Environment
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.

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.”