oil and gas production.

GE and Statoil recognize that managing water, as a precious natural resource, represents one of the greatest challenges facing the onshore oil and gas industry. Within the industry, water management costs vary between 10% and 30%.  Reducing the amount of water can prove cost-effective by lowering transport and energy costs but is equally beneficial for the environment and local communities.

“A focus on technology helped to unlock the shale revolution. Its intense innovation now shared across industries and between companies will ensure shale development continues in the most sustainable, responsible way possible,” said Lorenzo Simonelli, chief executive officer of GE Oil & Gas. “The diversity of solutions and sheer volume of submissions we received show the immense talent and creativity gained.”

The winners are

  • Ahilan Raman, Clean Energy and Water Technologies, Australia
  • Anthony Duong, Battelle Memorial Institute, United States
  • Karen Sorber, Micronic Technologies, United States
  • Chunlei Guo, University of Rochester, United States

The Guardian | 1 February 2016

US To Stop Approving Hydraulic Fracturing off California Coast Until After Review

The US federal government has agreed to stop approving hydraulic fracturing off the California coast until it studies whether the practice is safe for the environment, according to legal settlements filed 29 January.

Separate deals reached with a pair of environmental organizations require the Department of the Interior to review whether well techniques such as hydraulic fracturing or using acid to stimulate offshore well production threatens water quality and marine life.

The practices have been conducted for years in federal waters and were revealed when the Environmental Defense Center filed Freedom of Information Act requests, the organizations said.

“These practices are currently being conducted under decades-old plans with out-of-date or nonexistent environmental analysis,” said Brian Segee, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Center.

The agreements in Los Angeles federal court apply to operations off Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, where companies such as ExxonMobil operate platforms.

Federal agencies will have to complete the review by the end of May and determine if a more in-depth analysis is necessary. They will also have to make future permit applications publicly accessible.

Reuters | 27 January 2016

Exxon Sees a World With Less Carbon but Higher-Cost Emissions

Exxon Mobil on 25 January said efficiencies and increased use of renewable fuels will cut by half the carbon intensity of the world’s economy by 2040 but climate policies will increase the cost of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the company’s latest long-term outlook.

The logo of Exxon Mobil Corporation is shown on a monitor above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, 30 December 2015. REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON

Exxon and others in the oil industry have been under increasing pressure from shareholders to detail the resilience of their business model to climate change after a global climate agreement reached in Paris in December set the world on a course to transform its fossil-fuel driven economy.

Because of efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and efficiency gains, Exxon sees energy-related carbon dioxide emissions peaking around 2030 before starting to decline, while emissions in developed countries are seen falling by about 20 percent from 2014 to 2040, it said.

“The climate accord reached at the recent COP 21 conference in Paris set many new goals, and, while many related policies are still emerging, the outlook continues to anticipate that such policies will increase the cost of carbon dioxide emissions over time,” said William Colton, vice president of Exxon Mobil Corporate Strategic Planning.

Rigzone | 27 January 2016

New Oil-Spill Research in Arctic Reveals Surprising Results

While preventing an oil spill is no doubt preferable to launching an oil-spill response, having the right response tools available at the tips of one’s fingers can be invaluable—especially in the carefully protected Arctic environment.

Unprecedented studies reveal the effects of untreated and treated oil in the Arctic environment.

How is marine life in the Arctic affected by crude oil? How is it affected by oil treated with dispersants and in situ burning techniques? Is Arctic marine life more sensitive to oil than marine life in warmer environments?

Although more than 2,000 papers and journals have been published on these topics, remaining uncertainties are being filled by the Arctic Oil Spill Response Technology Joint Industry Program (JIP) in unprecedented ways.

The Arctic JIP was formed in 2012 by nine international oil and gas companies for the purpose of advancing oil-spill response technologies and methodologies in the Arctic and other ice-covered environments.

The JIP received a permit from the governor of Svalbard, Norway, to use crude oil, dispersants, and in situ burn (ISB) residue in experiments conducted in Norway between February and July of 2015.

“They are the first of their kind,” said Mathijs Smit, an environmental scientist with Shell and chairman of the Environmental Effects Technical Working Group for the Arctic JIP.

Unlike indoor laboratory experiments that can only simulate real-world conditions, eight mesocosms—semi-enclosed containers that were exposed to sea ice and the seawater below—were installed at Van MijenFjorden, Svea, Norway, for scientists to observe how treated and untreated oil affects Arctic marine life spanning from winter to summer, and how treated oil behaves in ice.

Preliminary results are now rolling in, delivering both expected and surprising discoveries.