Ocean News and Technology | 10 April 2015

Study Finds a Natural Oil Dispersion Mechanism for Deep Water

A first-of-its-kind study observed how oil droplets are formed and measured their size under high pressure. They further simulated how the atomized oil spewing from the Macondo well reached the ocean’s surface during the Deepwater Horizon accident. The findings from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and University of Western Australia research team suggest that the physical properties in deep water create a natural dispersion mechanism for oil droplets that generates a similar effect to the application of chemical dispersants at oil spill source.

“These results support our initial modeling work that the use of toxic dispersants at depth should not be a systematic oil spill response,” said Claire Paris, associate professor of Ocean Sciences at the UM Rosenstiel School. “It could very well be unnecessary in some cases.”

The Associated Press | 10 April 2015

Five Years After BP Spill, Industry Touts Ability To Respond

An oil consortium says an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico today can be cleaned up far faster than 5 years ago when BP’s Macondo well blew out 45 miles off the coast of Louisiana, spawning the nation’s worst offshore oil spill.

It took BP and the industry’s best containment technology 87 days to contain the deepwater blowout. The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and spill on 20 April 2010 resulted in as much as 172 million gallons of oil getting into the Gulf of Mexico.

On 7 April, the Marine Well Containment Company, a Houston-based consortium developing high-tech containment technology, presented its latest pieces of equipment at a business luncheon at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans.

In January, the consortium announced the arrival of an expanded containment system. The containment system is made up of deep-sea capping stacks that fit over an out-of-control well and funnel spewing oil and gas through “umbilicals” to oil tankers waiting at the sea surface. The plan also includes deep-sea dispersant devices, “top hats,” and other containment devices.

Bloomberg | 2 April 2015

Shale Crews Being Watched From Above as Emissions Levels Tested

There is an eye in the sky above US shale oil and natural gas basins. Well, more like a nose.

Through April, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be flying above the basins from North Dakota to Texas collecting air samples to document if drilling is adding to ground-level ozone, said Joost de Gouw, a research scientist at NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Lab in Boulder, Colorado.

“We do that with a focus on air quality,” said de Gouw, also a senior scientist and fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “What are the reactive trace gases that are being released? How much methane is released from these activities?”

Breathing ozone triggers a variety of health problems for children, the elderly, and anyone with lung diseases such as asthma. It is produced when sunlight mixes with nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Gasoline vapors, emissions from factories and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of the pollutants that lead to ozone creation, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Read the full story here.

Borden Ladner Gervais via Mondaq | 31 March 2015

Alberta Introduces Two New Environmental Management Frameworks for Oil Sands Operations

The Government of Alberta has introduced two new significant environmental frameworks proposed under Alberta’s Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP)—the Tailings Management Framework for the Mineable Athabasca Oil Sands and the Surface Water Quantity Management Framework for the Lower Athabasca River.

The Tailings Management Framework

The Tailings Management Framework is intended to provide direction for the management of new and legacy fluid tailings, during and following the cessation of mining operations in the Lower Athabasca Region. Its stated objective is as follows:

Fluid tailings accumulation is minimized by ensuring that fluid tailings are treated and reclaimed progressively during the life of a project and all fluid tailings associated with a project are ready-to-reclaim within 10 years of the end of mine life of that project. The objective will be achieved while balancing environmental, social, and economic needs.

According to Alberta, the Framework will contribute to the achievement of the outcomes and objectives in LARP, including the objective to increase the speed of reclamation and enhance the reduction of tailings ponds. The two drivers identified as having guided the Framework’s creation, are the need to build on provincial environmental protection and management policies and principles and the need to adopt a cumulative effects management system in the Region.

The Surface Water Quantity Management Framework

The Surface Water Quantity Management Framework is an update to the Water Management Framework: Instream Flow Needs and Water Management System for the Lower Athabasca River, which was implemented by Alberta Environment and Fisheries and Oceans Canada in 2007. The Surface Water Quantity Management Framework is said to complement the three existing environmental management frameworks under LARP (the Air Quality Management Framework, Surface Water Quality Management Framework, and Groundwater Management Framework).


Ocean E-News | 26 March 2015

BP Report Shows Gulf Environment Returning to Prespill Conditions

In the 5 years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, scientific data and studies are showing that the Gulf environment is returning to its baseline condition, according to a report BP released. The Gulf of Mexico Environmental Recovery and Restoration report also indicates that effects from the spill largely occurred in the spring and summer of 2010.

The report is based on scientific studies that government agencies, academic institutions, BP, and others conducted as part of the spill response, the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, or through independent research. While individual studies are helpful, they tell only part of the story. This report, a wide-ranging compilation of reputable studies by respected researchers, provides a broader overview of the state of the Gulf environment.

“The data and studies summarized in this report are encouraging and provide evidence that the most dire predictions made after the spill did not come to pass,” said Laura Folse, BP’s executive vice president for response and environmental restoration. “The Gulf is showing strong signs of environmental recovery, primarily due to its natural resilience and the unprecedented response and cleanup efforts.”

JPT | 23 March 2015

Pressure To Reduce Methane Emissions Highlights the Need for Better Monitoring

The US government is working on regulations to reduce oil industry methane emissions by more than 40% over the next 10 years.

A floating emissions collection device is systemically moved around a produced-water pond in Utah by researchers from Utah State University measuring emissions rising from the water. Photo courtesy of Howard Shorthill, Utah State.

Meanwhile, it is making a large investment in research seeking reliable ways to measure how much of the methane in the atmosphere is from natural gas production vs. other sources of the gas that can lead to global warming and smog.

“We can tell how dirty the air is. What is really tricky is ‘where it is coming from.’ ” said Susan Stuver, a senior research scientist at the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, who was among the first people to begin gathering emissions data in unconventional gas plays.

There are a growing number of estimates published, and they vary wildly, with studies estimating natural gas losses ranging from 1% to 7% of US production, according to a summary in a US Department of Energy research grant.

The methods, the math, and the politics of methane measurement are complex and changing. What once was an economic question facing the natural gas business—how to cut losses of a valuable product—has become a contentious environmental issue of how to reduce emissions of a gas that is able to warm the Earth far more than carbon dioxide?

Fuel Fix | 16 March 2014

After Oil Spills, Feds Order Valve Replacements on 6,000 Tank Cars

The Federal Railroad Administration on 13 March ordered the owners of an estimated 6,000 tank cars to replace unapproved valves that have caused oil to leak from trains hauling crude.

According to the agency, “multiple investigations” turned up examples of the unauthorized valve’s use, including in an 11 January incident in which oil spilled from 16 crude-carrying cars while they traveled from Tioga, North Dakota, to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington.

Tank car owners now have 60 days to replace the 3-in. threaded ball valve in question and have been given 90 days to replace some 37,000 identically designed 1- and 2-in. valves, which have not been blamed for any leaks. All of the valves were manufactured and sold by McKenzie Valve and Machining—and none were approved by the Association of American Railroads Tank Car Committee, as required by federal law.

Eco Magazine | 3 March 2015

Study Examines Repurposing Platforms for CCS

A recent study undertaken by Green Alliance concludes that the decommissioning of oil platforms could offer some promising opportunities for carbon capture and storage (CCS). The January 2015 release concludes that the optimal treatment of old oil rig infrastructure would be not to remove it all but rather to repurpose it as part of a new CCS network. This would not only lower the cost of decommissioning but would also facilitate the deployment of CCS and render it more cost effective.

The study points out that the viability of pipeline reuse for CCS infrastructure is being demonstrated by a joint effort between Shell and SSE at Peterhead. In this project, up to 10 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions could be captured from the Peterhead Power Station in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and then transported by pipeline and stored, approximately 100 km offshore in the depleted Goldeneye gas reservoir at a depth of more than 2 km under the floor of the North Sea.

In order to deliver this effectively, careful planning of the links between potential sources and sinks, and collaboration across the oil and gas sector around the shared use of infrastructure would be required.

Bloomberg | 27 February 2015

Alberta in Talks on Climate Policy With Eye to Keystone Approval

Alberta is in talks with other Canadian provinces and US states to cooperate on climate and environmental policies as it seeks to improve the reputation of its oil sands and win approval of TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline.

The oil-rich province is in discussions with governments in North America and overseas, as well as institutions, to coordinate policies aimed at lowering carbon emissions, Premier Jim Prentice said. The government plans to provide details on a revamped climate policy throughout the remainder of the year, he said.

“In part where Alberta’s future policies will go will incorporate Alberta as a constructive partner nationally, continentally and internationally,” he said, declining to identify governments participating in talks.

Meetings with the premiers of Quebec and Ontario in April and June, as well as at United Nations climate talks later in the year in Paris, will help shape Alberta’s “long-term approach” to climate policy, he said.

USGS | 25 February 2015

Coping With Earthquakes Induced by Fluid Injection

A paper published 19 February in Science provides a case for increasing transparency and data collection to enable strategies for mitigating the effects of human-induced earthquakes caused by wastewater injection associated with oil and gas production in the United States. The paper, the result of a series of workshops led by scientists at the US Geological Survey in collaboration with the University of Colorado, Oklahoma Geological Survey, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, suggests that it is possible to reduce the hazard of induced seismicity through management of injection activities.

CIRES | 19 February 2015

Methane Leaks From Three Large US Natural Gas Fields in Line With Federal Estimates

Tens of thousands of pounds of methane leak per hour from equipment in three major natural gas basins that span Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania, according to airborne measurements published by a team of scientists led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But the overall leak rate from those basins is only about 1% of gas production there—lower than leak rates measured in other gas fields and in line with federal estimates.

“We are beginning to get a sense of regional variation in methane emissions from natural gas production,” said lead author Jeff Peischl, a scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in Boulder, Colorado. “The gas fields we studied for this paper produced about 20% of the natural gas in the United States and more than half the shale gas, so this moves us closer to understanding methane leaks from US natural gas production.”

Peischl works at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. His team’s analysis appears online today in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, published by the American Geophysical Union.

In the new paper, he and his colleagues used sophisticated measurements taken from a NOAA research aircraft to determine methane emissions from the Haynesville, Fayetteville, and Marcellus regions during five flights in the summer of 2013.

Overall, they found that methane leaking from gas equipment totaled about 1.1% of gas produced in those regions; estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, based on average equipment leak rates, put that figure at about 1%.

“It is good news that our atmospheric measurements are close to the EPA estimates,” said coauthor Joost de Gouw, a CIRES scientist who also works at NOAA. “If leak rates are too high, natural gas does not compare favorably with one alternative, coal, in terms of climate impact. Where leak rates are low, the comparison favors natural gas.”

The Associated Press | 17 February 2015

Judge Dismisses Louisiana Flood Board’s Suit Against Energy Companies

A lawsuit filed in 2013 by a Louisiana flood board that sought damages—potentially in the billions of dollars—from scores of oil, gas, and pipeline companies over erosion of the state’s fragile coast was thrown out on 13 February by a federal judge.

US District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown dismissed the suit in a complex 49-page ruling rejecting the board’s contention that, under federal laws, the energy companies had a duty to protect the flood board from the effects of coastal erosion.

“We don’t think this is going to be the last word on it,” said James Swanson, a lawyer for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. He said attorneys for the flood authority were studying the ruling and that they had not yet decided on their next move. He added that the case would likely wind up at the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

The flood authority, which oversees New Orleans-area levee boards, had claimed in the lawsuit that coastal drilling and dredging activities contributed to the loss of coastal wetlands that form a natural hurricane protection buffer for New Orleans.