The Associated Press | 21 November 2014

Report: Grouse Needs 3-Mile Buffer From Drilling

A government report with significant implications for the US energy industry says the breeding grounds of a struggling bird species need a 3-mile or larger buffer from oil and gas drilling, wind farms, and solar projects.

A Greater Sage Grouse at the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The study comes as the Obama administration weighs new protections for the greater sage grouse. The ground-dwelling bird ranges across 11 western states.

A 3-mile buffer is a much larger protective area than the no-occupancy zones where drilling and other activity is prohibited under some state and federal land management plans.

Those plans also contain more nuanced provisions that backers say will protect sage grouse, such as seasonal restrictions on drilling and limits on the number of oil and gas wells within key sage grouse habitat.

But some wildlife advocates say too much development is being allowed under those plans, undermining efforts to help grouse. Such opposition could be bolstered by the report from the US Geological Survey released on 21 November.

Fuel Fix | 13 November 2014

Feds Declare Gunnison Sage-Grouse ‘Threatened’

The Obama administration on 12 November formally declared the Gunnison Sage-Grouse a “threatened” species, in effect ruling that years of efforts to protect the showy bird and its Colorado habitat were not sufficient to ensure its long-term survival.

The ruling by the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service is likely to set off a legal battle in Colorado, where Gov. John Hickenlooper threatened to file a lawsuit challenging the decision.

It will limit oil and gas development in the 1.7 million acres of Colorado and southeast Utah areas where the chicken-like Gunnison Sage-Grouse lives and struts.

Fuel Fix | 10 November 2014

In Final Hours, Coloradans Work To Avert ‘Threatened’ Ruling on Bird

Just a few days are left until the Obama administration decides whether the Gunnison Sage-Grouse should be classified as a threatened species, a ruling that could thwart energy development in the bird’s Colorado and Utah habitat.

But county and state officials working to head off a listing say time may have already run out.

“We have every indication that they are going to list it,” said John Swartout, a senior policy adviser in the office of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “We are having some last-minute conversations and seeing if we can avert that.”

Hickenlooper has joined officials in Gunnison County, Colorado, and other stakeholders in making personal pleas to the Interior Department and its Fish and Wildlife Service, asking the agency to effectively reward conservation efforts, land-use regulations, and some $50 million in investments intended to protect the grouse.

Those voluntary efforts are now protecting 90% of the private land in the core habitat for the Gunnison Sage-Grouse, which is especially sensitive to disturbances during its showy, strutting courtship rituals each spring.

That core population in and around Gunnison County is now stabilized and climbing in number, after a devastating drought a decade ago. But the “satellite population,” scattered in small numbers across 10 Colorado counties and one in Utah, is more vulnerable and not faring as well.

State and local officials are pleading with the Fish and Wildlife Service to decide an Endangered Species Act listing is “not warranted” for the bird, ahead of a court-mandated Nov. 12 deadline.

“We feel we have met the threshold as far as conservation efforts and things we are doing: programs in place and land-use regulations, and, especially, the involvement we have with private property owners,” said Gunnison County Commissioner Jonathan Houck. “It’s been a challenge to have Fish and Wildlife fully comprehend all of the programs we’re doing at the local level.”

Reuters | 10 November 2014

UK Environment Agency Likely To Grant Permits for Shale Firm

Britain’s Environment Agency said on 10 November that it would likely approve environmental permits for shale gas firm Cuadrilla Resources at a site in northwest England.

The approval, which is pending a second-stage consultation during which the public can comment on the agency’s draft permits, would be a next step for Cuadrilla to press ahead with a four-well exploration program at Preston New Road in Lancashire.

Britain is betting on the development of shale gas extraction to counter a decline in energy resources from the North Sea, but concerns about the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing have caused local protests.

Subsea World News | 6 November 2014

Scientists Study Where Deepwater Horizon Oil Went

Nearly 5 years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion led to the release of roughly 200 million gal of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are still working to answer the question: Where did all the oil go?

During the 2010 crisis, some of the oil gushing from the seafloor appeared as slicks on the sea surface, while roughly half of it, scientists estimate, remained trapped in deep ocean plumes of mixed oil and gas, one of which was more than a mile wide, hundreds of feet high, and extended for miles southwest of the broken riser pipe at the damaged Macondo well. Many natural processes—like evaporation and biodegradation—and human actions—like the use of dispersants and flaring of gas at the surface—affected the chemical makeup and fate of the oil, adding to the complexity of accounting for it.

A recently published paper has provided a piece of the puzzle, analyzing the oil that ended up on the seafloor, establishing its footprint, rough quantity, and likely deposition mechanism, and pegging its source to that deep ocean plume of mixed oil and gas.

Shale Energy Insider | 6 November 2014

Study Warns of Additional Environmental and Health Risks From Hydraulic Fracturing

A new report published by the journal Environmental Health argues that hydraulic fracturing is emitting toxic chemicals that poisons nearby underground and surface water, as well as having an adverse effect on the atmosphere.

Part of the research conducted by the study included the use of air samples taken by residents nearby drilling sites. They were taken at times of heavy drilling or when residents had complained of nausea, headaches or dizziness.

Across Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming, volunteers collected a total of 35 air samples at 11 sites, which were supplemented by lead author David Carpenter’s researchers, who gathered an additional 41 samples.

SFGate | 22 October 2014

Cleanup Urged for Heat-Trapping Methane Gas

The United States cannot afford to wait until it understands the amount of methane escaping from oil and gas wells, pipelines, and infrastructure before plugging those leaks, officials said.

“We know enough to act,” Judi Greenwald, a deputy director for climate, environment, and efficiency at the Energy Department, said during a panel discussion. “There are uncertainties about methane emissions … but we know enough to take some action.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interior Department are considering a combination of regulations and voluntary programs that would rein in methane, a powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas that is the primary component of natural gas. After releasing a series of white papers earlier this year, the EPA is set to decide its next steps this fall.

Under a 2012 EPA rule, companies also have until 1 January, to begin using “green completion” equipment that can pare volatile organic compounds and methane emissions when natural gas wells are hydraulically fractured. The EPA could seek to expand that requirement to oil wells and could impose new requirements for compressors, pneumatic valves, and other equipment.

Regulation shouldn’t wait until all the data is known, California Air Resources Board chairman Mary Nichols suggested during the discussion at the Center for American Progress.

“When you’ve got as much methane out there as we do, from so many and diverse sources,” it could take too long to do the detailed analysis that might normally accompany Clean Air Act regulation, she said. “It’s easier to control it than to fully characterize it.”

Oil and gas industry leaders stress they are working to quell methane emissions voluntarily and have argued any new rules are premature until the US gets a better handle on the extent of the problem.

Shale Energy Insider | 22 October 2014

Video Discusses Environmental Implications of Hydraulic Fracturing

The combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that has occurred in the last decade has environmental implications, and learning more about those effects and what policies need to be made to control them is important, says University of Michigan Assistant Professor Brian Ellis.

Ellis, who is studying the potential water quality impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing activities, explains the process of hydraulic fracturing and why it motivates his research.

National Science Foundation | 21 October 2014

Geochemical Tracers Help Identify Fracturing Fluid in Environment

Scientists have developed new geochemical tracers that can identify hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids that have been spilled or released into the environment.

The tracers have been field-tested at a spill site in West Virginia and downstream from an oil and gas brine wastewater treatment plant in Pennsylvania.

“By characterizing the isotopic and geochemical fingerprints of enriched boron and lithium in flowback water from hydraulic fracturing, we can now track the presence of frack fluids in the environment and distinguish them from wastewater coming from other sources, including conventional oil and gas wells,” said Duke University geochemist Avner Vengosh, who co-led the research.

“This gives us new forensic tools to detect if frack fluids are escaping into our water supply and what risks, if any, they might pose.”

Using the tracers, scientists can determine where frack fluid contamination has—or has not—been released to the environment and, ultimately, help identify ways to improve how shale gas wastewater is treated and disposed of.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Their study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, is the first to report on the development of the boron and lithium tracers.

Fuel Fix | 7 October 2014

Endangered Species in Eagle Ford Shale Gets Help From UT Group

Few people have heard of the spot-tailed earless lizard, once common in south Texas.

But the rare lizard’s likely habitat includes large swaths of the Eagle Ford shale, the prolific oil and gas field south of San Antonio. A 2010 petition by an environmental group to list the spot-tailed earless lizard as a federally protected species is hanging in limbo.

“Basically, the proverbial you-know-what is going to hit the fan if they propose to list it,” said Melinda Taylor, executive director of the Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration and Environmental Law, at The University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

US Fish and Wildlife in 2011 said there was substantial information that listing the spot-tailed earless lizard as endangered or threatened may be warranted. It is the first step in what can be a years-long process to list a species–but it does not mean that the lizard ultimately will receive any kind of listing to try to ensure its survival.

Meanwhile, the Eagle Ford is rapidly approaching the 1 million B/D mark for crude oil production.

Public News Service | 7 October 2014

Report Says Stopping Natural Gas Leaks Can Help Economy as Well as Climate

Regulating natural gas emissions would help the environment and also bolster New Mexico’s economy. That’s the conclusion of a new report entitled “The Emerging U.S. Methane Mitigation Industry” from the Environmental Defense Fund.

Stopping natural gas leaks is good for the economy and the environment, according to a new Environmental Defense Fund report. Photo courtesy US Department of Energy.

Jon Goldstein is senior energy policy manager at EDF. He says research shows leaking methane, the main component in natural gas, is costing oil and gas companies an estimated USD 1.8 billion per year in lost product. He says there are a growing number of companies in New Mexico that are in the business of stopping the leaks.

“We might be talking about special kinds of valves and other fittings that reduce emissions,” Goldstein said. “We might be talking about infrared cameras that are used to go out and detect leaks so folks can fix them. Things like that.”

Goldstein adds that New Mexico ranks among the top 10 states for oil and gas production and has a growing methane gas mitigation industry.

The Associated Press | 2 October 2014

Exxon Hydraulic Fracturing Report Responds to Shareholders

ExxonMobil issued a report on 30 September that acknowledges the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing but also defends the practice as being better for the environment than other types of energy production and generation.

Under pressure from the corporate responsibility group As You Sow, as well as New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and other shareholders, Exxon agreed earlier this year to reveal more about how it manages the risks involved with the drilling technique.

The report acknowledges that drilling wells and producing oil and gas from shale formations and other so-called unconventional sources do carry risks, including the possibility of water contamination and leaks of natural gas into the atmosphere that contribute to climate change.