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Researchers Say Hydraulic Fracturing Flowback Could Pollute Groundwater With Heavy Metals

Source: Cornell University | 14 July 2014

The chemical makeup of wastewater generated by hydraulic fracturing could cause the release of tiny particles in soils that often strongly bind heavy metals and pollutants, exacerbating the environmental risks during accidental spills, Cornell University researchers have found.

Previous research has shown 10 to 40% of the water and chemical solution mixture injected at high pressure into deep rock strata surges back to the surface during well development.

Scientists at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences studying the environmental effects of this flowback fluid found that the same properties that make it so effective at extracting natural gas from shale can also displace tiny particles that are naturally bound to soil, causing associated pollutants such as heavy metals to leach out.

They described the mechanisms of this release and transport in a paper published in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Protection Sought for Rare Wildflowers Threatened by Oil Shale Development

Source: Shale Energy Insider | 14 July 2014

A broad coalition of conservation groups have sent a letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service urging the agency to grant Endangered Species Act protection to two imperiled wildflowers in Utah and Colorado. The Service proposed to protect the flowers and some of their most important habitat last August.

Unfortunately, in May, bowing to pressure from industrial energy interests, the agency announced it was considering substituting protection under the act with a completely voluntary “conservation agreement” to be executed by the US Bureau of Land Management as well as state and county agencies—the same parties that for many years have worked to block federal protection of the Graham’s and White River beardtongues.

The best available science makes clear that the two wildflowers need the protection of the Endangered Species Act to survive, according to the letter sent to the service this week by the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Rocky Mountain Wild, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Utah Native Plant Society, Western Resource Advocates and Western Watersheds Project.

Researchers Unveil Ways To Reduce Environmental, Health Risks of Shale Gas Extraction

Source: West Virginia University | 30 June 2014

A new study by researchers at West Virginia University offers 10 recommendations for reducing the environmental and human health effects associated with horizontal drilling and the hydraulic fracturing process.

The recommendations address air, noise, and light pollution; water management; and engineering flaws associated with horizontal gas well development and completion.

The study, titled Practical Measures for Reducing the Risk of Environmental Contamination in Shale Energy Production, is co-authored by Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, John Quaranta, assistant professor of environmental engineering at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, and Michael McCawley, interim chair of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences at the School of Public Health.

Gas extraction from shale gas formations has been made possible by recent advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology. In the eastern United States, the Marcellus formation gas play is one of the nation’s major natural gas reserves and, in West Virginia alone, nearly 3,000 horizontal wells have been developed since 2008.

While rapid adoption of these methods has led to a surge in natural gas production in the United States, it has also increased public concern about its environmental and human health effects.

“These facilities are often located within a few hundred meters of homes and farms, many of which are supplied by shallow water wells,”  Ziemkiewicz said. “As a result, many of the public’s concerns focus on air and groundwater pollution as well as light and noise associated with horizontal drilling and well completion. This study was initiated largely due to these public concerns.”

Ziemkiewicz, along with the other researchers, conducted a thorough review of environmental literature relevant to shale gas development and examined more than 15 Marcellus shale facilities in northern West Virginia.

Study: Derelict Oil, Gas Wells May Be Major Methane Emitters

Source: Renew Economy | 23 June 2014

A study of abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania finds that the hundreds of thousands of such wells in the state may be leaking methane, suggesting that abandoned wells across the country could be a bigger source of climate changing greenhouse gases than previously thought.

The study by Mary Kang, a Princeton University doctoral candidate, looked at 19 wells and found that these oft-forgotten wells are leaking various amounts of methane. There are hundreds of thousands of such oil and gas wells, long abandoned and plugged, in Pennsylvania alone, and countless more in oil and gas fields across the country. These wells go mostly unmonitored, and rarely, if ever, are checked for such leaks.

Column: Exporting US Natural Gas Is as Clean as You Think

Source: Breaking Energy | 16 June 2014

Having read the US National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) report “Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Perspective on Exporting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from the United States,” published on 29 May2014, we are puzzled by the skewed conclusions reached by the Washington Post:

“That U.S. exports of LNG to China could end up being worse from a greenhouse gas perspective than if China simply built a new power plant and burned its own coal supplies.” And that “the benefits of cleaner, more efficient combustion of natural gas are largely offset by methane leakage in US production and pipelines and by methane leaks and energy used in the process of liquefying and transporting the LNG.”

A correct reading of the report reaches a completely different conclusion. After accounting for all the methane leakage factors mentioned by the Post, the NETL study clearly demonstrates that life cycle GHG emissions from LNG exports from the US are significantly less than emissions from coal generated electricity in China and in Europe.


AP: US Is Not Inspecting 4 in 10 Higher-Risk Wells

Source: The Associated Press | 16 June 2014

Four in 10 new oil and gas wells near national forests and fragile watersheds or otherwise identified as higher pollution risks escape federal inspection, unchecked by an agency struggling to keep pace with America’s drilling boom, according to an Associated Press review that shows wide state-by-state disparities in safety checks.

Roughly half or more of wells on federal and Indian lands weren’t checked in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, despite potential harm that has led to efforts in some communities to ban new drilling.

Researchers Confirm Leaks From Front Range Oil and Gas Operations

Source: Environmental Research Web | 20 May 2014

During 2 days of intensive airborne measurements, oil and gas operations in Colorado’s Front Range leaked nearly three times as much methane, a greenhouse gas, as predicted based on inventory estimates, and seven times as much benzene, a regulated air toxic. Emissions of other chemicals that contribute to summertime ozone pollution were about twice as high as estimates, according to a new paper, accepted for publication in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.

“These discrepancies are substantial,” said lead author Gabrielle Petron, an atmospheric scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint institute of the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Emission estimates or ‘inventories’ are the primary tool that policy makers and regulators use to evaluate air quality and climate impacts of various sources, including oil and gas sources. If they’re off, it’s important to know.”

The new paper provides independent confirmation of findings from research performed from 2008–2010, also by Petron and her colleagues, on the magnitude of air pollutant emissions from oil and gas activities in northeastern Colorado. In the earlier study, the team used a mobile laboratory—sophisticated chemical detection instruments packed into a car—and an instrumented National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tall tower near Erie, Colorado, to measure atmospheric concentrations of several chemicals downwind of various sources, including oil and gas equipment, landfills, and animal feedlots.

Energy Companies Try New Methods To Address Hydraulic Fracturing Complaints

Source: The Wall Street Journal | 19 May 2014

Thanks to hydraulic fracturing—a technology that uses water, chemicals and sand to unlock oil and gas trapped in dense underground rocks—communities from Pennsylvania to North Dakota are experiencing a boom in energy production. But the industry is facing more intense pressure from communities and environmentalists over its role in increased air and water pollution.

In response, energy companies are pioneering new technologies to curb some of hydraulic fracturing’s worst offenses. They are coming up with ways to cut methane seepage from their equipment, use excess gas that previously had been burned as waste to fuel drilling rigs, and put huge volumes of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing to work on new wells.

The efforts have even won some tentative plaudits from environmentalists. Mark Brownstein, who leads the Environmental Defense Fund’s efforts on natural gas, says companies should be required to do more to keep air and water clean. But he says there are some promising signs that companies are trying new things and revising certain processes, if only because they’ve realized it’s in their best interest.

“With the right technology, the right management practices, and the right regulations properly enforced,” he said, “there are things we can do to reduce the risks that are associated with unconventional oil and gas development.”

CEA Dispels Misconceptions Around Shale’s Environmental Impact

Source: Rigzone | 6 May 2014

Hydraulic fracturing, a technology that has been around for decades, has allowed the oil and gas industry to explore and produce the United States’ shale resources. To date, 26 states have active shale developments or potential shale developments; this development has reversed previous declines in U.S. oil and gas production, positioning the United States as a potential exporter of liquefied natural gas and as a significant oil producer, said David Holt, president of the Houston-based Consumer Energy Alliance.

However, the rise in shale activity has been accompanied by a proliferation of groups giving a one-sided view of hydraulic fracturing as an “untested technology.” While development of US shale resources should move forward, the oil and gas industry needs to ensure that hydraulic fracturing is done safely and in an environmentally responsible manner, Holt said. CEA, a nationwide association that represents interests ranging from academia and organized labor to energy producers, environmental conservation, agricultural, and manufacturing, is redoubling efforts to educate Americans across the United States on how environmentally responsible oil and gas development can benefit local communities in terms of job creation and economic growth.

“If we can play a role in getting that story out to local officials, groups, and the public and get a balanced discussion, we’re doing a service,” Holt said.

National Research Council Suggests Comprehensive Program To Address Arctic Oil Spill Risk

Source: The Hill | 23 April 2014

The United States is not prepared for oil drilling in the increasingly accessible Arctic waters, according to a new report by the National Research Council.

The report, released on 22 April, found that safety resources and oil response tools are not adequate. The absence of personnel, equipment, communication, and overall infrastructure create a “significant liability” in the event of a large oil spill.

With a changing climate, the research council said, additional research must be conducted to determine the best response options that will leave the least adverse impact on the fragile Arctic environment.

Given the wide range of conditions, unlike others U.S. companies and federal response teams have encountered elsewhere, the report states that no single technique may apply in all spill situations.

The US Coast Guard should bulk up its presence and performance in the Arctic, the report states. It added that the Coast Guard should also expand its bilateral agreement with Russia to include Arctic spill scenarios.

Work between Russia and the United States may be on hold given the recent Ukraine crisis, experts say, but work can still be done at the research level.

The 199-page report, which goes on to detail a number of challenges for responding to oil spills in the remote, harsh terrain of the Arctic, was requested and funded by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the American Petroleum Institute, and other federal agencies.

Read the full story here.

Marcellus Shale Coalition President Stresses Importance of Earth Day

Source: Marcellus Shale Coalition | 22 April 2014

In recognition of Earth Day, Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) president Dave Spigelmyer issued the following statement.

“To shale producers and the robust supply chain that supports this development, who are focused squarely on environmental and workforce safety, every day is Earth Day. Our industry goes to work each day, knowing it is crucial that our tightly regulated operations are conducted with the highest respect for our environment and the communities where we are privileged to work.

“The results of this deeply shared commitment are clear. Today, CO2 emissions in the United States are lower than they have been in 20 years because of the increased natural gas production and use. Leveraging industry-leading technologies, all within a rigorous regulatory framework, our member companies’ collective work is enhancing our environment and making a positive difference across Pennsylvania and the country.

“Earth Day is a reminder that we all have a part to play in protecting and enhancing our environment today and for generations to come. For our industry, continuous improvement is a matter of course. Our commitment to responsibly develop these abundant, clean-burning resources has never been stronger.”

EPA Considers Making Oil and Gas Industry Report Under Toxic Release Inventory

Source: EHS Journal | 22 April 2014

In January, 16 environmental advocacy and grassroots organizations filed a supplement to a petition with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to add the oil and gas extraction industry to the list of facilities required to report under the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). Historically, the oil and gas extraction industry was excluded from reporting under TRI. While this industry reports releases under other pollutant release and transfer programs in other countries, such as the Canadian National Pollutant Release Inventory and the European Pollutant Release and Transport Register, it is uncertain whether the EPA will require this industry to report under TRI in the United States. As the EPA considers the petition, there are critical steps the oil and gas industry can take to ensure compliance in the event that the new rule is passed. Specifically, facilities could begin building systems to accurately calculate and track pollutant release and transfer data.