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Environment

Geochemical Tracers Help Identify Fracturing Fluid in Environment

Source: National Science Foundation | 21 October 2014

Scientists have developed new geochemical tracers that can identify hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids that have been spilled or released into the environment.

The tracers have been field-tested at a spill site in West Virginia and downstream from an oil and gas brine wastewater treatment plant in Pennsylvania.

“By characterizing the isotopic and geochemical fingerprints of enriched boron and lithium in flowback water from hydraulic fracturing, we can now track the presence of frack fluids in the environment and distinguish them from wastewater coming from other sources, including conventional oil and gas wells,” said Duke University geochemist Avner Vengosh, who co-led the research.

“This gives us new forensic tools to detect if frack fluids are escaping into our water supply and what risks, if any, they might pose.”

Using the tracers, scientists can determine where frack fluid contamination has—or has not—been released to the environment and, ultimately, help identify ways to improve how shale gas wastewater is treated and disposed of.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Their study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, is the first to report on the development of the boron and lithium tracers.

Endangered Species in Eagle Ford Shale Gets Help From UT Group

Source: Fuel Fix | 7 October 2014

Few people have heard of the spot-tailed earless lizard, once common in south Texas.

But the rare lizard’s likely habitat includes large swaths of the Eagle Ford shale, the prolific oil and gas field south of San Antonio. A 2010 petition by an environmental group to list the spot-tailed earless lizard as a federally protected species is hanging in limbo.

“Basically, the proverbial you-know-what is going to hit the fan if they propose to list it,” said Melinda Taylor, executive director of the Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration and Environmental Law, at The University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

US Fish and Wildlife in 2011 said there was substantial information that listing the spot-tailed earless lizard as endangered or threatened may be warranted. It is the first step in what can be a years-long process to list a species–but it does not mean that the lizard ultimately will receive any kind of listing to try to ensure its survival.

Meanwhile, the Eagle Ford is rapidly approaching the 1 million B/D mark for crude oil production.

Report Says Stopping Natural Gas Leaks Can Help Economy as Well as Climate

Source: Public News Service | 7 October 2014

Regulating natural gas emissions would help the environment and also bolster New Mexico’s economy. That’s the conclusion of a new report entitled “The Emerging U.S. Methane Mitigation Industry” from the Environmental Defense Fund.

Stopping natural gas leaks is good for the economy and the environment, according to a new Environmental Defense Fund report. Photo courtesy US Department of Energy.

Jon Goldstein is senior energy policy manager at EDF. He says research shows leaking methane, the main component in natural gas, is costing oil and gas companies an estimated USD 1.8 billion per year in lost product. He says there are a growing number of companies in New Mexico that are in the business of stopping the leaks.

“We might be talking about special kinds of valves and other fittings that reduce emissions,” Goldstein said. “We might be talking about infrared cameras that are used to go out and detect leaks so folks can fix them. Things like that.”

Goldstein adds that New Mexico ranks among the top 10 states for oil and gas production and has a growing methane gas mitigation industry.

Exxon Hydraulic Fracturing Report Responds to Shareholders

Source: The Associated Press | 2 October 2014

ExxonMobil issued a report on 30 September that acknowledges the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing but also defends the practice as being better for the environment than other types of energy production and generation.

Under pressure from the corporate responsibility group As You Sow, as well as New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and other shareholders, Exxon agreed earlier this year to reveal more about how it manages the risks involved with the drilling technique.

The report acknowledges that drilling wells and producing oil and gas from shale formations and other so-called unconventional sources do carry risks, including the possibility of water contamination and leaks of natural gas into the atmosphere that contribute to climate change.

Stanford-Led Study Assesses Environmental Costs, Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing

Source: Stanford | 30 September 2014

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 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.”

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

Source: Shale Energy Insider | 22 September 2014

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.”

Study Finds No Drinking Water Pollution From Fracturing

Source: US Department of Energy | 18 September 2014

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.

Study Assesses Environmental Costs and Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing

Source: Phys.org | 15 September 2014

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.

Norway-Focused Firms Join Oil Spill Project

Source: Rigzone | 8 September 2014

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

Conservationists: Collaboration Can Protect Grouse and Drilling

Source: Fuel Fix | 25 August 2014

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.”

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

Source: Journal of Petroleum Technology | 14 August 2014

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.

Introduction

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).

US Agency Withdraws Effort To Protect Wildflowers From Shale Development

Source: Shale Energy Insider | 6 August 2014

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.