Environment
The Associated Press | 17 January 2017

Trudeau Says the Canadian Oil Sands Needs To Be “Phased Out”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sparked anger in the oil-rich province of Alberta on 13 January for saying Canada needs to phase out the oil sands.

Trudeau told a town-hall meeting in Peterborough, Ontario, that they can’t shut down the oil sands tomorrow but they need to phase it out eventually.

The prime minister was asked about his government’s approval of pipelines and whether that was consistent with the promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He said there needs to be a transition off dependence on fossil fuels.

Trudeau’s comments caused outrage on social media and criticism from Alberta politicians. Premier Rachel Notley said the oil sands are not going anywhere any time soon.

Alberta opposition leader Brian Jean said the oil and gas industry provides thousands of good-paying jobs and if Trudeau wants to shut it down he’ll have to go through him and four million Albertans first.

Read the full story here.

ABC News | 4 January 2017

Judge Orders Ohio To Let Company Reopen Brine Injection Well

The pumping of waste from hydraulic fracturing operations into a closed Ohio injection well is expected to resume after a judge’s ruling that the state’s oil-and-gas regulator failed to consider a new plan after shutting down the well in 2014 because of two small earthquakes nearby.

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Kimberly Cocroft ordered the state and well operator, American Water Management Services, to submit language for a judgment order to reopen the well in Trumbull County’s Weathersfield Township, about 65 miles southeast of Cleveland.

Cocroft’s ruling last month said the state had the authority to shut down the well after earthquakes were detected below ground in July and August of 2014. But the ruling said the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management should have allowed American Water to resume operations after submitting a plan that called for pumping brine at lower pressures and volumes. At least 20 other small seismic events were recorded in 2014 near the well before it was closed.

The ruling noted that American Water was operating within state guidelines when the shutdown order came.

San Francisco Chronicle | 30 December 2016

Oil Companies Face Deadline To Stop Polluting California Groundwater

Seven oil companies, including petroleum giant Chevron, have been given until the end of December by state officials to stop their decades-old practice of injecting oily wastewater into Central Valley aquifers or face penalties.

In this January 2015 file photo, a person walks past pump jacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. Credit: Jae C. Hong/Associated Press.

In this January 2015 file photo, a person walks past pump jacks operating at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif. Credit: Jae C. Hong/Associated Press.

The state Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources ordered the companies to stop pumping wastewater from drilling operations into 10 underground aquifers, which the oil companies were using despite federal regulations protecting the groundwater.

The regulations require 30 active injection wells to be closed by 31 December or “we would pursue legal action and/or penalties,” said Teresa Schilling, spokeswoman for the resources agency. Violations carry fines of USD 2,500 to USD 25,000 apiece. Schilling said most operators are complying or have already complied with the order.

None of the aquifers is now used for drinking water, but environmentalists say they could be tapped in the future. Most are in the Bakersfield area, but one is in Solano County, near the Bunker Gas Field south of Dixon.

“This is a big deal because it’s about protecting underground drinking water,” said Keith Nakatani, the oil and gas program manager for the environmental group Clean Water Action. “We are increasingly reliant on groundwater because of the recent drought and a loss of snowpack—all the more reason to be protective of our resources. Yet the oil and gas industry has been allowed to pollute those resources for decades.”

StateImpact | 28 December 2016

EPA Says Hydraulic Fracturing Study’s Data Gaps Are an Important Contribution to Science

A hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania The central missile of the operation connects 16 compression generators, water, sand, and other fluids before entering the well. Credit: Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY.

A hydraulic fracturing site in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania The central missile of the operation connects 16 compression generators, water, sand, and other fluids before entering the well. Credit: Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says its hydraulic fracturing study, published in December, is the most comprehensive look so far at all the science available on whether hydraulic fracturing pollutes drinking water. Critics have pointed to a lack of data in the report, which led to limitations in the agency’s conclusion that hydraulic fracturing “impacts drinking water under some circumstances.” The EPA’s science adviser, Tom Burke, says the gaps in data represent the “state of the science.”

“The identification of data gaps is actually an important contribution to the science and not a failure,” Burke said.

“We are really just beginning to understand fracking,” he said.  ”And there are not really a lot of reports about what’s going on during the fracking process. For instance, basic information about where are the wells. The location of the wells.”

Burke says that, in addition to lack of information about all the shale gas wells, there is a lack of information about locations of groundwater aquifers and the quality of the water.

Read the full story here.

The New York Times | 26 December 2016

Obama Bans Drilling in Parts of the Atlantic and the Arctic

President Obama announced on 20 December what he called a permanent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling along wide areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic Seaboard as he tried to nail down an environmental legacy that cannot quickly be reversed by Donald J. Trump.

The Polar Pioneer was the first of two oil drilling rigs Royal Dutch Shell was outfitting for Arctic oil exploration before the company ended its contract last year. Credit: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press.

The Polar Pioneer was the first of two oil drilling rigs Royal Dutch Shell was outfitting for Arctic oil exploration before the company ended its contract last year. Credit: Elaine Thompson/Associated Press.

Obama invoked an obscure provision of a 1953 law, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which he said gives him the authority to act unilaterally. While some presidents have used that law to temporarily protect smaller portions of federal waters, Obama’s declaration of a permanent drilling ban on portions of the ocean floor from Virginia to Maine and along much of Alaska’s coast is breaking new ground. The declaration’s fate will almost certainly be decided by the federal courts.

“It’s never been done before,” said Patrick Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at Vermont Law School. “There is no case law on this. It’s uncharted waters.”

Offshore Engineer | 14 December 2016

Up Against Ospar

In Europe, and in other regions, the guiding principle for the rules governing oil and gas infrastructure decommissioning have been a return to a clean seabed. These principles are being challenged.

Anadarko’s Red Hawk topsides being lifted off. Credit: InterMoor.

Anadarko’s Red Hawk topsides being lifted off. Credit: InterMoor.

As decommissioning work mounts in areas such as the UK North Sea, where huge platforms were built to withstand harsh environments, there is now push back and calls for a different approach to decommissioning (i.e., one where substructures can be left in place).

Indeed, in the Netherlands, one firm, Engie, is taking the bull by the horns. Engie has proposed a rigs-to-reef pilot project in the Dutch North Sea in a move that will test the established rules—that anything weighing under 10,000-tonne has to be removed and anything, regardless of weight, built after 1999 has to be removed.

Engie is part of a growing group that is arguing that more not only could but should be left in place than what is currently the norm. They say that more damage would be caused to the environment by removing the likes of footings and large seafloor-based structures than leaving them in place and that current practices need to be reassessed. This is because these structures have become marine life havens, protected as they are from fishing.

“A funny thing happens. Corals and barnacles form [on structures] and fish start feeding on them, using the platform as a habitat,” said Tom Campbell, partner at law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, based in Houston. “What we have is not rigs-to-reefs; these platforms are the reef,” he told an audience during the EXT:end event in Aberdeen in September.

“The question is,” said Campbell, who played a role in formulating the US government’s response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, “is all decommissioning appropriate?” The usual challenge is whether a clean seabed is appropriate, he said. “But, I put forward a different challenge: The ecological cost of a clean seabed is too high, and we should re-examine all our conclusions based on that hypothesis.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | 14 December 2016

Pennsylvania Environment Officials Unveil Methane Controls for Shale Gas Sites

Pennsylvania environmental officials unveiled plans for new permits aimed at limiting methane and other air pollution from shale gas well sites and compressor stations on 8 December, adding specifics to a methane reduction strategy Gov. Tom Wolf announced as a priority at the start of the year.

A crew works on a gas drilling rig at a well site for shale based natural gas in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. Credit: Keith Srakocic/Associated Press.

A crew works on a gas drilling rig at a well site for shale based natural gas in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. Credit: Keith Srakocic/Associated Press.

The new draft general permits mark the state’s first attempt to regulate methane emissions from natural gas well site operations directly rather than through a permit exemption process or by curbing emissions of the potent greenhouse gas as a side benefit of other pollution controls.

Minimizing methane emissions across the natural gas production system is seen as a way to ensure that the climate benefits of burning gas for electricity instead of coal are realized.

The Department of Environmental Protection permits will incorporate the most recent federal standards for reducing oil and gas well site emissions, but they will also build on those, agency officials told an air quality advisory board.

For example, the state plans to require leak detection and repair surveys to be performed quarterly at well sites rather than the federal standard of semiannually, at least until an operator can show that 2% or less of its wellsite components are leaking.

US Environmental Protection Agency | 14 December 2016

EPA Releases Final Report on Effects From Hydraulic Fracturing Activities on Drinking Water

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing its scientific report on the effects from hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources, which provides states and others the scientific foundation to better protect drinking water resources in areas where hydraulic fracturing is occurring or being considered. The report, done at the request of Congress, provides scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can affect drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances. As part of the report, EPA identified conditions under which effects from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe. The report also identifies uncertainties and data gaps. These uncertainties and data gaps limited EPA’s ability to fully assess effects to drinking water resources both locally and nationally. These final conclusions are based upon review of more than 1,200 cited scientific sources; feedback from an independent peer review conducted by EPA’s Science Advisory Board; input from engaged stakeholders; and new research conducted as part of the study.

“The value of high quality science has never been more important in helping to guide decisions around our nation’s fragile water resources. EPA’s assessment provides the scientific foundation for local decision makers, industry, and communities that are looking to protect public health and drinking water resources and make more informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing activities,” said Thomas A. Burke, EPA’s science adviser and deputy assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “This assessment is the most complete compilation to date of national scientific data on the relationship of drinking water resources and hydraulic fracturing.”

The report is organized around activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle and their potential to affect drinking water resources. The stages include: (1) acquiring water to be used for hydraulic fracturing (Water Acquisition); (2) mixing the water with chemical additives to make hydraulic fracturing fluids (Chemical Mixing); (3) injecting hydraulic fracturing fluids into the production well to create and grow fractures in the targeted production zone (Well Injection); (4) collecting the wastewater that returns through the well after injection (Produced Water Handling); and (5) managing the wastewater through disposal or reuse methods (Wastewater Disposal and Reuse).

EPA identified cases of effects on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. Effects cited in the report generally occurred near hydraulically fractured oil and gas production wells and ranged in severity from temporary changes in water quality to contamination that made private drinking water wells unusable.

As part of the report, the EPA identified certain conditions under which effects from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe, including

  • Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources
  • Spills during the management of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources
  • Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources
  • Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources
  • Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water resources
  • Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in contamination of groundwater resources
  • The report provides valuable information about potential vulnerabilities to drinking water resources, but was not designed to be a list of documented impacts.

Data gaps and uncertainties limited the EPA’s ability to fully assess the potential effects on drinking water resources both locally and nationally. Generally, comprehensive information on the location of activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle is lacking because it is not collected, not publicly available, or prohibitively difficult to aggregate. In places where known activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle have occurred, data that could be used to characterize hydraulic-fracturing-related chemicals in the environment before, during, and after hydraulic fracturing were scarce. Because of these data gaps and uncertainties, as well as others described in the assessment, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of effects, nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of effects on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.

The EPA’s final assessment benefited from extensive stakeholder engagement with states, tribes, industry, nongovernmental organizations, the scientific community, and the public. This broad engagement helped to ensure that the final assessment report reflects current practices in hydraulic fracturing and uses all data and information available to the agency. This report advances the science. The understanding of the potential effects from hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources will continue to improve over time as new information becomes available.

Find the report here.

Politico | 21 November 2016

Obama Cuts Arctic Waters From 5-Year Drilling Plan

President Barack Obama is throwing up roadblocks to Donald Trump’s pledges to expand offshore drilling, with a new plan that will declare parts of the Arctic off limits.

Administration officials made no mention of whether President Barack Obama will seek to prevent Donald Trump from putting those areas back on the table. Credit: Getty.

Obama’s Interior Department on 18 November issued its final 5-year road map for offshore oil and gas drilling that took two areas in the Arctic out of contention, dealing a win to environmental groups and obstructing a path to new offshore drilling in the area. The plan is vulnerable to being unraveled by Trump, who has pledged to expand oil and gas production, but it would take at least a few years for him to do so.

The blueprint by the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management schedules 10 regionwide leases in the Gulf of Mexico from 2017 through 2022 and another in Alaska’s Cook Inlet in 2021. But the agency dropped its March draft proposal to offer leases in the Arctic’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 2020 and 2022, pleasing environmental groups.

“The plan focuses lease sales in the best places—those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict, and established infrastructure—and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. “Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward.”

Stanford | 18 November 2016

New Maps Reveal Safe Locations for Wastewater Injection

Stanford University geophysicists have compiled the most detailed maps yet of the geologic forces controlling the locations, types, and magnitudes of earthquakes in Texas and Oklahoma.

New stress maps of Texas and Oklahoma have black lines indicating stress orientation. Blue-green colors indicate regions of extension in the crust, while yellow-orange areas are indicative of crustal compression. Credit: Jens-Erik Lund Snee.

New stress maps of Texas and Oklahoma have black lines indicating stress orientation. Blue-green colors indicate regions of extension in the crust, while yellow-orange areas are indicative of crustal compression. Credit: Jens-Erik Lund Snee.

These new “stress maps,” published in the journals Geophysical Research Letters and Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, provide insight into the nature of the faults associated with recent temblors, many of which appear to have been triggered by the injection of wastewater deep underground.

“These maps help explain why injection-induced earthquakes have occurred in some areas and provide a basis for making quantitative predictions about the potential for seismic activity resulting from fluid injection,” said study co-author Mark Zoback, the Benjamin M. Page Professor of Geophysics in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences.

To create these stress maps, Zoback and his graduate students Jens-Erik Lund Snee and Richard Alt interpreted data from different parts of Texas and Oklahoma donated by oil and gas companies. “Companies routinely collect data that can be used for assessing the state of stress in the Earth as part of their normal oil and gas operations,” Lund Snee said.

When combined with information about the faults present in a given area, the scientists were able to assess which faults are likely to be problematic and why. In the areas where induced earthquakes have occurred in Texas and Oklahoma, the Stanford scientists show that a relatively small increase of pore pressure—the pressure of fluids within the fractures and cavities of rocks—would have been sufficient to trigger slip.

Reuters | 18 November 2016

Obama Administration Completes Rule To Curb Methane From Federal Oil, Gas Production

The US Interior Department finalized rules on 15 November aimed at preventing methane leaks from oil and gas production on federal and tribal lands, one of the last major Obama administration rules aimed at fighting climate change.

US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. Credit: Reuters/Chris Wattie.

US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. Credit: Reuters/Chris Wattie.

Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said the rule, updating 30-year-old regulations that govern flaring, venting, and natural gas leaks from oil and gas production, could avoid wasting up to 41 Bcf of natural gas per year.

“This rule to prevent waste of our nation’s natural gas supplies is good government, plain and simple,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

“We are proving that we can cut harmful methane emissions that contribute to climate change while putting in place standards that make good economic sense for the nation.”

Environmental groups praised the rule, but industry and some western states called it unnecessary. One industry group sued BLM. The incoming Trump administration has promised to cut what it calls superfluous restrictions on energy production.

StateImpact Pennsylvania | 16 November 2017

Pennsylvania Has More Abandoned Wells Than Expected, Says New Study

Pennsylvania has more abandoned oil and gas wells than previously thought, and some are leaking large amounts of climate-damaging methane gas, according to a new study published 14 November in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

An abandoned well in McKean County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Scott Detroit/StateImpact Pennsylvania.

An abandoned well in McKean County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Scott Detroit/StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Researchers from Princeton and Stanford combined field observations with old books, literature, historical documents, and modern databases to estimate there are likely between 470,000 to 750,000 abandoned wells, up from prior estimates of 300,000 to 500,000. As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, only a small fraction of these wells are tracked by the state.

The study found these abandoned wells collectively account for 5 to 8% of Pennsylvania’s annual man-made greenhouse gas emissions. As other scientists have found while looking at methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, the biggest problems often come from a subset of “super-emitters.”

“A few wells, just 10%, contribute about 90% of all the emissions we measured,” said study co-author Rob Jackson of Stanford University.