Environment
The Associated Press | 3 May 2016

Study: US Oil Field Source of Global Uptick in Air Pollution

An oil and natural gas field in the western United States is largely responsible for a global uptick of the air pollutant ethane, according to a new study.

The team led by researchers at the University of Michigan found that fossil fuel production at the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana is emitting roughly 2% of the ethane detected in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Along with its chemical cousin methane, ethane is a hydrocarbon that is a significant component of natural gas. Once in the atmosphere, ethane reacts with sunlight to form ozone, which can trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory problems, especially in children and the elderly. Ethane pollution can also harm agricultural crops. Ozone also ranks as the third-largest contributor to human-caused global warming after carbon dioxide and methane.

“We didn’t expect one region to have such a global influence,” said Eric Kort, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of climatic science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The study was launched after a mountaintop sensor in the European Alps began registering surprising spikes in ethane concentrations in the atmosphere starting in 2010, following decades of declines.

The New York Times | 3 May 2016

Colorado Court Strikes Down Local Bans on Hydraulic Fracturing

Colorado’s Supreme Court on 2 May struck down local government prohibitions on hydraulic fracturing, handing oil and gas companies a victory in a lengthy battle over energy production in the environmentally conscious state.

In separate rulings, the court said a moratorium in Fort Collins and a ban in Longmont were invalid because state law pre-empted them. A lower court had reached the same conclusion earlier.

Two other cities and Boulder County have prohibitions on hydraulic fracturing that presumably are affected by the decisions. With oil and gas exploration in a slump nationwide, the short-term effect of the rulings in Colorado will be small, industry officials said.

But when the slump ends, activity in urban areas across the Front Range—the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains and Colorado’s most populous region, where oil and gas production is concentrated—could be significant.

The land opened to exploration by the rulings is comparatively small. More significant, said experts on both sides of the conflict, is that the rulings shut down future efforts to stop hydraulic fracturing in local jurisdictions.

America's Wetland Foundation | 28 April 2016

America’s Wetland Foundation Responds to BSEE Well Control Rule

In response to the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the federal government and specific agencies of government acted to ensure that Gulf Coast oil and gas operations were conducted with utmost safety. The America’s Wetland Foundation is concerned that some provisions of the proposed Well Control Rule proposed by BSEE could have unintended consequences leading to less safety and environmental protection and a reduction in overall revenue sharing directed to financing coastal restoration.

The University of Texas at Arlington | 28 April 2016

Research Shows Groundwater Quality Changes With Expansion of Hydraulic Fracturing, Horizontal Drilling

New research from The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) demonstrates that groundwater quality changes alongside the expansion of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing but also suggests that some potentially hazardous effects may dissipate over time.

Kevin Schug, lead author of the study and UTA’s Shimadzu Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry and director of the University’s Collaborative Laboratories for Environmental Analysis and Remediation, or CLEAR lab.

The new research, published on 26 April in the journal Science of the Total Environment in the article “Temporal Variation in Groundwater Quality in the Permian Basin of Texas, a Region of Increasing Unconventional Oil and Gas Development,” is the first to analyze groundwater quality in the Cline Shale region of West Texas before, during, and after the expansion of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

The research team collected and analyzed private water well samples on the eastern shelf of the Permian Basin four times over 13 months to monitor basic water quality, metal ions, organic ions, and other chemicals. They discovered the presence of chlorinated solvents, alcohols, and aromatic compounds exclusively after multiple unconventional oil wells had been activated within 5 km of the sampling sites. Large fluctuations in pH and total organic carbon levels also were detected in addition to a gradual accumulation of bromide.

“These changes and levels are abnormal for typical groundwater quality,” said Kevin Schug, lead author of the study and UTA’s Shimadzu Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry and director of the university’s Collaborative Laboratories for Environmental Analysis and Remediation, or CLEAR lab.

“The results also suggest that contamination from unconventional drilling may be variable and sporadic, not systematic, and that some of the toxic compounds associated with areas of high unconventional drilling may degrade or become diluted within the aquifer over time,” Schug said. “The next step is more research to precisely quantify and understand contamination cycles as well as to understand aquifer resilience to pollutants.”

Rigzone | 28 April 2016

BSEE Tests Technology for Oil Spill Exercise in Arctic

With the Arctic expected to be a major source of oil and natural gas, the development and testing of technologies to detect and clean up Arctic oil spills will remain a critical area of focus. As part of this research, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (BSEE) Oil Spill Preparedness Division tested the capabilities of a georeferencing identification satellite (GRIDSAT) technology during its inaugural participation earlier this year in Ice Exercise 2016 (ICEX).

BSEE tests technology to locate oil spills as it participates for first time in oil spill exercise run by US Navy.

ICEX is an exercise designed to assess the operational readiness of the submarine force while also continuing to advance scientific research in the Arctic region. The US Navy has been running ice exercises since at least the late 1950s. Last year, the Navy approached BSEE about participating in the event, Karen Stone, an oil spill response engineer with BSEE’s Oil Spill Preparedness Division, said.

“We’re always interested in partnering with other federal groups and combine all their expertise,” Stone said.

The GRIDSAT system is a new technology in the sense that it is being used in a new application of existing components, Stone said. The Arctic’s extreme conditions, especially the presence of sea ice, create unique challenges for identifying, tracking, and responding to an oil spill. Sometimes, oil trapped by ice cannot be recovered quickly due to weather conditions. The GIRDSAT radio/GPS marking device can be left on an ice floe to track the movement of the floe and entrapped oil for up to nine months.

The Associated Press | 21 April 2016

Federal Hydraulic Fracturing Rule in Hands of Federal Judge in Wyoming

The future of federal rules aimed at protecting land, water, and wildlife from energy-production practices including hydraulic fracturing now rests with a judge in Wyoming.

US District Judge Scott Skavdahl last year blocked implementation of rules drafted by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM). He acted in response to a legal challenge from the states of Colorado, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

The states claim the BLM lacks authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing.

The federal rule would require petroleum developers to disclose to regulators the ingredients in the chemical products they use to improve the results of fracking.

The BLM and a coalition of environmental groups are arguing in Skavdahl’s court that the rules are necessary to protect the environment.

The BLM and other rule supporters also have appealed Skavdahl’s decision to block implementation of the rules to a federal appeals court in Denver. It is unclear whether the appeals court will act before Skavdahl reaches a decision.

StateImpact Pennsylvania | 19 April 2016

Report: Drilling Did Not Strain Water Supply in Susquehanna River Basin

The surge in gas drilling has not put a major strain on water supply in the Susquehanna River basin, according to a new report from the regulatory body that oversees water withdrawals.

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) is charged with regulating water quantity, not quality. However, last year, the commission issued a report saying it had not found any correlation between Marcellus Shale development and watershed impairment—although it began the monitoring after the boom took off.

In this new report, the SRBC says, generally speaking, “the basin’s water resources are sufficient in magnitude to accommodate the water demands of the industry concurrently with other water users.”

Nearly all the surface water withdrawals in the basin are for the natural gas industry or public drinking water systems. The report analyzes the time period between July 2008 and December 2013 and found the industry consumed 9.76 billion gallons of water, while public drinking systems used 1.97 billion gallons.

However the report says the real challenge has not been balancing the needs of the gas industry with other human needs, but rather balancing the industry’s uses with, “the natural aquatic ecosystems existing within the basin, especially the small, lower-yielding watersheds in which the industry has been active.” The SRBC says it has been successful at managing that issue.

The Oklahoman | 18 April 2016

University Study Could Bring New Uses for Oilfield Waste Water

An oilfield waste product that poses environmental challenges and is linked to earthquakes could become a valuable economic resource if the efforts of Oklahoma State University researchers are successful.

Biosystems and agricultural engineering professor Nurhan Dunford and her team have spent much of the past 5 years developing strains of algae that can be turned into biofuels and feedstocks for food or medicines. The researchers also are using the algae to clean water contaminated by agriculture and oil production.

“Unfortunately, both animal production and hydraulic fracturing operations utilize large volumes of fresh water and generate wastewater that is putting a lot of pressure on our limited freshwater resources and creating huge problems in terms of wastewater disposal and human and environmental safety,” Dunford said. “Our algae research addresses these concerns and problems.”

The researchers are studying strains of algae native to Oklahoma in hopes of finding the best algae and strongest mix of nutrients to clean oilfield waste water. The researchers are studying both flowback water—mostly fresh water mixed with small amounts of chemicals and sand used for hydraulic fracturing—and produced water. Produced water refers to ancient ocean remnants that are recovered from deep below the surface, along with oil and natural gas. Produced water typically is many times saltier than the ocean and contains minerals and chemicals, along with mixtures of oil and other hydrocarbons.

Offshore Energy Today | 13 April 2016

WWF Canada Challenges Validity of Shell’s Exploration Permits

World Wildlife Fund Canada, the environment conservation organization, has taken legal action challenging validity of some Shell’s offshore exploration permits in Canada.

WWF Canada is aiming to have Shell’s Lancaster Sound oil and gas exploration permits declared expired. The conservation group claims that the permits issued more than 4 decades ago are now expired “and therefore invalid.”

According to available data, Shell is not conducting any activity in the area at the moment.

Before taking the legal action, WWF claims it had contacted the minister of indigenous and northern affairs seeking clarification on the status permits in question and a confirmation that the permits had expired.

Although staff from the ministry contacted the applicant (WWF) to discuss the matter informally, they did not clarify the status of the permits, the WWF said, adding that the discussions with the ministry staff continued throughout February 2016 but that the ministry still did not explain its position on the validity of Shell’s permits.

WWF Canada claims that the permits in question are an obstacle to conservation efforts striving to finalize “the long-awaited” Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area.

The Associated Press | 29 March 2016

Feds: Risk of 2016 Quake Increases, Especially in Oklahoma

The ground east of the Rockies is far more likely to shake this year with damaging though not deadly earthquakes, federal seismologists report in a new risk map for 2016. Much of that is a man-made byproduct of drilling for energy.

Parts of Oklahoma now match northern California for the nation’s most shake prone. One north-central Oklahoma region has a 1 in 8 chance of a damaging quake in 2016, with other parts closer to 1 in 20.

Overall, 7 million people live in areas where the risk has dramatically jumped for earthquakes caused by disposal of wastewater, a byproduct of drilling for oil and gas. That is mostly concentrated in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, and Arkansas.

Natural earthquake risk also increased around the New Madrid fault in Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Illinois.

In a first-of-its-kind effort, the US Geological Survey on 28 March released a map for risks of damaging quakes in the current year. Past efforts looked at 50-year risks and didn’t include man-made quakes. The new risks are mostly based on increases in quakes felt last year.

Rigzone | 28 March 2016

GE, Statoil: Sustainability Important in Low Oil Price Environment

In January 2015, GE Oil & Gas and Statoil  launched a joint technology-focused program in order to try to accelerate the development of more environmentally sustainable energy equipment.

As part of this collaborative effort, the two companies created the global Open Innovation Challenge, which invites innovators from around the world to submit concept designs with the potential to reduce the environmental impact of energy production. So far there have been two OICs, with the first competition dedicated to addressing the use of sand in unconventional operations and the second focusing on the reduction of water usage in onshore oil and gas processes.

When GE and Statoil initially announced their joint venture, the price of Brent was considerably higher than it is today. However, despite the commodity price drop, neither company has been discouraged in its pursuit of cleaner technology for the oil and gas industry.

GE Oil & Gas Chief Executive Officer Lorenzo Simonelli said the alliance will continue regardless of the price of Brent crude.

“We actually started it … outside of the price of oil. We’re really focused on the innovation of technologies that allow us to make the industry sustainable and minimize the environmental footprint and that continues irrespective of the price of oil,” he said.

“We’re going to need oil and gas in the future, we know that the energy demand is increasing. We’ve got a role to play, but it has to be sustainable.”

ECO Magazine | 28 March 2016

No Atlantic Drilling in BOEM’s 5-Year Plan

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Abigail Ross Hopper announced the proposal for the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017–22.

The proposed program does not schedule any lease sales in the Mid- and South Atlantic Program Areas. However, the proposed program released 15 March 2016 evaluates 13 potential lease sales in six planning areas—10 potential sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three potential sales off the coast of Alaska.

Before the program is finalized and before any lease sales occur, the department will consider another round of public input on the proposal and its accompanying Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The current proposal was informed by more than 1 million comments, 23 public meetings, and extensive outreach with members of the public, nonprofit organizations, industry, elected officials, and other interested parties across the country.

“This is a balanced proposal that protects sensitive resources and supports safe and responsible development of the nation’s domestic energy resources to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said Secretary Jewell. “The proposal focuses potential lease sales in areas with the highest resource potential, greatest industry interest, and established infrastructure. At the same time, the proposal removes other areas from consideration for leasing, and seeks input on measures to further reduce potential impacts to the environment, coastal communities, and competing ocean and coastal uses, such as subsistence activities by Alaska Natives.”