Shale Energy Insider | 22 September 2014

Range Resources Fined USD 4 Million for Leaking Flowback That Affected Soil and Water

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has signed a wide-ranging consent order and agreement with Range Resources for violations at six of its Washington County impoundments.

The consent order requires the company to pay a USD 4.15 million fine—the largest against an oil and gas operator in the state’s shale drilling era—close five impoundments, and upgrade two other impoundments to meet heightened “next generation” standards currently under development at DEP.

“This action reaffirms the administration’s unwavering commitment to protecting Pennsylvania’s soil and water resources,” DEP Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo said. “This landmark consent order establishes a new, higher benchmark for companies to meet when designing future impoundments, which is an environmental win for Pennsylvania.”

US Department of Energy | 18 September 2014

Study Finds No Drinking Water Pollution From Fracturing

The US Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has released a technical report on the results of a limited field study that monitored a hydraulic fracturing operation in Greene County, Pennsylvania, for upward fracture growth out of the target zone and upward gas and fluid migration. Results indicate that, under the conditions of this study, for this specific location, fracture growth ceased more than 5,000 ft below drinking water aquifers and there was no detectable upward migration of gas or fluids from the hydraulically fractured Marcellus shale.

The research study, led by NETL’s Office of Research and Development, used natural and man-made tracers to look for evidence that fluid and gas in this area from the hydraulically fractured Marcellus shale had migrated at least 3,800 ft upward to a gas producing zone of Upper De-vonian/Lower Mississippian age shale, midway between the Marcellus shale and the surface. Microseismic monitoring from geophone arrays placed in two vertical Marcellus shale gas wells were used to determine the upper extent of induced fractures.

Phys.org | 15 September 2014

Study Assesses Environmental Costs and Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing

A strange thing happened on the way to dealing with climate change: Advances in hydraulic fracturing put trillions of dollars worth of previously unreachable oil and natural gas within humanity’s grasp.

The environmental costs—and benefits—from hydraulic fracturing, which requires blasting huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals deep into underground rock formations, are the subject of new research that synthesizes 165 academic studies and government databases. The survey covers not only greenhouse gas impacts but also hydraulic fracturing’s influence on local air pollution, earthquakes, and, especially, supplies of clean water.

The authors are seven environmental scientists who underscore the real consequences of policy decisions on people who live near the wells, as well as some important remaining questions.

“Society is certain to extract more gas and oil due to fracking,” said Stanford environmental scientist Robert Jackson, who led the new study. “The key is to reduce the environmental costs as much as possible, while making the most of the environmental benefits.”

Hydraulic fracturing’s consumption of water is rising quickly at a time when much of the United States is suffering from drought, but extracting natural gas with hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling compares well with conventional energy sources, the study finds. Hydraulic fracturing requires more water than conventional gas drilling; but, when natural gas is used in place of coal or nuclear fuel to generate electricity, it saves water. From mining to generation, coal power consumes more than twice the water per megawatt-hour generated than unconventional gas does.

Unconventional drilling’s water demand can be better or worse than alternative energy sources, the study finds. Photovoltaic solar and wind power use almost no water and emit no greenhouse gas, but cheap, abundant natural gas may limit their deployment as new sources of electricity. On the other hand, gas from hydraulic fracturing requires less than a hundredth the water of corn ethanol per unit of energy.

Rigzone | 8 September 2014

Norway-Focused Firms Join Oil Spill Project

Trondheim-based marine surveillance technology firm Aptomar announced that several Norway-focused oil and gas firms, as well as the Norwegian Coastal Administration, have teamed up with it in an industry project to improve oil spill detection and management.

Aptomar said that Eni Norge, Statoil, GDF Suez E&P Norge, and OMV Norge are all participating in the project to significantly strengthen technology functionality and communication infrastructure for offshore oil spill detection and management systems.

“Traditionally, the oil spill segment has been somewhat product focused. This joint industry project takes a broader system approach to oil spill detection and management. The objective is to improve safety while reducing costs through improving technologies and utilizing offshore assets more effectively,” Aptomar CEO Lars Solberg said in a company statement

Fuel Fix | 25 August 2014

Conservationists: Collaboration Can Protect Grouse and Drilling

The best way to protect the greater sage grouse while keeping drill bits turning in Western states is for environmentalists and oil companies to work together on safeguarding the bird’s habitat, conservationists said.

Ten conservation groups made the plea for “collaboration and compromise” in a letter to the Western Energy Alliance, an industry group that recently launched an advertising campaign blaming environmental activists and lawyers for exploiting “bad science and the courts to stop responsible energy development.”

That is an “overgeneralization” of conservation-minded groups working to keep the bird off the endangered species list, said the letter-signers, including the Western Values Project, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, and The Wilderness Society.

“Groups like ours are working diligently throughout the West, imploring all stakeholders to come to the table to achieve a workable, range-wide plan that protects existing rights, allows for needed new development, promotes other compatible uses and commits to conservation protections sufficient to avoid the necessity of the greater sage grouse being federally listed,” they wrote. “We feel strongly that the best path forward to achieving this goal is to genuinely collaborate with interested stakeholders, even those we might not always agree with.”

Journal of Petroleum Technology | 14 August 2014

Validation of a Biological-Monitoring Design in Highly Diverse Tropical Forests

Biological-monitoring programs provide data for decision making and to ensure the protection of resources. However, in tropical ecosystems that are home to most of the planet’s biodiversity, these programs need to be improved in design and implementation. Block 57 in the Amazon rain forest of southern Peru is an ecosystem with limited information. A systematic biological-monitoring program was designed on the basis of a gradient of disturbance caused by clearing an area.


Fig. 1—Block 57 in Cusco, Peru, on the southern Amazon plain.

Oil exploration in Block 57 involves clearing small forest areas during installation of drilling platforms. One of the consequences of this clearing is an increase of edges and the presence of habitats with early successional stages. An edge is defined as a transition zone between two adjacent ecosystems or vegetation communities. In these edges, deleterious effects may be generated.

A biological-monitoring plan has been designed as part of an environmental-management plan to understand the effect that the changes in the habitat associated with the exploratory wells within the primary cloud forests have on the abundance, richness, and diversity of the local flora and fauna.

Study Area

Fig. 2—Panoramic view of the Kinteroni BX platform.

Block 57 is on the southern Amazon plain and the first foothills of the eastern slope of the Peruvian tropical Andes Mountains (Fig. 1). This is one of the areas with the greatest precipitation and highest temperatures and relative humidity in Peru. At several locations, total annual precipitation exceeds 3000 mm. Relative humidity exceeds 90% in the mornings, and temperatures commonly exceed 37°C in the afternoons during the dry season when the sky is clear.

The study area is in the buffer zones of the Otishi National Park and the Ashaninka and Machiguenga Community Reserves. It is predominantly hilly, with mountainous areas in the western sector and terrace areas near the Tambo and Urubamba rivers. Floral composition in the study area is very heterogeneous with different densities. Palm trees are another representative and varied group in these forests, sometimes rising above the canopy.

The work design includes three platforms in Block 57—Kinteroni BX, Mapi LX, and Mashira GX. This study includes the results of monitoring conducted on the surroundings of the Kinteroni BX exploration platform, also known as Sagari (Fig. 2).

Shale Energy Insider | 6 August 2014

US Agency Withdraws Effort To Protect Wildflowers From Shale Development

Conservation groups condemned a decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw a proposal to give Endangered Species Act protection to two imperiled wildflowers in Utah and Colorado.

The service proposed to protect the White River and Graham’s beardtongues and some of their most important habitat in August 2013 based on imminent threats from energy development, including oil shale. At the time, scientists estimated that 94% of the plants’ populations could be hurt or lost because of energy development.

The agency justified today’s withdrawal based on a hastily drafted, strictly voluntary “conservation agreement” with the Bureau of Land Management and several state and county agencies.

The groups are likely to challenge the decision.

Penn State University | 30 July 2014

Study Finds Effects of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Coral Wider Than Predicted

A new discovery of two additional coral communities showing signs of damage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill expands the impact footprint of the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The discovery was made by a team led by Charles Fisher, professor of biology at Penn State University. A paper describing this work and additional impacts of human activity on corals in the Gulf of Mexico will be published during the last week of July 2014 in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A colony of coral from a newly discovered coral community with attached anemones and brittle stars from a site 6 km from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site. The patchy brown growth on the normally gold-colored coral is not found on healthy colonies and is diagnostic for corals affected by the spill. Credit: Fisher laboratory, Penn State University.

“The footprint of the impact of the spill on coral communities is both deeper and wider than previous data indicated,” said Fisher. “This study very clearly shows that multiple coral communities, up to 22 km from the spill site and at depths over 1800 m, were impacted by the spill.”

The oil from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico has largely dissipated, so other clues now are needed to identify marine species affected by the spill. Fisher’s team used the current conditions at a coral community known to have been affected by the spill in 2010 as a model “fingerprint” for gauging the spill’s effect in newly discovered coral communities.

Reuters | 28 July 2014

WWF Study Says Arctic Oil Well Blowout Could Spread More Than 1000 km

Oil from a spill or oil well blowout in the Arctic waters of Canada’s Beaufort Sea could easily become trapped in sea ice and potentially spread more than 1000 km to the west coast of Alaska, a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) study showed.

The WWF contracted RPS Applied Science Associates to model 22 different oil spill scenarios and map the spread of the oil; potential effect on the water and shoreline; and interaction with sea ice, wildlife, and the surrounding ecology.

Types of oil spills analyzed included shipping spills, shallow-water blowouts, and deepwater blowouts.


Rigzone | 28 July 2014

Study Shows Oil and Gas Industry Working To Protect Greater Sage-Grouse

Oil and gas companies are investing time, capital, and human resources to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse, a large, ground-dwelling bird that lives primarily in western North America and that some wildlife protection groups say is threatened by oil and gas activity, a recent study has found.

The study, conducted by Broomfield, Colorado-based SWCA Environmental Consultants for the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), a Denver-based oil and gas industry group, found that oil and gas companies implement an average of more than six conversation measures per project to protect the bird in public land operations.

In its analysis of 103 project National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents, SWCA found that companies implemented 773 conservation measures, or an average of 6.5 per project, across 68,404 sq miles of habitat in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. Noting that the industry has made significant efforts for many years to avoid, minimize, mitigate, and reduce the effect of oil and gas activity on the sage grouse and its habitat, the report documents specific conservation measures commit to in the Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service NEPA decisions on oil and gas project approvals.

Cornell University | 14 July 2014

Researchers Say Hydraulic Fracturing Flowback Could Pollute Groundwater With Heavy Metals

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.

Shale Energy Insider | 14 July 2014

Protection Sought for Rare Wildflowers Threatened by Oil Shale Development

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.