Environment Coastal & Offshore | 26 October 2016

Saudi Arabia’s Mysterious Coral Reefs Documented by International Team

Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida and King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, partnered in the initial, 2-week expedition focused on coral abundance, diversity, and stress, along with the abundance and diversity of butterflyfish, sea urchins, seagrasses, and other species that may indicate the health of this critical environment. Preliminary results suggest that some life forms may be healthier or more diverse in southern Gulf of Aqaba waters further from denser human populations. More data and analyses are needed to verify the possible significance of trends, and the researchers aim for another expedition in summer 2017.

A coral reef off the Saudi Arabian coast of the Gulf of Aqaba. Credit: King Abdulaziz University.

A coral reef off the Saudi Arabian coast of the Gulf of Aqaba. Credit: King Abdulaziz University.

The Gulf of Aqaba is bordered by Egypt on the west, Israel and Jordan in the north, and Saudi Arabia on the east. Though relatively small—about 111 miles long (180 kilometers) and 12 miles wide (20 km)—the gulf is one of the northernmost living coral reef ecosystems and estimated to host approximately 210 species of hard corals and 120 species of soft corals. Coastal development and industry are denser in and around the northern-gulf cities of Eilat, Israel, and Aqaba, Jordan, while the Saudi Arabian coast is far less populous and its waters are far less studied.

“I have had the good fortune to lead comprehensive, multiyear studies with colleagues in the northern gulf since the mid-1990s, and the Gulf of Aqaba is known for its beautiful coral reefs. However, the Saudi Arabian portion of this significant body of water is largely unexplored—in particular, comprehensive studies of reef biodiversity and coral health down the length of this coast are lacking,” said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, president and chief executive officer of Mote and leading US partner in the expedition.

“With this expedition, we’ve initiated the first in what we expect to be a continuous time series of multidiscipline data acquisition and analyses spanning from the northern border with Jordan south along the Saudi Arabian coast of the gulf and into the Straits of Tiran. We’re excited to partner with the outstanding marine science faculty and students of King Abdulaziz University to gather these baseline data, which are necessary for understanding and addressing emerging challenges to their coral reefs.”

E&P | 24 October 2016

Taking a Studied Approach to Drilling Waste

What is risk? As Leigh Buchanan and Andrew O’Connell put it in the January 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review, “Risk is an inescapable part of every decision.” Decisions regarding waste management policy in the oil and gas industry are no exception.

Drilling waste containing diesel-range organics and other constituents is being stored at a receiving site. Source: Scott Environmental Services.

Drilling waste containing diesel-range organics and other constituents is being stored at a receiving site. Source: Scott Environmental Services.

Drilling waste is one of the largest waste streams generated from oil and gas exploration and production in the US, with about 200 million bbl of solid drilling waste produced in 2014 alone. Drilling waste consists of the drilled cuttings and unrecovered drilling fluids, including water- and oil-based fluids. The risk management of drilling waste should be an important aspect of every drilling mud program. There are multiple publications that include important guidelines as well as several companies that are able to help assess and manage this risk.

Risk Is a Balance of Probability and Liability
In a mathematical sense, risk is a function of the probability of a poor or undesirable outcome and the associated costs or liability of that outcome. This is directly related to both probability and liability. One must first understand the probability and liability associated with a decision to determine risk. In accounting, this liability is generally referred to as a loss contingency and may or may not be reported on the balance sheet, depending on the probability of a loss event occurring. For an environmental risk assessment, human health and ecological risk assessments should first be calculated. The degree of risk can then be a factor in estimating financial liability.

Bloomberg | 20 October 2016

Consequences of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Ongoing

More regulations and more research are still to come on the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Government and academic specialists at a Capitol Hill briefing on 17 October offered a sampling of what has been done, is being done, and needs to be done as they discussed the consequences of the 2010 disaster.

The Interior Department has issued a series of rules to establish or revamp safety and environmental management systems, drilling safety, production safety, and Arctic-specific drilling requirements.

Upcoming will be a third set of requirements for safety and environmental management systems, according to Ryan Underwood, legislative counsel at Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The bureau also is planning to develop more improvements stemming from equipment failure reporting and equipment lifecycle reliability data, Underwood said. The agency currently is engaging stakeholders in industry to develop a better understanding of why so many bolts fail and how to prevent the failures, he said.

Ocean News & Technology | 19 October 2016

NOAA Awards USD 9.3 Million To Advance Coral Reef Conservation

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation program is awarding more than USD 9.3 million in grants and cooperative agreements to support conservation projects and studies to benefit coral reef ecosystem management in seven US states and territories, the Caribbean, and Micronesia. Recipients will provide nearly USD 6 million in additional support.

Credit: NOAA.

Credit: NOAA.

All projects focus on the three primary threats to coral reefs: global climate change, land-based sources of pollution and unsustainable fishing practices, and highly threatened coral regions and watersheds.

“We’ve funded projects that are going to help coral scientists and managers move the conservation needle by doing the kinds of research and on-the-ground activities that it takes to reduce a diverse set of threats,” said Jennifer Koss, director of the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. “Taking steps today to build and keep coral reefs healthy and resilient directly affects the overall health of the ocean and all of us who depend on it.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram | 17 October 2016

UTA Partners With Apache To Study Water Quality in Permian Basin

Researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) will partner with Apache to study water quality in its recent oil discovery in the Permian Basin.

Tetra fish swarm a swimmer as they are fed in the spring-fed swimming pool at Balmorhea State Park in Toyhvale, Texas, in 2006. Credit: LM Otero/AP.

Tetra fish swarm a swimmer as they are fed in the spring-fed swimming pool at Balmorhea State Park in Toyhvale, Texas, in 2006. Credit: LM Otero/AP.

Kevin Schug, a chemist at UTA who has been involved in other studies involving hydraulic fracturing and pollution, will conduct baseline studies of ground and surface water quality in the geologically complex Alpine High resource play the Houston energy company announced it had discovered last month.

The Alpine High field lies in the southern corner of the Delaware Basin within the coveted Permian Basin. Apache has described it as an “immense” oil and natural gas discovery that has at least 3 billion bbl of oil and 75 Tcf of gas, the company said.

Schug described the partnership as an “exciting opportunity” to work with an industry partner that is drilling in an area with what he called an “extremely sensitive ecology.” The area includes the natural springs which are a crucial source of water agriculture.

“We’re going to be able to work directly with them and do our sampling in concert with their operations,” Schug said. “We’re going to have access to their specific processes and tailor our analysis so we can see if there is a problem and work with them to correct it.”

Apache said the announcement of the UTA partnership demonstrates its interest in wanting to protect the environment and work with the local community.

“We share the community’s concerns for the protection of local water resources and want to be collaborative and transparent as we work diligently to develop the oil and gas resources of the area responsibly,” said Castlen Kennedy, a company spokeswoman.


Washington Examiner | 17 October 2016

Oil Industry Says Seismic Surveys Don’t Kill Dolphins

The oil industry is rejecting suggestions by the federal government that seismic surveying for fossil fuels in the ocean puts dolphins in danger.

Draft rules released by NOAA would require shutting down surveying operations to protect dolphins. Credit: Nick Ut/AP.

Draft rules released by NOAA would require shutting down surveying operations to protect dolphins. Credit: Nick Ut/AP.

In a call with reporters on 13 October, Andy Radford, an offshore senior policy adviser at the American Petroleum Institute, said the use of seismic surveys is safe to marine life and vital to the industry. Seismic surveys are essentially ultrasounds of the Earth to locate fossil fuel reserves beneath the surface.

A new draft rule released by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration included rules that would require shutting down surveying operations for dolphins.

“There is nothing to justify the need for these restrictions,” he said.

Reuters | 11 October 2016

BP Scraps Plan To Drill off Australia’s South Coast

Oil major BP has scrapped plans to drill for oil and gas off the southern coast of Australia because it is too expensive in the face of low oil prices that have prompted heavy cost-cutting across the sector.

A BP logo is seen at a filling station in London on 15 January 2015. Credit: Reuters/Luke MacGregor.

A BP logo is seen in London on 15 January 2015. Credit: Reuters/Luke MacGregor.

The Great Australian Bight project has been condemned by environmental groups who say it would damage whale and sea lion breeding grounds, but BP’s withdrawal can only be viewed as a partial victory for campaigners because the company and a number of others still hold exploration permits for the area.

BP said the project, in which it is partnered by Norway’s Statoil, would not be able to compete for capital investment with other opportunities in its global portfolio for the foreseeable future.

“This decision isn’t a result of a change in our view of the prospectivity of the region, nor of the ongoing regulatory process,” BP’s head of exploration and production in Australia, Claire Fitzpatrick, said in a statement.

“It is an outcome of our strategy and the relative competitiveness of this project in our portfolio.”

BP has cut its investment budget drastically this year to less than USD 17 billion, compared with USD 23 billion two years ago. Exploration activities have been hit particularly hard and a reshuffling of operations led to the departure of its exploration chief four months ago.

UPI | 11 October 2016

Mexico, US Join Hands Offshore

Regional cooperation is a critical component for the shared environmental objectives on energy work in the Gulf of Mexico, US and Mexican officials said.

The Mexican Agency for Safety, Energy, and the Environment and the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management signed a letter of intent to work more closely on environmental matters related to hydrocarbon activity in shared maritime waters.

“It is critical that we work together to ensure the highest levels of environmental protection on both sides of the US/Mexico border, treating our shared Gulf of Mexico as one ecosystem,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement.

In 2012, both sides signed in Mexico a transboundary agreement that eliminated uncertainties on the development of transboundary offshore resources. Nearly 1.5 million acres of the US Outer Continental Shelf were made more accessible for exploration and production activities. The BOEM at the time indicated the area could have up to 172 million bbl of oil and 304 billion Bcf of natural gas.

StateImpact | 6 October 2016

While Global Methane Emissions Are Up, Study Says Fossil Fuels Not the Culprit

A new study from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) puts a new twist on a tricky question about the effect of increased oil and gas production on greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists have detected increased rates of methane emissions globally since 2007. That uptick corresponds to the rapid boom in US shale gas and shale oil production, and some hypothesized that the two could be connected. But it turns out that the correlation may not necessarily be a cause.

NOAA researcher Stefan Schwietzke and pilot Stephen Conley prepare to take off on a research flight to measure methane emissions in Colorado. Credit: Will Von Dauster/NOAA.

NOAA researcher Stefan Schwietzke and pilot Stephen Conley prepare to take off on a research flight to measure methane emissions in Colorado. Credit: Will Von Dauster/NOAA.

The research published on 5 October in the journal Nature found that, although previous methane emissions from fossil fuel production, which includes coal, oil and gas, were significantly underestimated, the overall atmospheric increases in methane is not due to oil and gas production. NOAA, which has been measuring methane in the atmosphere since 1984, says the global increase in methane could be coming from microbial sources including wetlands, rice paddies, and agricultural livestock like cows. Methane is considered more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide because although it breaks down more quickly than carbon dioxide,  it traps heat 28 times more effectively over the course of 100 years.

UPI | 4 October 2016

US Aims To Protect Marine Ecosystems From Offshore Work

The US government said it was offering up new proposals aimed at protecting marine mammals and coastal environments from some offshore energy work.

Federal government proposes new requirements to protect mammalian life offshore from some energy work. Credit: Brett Atkins/Shutterstock.

Federal government proposes new requirements to protect mammalian life offshore from some energy work. Credit: Brett Atkins/Shutterstock.

“The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s recommended approach offers the strongest practicable safeguards in an effort to eliminate or reduce impacts to marine mammals and the environment,” said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Abigail Ross Hopper.

In parts of the Gulf of Mexico, the agency said it was recommending that energy companies conducting seismic surveys to get a better understanding of the reserve potential keep observers on hand to monitor for protected species. Vessels used in the efforts are called on to avoid marine mammals altogether, and companies need to find ways to safely start and shut down activity if and when marine mammals are seen in the area.

Advocacy group Oceana has said the sound from seismic research interferes with normal communication patterns those species use. Contractors tied to seismic research for energy companies said the effects of seismic activity are temporary. If disruptions do occur, the industry said they have little to no significant consequence for marine species.

Erik Milito, the director of exploration and production for the American Petroleum Institute, said the BOEM’s own research found seismic activity had no lasting impact in marine mammals or commercial fishing.

Offshore Energy Today | 29 September 2016

Australia: NOPSEMA Further Delays Decision on BP’s Bight Drilling Plan

Australian oil and gas safety body NOPSEMA on 28 September requested further information from BP Developments Australia relating to the company’s environment plan for drilling of the Stromlo-1 and Whinham-1 exploration wells in the Great Australian Bight off Australia.

Ocean Greatwhite semisubmersible rig.

Ocean Greatwhite semisubmersible rig.

After BP’s first plan for drilling four exploration wells in the Great Australian Bight was rejected by the safety body, the oil company submitted a second environment plan in August this year.

The wells proposed in the second submission are two of the four wells that were originally proposed in the first Great Australian Bight Exploration Drilling Program environment plan. The Stromlo-1 and Whinham-1 wells will be drilled using the world’s largest semisubmersible drilling rig, the Ocean Greatwhite.

NOPSEMA was expected to come back with a decision about this plan by 19 September. However, earlier in September, the decision had been postponed with a plan to deliver the next assessment decision for the plan by 29 September.

On 28 September, the offshore regulator said that the requested information is expected to be provided by 28 October 2016, at which time NOPSEMA will restart the assessment. BP can request an extension of this time frame if required.

The Associated Press | 23 September 2016

Scientists Say Satellite-Based Radar Confirms Man-Made Texas Earthquakes

Scientists used radar from satellites to show that five Texas earthquakes, one reaching magnitude 4.8, were caused by injections of wastewater in drilling for oil and gas.

In 2012 and 2013, earthquakes—five of them considered significant—shook East Texas near Timpson. A team of scientists for the first time were able to track the uplifting ground movements in the earthquake using radar from satellites. A study in the journal Science on 22 September says it confirms that these were not natural, something scientists had previously said was likely using a more traditional analysis.

Study coauthor Stanford University Professor William Ellsworth said the technique provides a new way to determine what quakes are man-made.

The team looked at two sets of wells, eastern and western. The eastern wells were shallow and the satellite radar showed that the eastern wells weren’t the culprit but the high-volume deeper western ones were, Ellsworth said.