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Environment

Proposed US Energy Rules Would Shield Whales

Source: ABC News | 28 February 2014

Proposed federal environmental guidelines released 27 February would protect endangered North Atlantic right whales from offshore seismic testing aimed at sizing up oil and gas reserves from Delaware to Florida.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management outlined that measure and other protections intended to shield marine life if the government allows the testing, which could be a first step in the development of an offshore oil industry in Atlantic waters.

The Obama administration delayed the scheduled leasing of offshore tracts in Virginia and other Atlantic states following the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The leasing was to begin in 2011 but was pushed back to 2017.

The seismic testing is intended to apply new technology to areas that have not been studied in more than 3 decades, and then with equipment that had limited capabilities to detect energy resources hidden below the ocean floor. The energy industry has said the new, more sophisticated seismic surveys would not only give a better picture of oil and gas deposits but also eliminate areas that should not be drilled.

While the industry estimates that oil and natural gas development in the outer continental shelf would create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next couple decades, ocean protection groups contend marine life shouldn’t be exposed to a blast zone up 50 miles off the coast. They have pushed for a delay in the environmental guidelines until a key study is completed.

“By failing to consider relevant science, the Obama administration’s decision could be a death sentence for many marine mammals,” said Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for US Oceans at Oceana.

In a statement, BOEM Director Tommy P. Beaudreau said the department is committed to “balancing the need for understanding offshore energy resources with the protection of the human and marine environment using the best available science as the basis of this environmental review.”

Oil Spill Technology Research Continues for Arctic Exploration

Source: Rigzone | 19 February 2014

As the global oil and gas industry turns its attention to Arctic exploration and production, research by industry and academia continues into Arctic oil spill technology.

The Arctic Oil Spill Response Joint Industry Program (JIP) last week released the findings of its research efforts into in-situ burning (ISB) in ice-affected waters and the fate of dispersed oil under ice.

Over the past several decades, a significant body of scientific research and testing has been carried out of techniques and technologies available for oil spill response in icy conditions, including the Arctic. The Arctic Oil Spill Response JIP was launched in January 2012 to further build on existing research, increase understanding of potential impacts of oil on the Arctic marine environment, and improve the technologies and methodologies for oil spill response.

The JIP includes six technical working groups focused on dispersants, environmental effects, trajectory modeling, remote sensing, mechanical recovery, and in-situ burning. Each group is headed by a subject matter expert experienced in oil spill response research and development. The JIP also has a field research group to examine opportunities for the JIP to participate in field releases or research to gather scientific and engineering data needed to validate certain response technologies and strategies

Former Obama Official: Hydraulic Fracturing Has Never Been an Environmental Problem

Source: Fuel Fix | 11 February 2014

Former US Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar said on 5 February that he believes hydraulic fracturing is safe and the energy industry should work to convince the public that it doesn’t pose a safety threat.

Salazar spoke in Houston at the North American Prospect Expo, a 3-day conference where landowners from around the globe look to make deals with oil, gas, and pipeline companies.

“From my opinion and from what I’ve seen …, I believe hydraulic fracking is, in fact, safe,” Salazar said.

Salazar said the oil and gas industry must work to educate the public of the technology and “make sure people are not scared.”

USGS Model Could Guide Offshore Oil Spill Cleanup

Source: UPI | 10 February 2014

A computer modeling system could help guide cleanup efforts for oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said.

The USGS said it developed a system that can track the movement of sand and oil particles found in the Gulf of Mexico since the 2010 accident, which killed 11 rig workers and, BP estimated, caused approximately 2.5 million bbl of oil to be spilled into the gulf for nearly 3 months.

The USGS model examined the migration of what it called surface residual balls, a mix of oil and sand, during normal wave conditions and those experienced during tropical storms.

Study Says Marcellus Shale Wells Produce Less Waste Water Than Conventional Wells

Source: Platts | 28 January 2014

While natural gas production in the Marcellus shale has increased the volumes of wastewater produced in the region nearly sixfold, shale wells in the play produce about one-third the waste water per unit of gas recovered than do conventional wells, a new study has found.

“Despite producing less waste water per unit of gas, developing the Marcellus shale has increased the total waste water generated in the region by [about] 570% since 2004, overwhelming current wastewater disposal infrastructure capacity,” the study released this week by researchers at Kent State and Duke universities said.

The study, which the authors said is the first comprehensive characterization of wastewater volumes generated by Marcellus wells, analyzed data from 2,189 active Marcellus wells in Pennsylvania and compared gas production and wastewater volumes with conventional wells.

EPA Vows Action on Fracturing Rules, Policy

Source: National Journal | 22 January 2014

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking to assure environmentalists that it hasn’t dropped the ball on oversight of hydraulic fracturing.

A letter from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to the Natural Resources Defense Council vows the agency will take steps on several fronts to boost the environmental safety of hydraulic fracturing, the oil-and-gas extraction method that is enabling US energy production to soar.

“The EPA is moving forward on several initiatives to provide regulatory clarity with respect to existing laws and using existing authorities where appropriate to enhance public health and environmental safeguards,” McCarthy writes in a 10 January letter.

New Guidelines Seek To Curb Risks to Whales From Seismic Tests

Source: Rigzone | 22 January 2014

Safeguards on seismic testing for an oil and gas project in the Pacific have shielded endangered whales from harm and are a model for managing the deafening blasts, the world’s largest environmental group said on 20 January.

Conservationists working with Sakhalin Energy Investment in Russia from 2006–12 said the tiny population of endangered Western Grey whales had risen approximately 3% a year to 140, despite seismic testing near their feeding grounds.

Seismic testing bounces sound waves into the seabed to seek deposits of oil and gas. It can harm whales and other marine life with blasts of 230 to 250 decibels, so loud that they can sometimes be detected 4000 km away.

“This work helps to set a standard,” said Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of the global marine and polar program at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “Once you have raised the bar … other companies will look bad if they are not deploying it.”

The IUCN includes governments, scientists, and conservation organizations and is the world’s biggest environmental alliance.

Laboratory Study Cuts Fracturing Waste’s Radioactivity

Source: Rigzone | 15 January 2015

Researchers believe they have found an unlikely way to decrease the radioactivity of some hydraulic fracturing wastewater: Mix it with the hazardous drainage from mining operations.

The wastewater is created when some of the chemical-laced water used to fracture thick underground rocks flows back out of the wellbore. The water is tainted with chemicals, toxins, and, in some parts of the country—such as Pennsylvania—naturally occurring radioactive materials, such as radium. Research has shown that even wastewater that had been treated with conventional means was changing the chemistry of rivers when discharged into waterways.

In 2011, Pennsylvania barred drillers from taking the wastewater to treatment facilities, forcing them to haul the fluid waste to be disposed in underground injection wells in Ohio. This, along with a lack of freshwater in other parts of the country needed to drill new wells, has scientists and the industry looking for creative solutions.

The discovery by Duke University researchers would allow oil and gas drillers to combine flowback waters from the fracturing process with acid drainage from mining or any other salty water. The solids that form, which include radioactive materials, are removed and dumped at a hazardous waste landfill, and then the now-cleaner water is used to drill a new well, said Avner Vengosh, the Duke professor who oversaw the project, which included scientists from Dartmouth College and the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

Column: AP Drilling Story Underscores Safety of Shale Development

Source: Energy in Depth | 9 January 2014

Recently, the Associated Press published a story with an eye-catching headline—“Some States Confirm Water Pollution From Drilling.” But anti-hydraulic fracturing activists hoping for proof of their claims that shale development is “inherently dangerous” better not pop the champagne corks just yet. A deeper dive into the details reveals a much more nuanced picture. In fact, the data obtained by AP actually tell us a lot more about the historic safety of shale development than any sort of uncontrollable risk.

Some States Confirm Water Pollution From Drilling

Source: The Associated Press | 9 January 2014

In at least four states that have nurtured the nation’s energy boom, hundreds of complaints have been made about well-water contamination from oil or gas drilling, and pollution was confirmed in a number of them, according to a review that casts doubt on industry suggestions that such problems rarely happen.

The Associated Press requested data on drilling-related complaints in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Texas and found major differences in how the states report such problems. Texas provided the most detail, while the other states provided only general outlines. And while the confirmed problems represent only a tiny portion of the thousands of oil and gas wells drilled each year in the US, the lack of detail in some state reports could help fuel public confusion and mistrust.

The AP found that Pennsylvania received 398 complaints in 2013 alleging that oil or natural gas drilling polluted or otherwise affected private water wells, compared with 499 in 2012. The Pennsylvania complaints can include allegations of short-term diminished water flow, as well as pollution from stray gas or other substances. More than 100 cases of pollution were confirmed over the past 5 years.

Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Drillers To Honor Act 13 Buffers

Source: Bloomberg | 9 January 2014

Pennsylvania’s oil and gas drillers have agreed to a request from Gov. Tom Corbett that they comply with buffer zones intended to protect waterways and wetlands even though the state Supreme Court struck down those environmental rules last month.

The voluntary agreement will keep deep-shale drilling pads and conventional oil and gas wellbores at least 100 ft from those environmentally sensitive areas. The buffer zones were included in oil and gas reforms, known as Act 13, that were passed in 2012.