Environment
The Associated Press | 15 January 2016

Regulators Order Reduced Injection Well Volumes After Quakes

Operators of 27 oil and natural gas wastewater disposal wells in northwest Oklahoma must reduce volume due to the swarm of moderate earthquakes in the past week, state regulators said 13 January.

The implementation of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s plan calls for changes in the operation of wells about 100 miles northwest of Oklahoma City near Fairview. The commission said the total reduction in wastewater injection volume will be 54,859 B/D—or approximately 2.3 million gal—a drop of approximately 18%.

 

SNL | 14 January 2016

Focus on Climate To Shape Federal Permitting for Gas Project Developers

Developers of gas infrastructure projects and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are under increasing pressure to consider how projects will affect the Earth’s climate, and industry observers expect this to have lasting changes to the permitting process.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House have placed their weight behind environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and many others that have called attention to the emissions of methane and carbon dioxide from the production, transportation, and use of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.

The EPA has prodded FERC to make changes in its review process to provide more detail in the calculation of the climate impacts of individual natural gas projects such as pipelines and liquefied natural gas export terminals, including evaluating the emissions of greenhouse gases from production and consumption of gas upstream and downstream from the projects. The EPA has cited draft climate guidance from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which would ask federal agencies to do more to evaluate climate impacts.

Casey O’Shea, an energy industry advisor at FTI Consulting focused on gas projects and infrastructure, said the EPA push has combined with other forces to put pressure on FERC.

“I think this is going to be an important issue, not just for the LNG industry, but for infrastructure projects of any kind, writ large,” O’Shea said. “You combine this with the effect the CEQ draft guidance is already having on agencies and the pending outcome of the D.C. Circuit [decision] on Sierra v. Freeport … and you have an interesting confluence of events that could shape the playing field in the US for project developers for a long time to come.”

The Hill | 11 January 2016

EPA Science Advisers Buck Agency on Hydraulic Fracturing Safety

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) went too far with its finding that hydraulic fracturing is safe, the agency’s science advisers say.

The 31-member Science Advisory Board (SAB) is taking issue with the EPA’s conclusion in a landmark report from June that there is no evidence that hydraulic fracturing has “led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

The panel came out with an initial 133-page draft of its report on the study, saying that the main conclusion of the EPA’s findings does not follow the actual data that it precedes.“The SAB finds that this statement does not clearly describe the system(s) of interest (e.g., groundwater, surface water) nor the definitions of ‘systemic,’ ‘widespread,’ or ‘impacts,’ ” the advisory panel said.

“The statement is ambiguous and requires clarification and additional explanation,” the scientists wrote, adding that the main conclusions “are inconsistent with the observations, data, and levels of uncertainty presented and discussed in the body of the draft assessment report.”

The panel’s members have been vocal about criticizing report in recent months. They plan to finalize their findings on 1 February and forward them to EPA leaders for their consideration.

EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said the agency looks forward to receiving their contributions.

“The agency uses robust peer review to ensure the integrity of our scientific products,” she said. “We will use the comments from the SAB, along with the comments from members of the public, to evaluate how to augment and revise the draft assessment.”

Ocean News & Technology | 7 January 2017

Flying Lab To Investigate Southern Ocean’s Appetite for Carbon

A team of scientists including geochemists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego is launching a series of research flights over the remote Southern Ocean in an effort to better understand just how much carbon dioxide the icy waters are able to lock away.

The ORCAS field campaign—led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)—will give scientists a rare look at how oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged between the air and seas surrounding Antarctica. The data they collect will help illuminate the role the Southern Ocean plays in soaking up excess carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by humans.

“If we want to better predict the temperature in 50 years, we have to know how much carbon dioxide the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems are going to take up,” said NCAR scientist Britton Stephens, colead principal investigator for ORCAS and a Scripps alumnus. “Understanding the Southern Ocean’s role is important because ocean circulation there provides a major opportunity for the exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and the vast reservoir of the deep ocean.”

ORCAS—the O2/N2 Ratio and CO2 Airborne Southern Ocean Study—is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs.

Kallanish Energy | 6 January 2016

Oil Firm Resists Call To Shut Down Wells Amid Earthquake Concerns

SandRidge Energy thus far is defying the Oklahoma oil and gas regulator’s request that it shut down six wastewater injection wells, despite allegations the injections may be contributing to earthquakes.

The Oklahoma City, Oklahoma-based independent producer has complied with similar requests in the past, but this time said it will not stop using its wastewater wells.

Research links earthquakes in Oklahoma and other oil- and gas-producing states to disposal wells, although SandRidge and other shale producers have criticized geologic reports.

“We continue to work closely with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission [OCC]. We look forward to addressing this issue through OCC’s established rules and procedures, which will ensure decisions are based on scientific analysis. This is a complex issue, and science must be our guide as we work together to address it,” David Kimmel, SandRidge’s communications director, said.

The commission is working on legal action to modify SandRidge’s permits to force it to abandon the wells, Matt Skinner, a commission spokesman, told the Wall Street Journal.

Midwest Energy News | 29 December 2015

Scientists Seek More Data on Existing Water in Shale Formations

In hydraulic fracturing, what goes down is not always the same as what comes back up.

The process pumps millions of gallons of treated water and sand into deep shale formations so oil and natural gas can flow out.

Along the way, drilling and production also bring up brine from the ground—super-salty liquid with elevated levels of heavy metals, radium, and other chemicals.

If scientists can learn more about that naturally occurring water in the shale formations, drilling companies and well operators might figure out better ways to protect equipment and well integrity. More complete information could also lead to safer disposal options and other actions to protect public health and the environment.

Researchers from government, academia, and industry reported on new study results—looking at shale formations in Ohio and other states—at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in Baltimore in November. But more data are needed to draw definitive conclusions.

Rigzone | 29 December 2015

Column: Paris Agreement Creates More Issues for Oil Industry

A few weeks ago, some 190 countries met in Paris to discuss ideas they believe will prevent global temperature from increasing no more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. It is reminiscent of the age-old story of man trying to manipulate weather.

At the conference, the countries agreed to prepare and maintain plans they supposedly will implement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Each country’s plan, called the Nationally Determined Contributions, will be reviewed every 5 years starting in 2023. The plans are not legally enforceable, and the report casts serious doubt that this plan is sufficient to prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C. Richer countries must provide at least USD 100 billion annually after 2020 to help developing countries reduce emissions.

Even though President Obama supports the agreement, the US Senate must ratify it, and that probably is not going to happen for a variety of reasons. One such reason is the lack of binding commitments from countries such as China and India previously in the Kyoto Protocol. The Senate overwhelmingly defeated ratification of Kyoto some 20 years ago.

The president cannot unilaterally commit the US to binding emission-reducing targets. Any emission targets and timetables must be ratified by the Senate.

Billings Gazette | 22 December 2015

State Investigation Finds Little Evidence Hydraulic Fracturing Contributed to Pollution

A 30-month state investigation costing more than USD 900,000 concludes hydraulic fracturing is unlikely to have contaminated drinking water east of Pavillion, Wyoming, but leaves many other questions unresolved about the role natural gas operations may have played in polluting the water.

Samples taken from 13 water wells in 2014 detected high levels of naturally occurring pollution. Test results showed little evidence of contaminants associated with oil and gas production.

Those findings, released 18 December as part of a report by the state Department of Environmental Quality, come almost 4 years to the day since the US Environmental Protection Agency released a draft report tentatively linking fracking to polluted water outside this tiny central Wyoming community.

Duane Morris via Mondaq | 22 December 2015

EPA Science Advisory Board Criticizes EPA’s Hydraulic Fracturing Study Report

On 4 December 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) made public its first formal comments on the EPA’s June 2015 hydraulic fracturing study report (“Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources,” External Review Draft, EPA/600/R-15/047). Specifically, the SAB issued “Preliminary Summary Responses to Charge Questions from Members of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel.” These preliminary responses are bullet-styled answers to the eight “charge questions” that were posed by EPA to its SAB about the draft hydraulic fracturing study report.

Charge Question 4 asks the SAB the following specific questions, among others: “Are the major findings concerning well injection fully supported by the information and data presented in the assessment? Do these major findings identify the potential impacts to drinking water resources due to this stage of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle? Are the factors affecting the frequency or severity of any impacts described to the extent possible and fully supported?”

In its preliminary responses, the SAB did not pull punches in criticizing EPA’s work: “In general, the conclusions regarding how many wells are leaking or not are not well supported. … It is not clear from the chapter, nor from the summary of the data at the end of the chapter, that either the frequency or the severity have been adequately addressed, nor dismissed as unable to assess such impact or severity. The anecdotal data is not statistical in nature, and therefore conclusions as to severity and true risk are difficult to assess. The reader is left to wonder if anything can happen anywhere at any time.”

The Hill | 14 December 2015

Column: How Hydraulic Fracturing Has Helped the US Lead on Climate

As representatives from around the world work to finalize an agreement in the last few days at the Paris COP21 climate conference, it is important to acknowledge the fact that hydraulic fracturing and the increased use of natural gas has done more to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than any other government scheme or agreement.

Without adopting stringent policies such as the Kyoto treaty or cap-and-trade, the United States, the largest economy in the world, has the distinction of being the only country in the world to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.  That is why, in his address to world leaders at COP21, President Obama was able to tout that the “advances we’ve made have helped drive our economic output to all-time highs and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly 2 decades.”

The evidence of shale gas’ enormous role in reducing emissions is all around us. In fact, the world’s most prominent climate scientists, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has credited the hydraulic fracturing boom and US natural gas for the great progress that has been made on climate change: “A key development since AR4 is the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal-drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply and allowed for a more extensive switching of power and heat production from coal to gas; this is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.”

Ocean News & Technology | 1 December 2015

Shedding Light on Oil Behaviors Before the Next Spill

A comprehensive scientific report released by The Royal Society of Canada (RSC) has concluded that there are still critical research gaps hampering efforts both to assess the environmental impacts of crude oil spills and to effectively remediate them.

The report, “The Behaviour and Environmental Impacts of Crude Oil Released into Aqueous Environments,” is designed to help the oil industry improve spill preparedness and response capabilities. It recommends prioritized research on the chemistry, properties, and spill behavior of various types of crude oil, from oil sands bitumen to diluted bitumen to other unconventional oils.

“There are essentially three challenge areas. We still don’t know enough about tar sand oil, or bitumen, which takes longer to break down due to its high viscosity but doesn’t spread. We also don’t know much about the behavior of oil from a blowout, such as the Deepwater Horizon BP blowout. And we know little of how crude oil behaves in the Arctic Ocean, where there is ice, or how to remediate it,” said Michel Boufadel, director of NJIT’s Center for Natural Resources Development and Protection and a member of the panel of experts charged with evaluating the impact of spills in Northern waters.