Environment
Offshore Engineer | 14 December 2016

Up Against Ospar

In Europe, and in other regions, the guiding principle for the rules governing oil and gas infrastructure decommissioning have been a return to a clean seabed. These principles are being challenged.

Anadarko’s Red Hawk topsides being lifted off. Credit: InterMoor.

Anadarko’s Red Hawk topsides being lifted off. Credit: InterMoor.

As decommissioning work mounts in areas such as the UK North Sea, where huge platforms were built to withstand harsh environments, there is now push back and calls for a different approach to decommissioning (i.e., one where substructures can be left in place).

Indeed, in the Netherlands, one firm, Engie, is taking the bull by the horns. Engie has proposed a rigs-to-reef pilot project in the Dutch North Sea in a move that will test the established rules—that anything weighing under 10,000-tonne has to be removed and anything, regardless of weight, built after 1999 has to be removed.

Engie is part of a growing group that is arguing that more not only could but should be left in place than what is currently the norm. They say that more damage would be caused to the environment by removing the likes of footings and large seafloor-based structures than leaving them in place and that current practices need to be reassessed. This is because these structures have become marine life havens, protected as they are from fishing.

“A funny thing happens. Corals and barnacles form [on structures] and fish start feeding on them, using the platform as a habitat,” said Tom Campbell, partner at law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, based in Houston. “What we have is not rigs-to-reefs; these platforms are the reef,” he told an audience during the EXT:end event in Aberdeen in September.

“The question is,” said Campbell, who played a role in formulating the US government’s response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, “is all decommissioning appropriate?” The usual challenge is whether a clean seabed is appropriate, he said. “But, I put forward a different challenge: The ecological cost of a clean seabed is too high, and we should re-examine all our conclusions based on that hypothesis.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | 14 December 2016

Pennsylvania Environment Officials Unveil Methane Controls for Shale Gas Sites

Pennsylvania environmental officials unveiled plans for new permits aimed at limiting methane and other air pollution from shale gas well sites and compressor stations on 8 December, adding specifics to a methane reduction strategy Gov. Tom Wolf announced as a priority at the start of the year.

A crew works on a gas drilling rig at a well site for shale based natural gas in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. Credit: Keith Srakocic/Associated Press.

A crew works on a gas drilling rig at a well site for shale based natural gas in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. Credit: Keith Srakocic/Associated Press.

The new draft general permits mark the state’s first attempt to regulate methane emissions from natural gas well site operations directly rather than through a permit exemption process or by curbing emissions of the potent greenhouse gas as a side benefit of other pollution controls.

Minimizing methane emissions across the natural gas production system is seen as a way to ensure that the climate benefits of burning gas for electricity instead of coal are realized.

The Department of Environmental Protection permits will incorporate the most recent federal standards for reducing oil and gas well site emissions, but they will also build on those, agency officials told an air quality advisory board.

For example, the state plans to require leak detection and repair surveys to be performed quarterly at well sites rather than the federal standard of semiannually, at least until an operator can show that 2% or less of its wellsite components are leaking.

US Environmental Protection Agency | 14 December 2016

EPA Releases Final Report on Effects From Hydraulic Fracturing Activities on Drinking Water

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing its scientific report on the effects from hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources, which provides states and others the scientific foundation to better protect drinking water resources in areas where hydraulic fracturing is occurring or being considered. The report, done at the request of Congress, provides scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can affect drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances. As part of the report, EPA identified conditions under which effects from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe. The report also identifies uncertainties and data gaps. These uncertainties and data gaps limited EPA’s ability to fully assess effects to drinking water resources both locally and nationally. These final conclusions are based upon review of more than 1,200 cited scientific sources; feedback from an independent peer review conducted by EPA’s Science Advisory Board; input from engaged stakeholders; and new research conducted as part of the study.

“The value of high quality science has never been more important in helping to guide decisions around our nation’s fragile water resources. EPA’s assessment provides the scientific foundation for local decision makers, industry, and communities that are looking to protect public health and drinking water resources and make more informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing activities,” said Thomas A. Burke, EPA’s science adviser and deputy assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “This assessment is the most complete compilation to date of national scientific data on the relationship of drinking water resources and hydraulic fracturing.”

The report is organized around activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle and their potential to affect drinking water resources. The stages include: (1) acquiring water to be used for hydraulic fracturing (Water Acquisition); (2) mixing the water with chemical additives to make hydraulic fracturing fluids (Chemical Mixing); (3) injecting hydraulic fracturing fluids into the production well to create and grow fractures in the targeted production zone (Well Injection); (4) collecting the wastewater that returns through the well after injection (Produced Water Handling); and (5) managing the wastewater through disposal or reuse methods (Wastewater Disposal and Reuse).

EPA identified cases of effects on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. Effects cited in the report generally occurred near hydraulically fractured oil and gas production wells and ranged in severity from temporary changes in water quality to contamination that made private drinking water wells unusable.

As part of the report, the EPA identified certain conditions under which effects from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe, including

  • Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources
  • Spills during the management of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources
  • Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources
  • Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources
  • Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water resources
  • Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in contamination of groundwater resources
  • The report provides valuable information about potential vulnerabilities to drinking water resources, but was not designed to be a list of documented impacts.

Data gaps and uncertainties limited the EPA’s ability to fully assess the potential effects on drinking water resources both locally and nationally. Generally, comprehensive information on the location of activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle is lacking because it is not collected, not publicly available, or prohibitively difficult to aggregate. In places where known activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle have occurred, data that could be used to characterize hydraulic-fracturing-related chemicals in the environment before, during, and after hydraulic fracturing were scarce. Because of these data gaps and uncertainties, as well as others described in the assessment, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of effects, nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of effects on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.

The EPA’s final assessment benefited from extensive stakeholder engagement with states, tribes, industry, nongovernmental organizations, the scientific community, and the public. This broad engagement helped to ensure that the final assessment report reflects current practices in hydraulic fracturing and uses all data and information available to the agency. This report advances the science. The understanding of the potential effects from hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources will continue to improve over time as new information becomes available.

Find the report here.

Politico | 21 November 2016

Obama Cuts Arctic Waters From 5-Year Drilling Plan

President Barack Obama is throwing up roadblocks to Donald Trump’s pledges to expand offshore drilling, with a new plan that will declare parts of the Arctic off limits.

Administration officials made no mention of whether President Barack Obama will seek to prevent Donald Trump from putting those areas back on the table. Credit: Getty.

Obama’s Interior Department on 18 November issued its final 5-year road map for offshore oil and gas drilling that took two areas in the Arctic out of contention, dealing a win to environmental groups and obstructing a path to new offshore drilling in the area. The plan is vulnerable to being unraveled by Trump, who has pledged to expand oil and gas production, but it would take at least a few years for him to do so.

The blueprint by the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management schedules 10 regionwide leases in the Gulf of Mexico from 2017 through 2022 and another in Alaska’s Cook Inlet in 2021. But the agency dropped its March draft proposal to offer leases in the Arctic’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 2020 and 2022, pleasing environmental groups.

“The plan focuses lease sales in the best places—those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict, and established infrastructure—and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. “Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward.”

Stanford | 18 November 2016

New Maps Reveal Safe Locations for Wastewater Injection

Stanford University geophysicists have compiled the most detailed maps yet of the geologic forces controlling the locations, types, and magnitudes of earthquakes in Texas and Oklahoma.

New stress maps of Texas and Oklahoma have black lines indicating stress orientation. Blue-green colors indicate regions of extension in the crust, while yellow-orange areas are indicative of crustal compression. Credit: Jens-Erik Lund Snee.

New stress maps of Texas and Oklahoma have black lines indicating stress orientation. Blue-green colors indicate regions of extension in the crust, while yellow-orange areas are indicative of crustal compression. Credit: Jens-Erik Lund Snee.

These new “stress maps,” published in the journals Geophysical Research Letters and Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, provide insight into the nature of the faults associated with recent temblors, many of which appear to have been triggered by the injection of wastewater deep underground.

“These maps help explain why injection-induced earthquakes have occurred in some areas and provide a basis for making quantitative predictions about the potential for seismic activity resulting from fluid injection,” said study co-author Mark Zoback, the Benjamin M. Page Professor of Geophysics in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences.

To create these stress maps, Zoback and his graduate students Jens-Erik Lund Snee and Richard Alt interpreted data from different parts of Texas and Oklahoma donated by oil and gas companies. “Companies routinely collect data that can be used for assessing the state of stress in the Earth as part of their normal oil and gas operations,” Lund Snee said.

When combined with information about the faults present in a given area, the scientists were able to assess which faults are likely to be problematic and why. In the areas where induced earthquakes have occurred in Texas and Oklahoma, the Stanford scientists show that a relatively small increase of pore pressure—the pressure of fluids within the fractures and cavities of rocks—would have been sufficient to trigger slip.

Reuters | 18 November 2016

Obama Administration Completes Rule To Curb Methane From Federal Oil, Gas Production

The US Interior Department finalized rules on 15 November aimed at preventing methane leaks from oil and gas production on federal and tribal lands, one of the last major Obama administration rules aimed at fighting climate change.

US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. Credit: Reuters/Chris Wattie.

US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. Credit: Reuters/Chris Wattie.

Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said the rule, updating 30-year-old regulations that govern flaring, venting, and natural gas leaks from oil and gas production, could avoid wasting up to 41 Bcf of natural gas per year.

“This rule to prevent waste of our nation’s natural gas supplies is good government, plain and simple,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

“We are proving that we can cut harmful methane emissions that contribute to climate change while putting in place standards that make good economic sense for the nation.”

Environmental groups praised the rule, but industry and some western states called it unnecessary. One industry group sued BLM. The incoming Trump administration has promised to cut what it calls superfluous restrictions on energy production.

StateImpact Pennsylvania | 16 November 2017

Pennsylvania Has More Abandoned Wells Than Expected, Says New Study

Pennsylvania has more abandoned oil and gas wells than previously thought, and some are leaking large amounts of climate-damaging methane gas, according to a new study published 14 November in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

An abandoned well in McKean County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Scott Detroit/StateImpact Pennsylvania.

An abandoned well in McKean County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Scott Detroit/StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Researchers from Princeton and Stanford combined field observations with old books, literature, historical documents, and modern databases to estimate there are likely between 470,000 to 750,000 abandoned wells, up from prior estimates of 300,000 to 500,000. As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, only a small fraction of these wells are tracked by the state.

The study found these abandoned wells collectively account for 5 to 8% of Pennsylvania’s annual man-made greenhouse gas emissions. As other scientists have found while looking at methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, the biggest problems often come from a subset of “super-emitters.”

“A few wells, just 10%, contribute about 90% of all the emissions we measured,” said study co-author Rob Jackson of Stanford University.

The Associated Press | 16 November 2016

Wyoming Study: Fracturing Likely Not Behind Well Water Problem

A final state report released on 10 November on foul-smelling well water in Wyoming contradicts an EPA report from 5 years ago that ignited a national backlash when it suggested hydraulic fracturing was the cause of the contamination.

Bacteria were more likely to blame for the problem in Pavillion than the oil and gas drilling process, officials with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality said after a 2-year study that was hailed by fracturing advocates.

“Today’s announcement from the Wyoming DEQ doesn’t just close the case on Pavillion, it’s a knockout blow for activists who have tried to use Pavillion as a key talking point for their ban-fracking agenda,” said Randy Hildreth, Colorado director of Energy in Depth, an advocacy arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said the federal agency was reviewing the state report and declined further comment.

Reuters | 8 November 2016

Canada To Spend USD 1.1 Billion To Boost Oil Spill Response

Canada’s Liberal government on 7 November vowed to toughen its response to oil spills at sea, a move that some critics say will increase local tanker traffic and hurt the environment.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a CAD 1.5 billion national Oceans Protection Plan while speaking at HMCS Discovery in Vancouver, B.C., Canada on 7 November 2016. Credit: Reuters/Ben Nelms.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a CAD 1.5 billion national Oceans Protection Plan while speaking at HMCS Discovery in Vancouver, B.C., Canada on 7 November 2016. Credit: Reuters/Ben Nelms.

As part of a marine safety plan to protect oceans, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa would spend CAD 1.5 billion (USD 1.1 billion) over 5 years on better response measures and research into how to clean up oil spills.

Trudeau said the plan “will make Canada a world leader in marine safety.”

However, environmentalists said the announcement was a sign Ottawa will approve the hotly contested Trans Mountain pipeline expansion next month, which will run from Alberta’s oil sands to the Pacific Coast.

Trudeau declined to comment on whether he will approve the pipeline.

Reuters | 8 November 2016

Canada Oil Spill Program Hit by Cheap Crude, Lacks Applicants

The 2-year oil price crash has hurt a Canadian government program that funds research on oil spill cleanups, resulting in fewer applicants than expected, a senior federal official said.

Absorbent foam is used to soak up crude oil in the La Chaudiere River in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on 10 July 2013. Credit: Reuters/Christinne Muschi.

Absorbent foam is used to soak up crude oil in the La Chaudiere River in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on 10 July 2013. Credit: Reuters/Christinne Muschi.

As a result, the government will expand the scope of its Oil Spill Response Science Program and open a second call for applications this month, Marc Wickham, Natural Resources Canada’s director of energy science and technology programs, said in an interview.

The program funds research that improves cleanup methods for marine oil spills. Those eligible include production, pipeline, and shipping companies in the energy sector.

Offshore Energy Today | 8 November 2016

Ten Oil Majors To Invest USD 1 Billion To “Help Tackle Climate Challenge”

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), made up of chief executive officers (CEOs) of 10 major oil and gas companies, on 4 November announced an investment of USD 1 billion over the next 10 years to develop and accelerate the commercial deployment of innovative low-emissions technologies.

The CEO-led organization was designed to catalyze practical action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions following discussions during the 2014 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting and was officially launched at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York in September 2014.

It is currently made up of 10 oil and gas companies—BP, Shell, CNPC, Eni, Pemex, Reliance Industries, Repsol, Saudi Aramco, Statoil, and Total—that together represent one-fifth of the world’s oil and gas production.

OGCI Climate Investments’s aim is to deploy successfully developed new technologies among member companies and beyond. It will also identify ways to cut the energy intensity of both transport and industry. Working in partnership with like-minded initiatives across all stakeholder groups and sectors, the OGCI CI believes its emission reduction impact can be multiplied across industries.

In a joint statement, the heads of the 10 oil and gas companies that comprise the OGCI said, “The creation of OGCI Climate Investments shows our collective determination to deliver technology on a large-scale that will create a step change to help tackle the climate challenge. We are personally committed to ensuring that by working with others our companies play a key role in reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases, while still providing the energy the world needs.”

Bloomberg | 8 November 2016

Oklahoma Agency Plans To Shut Disposal Wells After Earthquake

Oklahoma’s oil and gas regulator plans to shut some disposal wells and reduce the volume of others as its initial response to the earthquake on 6 November near the oil hub of Cushing.

“Other plans are being developed that will encompass larger areas” and more details are coming tomorrow, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission said on 7 November in an emailed advisory.

The commission said the plan covered 700 square miles. It didn’t say how many wells were affected. When a quake of similar magnitude hit the state in September, the agency ordered 37 wells shut in a 500-square-mile area. The commission in 2015 established a “volume reduction area” covering 11,000 square miles, or about one-sixth of the state.