Environment
Environmental Protection | 21 June 2106

Environmental Crime Report Shows Damage Far Worse Than Estimated

A new report on environmental crime from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and INTERPOL indicates the cost of environmental crimes is 26% larger than previous estimates, having grown to some USD 91 billion–258 billion today, well above previous estimates of USD 70 billion–213 billion in 2014. The report, titled “The Rise of Environmental Crime,” was released 4 June on the eve of World Environment Day and shows how weak laws and poorly funded security forces have been unable to prevent international criminal networks and armed rebels from profiting from the illicit trade.

“The rise of environmental crime across the world is deeply troubling. The vast sums of money generated from these despicable crimes are fueling insecurity and keeping highly sophisticated international criminal gangs in business,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said. “It is essential the world acts now to combat this growing menace before it is too late.”

According to the report, environmental crime dwarfs the illegal trade in small arms, which is valued at approximately USD 3 billion. Environmental crime is the world’s fourth largest criminal enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting, and human trafficking, and the amount of money lost to environmental crimes is far more than the money spent by international agencies combating it; it is 10,000 times greater than the USD 20million–30 million they spend.

McCarthy Tétrault via Mondaq | 17 June 2016

Quebec Government Introduces Bill To Modernize Environmental Authorization Scheme

On 7 June 2016, the Quebec Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment, and the Fight against Climate Change, David Heurtel, at the Quebec National Assembly introduced Bill 1021, which aims at modernizing the environmental authorization scheme established by the Environment Quality Act. If adopted in its current form, this bill could have important repercussions on the environmental assessment procedure and on the authorization scheme of industrial projects carried out in Quebec.

The New Environmental Authorization Scheme
The bill proposes to substantially modify the requirements of environmental authorization. In this regard, the government proposes to further modulate permits requirements according to the level of environmental risk of each project:

  • Activities of negligible risk will not need a ministerial authorization to be carried out. These activities will be identified by regulation or according to an assessment methodology that will be prescribed by regulation.
  • Activities of low risk, the list of which will also be established by regulation, may be carried out without an authorization 30 days after the filing of a declaration of compliance to the Minister.
  • Activities of moderate risk will be subject to the obligation of obtaining a ministerial authorization. This category targets any activity that does not fall under the other categories of activities.
  • High-risk activities, identified by regulation, will require an authorization issued by the Quebec government following the environmental impact assessment and review procedure (EIA). The government may exceptionally subject any project to the EIA if, in its opinion, (i) the project may raise major environmental issues and public concern warrants it, (ii) the project involves a new technology or new type of activity in Quebec whose apprehended impacts on the environment are major, or (iii) the project involves major climate change issues.

The bill provides other measures streamlining the environmental authorization process including:

  • The carrying out of an industrial project will only be subject to the obtaining of one ministerial authorization rather than multiple authorizations as is currently the case.
  • The minister may mandate the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement to hold a public hearing on a project subject to the EIA without any prior information period when the holding of such a hearing seems inevitable because of the nature of the issues raised, thus avoiding delays inherent to this information period.
  • The bill will remove the requirement to obtain a certificate of compliance with municipal by-laws when filing an application for ministerial authorization.
  • The minister may issue, on certain conditions, an authorization for research and experimental purposes to facilitate pilot projects, thus allowing to derogate from some regulatory requirements for a limited period.
  • The prior authorization of the minister will no longer be required to transfer an authorization. However, the transferor must first send the minister a notice of transfer. The minister will then have 30 days to oppose the transfer.

To the contrary, the bill contains several measures that will tighten the framework of projects subject to an environmental authorization:

  • The minister may, in the cases provided for by government regulation, take into account the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the project and assess any impact mitigation a project may entail.
  • The governmental authorizations may include diverse conditions, restrictions, or prohibitions for protecting the quality of the environment, including site-restoration measures and post-closure management on cessation of activities and measures to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the activity, in particular the selection of a specific technology, process, or energy source.
  • Any change to a residual materials elimination facility or a hazardous materials management activity will require a ministerial approval.
  • An authorization to operate an industrial establishment will now be issued for a period of 5 years and will need to be renewed within the time and in the manner and form prescribed by regulation. An authorization will remain valid until the minister makes a decision with regard to its renewal.

Science Daily | 17 June 2016

Ecological Method for Cleaning Oil From Lakes

A new technology developed at Tomsk State University (TSU) for cleaning oil from lakes is best suited for lakes with thick sediments, report scientists. The method allows cleaning both sediments and water, and there are no any restrictions on the depth of the pond.

Danil Vorobiev, doctor of biological sciences and director of biological institute at TSU. Photo courtesy of TSU.

The oil cleansing method was developed by TSU researchers, and it is optimal for lake ecosystems. The experiment proved that the content of oil in water wasc reduced by 35 to 40 times.

“The technology is based on flotation method,” said Danil Vorobiev, one of the authors of this development and doctor of biological sciences and director of the biological institute at TSU. “In place of oil accumulation, we perform pneumatic and mechanical action and, as a result, oil sticks to the section of the two phases—liquid and air—and rises to the surface.”

The method does not require using any chemicals and can be used in winter when vegetative processes in a lake “freeze” and interference with the underwater world is minimal.

Offshore Energy Today | 15 June 2016

APPEA Presents Woodside With Environment Excellence Award

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) has awarded Australian energy company Woodside with the Environment Excellence Award on 6 June at the APPEA 2016 Conference Dinner in Brisbane.

APPEA presents Woodside with the Environment Excellence Award.

APPEA board member and Buru Energy executive chairman Eric Streitberg said the judges found that Woodside has consistently shown excellence across all facets of environmental performance.

Streitberg said, “Woodside minimizes its footprint by integrating world-class environmental management into its exploration and its facilities.”

He added that Woodside emphasizes the use of sound science and that it uses key scientific partnerships to enhance local knowledge.

Coloradoan | 15 June 2016

Colorado State University Lands USD 3.5 Million Methane Emissions Test Site

Colorado State University (CSU) will soon be a hub for national research on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas and side effect of natural gas production.

CSU researchers will partner with the Colorado School of Mines to design, build, and operate a methane emissions testing facility near Fort Collins. Photo courtesy of Colorado State University.

A team of CSU researchers just landed a USD 3.5 million Department of Energy grant to create and operate a facility to simulate a range of natural gas production systems and test new technologies for sensing methane. The grant will be awarded over 3 years.

The CSU team will work with the Colorado School of Mines to design, build, and operate the facility on CSU property near Fort Collins, according to a university press release. The facility will host subfacilities to simulate steps of the natural gas supply chain, including dry and wet gas production, midstream compression, metering and regulating stations, and underground pipelines.

Offshore Energy Today | 31 May 2016

US Says Offshore Fracturing Has Minimal Effect on Environment

The Obama administration has made a decision according to which well-stimulation treatments, including hydraulic fracturing, in oil and gas activities offshore California pose no significant effect to the environment.

The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) said the decision was made after they completed a comprehensive environmental analysis evaluating the potential effects from the use of well-stimulation treatments on the 23 oil and gas platforms currently in operation on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore California.

“The comprehensive analysis shows that these practices, conducted according to permit requirements, have minimal impact,” said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper. “As always, coordination with other key agencies, and input from the public and nongovernmental organizations,were vitally important as we developed this assessment.”

The announcement from BOEM and the BSEE ends a court-ordered settlement that placed a moratorium on offshore fracturing and acidizing in federal waters off California.

Investor's Business Daily | 24 May 2016

Column: We Don’t Have To Shut Oil and Gas Production To Curb Methane

Across the oil and gas industry, companies are struggling in the face of low energy prices. Belt tightening means companies can’t afford to pass up opportunities to curb waste—especially those that pay for themselves and benefit our environment in the process.

Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas and the key component of natural gas, escapes into our atmosphere every day across the oil and gas supply chain—both intentionally and accidentally. But some oil and gas companies are working with manufacturers and tapping into the American spirit of innovation and entrepreneurialism to reduce pollution caused by emissions of methane. In doing so, they boost US manufacturing and create much-needed jobs.

Reducing methane emissions offers opportunities for forward-thinking companies in the oil and gas sector to reduce risk, improve trust, and gain financially, while also providing clear and immediate environmental benefits. Every time methane is emitted into the atmosphere, oil and gas companies waste a valuable national energy resource and saleable product. A 2015 estimate placed the value of natural gas lost across the globe at USD 30 billion annually.  Just last week, the EPA finalized  rules curbing emissions of methane from new and modified oil and gas sources.

These emissions pose a serious threat to both the environment and public health. Initially, when released, methane is 84 times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years it is in the atmosphere and is frequently emitted alongside other pollutants that impact local air quality.

Luckily, cost-effective solutions for curbing emissions exist, and an entire industry stands ready to address the methane issue. More than 75 American companies—60% of which are small businesses—build, sell, and support technologies that minimize methane emissions from oil and gas operations. In the process, they create much-needed, well-paying, and skilled jobs such as mechanical engineers, machinists, and assemblers in states such as Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, and Ohio.

Reuters | 24 May 2016

Climate Change Takes Center Stage at Exxon, Chevron Annual Meetings

Exxon Mobil and Chevron will face their toughest-ever push by shareholders concerned about a warming world at annual meetings on 25 May, as the Paris accord to tackle climate change ratchets up investor pressure on two of the world’s largest oil companies.

The tension is most acute at Exxon, which has denied accusations from environmentalists that it purposely misled the public about climate change risks. The New York attorney general is investigating Exxon, and it has complained of being unfairly targeted by special interest groups.

The raft of proposals up for vote at the two companies more than doubled to 11 this year, the latest sign that environmental concerns once considered peripheral by many investors have become mainstream. Even the most traditional shareholder groups are now urging companies to detail how they will plan for the future after 195 governments agreed in December to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) through combined national pledges to cut carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

The Monitor | 16 May 2016

Column: Water Technology Innovation From Texas Gas and Oil Companies

Texans know that water is among our state’s most precious resources and it takes creative thinking and cooperation between the public and private sectors to address our water needs. Texans may not know, however, that the oil and natural gas industry is at the forefront of water conservation, innovation, and sustainability efforts in the Lone Star State.

Texas is the nation’s No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas because of a tried and tested well-stimulation technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Water used in fracking accounts for a small fraction of the state’s total water use. According to The University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, water use by the oil and natural gas industry is still projected to be less than 1% of water use in Texas when exploration and production water demands are expected to peak within the next 2 decades.

Even so, many Texas oil and natural gas companies are voluntarily leading the way to develop and deploy innovative technologies that are reducing water use, expanding water reuse and increasing use of naturally occurring saltwater (brackish water) in their operations.

The Brattle Group via Mondaq | 16 May 2016

Produced Water—Emerging Challenges, Risks, and Opportunities

Produced water should be viewed as an environmental asset—part of the water resource solution—not as a waste that contributes to environmental problems; its treatment and reuse can reduce the stress on fresh water resources.

Treatment cost is the most significant factor determining the volume of produced water that will be available for reuse. Water pricing, which is in large part a matter of public policy, must also be considered when reexamining how to maximize the use of this valuable resource. When deciding whether to treat and use produced water, companies will need to weigh the risk of litigation and regulatory enforcement actions against the benefits of introducing treated water into the stream of commerce.

Allaying the public’s fear of chemicals in the water supply is also a significant factor in determining whether produced water is viewed as part of a water resource solution or as a waste by-product.

Daily Camera | 12 May 2016

Scientists Shine Light on Methane Leakage at Shale Basin

Previous estimates of methane leaking from the Bakken oil and gas field appear to have been overstated, according to a new study by Boulder researchers, but the emissions are still significant.

Scientists representing Boulder’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder working at the NOAA, teamed with researchers at three other institutions, released their findings today.

The study calculated that about 275,000 tons of methane per year leak from the Bakken, which covers parts of Montana and North Dakota. That is comparable to the emission rate found for Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg basin.

That quantity, although considerable, is less than reported by some satellites and is also below the most recent Environmental Protection Agency inventory for petroleum systems.

Upstream | 10 May 2016

Scientists Crack Oil-Hungry Bacteria

Scientists have found a new way to clean up future big oil spills after cracking the genetic code of the marine bacteria that helped “eat” the oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, discovered that the oil-hungry bacteria “could aid clean-up efforts for the next major spill.”

A sample from the Deepwater Horizon spill site shows oil-eating bacteria (small shapes) and crude oil droplets (large shapes). Photo courtesy of Heriot-Watt University.

In collaboration with The University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, scientists performed experiments with samples from oil-contaminated waters of the Gulf of Mexico shortly after the Deepwater Horizon spill occurred—samples that contained key species of bacteria that fed on the oil.

The work revealed that certain bacteria had thrived on the oil that gushed into the Gulf by devouring the oil as a preferred food source.

“Oil is a very complex fluid that contains thousands of different types of hydrocarbon chemicals, many of which are toxic and difficult to break down. But some of these bacteria can,” associate professor of microbiology at Heriot-Watt University Tony Gutierrez said.

“Understanding which bacteria are important to breaking down oil could help lead to the design of emergency response plans that are more effective and environmentally friendly for combatting a major spill.”

“Different bacteria have different appetites for different hydrocarbons, but they can work beautifully in concert together to clean up polluted water,” Gutierrez said.