Environment
CIRES | 19 February 2015

Methane Leaks From Three Large US Natural Gas Fields in Line With Federal Estimates

Tens of thousands of pounds of methane leak per hour from equipment in three major natural gas basins that span Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania, according to airborne measurements published by a team of scientists led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But the overall leak rate from those basins is only about 1% of gas production there—lower than leak rates measured in other gas fields and in line with federal estimates.

“We are beginning to get a sense of regional variation in methane emissions from natural gas production,” said lead author Jeff Peischl, a scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in Boulder, Colorado. “The gas fields we studied for this paper produced about 20% of the natural gas in the United States and more than half the shale gas, so this moves us closer to understanding methane leaks from US natural gas production.”

Peischl works at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. His team’s analysis appears online today in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, published by the American Geophysical Union.

In the new paper, he and his colleagues used sophisticated measurements taken from a NOAA research aircraft to determine methane emissions from the Haynesville, Fayetteville, and Marcellus regions during five flights in the summer of 2013.

Overall, they found that methane leaking from gas equipment totaled about 1.1% of gas produced in those regions; estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, based on average equipment leak rates, put that figure at about 1%.

“It is good news that our atmospheric measurements are close to the EPA estimates,” said coauthor Joost de Gouw, a CIRES scientist who also works at NOAA. “If leak rates are too high, natural gas does not compare favorably with one alternative, coal, in terms of climate impact. Where leak rates are low, the comparison favors natural gas.”

The Associated Press | 17 February 2015

Judge Dismisses Louisiana Flood Board’s Suit Against Energy Companies

A lawsuit filed in 2013 by a Louisiana flood board that sought damages—potentially in the billions of dollars—from scores of oil, gas, and pipeline companies over erosion of the state’s fragile coast was thrown out on 13 February by a federal judge.

US District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown dismissed the suit in a complex 49-page ruling rejecting the board’s contention that, under federal laws, the energy companies had a duty to protect the flood board from the effects of coastal erosion.

“We don’t think this is going to be the last word on it,” said James Swanson, a lawyer for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. He said attorneys for the flood authority were studying the ruling and that they had not yet decided on their next move. He added that the case would likely wind up at the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

The flood authority, which oversees New Orleans-area levee boards, had claimed in the lawsuit that coastal drilling and dredging activities contributed to the loss of coastal wetlands that form a natural hurricane protection buffer for New Orleans.

Reuters | 13 February 2015

Shell CEO: Oil Sector Must Take Lead in Climate Debate

The oil industry needs to take a leading role in the fight against climate change to introduce “realism and practicality” into the debate, the head of Royal Dutch Shell was expected to say in a speech on 12 February.

In excerpts of a keynote speech expected at the International Petroleum Week dinner in London, Shell Chief Executive Ben van Beurden also accuses governments of taking at times counterproductive steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“What can we, as an industry, do to help clear the way for a more informed debate? In the past, we thought it was better to keep a low profile on the issue. I understand that tactic, but, in the end, it’s not a good tactic,” the CEO was expected to say.

Environmental organizations have accused the oil industry of not doing enough to reduce emissions and increase the use of renewable fuels.

“The debate about the future of energy is not always very balanced, partly because we keep such a low profile and there’s so little dialogue within our sector,” an advanced copy of his speech said.

“You cannot talk credibly about lowering emissions globally if, for example, you are slow to acknowledge climate change; if you undermine calls for an effective carbon price; and if you always descend into the ‘jobs versus environment’ argument in the public debate.”

E&P Magazine | 11 February 2015

Treatment of Flowback for Reuse: An Emerging Oilfield Practice

Water recycling is a growing practice in North American hydraulic fracturing operations. While fresh water remains the predominant fracturing fluid across the industry, an increasing number of operators are completing wells with blends of freshwater and brine water that flows back from completed and producing wells (flowback).

In some cases, direct reuse with minimal conditioning is practiced. However, most flowback requires some kind of chemical or physical treatment step to make it suitable for fracturing operations. As such, treatment technologies are usually deployed to meet one or more of three main goals: control of particulate matter, removal of deleterious components, and bacterial disinfection.

E&P Magazine | 11 February 2015

Water Recycling Is Now Mainstream

The Barnett is where the shale revolution began, and its development is one of the great David and Goliath stories of our time. North American gas production was in steady decline in the mid-1990s, and the large multinational producers (Goliath) were out looking for resources anywhere but in North America. Small independents (David) continued to operate domestically, often with very small teams and limited resources. Enter George Mitchell with a plan to harvest gas from the source rock itself, the virtually impermeable shale rock. With stubborn persistence he succeeded, and the next 5 years saw an explosion of growth and development across North America.

Hydraulic stimulation and ever-longer pinpoint accurate laterals capable of targeting the thin shale layer combined to unlock a tremendous treasure trove resource that was there all along. When the dust settled, proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) import facilities were being looked to for export and domestic natural gas prices were collapsing with the realization that the US had 200 years of low-cost recoverable natural gas within its borders.

Natural gas prices collapsing in 2008 led to a subsequent collapse in shale gas drilling. Rather than give up, the independents applied the same development techniques that opened up shale gas to “liquids-rich” formations. The Haynesville and other dry gas plays were put on hold, and the development migrated into regions such as the Bakken, Eagle Ford, and Permian Basin.

Throughout this rapid development period, water recycling companies were learning and adapting to the changing needs of the energy producers. They had to learn the nuances involved with treating produced water generated from liquids-rich formations vs. the dry gas shales. While energy producers have been busy adapting, water recycling companies have likewise been pushing to lower costs while simultaneously increasing throughput and performance.

JPT | 11 February 2015

Beyond the Headlines: Can Waste Water Be Disposed of Safely?

Editor’s note: Professionals in the oil and gas industry often receive questions about how industry operations affect public health, the environment, and the communities in which they operate. Of particular concern today is the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the environment. In this new column, JPT is inviting energy experts to put those questions and concerns about industry operations into perspective. Additional information about the oil and gas industry, how it affects society, and how to explain industry operations and practices to the general public is available on SPE’s Energy4me website.

Shale oil and gas wells use a lot of water in fracturing operations. Each well may use up to 8 million gallons, and as much as 35% of this can return as flowback water. Safe disposition of this waste water is an industry priority especially because of the widely reported past missteps in Pennsylvania. Safe disposition is completely feasible and, in fact, is being broadly practiced today.

The Nature of Flowback Water
Even if fresh water is used as the base fracturing fluid, what returns to the surface is salty. This is because the water found in association with hydrocarbons has high salinity. Shale oil and gas flowback water salinity typically range from 16,000 parts per million (ppm) to more than 300,000 in some instances. For comparison, sea water runs around 35,000 ppm. The chemicals introduced into the fracturing fluid will also be present in some proportion. These will be low in concentration because even the original fracturing fluid contains only up to about 0.5% chemicals.

Finally, one could also encounter species present in subterranean rock. These could include aromatic compounds (such as benzene) and radioactive species. Some state regulations, such as the ones pending in North Carolina, prohibit the use of aromatics in fracturing fluid so, if present, they could only have come from the subsurface. The same holds for radioactive species. In most instances, subterrestrial bacteria will also be present. All of these render the flowback water unsuited for direct discharge.

Reuse of Flowback Water
Flowback water may be reused to formulate fracturing fluid for the next operation. But because only about one-third of injected water returns, additional water is needed (makeup water). In the early going, reuse was rendered costly because of the need to desalinate down to fresh water. However, more recently, all service companies have announced that they can tolerate salinities in excess of 250,000 ppm.

To accomplish this, they had to invent substitutes for certain chemicals. In particular, these were the cross-linkers (for thickening the gel in the fluid to fracture the rock more effectively) and the breakers (the chemical that breaks down the cross-linked gel to thin it for removal at the end of the operation). This salt tolerance suggests that even the makeup water could be a salty water of convenience rather than fresh. Brackish water is ubiquitous in shale oil and gas operations, and yet few companies use it. Not using fresh water would go a long way toward community acceptance of the operations.

While salinity per se may not be a bar to reuse, some treatment may be required. The operator may choose to remove divalent ions. These tend to form scale and radioactive elements, and tend to concentrate in the scale even though the concentrations in the water may be too low to be a concern for personnel safety. Manual descaling operations could constitute an operational hazard if radioactive elements were present. Most operators would also attempt to remove the bacteria in some way. But these operations are straightforward. Divalent ion removal is known as water softening, found in many homes using well water.

Al Jazeera America | 4 February 2015

EPA Says Keystone XL Could Increase Emissions as Oil Prices Fall

Oil prices have dropped so low that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline could play a bigger role in the development of Canada’s tar sands oil market and thus contribute to increased greenhouse gas emissions, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told the State Department in a letter released to the public on 3 February.

The EPA’s remarks in the letter about the Keystone XL project could lend weight to President Barack Obama’s view that the controversial pipeline should not be approved if it significantly increases carbon pollution.

In the letter, the EPA implied that falling oil prices—which have more than halved since the summer—mean that shipping Canadian oil to the United States will not be economical unless the pipeline is built.

The State Department is evaluating the project because the TransCanada pipeline would carry oil from a foreign country. The department is expected to make a recommendation to Obama on the project soon, after reviewing comments from the EPA and other federal agencies.

Obama will make the final decision on Keystone XL, which has been pending for more than 6 years.

The EPA’s letter about the pipeline said more attention should be paid to the “potential implications of lower oil prices on project impacts, especially greenhouse gas emissions.”

EPA | 2 February

EPA Seeks Input on Emission Standards in Oil and Natural Gas Sector

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is inviting small businesses, governments, and not-for-profit organizations to participate as small-entity representatives (SERs) for a Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR) Panel. The panel is part of a standard federal government process and will focus on the agency’s development of a rule that proposes to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, including methane, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) under its New Source Performance Standards for the oil and natural gas industry. The EPA will build on the cost-effective standards, issued in 2012, that are currently in place for several sources in the oil and natural gas industry. The agency intends to add equipment and processes to those sources currently covered by the standards. Equipment and processes the agency is considering adding include hydraulically fractured oil wells, pneumatic pumps, and leaks from new and modified well sites and compressor stations.

Southwestern Energy Approaches Goal of Freshwater Neutrality

Southwestern Energy plans to be freshwater neutral in its hydraulic fracturing operations by next year, and the company is well on its way to achieving that goal, said the leader of the group responsible for bringing it to fruition.

Southwestern Energy is working with state and government organizations to develop dams of carbonate in Pennsylvania’s Tioga River to help filter the acidic water that pours out of old mines. Photo courtesy of Southwestern Energy.

At a presentation held by the SPE Gulf Coast Section, Karen Olson, director of the strategic solutions team at Southwestern, discussed the progress being made in the company’s Energy Conserving Water (ECH2O) initiative.

Launched in 2012, ECH2O is a commitment from the company to replenish or offset each gallon of fresh water it uses for fracturing through conservation practices, projects, and technologies.

Among the company’s major projects is the Fallbrook acid mine drainage project in the Tioga River in northern Pennsylvania, near the Marcellus Shale play. Olson said the company plans to work with the state government and organizations, such as the Nature Conservancy, to construct dams of carbonate over a 2.5-mile stretch of the river to help filter the acidic water that pours out of old mines.

“It’s dead,” Olson said of the region. “Every time it rains, [water] fills up these old mines and spills over, flows into the river, and it has killed everything. It has killed the vegetation. It has killed all the life in it.”

In addition to the environmental benefit, the company will also be able to use water from this area for its fracturing operations, which Olson said would provide an additional 11 billion bbl. LimnoTech, an environmental engineering company, verified the amount of additional water and the total water usage for Southwestern’s conservation projects.

 

The Bismarck Tribune | 28 January 2015

EPA: 4 Million Gallons Pumped From North Dakota Saltwater Spill

More than 4 million gallons of a mixture of fresh water, brine, and oil have been pumped from the area affected by the largest saltwater spill of North Dakota’s current energy boom, according to a report issued 26 January by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report provides an overall assessment on the nearly 3-million-gallon spill of saltwater generated by oil drilling that leaked from a ruptured pipeline that operator Summit Midstream Partners detected on 6 January. It remains unclear exactly when the spill occurred and what caused it.

The spill happened in Marmon, about 15 miles north of Williston, and primarily contaminated the Blacktail Creek. Saltwater also reached the bigger Little Muddy River and the Missouri River.

Read the full story here.

Reuters | 28 January 2015

Obama To Propose Protecting US Arctic Wildlife Refuge From Drilling

President Barack Obama will call on Congress to expand protection of Alaska’s Arctic refuge where oil and gas drilling is prohibited to 12 million acres, an area that includes 1.4 million oil-rich acres along the coast.

The proposal, unveiled by the Interior Department on 25 January, ran into instant criticism from Republicans and will likely face an uphill battle in Congress, where Republicans now control both chambers.

The wilderness designation, the highest level of federal protection under which oil and gas drilling is banned, would be extended to a total of 19.8 million acres under the proposal, the Interior Department said.

The move was the latest salvo in the energy wars between Obama, a Democrat, and Republican lawmakers. Republicans kicked off the new Congress earlier this month with a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline to help move Canadian tar sands oil to refineries on the US Gulf Coast. Obama immediately said he would veto the measure.

Bloomberg | 14 January 2015

Obama Said To Target Methane Emissions in Next Climate Task

The Obama administration plans to require the oil and gas industry to cut methane emissions from the drilling and transportation of fossil fuels by as much as 45% over the next decade, another step in its efforts to curb greenhouse gases tied to climate change.

The US Environmental Protection Agency will unveil its plans as soon as 14 January, according to people familiar with the deliberations. The EPA will seek methane cuts from the industry of 40 to 45% by 2025 compared with 2012 levels, according to an administration official not authorized to speak publicly.

The proposal would be a victory for environmental groups that have lobbied the administration to force the industry to  directly target methane, the second most prevalent gas tied to climate change after carbon dioxide. The gas seeps from wells and the compressors, pumps, pipes, and storage tanks that make up the oil and gas production and distribution network.

“If the reported target is correct, and if there’s a solid program offered to achieve it, then this is indeed a landmark moment,” Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. “Methane pollution is both an environmental problem and a needless waste of energy.”