Environment
Billings Gazette | 10 May 2016

Special Camera Puts Bakken Gas Emissions in Clearer Focus

Gas emissions from the Bakken are having a global impact on the atmosphere, a recent study found, but health regulators say new technology they’re using to inspect oilfield sites should lead to a dramatic improvement.

Rene Heredia Nieves, environmental scientist with the North Dakota Department of Health, uses a FLIR camera to inspect a well site north of Killdeer, N.D. Photo courtesy of North Dakota Department of Health.

The North Dakota Department of Health recently began using a USD 100,000 camera that uses infrared technology to detect methane, ethane, and other emissions that leak from well sites.

“The huge advantage is that you now see any emissions that are coming out, which were previously invisible to your eye,” said Jim Semerad, with the health department’s Air Quality Division.

Natural gas produced in the Bakken as a byproduct of oil production is known as a “wet” gas, meaning it is rich in natural gas liquids such as propane, butane and ethane.

“They can be beneficial if they’re captured and separated out, but they can also go directly into the atmosphere if the controls aren’t there or if the controls aren’t working properly,” said David Glatt, chief of the Environmental Health Section.

On an individual basis, a Bakken oil and gas well is not a significant contributor to emissions, Semerad said.

But multiply that by 13,000 wells in North Dakota, and the impact can be substantial.

“The sheer numbers have grown such that we have to take a harder look at them,” Semerad said.

US Geological Survey | 10 May 2016

Evidence of Unconventional Oil and Gas Wastewater Found in Surface Waters Near Underground Injection Site

Evidence indicating the presence of waste waters from unconventional oil and gas production was found in surface waters and sediments near an underground injection well near Fayetteville, West Virginia, according to two recent studies by the US Geological Survey (USGS), the University of Missouri, and Duke University.

These are the first published studies to demonstrate water-quality impacts to a surface stream due to activities at an unconventional oil and gas wastewater deep well injection disposal site. The studies did not assess how the waste waters were able to migrate from the disposal site to the surface stream. The unconventional oil and gas waste water that was injected in the site came from coalbed methane and shale gas wells.

“Deep well injection is widely used by industry for the disposal of waste waters produced during unconventional oil and gas extraction,” said USGS scientist Denise Akob, lead author on the current study. “Our results demonstrate that activities at disposal facilities can potentially impact the quality of adjacent surface waters.”

Washington Examiner | 10 May 2016

Feds Point to Gas as Reason for Emissions Reductions

Carbon dioxide emissions continue to fall in the United States due to a switch from coal to natural gas derived from shale, the federal government reported on 9 May.

The Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department’s independent analysis arm, looked at what’s behind the recent declines in greenhouse gases, despite growing demand for electricity.

One of the major factors is the switch from coal-based electricity to highly efficient gas-fired power plants. “Overall, the fuel-use changes in the power sector have accounted for 68% of the total energy-related [carbon emissions] reductions from 2005–15,” the agency reported.

“Energy-related [carbon dioxide] emissions can be reduced by consuming less petroleum, coal, and natural gas or by switching from more carbon-intensive fuels to less carbon-intensive fuels,” it said. “Many of the changes in energy-related [carbon dioxide] emissions in recent history have occurred in the electric power sector because of the decreased use of coal and the increased use of natural gas for electricity generation.”

The Associated Press | 3 May 2016

Study: US Oil Field Source of Global Uptick in Air Pollution

An oil and natural gas field in the western United States is largely responsible for a global uptick of the air pollutant ethane, according to a new study.

The team led by researchers at the University of Michigan found that fossil fuel production at the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana is emitting roughly 2% of the ethane detected in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Along with its chemical cousin methane, ethane is a hydrocarbon that is a significant component of natural gas. Once in the atmosphere, ethane reacts with sunlight to form ozone, which can trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory problems, especially in children and the elderly. Ethane pollution can also harm agricultural crops. Ozone also ranks as the third-largest contributor to human-caused global warming after carbon dioxide and methane.

“We didn’t expect one region to have such a global influence,” said Eric Kort, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of climatic science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The study was launched after a mountaintop sensor in the European Alps began registering surprising spikes in ethane concentrations in the atmosphere starting in 2010, following decades of declines.

The New York Times | 3 May 2016

Colorado Court Strikes Down Local Bans on Hydraulic Fracturing

Colorado’s Supreme Court on 2 May struck down local government prohibitions on hydraulic fracturing, handing oil and gas companies a victory in a lengthy battle over energy production in the environmentally conscious state.

In separate rulings, the court said a moratorium in Fort Collins and a ban in Longmont were invalid because state law pre-empted them. A lower court had reached the same conclusion earlier.

Two other cities and Boulder County have prohibitions on hydraulic fracturing that presumably are affected by the decisions. With oil and gas exploration in a slump nationwide, the short-term effect of the rulings in Colorado will be small, industry officials said.

But when the slump ends, activity in urban areas across the Front Range—the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains and Colorado’s most populous region, where oil and gas production is concentrated—could be significant.

The land opened to exploration by the rulings is comparatively small. More significant, said experts on both sides of the conflict, is that the rulings shut down future efforts to stop hydraulic fracturing in local jurisdictions.

America's Wetland Foundation | 28 April 2016

America’s Wetland Foundation Responds to BSEE Well Control Rule

In response to the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the federal government and specific agencies of government acted to ensure that Gulf Coast oil and gas operations were conducted with utmost safety. The America’s Wetland Foundation is concerned that some provisions of the proposed Well Control Rule proposed by BSEE could have unintended consequences leading to less safety and environmental protection and a reduction in overall revenue sharing directed to financing coastal restoration.

The University of Texas at Arlington | 28 April 2016

Research Shows Groundwater Quality Changes With Expansion of Hydraulic Fracturing, Horizontal Drilling

New research from The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) demonstrates that groundwater quality changes alongside the expansion of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing but also suggests that some potentially hazardous effects may dissipate over time.

Kevin Schug, lead author of the study and UTA’s Shimadzu Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry and director of the University’s Collaborative Laboratories for Environmental Analysis and Remediation, or CLEAR lab.

The new research, published on 26 April in the journal Science of the Total Environment in the article “Temporal Variation in Groundwater Quality in the Permian Basin of Texas, a Region of Increasing Unconventional Oil and Gas Development,” is the first to analyze groundwater quality in the Cline Shale region of West Texas before, during, and after the expansion of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

The research team collected and analyzed private water well samples on the eastern shelf of the Permian Basin four times over 13 months to monitor basic water quality, metal ions, organic ions, and other chemicals. They discovered the presence of chlorinated solvents, alcohols, and aromatic compounds exclusively after multiple unconventional oil wells had been activated within 5 km of the sampling sites. Large fluctuations in pH and total organic carbon levels also were detected in addition to a gradual accumulation of bromide.

“These changes and levels are abnormal for typical groundwater quality,” said Kevin Schug, lead author of the study and UTA’s Shimadzu Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry and director of the university’s Collaborative Laboratories for Environmental Analysis and Remediation, or CLEAR lab.

“The results also suggest that contamination from unconventional drilling may be variable and sporadic, not systematic, and that some of the toxic compounds associated with areas of high unconventional drilling may degrade or become diluted within the aquifer over time,” Schug said. “The next step is more research to precisely quantify and understand contamination cycles as well as to understand aquifer resilience to pollutants.”

Rigzone | 28 April 2016

BSEE Tests Technology for Oil Spill Exercise in Arctic

With the Arctic expected to be a major source of oil and natural gas, the development and testing of technologies to detect and clean up Arctic oil spills will remain a critical area of focus. As part of this research, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (BSEE) Oil Spill Preparedness Division tested the capabilities of a georeferencing identification satellite (GRIDSAT) technology during its inaugural participation earlier this year in Ice Exercise 2016 (ICEX).

BSEE tests technology to locate oil spills as it participates for first time in oil spill exercise run by US Navy.

ICEX is an exercise designed to assess the operational readiness of the submarine force while also continuing to advance scientific research in the Arctic region. The US Navy has been running ice exercises since at least the late 1950s. Last year, the Navy approached BSEE about participating in the event, Karen Stone, an oil spill response engineer with BSEE’s Oil Spill Preparedness Division, said.

“We’re always interested in partnering with other federal groups and combine all their expertise,” Stone said.

The GRIDSAT system is a new technology in the sense that it is being used in a new application of existing components, Stone said. The Arctic’s extreme conditions, especially the presence of sea ice, create unique challenges for identifying, tracking, and responding to an oil spill. Sometimes, oil trapped by ice cannot be recovered quickly due to weather conditions. The GIRDSAT radio/GPS marking device can be left on an ice floe to track the movement of the floe and entrapped oil for up to nine months.

The Associated Press | 21 April 2016

Federal Hydraulic Fracturing Rule in Hands of Federal Judge in Wyoming

The future of federal rules aimed at protecting land, water, and wildlife from energy-production practices including hydraulic fracturing now rests with a judge in Wyoming.

US District Judge Scott Skavdahl last year blocked implementation of rules drafted by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM). He acted in response to a legal challenge from the states of Colorado, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

The states claim the BLM lacks authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing.

The federal rule would require petroleum developers to disclose to regulators the ingredients in the chemical products they use to improve the results of fracking.

The BLM and a coalition of environmental groups are arguing in Skavdahl’s court that the rules are necessary to protect the environment.

The BLM and other rule supporters also have appealed Skavdahl’s decision to block implementation of the rules to a federal appeals court in Denver. It is unclear whether the appeals court will act before Skavdahl reaches a decision.

StateImpact Pennsylvania | 19 April 2016

Report: Drilling Did Not Strain Water Supply in Susquehanna River Basin

The surge in gas drilling has not put a major strain on water supply in the Susquehanna River basin, according to a new report from the regulatory body that oversees water withdrawals.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) is charged with regulating water quantity, not quality. However, last year, the commission issued a report saying it had not found any correlation between Marcellus Shale development and watershed impairment—although it began the monitoring after the boom took off.

In this new report, the SRBC says, generally speaking, “the basin’s water resources are sufficient in magnitude to accommodate the water demands of the industry concurrently with other water users.”

Nearly all the surface water withdrawals in the basin are for the natural gas industry or public drinking water systems. The report analyzes the time period between July 2008 and December 2013 and found the industry consumed 9.76 billion gallons of water, while public drinking systems used 1.97 billion gallons.

However the report says the real challenge has not been balancing the needs of the gas industry with other human needs, but rather balancing the industry’s uses with, “the natural aquatic ecosystems existing within the basin, especially the small, lower-yielding watersheds in which the industry has been active.” The SRBC says it has been successful at managing that issue.

The Oklahoman | 18 April 2016

University Study Could Bring New Uses for Oilfield Waste Water

An oilfield waste product that poses environmental challenges and is linked to earthquakes could become a valuable economic resource if the efforts of Oklahoma State University researchers are successful.

Biosystems and agricultural engineering professor Nurhan Dunford and her team have spent much of the past 5 years developing strains of algae that can be turned into biofuels and feedstocks for food or medicines. The researchers also are using the algae to clean water contaminated by agriculture and oil production.

“Unfortunately, both animal production and hydraulic fracturing operations utilize large volumes of fresh water and generate wastewater that is putting a lot of pressure on our limited freshwater resources and creating huge problems in terms of wastewater disposal and human and environmental safety,” Dunford said. “Our algae research addresses these concerns and problems.”

The researchers are studying strains of algae native to Oklahoma in hopes of finding the best algae and strongest mix of nutrients to clean oilfield waste water. The researchers are studying both flowback water—mostly fresh water mixed with small amounts of chemicals and sand used for hydraulic fracturing—and produced water. Produced water refers to ancient ocean remnants that are recovered from deep below the surface, along with oil and natural gas. Produced water typically is many times saltier than the ocean and contains minerals and chemicals, along with mixtures of oil and other hydrocarbons.

Offshore Energy Today | 13 April 2016

WWF Canada Challenges Validity of Shell’s Exploration Permits

World Wildlife Fund Canada, the environment conservation organization, has taken legal action challenging validity of some Shell’s offshore exploration permits in Canada.

WWF Canada is aiming to have Shell’s Lancaster Sound oil and gas exploration permits declared expired. The conservation group claims that the permits issued more than 4 decades ago are now expired “and therefore invalid.”

According to available data, Shell is not conducting any activity in the area at the moment.

Before taking the legal action, WWF claims it had contacted the minister of indigenous and northern affairs seeking clarification on the status permits in question and a confirmation that the permits had expired.

Although staff from the ministry contacted the applicant (WWF) to discuss the matter informally, they did not clarify the status of the permits, the WWF said, adding that the discussions with the ministry staff continued throughout February 2016 but that the ministry still did not explain its position on the validity of Shell’s permits.

WWF Canada claims that the permits in question are an obstacle to conservation efforts striving to finalize “the long-awaited” Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area.