Environment
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.

JPT | 2 December 2014

Aging Offshore Fields Demand New Thinking

When he started his firm focused on removing obsolete offshore structures, Brian Twomey chose the name: Reverse Engineering Services. The thinking was that taking out a structure is like building it, but in reverse.

Based on a career spent planning, managing, analyzing, and teaching classes on decommissioning, the managing director of Reverse Engineering has concluded: “It is the wrong name.”

“I started out thinking decommissioning is the reverse of installation; it is not,” Twomey said. “The first thing to know about decommissioning is there is a lot of uncertainty and unknowns that have developed over time due to wear and tear, changes, the environment, and loading all this other stuff” on the structure.

Those complications can lead to costly jobs and budget overruns when plugging wells and removing platforms. That adds to the pain of an obligation with no return on the investment.

“You are not really making money taking the platform out. You have made the money already,” said Jon Khachaturian, president and chief executive officer of Versabar. “We constantly hear: ‘We are going to take it out but we are going to do one more thing.’ ”

Oil and Gas Facilities | 2 December 2014

A Comparison of Methods for Boron Removal From Flowback and Produced Waters

While storage and logistics are critical elements of the viability of water reuse, if the water chemistry is not fit for gel fracturing formulations, it will not matter how much is stored in centrally located impoundments.

Millions of barrels of flowback, produced, and fresh water or brackish waters are available daily for any number of uses, but only a select few exploration and production companies have taken the necessary steps to implement a quality program that works effectively. In addition, the commitment to instituting such a program is far more simplistic than most producers believe it to be. What is required, however, is a desire to manage for the long term, not just for a period of drought or in a reactionary way because of government regulatory rhetoric.

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.