Environment
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.”

Shale Energy Insider | 12 January 2015

Environmental Group Sues US Federal Government Over Hydraulic Fracturing Disclosure

A US environmental advocacy group, the Center for Biological Diversity, has said it has filed a lawsuit against the US federal government for failing to release public documents that it says “reveal the extent and risks of offshore fracking” in the Gulf of Mexico.

The lawsuit is arguing that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement should disclose the permits, reports, emails and additional documents relating to the awarding of hydraulic fracturing rights to oil and gas companies for offshore wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The public has a right to know where, when, and how much fracking the federal government is allowing in the Gulf of Mexico,” said a legal representative of the group, Kristen Monsell.

American Lung Association | 19 December 2014

Survey Shows Americans Agreeing on Methane Regulation

Americans overwhelmingly support the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishing the first federal limits on methane emissions, according to new data released today from a nationwide, bipartisan survey conducted for the American Lung Association. Moreover, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of American voters supports the efforts of the EPA to establish stricter air pollution standards overall and believes that EPA scientists, not Congress, should be the ones to make these decisions.

“It is clear that the public supports stronger public health safeguards for the air we breathe,” said Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association. “Cutting methane and toxic air pollutants like benzene is a winner with the American people.”

Respondents rated clean air as a higher priority than reducing regulations on businesses, with 80% of respondents rating it as extremely or very important. By more than a three-to-one margin (69% in favor to 21% opposed), voters want the EPA, not Congress, to set the nation’s air pollution standards.

On the specific issue of methane pollution standards to address air pollution from the oil and gas industry, an overwhelming two-to-one majority favors new methane emissions standards from the EPA. Support for the new standards actually grew after voters heard simulated and balanced arguments that included the strongest messages from both sides of the issue (including attacks from opponents on cost and jobs), resulting in majority support across the political spectrum, including from Republicans.

Read the full story here.

Read the survey results here.

Rigzone | 11 December 2014

Study Finds Lower Methane Emissions Than Previous Studies

The level of methane emissions from the development and production of natural gas in the United States are down from previous studies. A recent field study conducted by The University of Texas at Austin (UT) and sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and natural gas producers has found that methane emissions now represent .38% of production, 10% lower than the findings of a September 2013 study conducted by the same research team.

Researchers found that the majority of hydraulically fractured well completions sampled in the study had equipment in place that reduces methane emissions by 99%. “Because of this equipment, methane emissions from well completions are 97% lower than calendar year 2011 national emission estimates, which were released by the US Environmental Protection Agency in April 2013,” UT said in a statement.

While the level of methane emissions are lower from hydraulically fractured well completions, the study found that emissions from certain types of pneumatic devices are 30% to several times higher than current EPA estimates for this equipment. Together, emissions from pneumatics and equipment leaks account for about 40% of estimated national emissions of methane from gas production, according to a press statement from UT.

The total methane emissions from gas production, from all sources measured by researchers, were comparable to the most recent EPA estimates. EPA reported in late September that methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing have declined by 73% since 2011, the American Petroleum Institute noted in a statement.

Fuel Fix | 11 December 2014

Production Up, but Methane Emissions Down in Permian Basin

Even though energy companies are pulling more oil out of the Permian Basin, methane emissions have been declining in the west Texas drilling hotbed.

A report issued by the industry-funded program Energy In Depth shows emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, have fallen in the Permian Basin by 9% since 2011—from about 4.6 million to 4.2 million t. In the Gulf Coast region that includes southern Louisiana as well as the Eagle Ford shale of south Texas, emissions have dropped about 18%, from 5.1 million to 4.2 million t.

The numbers, which are derived from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, come despite a domestic drilling boom and a surge in the number of sources actually reporting numbers to the government. For instance, the Permian Basin’s oil production has climbed by nearly 28% since 2011, and, in the Eagle Ford, it has soared 450% over the same time frame.

Energy In Depth says that shows that “actions already being taken by the industry are delivering methane emission reductions, even as production skyrockets in Texas and all across the country.”

JPT | 2 December 2014

Studying the Sources of Methane Migration Into Groundwater

The rapid development of shale formations over the past decade has led the United States to become the world’s undisputed leader in natural gas production. This success, though, has come with increased scrutiny over the environmental impact of high-density drilling activities required to maintain unconventional gas production. One of the issues that industry and environmental experts are working to understand involves the risk of stray gas migration into groundwater sources, which a recent university study linked to cementing and casing failures.

New scientific data suggest that faulty well casing and poor cement jobs can lead to stray methane gas migrating into water wells located near producing natural gas wells. The science is young and more studies will be required before experts agree on how prevalent the problem is. Photo courtesy of the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America.

In their paper, researchers from Ohio State University, Duke University, Stanford University, and several other academic institutions, said the industry can do more to prevent this type of problem, ensuring that future onshore development poses as little risk as possible to people who live near oil and natural gas fields. However, there is scientific debate on such findings and whether natural sources of methane found in water sources are far more common. The early research by various organizations hopes to provide answers to questions such as the best way to sample residential water wells, how to distinguish naturally occurring methane from stray production gas, and what can be done to prevent well failures that might contaminate water.

JPT | 2 December 2014

Beyond the Headlines: How Safe Is Our Drinking Water?

Do shale oil and gas drilling present a real threat to drinking water supplies? This is likely the single greatest concern in the minds of those opposed to the exploitation of this resource. Can oil and gas wells leak fluids into the Earth? Yes. Can it be prevented? Yes, again.

In this essay, we will discuss the mechanisms involved, the measures to prevent these occurrences, and the most recent scientific studies on the topic. On the last point, I am happy to report that, to date, the news is uniformly very good. Happy because this resource must be developed in a sustainable fashion. It has transformed the United States economy and improved the lot of every US citizen. We have a duty to get it done right. Other countries with similar resources need the US to succeed.

There are two potential sources for contaminating fluids. One is the hydraulically fractured zone in the reservoir and the other is the vertical portion of the wellbore. Microseismic monitoring involves “listening” to the minor tremors generated by the hydraulic fracturing operation. Thousands of such operations have been monitored and fractures do not extend more than 1,000 ft in a vertical direction. Leaving a margin of error, 2,000 ft of vertical separation ought to be sufficient. Most producing zones are at vertical depths greater than 4,000 ft, and fresh water rarely extends beyond a few hundred feet.