Environment
The Guardian | 1 February 2016

US To Stop Approving Hydraulic Fracturing off California Coast Until After Review

The US federal government has agreed to stop approving hydraulic fracturing off the California coast until it studies whether the practice is safe for the environment, according to legal settlements filed 29 January.

Separate deals reached with a pair of environmental organizations require the Department of the Interior to review whether well techniques such as hydraulic fracturing or using acid to stimulate offshore well production threatens water quality and marine life.

The practices have been conducted for years in federal waters and were revealed when the Environmental Defense Center filed Freedom of Information Act requests, the organizations said.

“These practices are currently being conducted under decades-old plans with out-of-date or nonexistent environmental analysis,” said Brian Segee, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Center.

The agreements in Los Angeles federal court apply to operations off Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, where companies such as ExxonMobil operate platforms.

Federal agencies will have to complete the review by the end of May and determine if a more in-depth analysis is necessary. They will also have to make future permit applications publicly accessible.

Reuters | 27 January 2016

Exxon Sees a World With Less Carbon but Higher-Cost Emissions

Exxon Mobil on 25 January said efficiencies and increased use of renewable fuels will cut by half the carbon intensity of the world’s economy by 2040 but climate policies will increase the cost of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the company’s latest long-term outlook.

The logo of Exxon Mobil Corporation is shown on a monitor above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, 30 December 2015. REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON

Exxon and others in the oil industry have been under increasing pressure from shareholders to detail the resilience of their business model to climate change after a global climate agreement reached in Paris in December set the world on a course to transform its fossil-fuel driven economy.

Because of efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and efficiency gains, Exxon sees energy-related carbon dioxide emissions peaking around 2030 before starting to decline, while emissions in developed countries are seen falling by about 20 percent from 2014 to 2040, it said.

“The climate accord reached at the recent COP 21 conference in Paris set many new goals, and, while many related policies are still emerging, the outlook continues to anticipate that such policies will increase the cost of carbon dioxide emissions over time,” said William Colton, vice president of Exxon Mobil Corporate Strategic Planning.

Rigzone | 27 January 2016

New Oil-Spill Research in Arctic Reveals Surprising Results

While preventing an oil spill is no doubt preferable to launching an oil-spill response, having the right response tools available at the tips of one’s fingers can be invaluable—especially in the carefully protected Arctic environment.

Unprecedented studies reveal the effects of untreated and treated oil in the Arctic environment.

How is marine life in the Arctic affected by crude oil? How is it affected by oil treated with dispersants and in situ burning techniques? Is Arctic marine life more sensitive to oil than marine life in warmer environments?

Although more than 2,000 papers and journals have been published on these topics, remaining uncertainties are being filled by the Arctic Oil Spill Response Technology Joint Industry Program (JIP) in unprecedented ways.

The Arctic JIP was formed in 2012 by nine international oil and gas companies for the purpose of advancing oil-spill response technologies and methodologies in the Arctic and other ice-covered environments.

The JIP received a permit from the governor of Svalbard, Norway, to use crude oil, dispersants, and in situ burn (ISB) residue in experiments conducted in Norway between February and July of 2015.

“They are the first of their kind,” said Mathijs Smit, an environmental scientist with Shell and chairman of the Environmental Effects Technical Working Group for the Arctic JIP.

Unlike indoor laboratory experiments that can only simulate real-world conditions, eight mesocosms—semi-enclosed containers that were exposed to sea ice and the seawater below—were installed at Van MijenFjorden, Svea, Norway, for scientists to observe how treated and untreated oil affects Arctic marine life spanning from winter to summer, and how treated oil behaves in ice.

Preliminary results are now rolling in, delivering both expected and surprising discoveries.

The Associated Press | 15 January 2016

Regulators Order Reduced Injection Well Volumes After Quakes

Operators of 27 oil and natural gas wastewater disposal wells in northwest Oklahoma must reduce volume due to the swarm of moderate earthquakes in the past week, state regulators said 13 January.

The implementation of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s plan calls for changes in the operation of wells about 100 miles northwest of Oklahoma City near Fairview. The commission said the total reduction in wastewater injection volume will be 54,859 B/D—or approximately 2.3 million gal—a drop of approximately 18%.

 

SNL | 14 January 2016

Focus on Climate To Shape Federal Permitting for Gas Project Developers

Developers of gas infrastructure projects and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are under increasing pressure to consider how projects will affect the Earth’s climate, and industry observers expect this to have lasting changes to the permitting process.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House have placed their weight behind environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and many others that have called attention to the emissions of methane and carbon dioxide from the production, transportation, and use of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.

The EPA has prodded FERC to make changes in its review process to provide more detail in the calculation of the climate impacts of individual natural gas projects such as pipelines and liquefied natural gas export terminals, including evaluating the emissions of greenhouse gases from production and consumption of gas upstream and downstream from the projects. The EPA has cited draft climate guidance from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which would ask federal agencies to do more to evaluate climate impacts.

Casey O’Shea, an energy industry advisor at FTI Consulting focused on gas projects and infrastructure, said the EPA push has combined with other forces to put pressure on FERC.

“I think this is going to be an important issue, not just for the LNG industry, but for infrastructure projects of any kind, writ large,” O’Shea said. “You combine this with the effect the CEQ draft guidance is already having on agencies and the pending outcome of the D.C. Circuit [decision] on Sierra v. Freeport … and you have an interesting confluence of events that could shape the playing field in the US for project developers for a long time to come.”

The Hill | 11 January 2016

EPA Science Advisers Buck Agency on Hydraulic Fracturing Safety

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) went too far with its finding that hydraulic fracturing is safe, the agency’s science advisers say.

The 31-member Science Advisory Board (SAB) is taking issue with the EPA’s conclusion in a landmark report from June that there is no evidence that hydraulic fracturing has “led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

The panel came out with an initial 133-page draft of its report on the study, saying that the main conclusion of the EPA’s findings does not follow the actual data that it precedes.“The SAB finds that this statement does not clearly describe the system(s) of interest (e.g., groundwater, surface water) nor the definitions of ‘systemic,’ ‘widespread,’ or ‘impacts,’ ” the advisory panel said.

“The statement is ambiguous and requires clarification and additional explanation,” the scientists wrote, adding that the main conclusions “are inconsistent with the observations, data, and levels of uncertainty presented and discussed in the body of the draft assessment report.”

The panel’s members have been vocal about criticizing report in recent months. They plan to finalize their findings on 1 February and forward them to EPA leaders for their consideration.

EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said the agency looks forward to receiving their contributions.

“The agency uses robust peer review to ensure the integrity of our scientific products,” she said. “We will use the comments from the SAB, along with the comments from members of the public, to evaluate how to augment and revise the draft assessment.”

Ocean News & Technology | 7 January 2017

Flying Lab To Investigate Southern Ocean’s Appetite for Carbon

A team of scientists including geochemists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego is launching a series of research flights over the remote Southern Ocean in an effort to better understand just how much carbon dioxide the icy waters are able to lock away.

The ORCAS field campaign—led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)—will give scientists a rare look at how oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged between the air and seas surrounding Antarctica. The data they collect will help illuminate the role the Southern Ocean plays in soaking up excess carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by humans.

“If we want to better predict the temperature in 50 years, we have to know how much carbon dioxide the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems are going to take up,” said NCAR scientist Britton Stephens, colead principal investigator for ORCAS and a Scripps alumnus. “Understanding the Southern Ocean’s role is important because ocean circulation there provides a major opportunity for the exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and the vast reservoir of the deep ocean.”

ORCAS—the O2/N2 Ratio and CO2 Airborne Southern Ocean Study—is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs.

Kallanish Energy | 6 January 2016

Oil Firm Resists Call To Shut Down Wells Amid Earthquake Concerns

SandRidge Energy thus far is defying the Oklahoma oil and gas regulator’s request that it shut down six wastewater injection wells, despite allegations the injections may be contributing to earthquakes.

The Oklahoma City, Oklahoma-based independent producer has complied with similar requests in the past, but this time said it will not stop using its wastewater wells.

Research links earthquakes in Oklahoma and other oil- and gas-producing states to disposal wells, although SandRidge and other shale producers have criticized geologic reports.

“We continue to work closely with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission [OCC]. We look forward to addressing this issue through OCC’s established rules and procedures, which will ensure decisions are based on scientific analysis. This is a complex issue, and science must be our guide as we work together to address it,” David Kimmel, SandRidge’s communications director, said.

The commission is working on legal action to modify SandRidge’s permits to force it to abandon the wells, Matt Skinner, a commission spokesman, told the Wall Street Journal.

Midwest Energy News | 29 December 2015

Scientists Seek More Data on Existing Water in Shale Formations

In hydraulic fracturing, what goes down is not always the same as what comes back up.

The process pumps millions of gallons of treated water and sand into deep shale formations so oil and natural gas can flow out.

Along the way, drilling and production also bring up brine from the ground—super-salty liquid with elevated levels of heavy metals, radium, and other chemicals.

If scientists can learn more about that naturally occurring water in the shale formations, drilling companies and well operators might figure out better ways to protect equipment and well integrity. More complete information could also lead to safer disposal options and other actions to protect public health and the environment.

Researchers from government, academia, and industry reported on new study results—looking at shale formations in Ohio and other states—at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in Baltimore in November. But more data are needed to draw definitive conclusions.

Rigzone | 29 December 2015

Column: Paris Agreement Creates More Issues for Oil Industry

A few weeks ago, some 190 countries met in Paris to discuss ideas they believe will prevent global temperature from increasing no more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. It is reminiscent of the age-old story of man trying to manipulate weather.

At the conference, the countries agreed to prepare and maintain plans they supposedly will implement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Each country’s plan, called the Nationally Determined Contributions, will be reviewed every 5 years starting in 2023. The plans are not legally enforceable, and the report casts serious doubt that this plan is sufficient to prevent temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C. Richer countries must provide at least USD 100 billion annually after 2020 to help developing countries reduce emissions.

Even though President Obama supports the agreement, the US Senate must ratify it, and that probably is not going to happen for a variety of reasons. One such reason is the lack of binding commitments from countries such as China and India previously in the Kyoto Protocol. The Senate overwhelmingly defeated ratification of Kyoto some 20 years ago.

The president cannot unilaterally commit the US to binding emission-reducing targets. Any emission targets and timetables must be ratified by the Senate.

Billings Gazette | 22 December 2015

State Investigation Finds Little Evidence Hydraulic Fracturing Contributed to Pollution

A 30-month state investigation costing more than USD 900,000 concludes hydraulic fracturing is unlikely to have contaminated drinking water east of Pavillion, Wyoming, but leaves many other questions unresolved about the role natural gas operations may have played in polluting the water.

Samples taken from 13 water wells in 2014 detected high levels of naturally occurring pollution. Test results showed little evidence of contaminants associated with oil and gas production.

Those findings, released 18 December as part of a report by the state Department of Environmental Quality, come almost 4 years to the day since the US Environmental Protection Agency released a draft report tentatively linking fracking to polluted water outside this tiny central Wyoming community.