Environment
The Associated Press | 29 March 2016

Feds: Risk of 2016 Quake Increases, Especially in Oklahoma

The ground east of the Rockies is far more likely to shake this year with damaging though not deadly earthquakes, federal seismologists report in a new risk map for 2016. Much of that is a man-made byproduct of drilling for energy.

Parts of Oklahoma now match northern California for the nation’s most shake prone. One north-central Oklahoma region has a 1 in 8 chance of a damaging quake in 2016, with other parts closer to 1 in 20.

Overall, 7 million people live in areas where the risk has dramatically jumped for earthquakes caused by disposal of wastewater, a byproduct of drilling for oil and gas. That is mostly concentrated in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, and Arkansas.

Natural earthquake risk also increased around the New Madrid fault in Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Illinois.

In a first-of-its-kind effort, the US Geological Survey on 28 March released a map for risks of damaging quakes in the current year. Past efforts looked at 50-year risks and didn’t include man-made quakes. The new risks are mostly based on increases in quakes felt last year.

Rigzone | 28 March 2016

GE, Statoil: Sustainability Important in Low Oil Price Environment

In January 2015, GE Oil & Gas and Statoil  launched a joint technology-focused program in order to try to accelerate the development of more environmentally sustainable energy equipment.

As part of this collaborative effort, the two companies created the global Open Innovation Challenge, which invites innovators from around the world to submit concept designs with the potential to reduce the environmental impact of energy production. So far there have been two OICs, with the first competition dedicated to addressing the use of sand in unconventional operations and the second focusing on the reduction of water usage in onshore oil and gas processes.

When GE and Statoil initially announced their joint venture, the price of Brent was considerably higher than it is today. However, despite the commodity price drop, neither company has been discouraged in its pursuit of cleaner technology for the oil and gas industry.

GE Oil & Gas Chief Executive Officer Lorenzo Simonelli said the alliance will continue regardless of the price of Brent crude.

“We actually started it … outside of the price of oil. We’re really focused on the innovation of technologies that allow us to make the industry sustainable and minimize the environmental footprint and that continues irrespective of the price of oil,” he said.

“We’re going to need oil and gas in the future, we know that the energy demand is increasing. We’ve got a role to play, but it has to be sustainable.”

ECO Magazine | 28 March 2016

No Atlantic Drilling in BOEM’s 5-Year Plan

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Abigail Ross Hopper announced the proposal for the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017–22.

The proposed program does not schedule any lease sales in the Mid- and South Atlantic Program Areas. However, the proposed program released 15 March 2016 evaluates 13 potential lease sales in six planning areas—10 potential sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three potential sales off the coast of Alaska.

Before the program is finalized and before any lease sales occur, the department will consider another round of public input on the proposal and its accompanying Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The current proposal was informed by more than 1 million comments, 23 public meetings, and extensive outreach with members of the public, nonprofit organizations, industry, elected officials, and other interested parties across the country.

“This is a balanced proposal that protects sensitive resources and supports safe and responsible development of the nation’s domestic energy resources to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said Secretary Jewell. “The proposal focuses potential lease sales in areas with the highest resource potential, greatest industry interest, and established infrastructure. At the same time, the proposal removes other areas from consideration for leasing, and seeks input on measures to further reduce potential impacts to the environment, coastal communities, and competing ocean and coastal uses, such as subsistence activities by Alaska Natives.”

Rigzone | 17 March 2016

EPA: US Climate Plan Also Addressing Agricultural Methane Emissions

The Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan will target reducing methane emissions not only from the oil and gas industry but also from agriculture as well.

Results of a recently published study indicate that farming, not hydraulic fracturing, was behind the rise of methane emissions since 2007.

Agricultural activity in the United States accounts for about one-quarter of total US methane emissions, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said. According to the EPA’s website, methane emissions from natural gas and petroleum systems account for 29% of US methane emissions.

Reducing methane is a key component of the president’s Climate Action Plan, and biogas recovery, including anaerobic digestion for livestock manure, plays an important role in the plan’s strategy to reduce methane emissions, the EPA said.

Rigzone | 17 March 2016

Produced Water Treatment Benefits California Oil, Gas Operations

A technology originally developed to harvest algae for biofuels production has proven effective in treating produced water from oil and gas wells in California’s Central Valley. OriginClear, founded in 2007 as OriginOil, has expanded the applications of its technology to include produced water and wastewater treatment for refineries.

Between 2010 and2011, the company started testing its technology’s potential for treating flowback water from unconventional oil and gas operations. Since then, the technology’s application has been expanded for produced water and wastewater treatment for refineries, JL Kindler, CEO of OriginClear technologies, said.

EPA | 10 March 2016

Column: EPA Taking Steps To Cut Methane Emissions From Existing Oil and Gas Sources

McCarthy

Today (10 March), as part of the Obama Administration’s ongoing commitment to act on climate, President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to new actions to reduce methane pollution from the oil and natural gas sector, the world’s largest industrial source of methane. These actions build on the historic agreement that nearly 200 nations made in Paris last December to combat climate change and ensure a more stable environment for future generations.

Methane is upward of 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet and is a key constituent of natural gas. By tackling methane emissions, we can unlock an amazing opportunity to spur US action to protect our environment but also unleash opportunities to think creatively and lead the world in developing a clean energy economy.

That’s why the Administration has been moving quickly and working hard to reduce emissions of this potent greenhouse gas. In 2012, we set emissions standards that cut pollution, including methane, emitted by fractured and refractured natural gas wells. This past summer, we proposed standards to directly address methane from new and modified sources in the oil and gas sector. Each of these steps moves the United States toward our goal of cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025.

The Washington Times | 15 March 2016

Study Undermines EPA, Blames Rising Methane Levels on Farming, not Hydraulic Fracturing

A newly released international study finds that farming, not hydraulic fracturing, is the likely culprit behind rising global methane levels, undermining the Obama administration’s crackdown on methane from oil and gas production in the name of climate change.

Photo by Jessica Hill/Associated Press

The research published 11 March in the journal Science came a day after President Obama unveiled a pact aimed at cutting methane emissions from oil and gas producers by 40 to 45% from 2012 levels by 2025.

Hinrich Schaefer, an atmospheric scientist at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in Wellington, New Zealand, and the lead author of the research team, called the results “a real surprise.”

“That was a real surprise, because, at that time, the US started fracking and we also know that the economy in Asia picked up again, and coal mining increased. However, that is not reflected in the atmosphere,” Schaefer told the website Phys.org.

He said agricultural practices are the likely reason for the spike of methane in the atmosphere since 2007, not fossil fuels as many have assumed.

“Our data indicate that the source of the increase was methane produced by bacteria, of which the most likely sources are natural, such as wetlands or agricultural, for example from rice paddies or livestock,” Schaefer said.

 

The New York Times | 8 March 2016

Marine Life Thrives in Unlikely Place: Offshore Oil Rigs

Eight miles off the coast of Long Beach, Calif., the oil rig Eureka, which has stood here for 40 years, is a study in contrasts. From a distance, it looks like just another offshore platform, an artifact of the modern industrial landscape.

Joe Platko/The New York Times

But beneath the waves, the Eureka and other rigs like it in the area are home to a vast and thriving community of sea life that some scientists say is one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet.

“They are more productive than coral reefs, more productive than estuaries,” said Milton Love, a professor of marine biology at the University of California Santa Barbara. “It just turns out by chance that platforms have a lot of animals that are growing really quickly.”

Scientists and divers have been aware of the abundant life here for years, but a 2014 paper that Love co-wrote, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirmed what many experts had already suspected: that most of the life was actually created at the rig rather than having come from other parts of the ocean and settled around the massive concrete pylons.

“For some of these major economic species like the rockfishes, there’s no question that there are more of them out in Southern California waters because the platform is there,” Love said.

 

The Free Press Standard | 7 March 2016

University of Cincinnati Study Finds No Effect on Groundwater From Hydraulic Fracturing

A 3-year study by the University of Cincinnati in Carroll, Ohio, and surrounding counties determined hydraulic fracturing has had no effect on groundwater in the Utica shale region.

A 3-year study by the University of Cincinnati in Carroll and surrounding counties determined hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells like the Rex Energy well shown above, has not contaminated ground water.

Amy Townsend-Small, the lead researcher for the University of Cincinnati Department of Geology, released the results during a meeting of the Carroll County Concerned Citizens in Carrollton, Ohio, on 4 February.

During her presentation, which was videotaped and is available for viewing on YouTube, Townsend-Small stated, “We haven’t seen anything to show that wells have been contaminated by fracking.”

When asked at that meeting if the university planned to publicize the results, Townsend-Small, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati Department of Geology and the leader of the study, said there were no plans to do so.

 

Bloomberg | 1 March 2016

Polar Bear Critical Habitat in Alaska Restored by Appeals Court

A 187,000 sq mile swath of land and sea in Alaska was restored by a federal appeals court as a “critical habitat” for polar bears, a boon for the endangered species and yet another blow to Alaska’s tumbling petroleum industry.

Monday’s ruling overturned a lower court decision siding with Alaska state officials and energy industry groups that argued that protections for the bears ordered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service 6 years ago were too arbitrary be enforced.

The decision by the US Court of Appeals in San Francisco will affect all proposed greenfield and expansion projects along the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Alaska and east of Russia. Existing projects are likely to be grandfathered in, said Brendan Cummings, a lawyer for the Center of Biological Diversity in Joshua Tree, California, representing environmental groups involved in the case.

“This is a critical decision for polar bears and the issue of climate change,” Cummings said. “But it’s not an absolute prohibition on activity and, in my experience and as a practical matter, the US Fish and Wildlife Service rarely sees a project they don’t like.”

Reuters | 25 February 2016

EPA Chief: US Energy Industry Emits More Methane Than Thought

The US oil and natural gas industry emits more methane than previously thought, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy said on 24 February as she defended efforts to curb its output.

The regulator last year said it would try to reduce emissions of methane, which is far more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide, by requiring new oil and gas processing and transmission facilities to find and repair methane leaks and for producers to capture or limit methane from shale wells.

As part of that rules process, the EPA collected new data on how much methane is emitted by oil drilling, transportation, and refining.

“Methane emissions from existing sources in the oil and gas sector are substantially higher than we previously understood,” McCarthy told IHS CERAWeek, the annual gathering of global oil executives, though she did not quantify the difference.

Environmental Protection | 24 February 2016

EPA Announces 2017–2019 Enforcement Initiatives

The US Environmental Protection Agency announced its seven national enforcement initiatives for fiscal years 2017–2019 on 18 February, saying they focus on national pollution challenges where EPA’s enforcement efforts will protect public health. Starting on 1 October 2016, the EPA will retain four of its current national enforcement initiatives, add two new ones, and expand one to include a new area of focus. The seven are

  • Keeping industrial pollutants out of the nation’s waters (new initiative)
  • Reducing risks of accidental releases at industrial and chemical facilities (new)
  • Cutting hazardous air pollutants (expanded)
  • Reducing air pollution from the largest sources
  • Ensuring energy extraction activities comply with environmental laws
  • Keeping raw sewage and contaminated stormwater out of the nation’s waters
  • Preventing animal waste from contaminating surface and groundwater

The EPA reported that it is expanding its initiative focused on reducing toxic air pollution by adding large storage tanks and hazardous waste facilities to its work to address public health threats.

“National enforcement initiatives help us focus time and resources on national pollution problems that impact Americans locally,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance at EPA. “These initiatives were chosen so we can better protect communities, especially those overburdened by pollution, and were informed by extensive analysis and public input. We remain committed to a vigorous enforcement program that reduces pollution and protects public health.”