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.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | 22 September 2016

Pennsylvania Extends Drilling Moratorium in Its Forests for 5 Years

Pennsylvania’s 5-year forest management plan nixes new oil and gas leasing and drilling in state forests and parks where the state controls subsurface mineral rights and, for the first time, addresses climate change.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signs an executive order restoring a moratorium on new drilling leases involving public lands on 29 January 2015 at the Benjamin Rush State Park in Philadelphia. Credit: Matt Rourke/Associated Press.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signs an executive order restoring a moratorium on new drilling leases involving public lands on 29 January 2015 at the Benjamin Rush State Park in Philadelphia. Credit: Matt Rourke/Associated Press.

The 234-page plan released by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) details an oil and gas management policy that supports the public lands drilling moratorium ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf in January.

“DCNR felt that moratorium was appropriate and developed a position statement to guide our decision making over the next 5 to 10 years,” said Seth Cassel, division chief of the department’s Forest Resource Planning Section. “We don’t think it’s wise to do additional gas leasing on state forest and park lands now.”

According to the forest plan, the Forestry Bureau holds 123 oil and gas leases on a total of 301,000 acres, primarily in the north-central part of the state. The bureau estimates those leases are 16–20% developed and that as many as 3,000 wells could eventually be drilled to develop the existing leases fully. Drilling can continue on those leases.


Offshore Energy Today | 19 September 2016

Australia: NOPSEMA Needs More Time To Assess BP’s Drilling Plan

Australian oil and gas safety body National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) will be taking more time to assess BP’s proposed drilling plan for the Great Australian Bight.

Location of Stromlo-1 and Whinham-1 wells offshore Australia. Credit: Offshore Energy Today.

BP submitted its second drilling plan in August after its first one that had proposed drilling four wells was rejected. NOPSEMA said that it would make a decision by 19 September. The decision, however, has now been postponed, and NOPSEMA expects to deliver its next assessment decision for this plan by 29 September.

BP, as operator of the Great Australian Bight Exploration Drilling Program, proposes to drill the first two wells in that program.

The wells are Stromlo-1 and Whinham-1 and will be drilled using the world’s largest semi-submersible drilling rig, the Ocean Greatwhite.

Stromlo-1 is approximately 600 km west of Port Lincoln and 400 km southwest of Ceduna, in a water depth of approximately 2250 m. Whinham-1 is approximately 600 km west of Port Lincoln and 350 km southwest of Ceduna, in a water depth of approximately 1150 m.

The drilling program is scheduled to start from Q4 2016 to Q1 2017. It is anticipated that each well will take approximately 75 days to drill. In the event of any technical or equipment delays, the duration may be greater, so the assessment for each of the wells has allowed for up to 150 days.

This drilling activity is a subset of the broader activity covered by the  proposed Great Australian Bight Exploration Drilling Environment Plan, for which BP has an opportunity to modify and resubmit by 31 December 2016. The first two wells, covered by this plan, will be excised from the scope of the plan before it is resubmitted.

The Associated Press | 14 September 2016

Oklahoma, EPA Shutter 32 Wells in New Earthquake-Prone Area

A 5.8-magnitude earthquake and a series of smaller aftershocks in Oklahoma led to the discovery of a new fault line and stoked fears among some scientists about activity along other unknown faults that could be triggered by oil and gas wastewater that’s being injected deep underground.

State and federal regulators on 12 September said 32 disposal wells in northeastern Oklahoma must shut down because they are too near the newly discovered fault line that produced the state’s strongest earthquake on record on 3 September.

Jeremy Boak, head of the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS), said it is possible that a large “pulse” of disposed wastewater is slowly moving deep underground and triggered the temblor along the new fault located near the town of Pawnee, farther east than most of the previous earthquake activity in Oklahoma.

“My inclination is to worry about the (fault) we don’t know about yet, more so than about another very large earthquake in this area,” Boak said. “My general feeling is that the rate of earthquakes is declining. I’m more concerned, I think, about whether there’s another one of these faults out here that is cued up and ready to go.”

Boak said it is also possible that some aftershocks greater than magnitude 4 could still be triggered along the newly discovered fault that has yet to be named.

The Pawnee quake damaged more than a dozen buildings and slightly injured one man when part of a chimney collapsed. It shook several states, including nearby Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas, and was reportedly even felt more than 1,000 miles away in places such as Florida and Nevada, according to the US Geological Survey.

Scientists, including those at the OGS, say they believe the vast majority of the earthquakes in Oklahoma are triggered by the injection of wastewater from oil and gas production that is injected deep into the Earth.

Bloomberg | 8 September 2016

Oklahoma Shuts More Wells as Quake Upgraded

Oklahoma drillers are being ordered to shut more wastewater wells just as the US Geological Survey (USGS) is upgrading an earthquake that occurred on 3 September to a record magnitude.

Oilfield workers pull pipes from a well near Crescent, Oklahoma, on 31 March. Credit: J. Pat Carter/Getty Images.

The Environmental Protection Agency said on 7 September that it has ordered the closure of 17 additional disposal sites under its jurisdiction in Osage County. The move follows the suspension of 37 wells by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and comes on the same day the USGS upgraded the temblor to 5.8 in magnitude, the highest ever for the state, from 5.6 previously estimated.

Oklahoma regulators had already been limiting the disposal of oilfield wastewater, which scientists have linked to seismic activity, before the quake that was felt from Texas to Illinois on 3 September. The number of earthquakes measuring 3.0 or higher reached at least 890 last year, up from just two in 2008, before the state’s drilling boom started. The USGS has not determined an official cause for the earthquake.

“At this point, we don’t want to attribute it specifically to any phenomena,” George Choy, seismologist at the US Geological Survey, said on 7 September in a phone interview. “We need to get more data to make sure everything is lined up before we say anything definitive.”

Hydrocarbon Processing | 7 September 2016

Prospective Costs of the EPA’s Proposed Risk Management Plan Chemical Accident Prevention Requirements

On 14 March 2016, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published proposed revisions to its Risk Management Plan (RMP) facility safety program in the US Federal Register. The proposed revisions include several changes to accidental-release prevention requirements, including:

  • Third-party audits of an RMP program following an accident
  • Considering inherently safer technology during hazard assessments
  • Conducting root cause analysis of management failures in relation to an incident
  • Taking actions to correct the root cause
  • Sharing information with emergency planners and the public

The EPA describes these proposed revisions as improvements to lessons-learned processes. Facilities affected by the proposed rule include petroleum refineries, large chemical manufacturers, wastewater treatment systems, chemical and petroleum wholesalers and terminals, food manufacturers, packing plants, agricultural chemical distributors, and midstream gas plants. The EPA allowed businesses to comment on the proposed changes until 13 May 2016.

What is the RMP?
Designed to protect public health and the environment from chemical accidents, the RMP applies to all stationary sources with processes that contain more than a threshold quantity of a chemical or material listed as regulated substances under Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act. The EPA’s RMP rules were designed to share many similarities with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Process Safety Management (PSM) standards. The RMP and PSM have many of the same criteria, and the requirements, guidance, and interpretations of the two programs generally align.

Processes covered by the RMP fall within one of three prevention program levels based on their potential for offsite consequences, accident history, and regulation under OSHA’s PSM rule. The first level, Program 1, includes 642 facilities that must comply with limited accident-prevention requirements, including hazard assessment and emergency response requirements.

Program 1 includes:

  • Processes that would not affect the public during a worst-case release and no accidents with offsite consequences in the last 5 years
  • Small quantities of flammables and less volatile toxins

Program 3 applies to the vast majority of facilities subject to the RMP (10,615 facilities), and has the most stringent requirements. Facilities subject to Program 3 include processes subject to OSHA’s PSM rule or facilities within one of 10 specified North American Industry Classification System codes, such as refining, chemical manufacturing, and energy production.

Program 2 applies to 1,285 facilities and covers processes not eligible for Program 1 and not subject to Program 3. Program 2 facilities consist mainly of water and wastewater treatment in Federal OSHA states. Sources in all three programs must prepare and submit an RMP to the EPA at least once every five years.

ExxonMobil | 30 August 2016

ExxonMobil Uses Microbes To Clean Water of Nitrates

A state-of-the-art approach akin to making microorganisms eat their vegetables is having award-winning results for ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge refinery as it takes a leadership role in combatting so-called dead zones that have plagued the Gulf of Mexico for the last 3 decades.

An aerial view of the Baton Rouge refinery with the wastewater treatment tanks at the bottom left. Source: ExxonMobil.

Nitrates in runoff from agricultural fertilizers have been identified as the main culprit for the dead zones—where massive algal blooms feeding off the nitrates starve areas of water for oxygen so they won’t support other marine life.

But nitrates are also a byproduct of the oil-refining process. So ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge refinery invested in a new system that uses microscopic organisms to feed on nitrates in the refinery’s water treatment system, breaking them down into nonharmful components such as nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon.

“We coach the bugs to denitrify our wastewater,” said Robert Berg, state regulatory advisor for ExxonMobil, using his own affectionate term for the microorganisms. “Bugs eat nitrates in nature, but we have put a process in place where we can make the bugs even more efficient at breaking down nitrates.”

E&E Publishing | 30 August 2016

Environmental Groups Pick Climate Fight With Feds, Seek To Rein in Leasing

A pumpjack bobs on public lands in Utah. Source: WildEarth Guardians.

Backers of the “keep it in the ground” movement have taken their efforts up a notch, asking a federal court to force the Obama administration to consider the climate effects of oil and gas leasing on public lands.

In a lawsuit filed on 25 August at the US District Court for the District of Columbia, WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility argued that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to weigh the climate effects for at least 397 leases issued since early 2015. The leases represent a combined 380,000 acres in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.

The lawsuit is one of the broader challenges to federal oil and gas leasing to date, asking the court to freeze action on the contested leases until BLM performs an in-depth analysis of climate effects from development on public lands. Without closer attention to climate effects, the groups say, leasing undermines President Obama’s efforts to mitigate climate change.

“In spite of the president’s commitment to US leadership in moving toward a clean energy future,” the complaint says, “Federal defendants continue to authorize the sale and issuance of hundreds of federal oil and gas leases on public lands across the interior west without meaningfully acknowledging or evaluating the climate change implications of their actions.”

The Texas Tribune | 23 August 2016

EPA: North Texas Earthquakes Likely Linked to Oil and Gas Drilling

Federal regulators believe “there is a significant possibility” that recent earthquakes in North Texas are linked to oil and gas activity, even if state regulators won’t say so.

That’s according to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s annual evaluation of how the Texas Railroad Commission oversees thousands of injection and disposal wells that dot state oilfields—underground resting places for millions of gallons of waste from hydraulic fracturing and other drilling activities.

“In light of findings from several researchers, its own analysis of some cases, and the fact that earthquakes diminished in some areas following shut-in or reduced injection volume of targeted wells,” the 15 August report states, “EPA believes there is a significant possibility that North Texas earthquake activity is associated with disposal wells.”

Bloomberg | 22 August 2016

Louisiana’s Sinking Coast Is a USD-100-Billion Nightmare for Big Oil

From 5,000 ft up, it is difficult to make out where Louisiana’s coastline used to be. But follow the skeletal remains of decades-old oil canals, and you get an idea. Once, these lanes sliced through thick marshland, clearing a path for pipelines or ships. Now they are surrounded by open water, green borders still visible as the sea swallows up the shore.

The canals tell a story about the industry’s ubiquity in Louisiana history, but they also signal a grave future: USD 100 billion of energy infrastructure threatened by rising sea levels and erosion. As the coastline recedes, tangles of pipeline are exposed to corrosive seawater; refineries, tank farms, and ports are at risk.

“All of the pipelines, all of the things put in place in the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s, were designed to be protected by marsh,” said Ted Falgout, an energy consultant and former director of Port Fourchon.

Louisiana has an ambitious—and expensive—plan to protect both its backbone industry and its residents from this threat, but, with a US- 2-billion deficit looming next year, the cash-poor state can only do so much to shore up its sinking coasts. That means the oil and gas industry is facing new pressures to bankroll critical environmental projects—whether by choice or by force.

“The industry down there has relied on the natural environment to protect its infrastructure, and that environment is now unraveling,” said Kai Midboe, the director of policy research at the Water Institute of the Gulf. “They need to step up.”

Offshore Energy Today | 22 August 2016

New Calculators To Improve Oil Spill Response Planning

The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has released four new oil spill response calculators as part of an ongoing effort to improve future clean-up efforts.

The bureau said on 17 August that it provided funding for, and collaborated with, Genwest to create the new calculators.

BSEE’s oil spill response coordinator for the bureau, John Caplis, said that the use of the calculators is viewed by BSEE as a best practice and that their use will be strongly encouraged when operators prepare oil spill response plans for offshore facilities.

Caplis explained that the new calculators focus on methods to identify optimum system arrangements for three oil spill clean-up approaches: mechanical recovery equipment, dispersants, and in situ burn.

JPT | 8 August 2016

Making an E&P/Fisheries Management Plan Work in Ghana With Multiple Stakeholders

Ghana’s fishers and coastal communities have raised concerns over the effects of offshore oil exploration and production relating to the giant Jubilee field. In 2014, the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency initiated an independent study of marine conditions as a key step forward, with the endorsement of the Ministry of Fisheries. The study included extensive participation from fishing groups, oil companies, government officials, nongovernmental organizations, and other interested parties, and produced a number of recommendations. This paper describes the process and results of the multistakeholder approach to solving marine-zone conflicts.

Following the discovery of the Jubilee field in 2007, the rapid development and launch of the offshore commercial oil production have attracted major oil and gas companies, with huge capital injection into the national ­economy as well as related sorely needed social investments and developments in communities of the Western Region and other sectors.

Offshore-resource development has raised expectations and has fueled speculation and confusion about the actual environmental effects of the oil and gas activities. A resulting backlash, including blame of oil and gas activities for myriad problems associated with fishing and the marine environment—such as declining fisheries and poor landings, frequent beaching of whales, algae nuisance, presence of tar balls, and contamination of fish—indicated a clear need for scientific study and research-based action to reveal the actual environmental situation and trends.

Independent Study
An independent study was commissioned in 2014 by Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency and Kosmos Energy Ghana to explore stakeholders’ environmental concerns and evaluate the extent to which marine environmental challenges could be linked to or mitigated by oil and gas industry action. The study focused on six major themes:

  • Fishery and fishing decline
  • Whale mortality
  • Algal blooms
  • Tar balls
  • General marine environmental conditions
  • General coastal socioeconomic conditions

After a review of nearly 200 studies, extensive stakeholder consultation, and independent analysis of existing research and data, the joint international/Ghanaian study team found that some of the concerns raised were not directly attributable to the offshore oil and gas activities, while others appeared to be. The study made 13 general recommendations for addressing these major issues and concerns, whether attributable to oil and gas activities or not. The recommendations were prioritized further to facilitate specific immediate actions and included

  • Management plans to mitigate the effect of an exclusion zone
  • Strengthened capacity for governance of fishing activities
  • Additional measures to minimize harm to whales
  • Marine-noise study and management practices
  • Algae source study and management plan
  • Tar-ball fingerprinting analysis and management plan
  • Continuous improvement in waste management
  • Continuous improvement in oil-spill prevention and response
  • Integrated, participatory, and transparent baseline data compilation
  • Additional measures to minimize effects on fishing activities

Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee and Action Plans
To ensure the effective implementation of adopted recommendations, the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development (MoFAD) established a Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee (MFAC) with the mandate of formulating sectorwide action plans.

The action plans that were developed are the result of focused efforts, research, and consultation by the members of the MFAC. Each of the action plans represents a brief and focused response to the priority recommendations raised by the independent study. The plans are intended to be strategic and high level, providing description of key activities and objectives. Appropriate institutions/organizations were identified to perform the next step of detailing the stated actions for implementation where feasible. Otherwise, contracting arrangements and options have been indicated for selecting contractors or consultants to elaborate on the actions for execution.

MFAC assumes responsibility for coordinating the implementation of the action plans, per its charter, under the ­auspices of an Inter-Ministerial Oversight Committee (IMOC) through MoFAD. MFAC’s overarching mission (under the direction of IMOC) includes supporting MoFAD and other ministries in

  • Ensuring strategic coexistence of oil and gas and fisheries sectors
  • Harmonious use of marine space and seabed
  • Promoting intersectoral management of marine resources
  • Coordinating information sharing and decisions on fishing and other industries that use marine resources

Membership of MFAC reflected the view that successful marine-sector management would require an inclusive strategy in order to ensure that a broad array of interests were represented.

The action plans are intended to inform a 2-year initial design, launch, and implementation period, which will be followed by review, realignment, and follow-on activities coordinated by MFAC.

The seven broad areas covered by the action plans are

  • Governance of the marine sector
  • Stakeholder awareness on oil-development and marine-resource issues
  • Marine environment research in support of resource protection
  • Marine spatial planning for integrated management
  • Marine- and coastal-data generation and use
  • Land-based sources of contaminants and degradation of coastal waters
  • Livelihood diversification in coastal fishing communities

The action plans include objectives and activities for each of the seven focus areas, as well as scope, timeline, implementation strategy, and potential lead and supporting organizations. A summary version of the integrated action plans follows.

Action Governance.
Primary Objectives.

  • To ensure coastal- and marine-policy coordination is placed at the highest ministerial level
  • To facilitate sector integrated management
  • To promote streamlined regulatory functions
  • To facilitate effective institutional working relationships and collaboration
  • To promote efficient access to sector data

Major Milestones and Activities.

  • Formation of new, intergovernmental coordinating bodies
  • Establishment of a marine-database center

Stakeholder Awareness.
Primary Objectives.

  • To develop evidence-based information targeted at specific stakeholders
  • To disseminate the information
  • To facilitate prompt reporting of environmental challenges, such as beached whales or sighting of tar balls

Major Milestones and Activities.

  • Carrying out awareness activities and dissemination through public forums, focus-group discussions, seminars, public announcements, video documentaries, radio or television programs, websites, and other means
  • Developing material and delivering training

Marine-Environment Research.
Primary Objectives.

  • To introduce conservation practices in support of improved fisheries and sustainable fishing efforts
  • To ensure continuous monitoring of cetaceans and investigation of causes of their mortality in Ghanaian waters
  • To intensify investigation on the beneficial uses of green algae

Major Milestones and Activities.

  • Designation of potential marine parks, conservation areas, and spawning and feeding grounds
  • Fish stock assessment and study and introduction of closed seasons
  • Cetacean migratory monitoring and documentation
  • Tar-ball sampling, documentation, and reporting

Marine Spatial Planning.
Primary Objectives.

  • To determine and designate areas for streamlined multiple use
  • To promote integrated management of marine resources and space
  • To ensure peaceful coexistence between fishers and the industry
  • To publicize the national Marine Spatial Plans (MSPs)
  • To enact appropriate legislation to back the MSPs

Major Milestones and Activities.

  • Review and study of existing designated areas
  • Specialized site studies
  • Development of a safe-sea-access strategy
  • Stakeholder review of prospective MSPs and sites

Marine and Coastal Data.
Primary Objectives.

  • To create a centralized coastal and marine database
  • To facilitate consistent time-series monitoring
  • To support the use of data generated (both baseline and monitoring) for national use
  • To conduct trend analysis to interpret events in the marine and coastal sector

Major Milestones and Activities.

  • Baseline survey on fisheries value chain
  • Coastal socioeconomic survey
  • Marine-environment baseline data collection (e.g., water quality and chemical indicators, fish tissue analysis, and chemical constituents)

Land-Based Sources of Contaminants/Coastal Degradation.
Primary Objectives.

  • To establish extent of land-based pollution loading on coastal waters
  • To support preparation of district land-use schemes and local plans

Major Milestones and Activities.

  • Sampling and monitoring of coastal waters for chemical pollution
  • Developing district land-use planning schemes focused on agricultural use and waste management
  • Waste management, including waste segregation and recycling awareness

Coastal Livelihood Diversification.
Primary Objectives.

  • To enhance access to education
  • To promote higher education for children, particularly in fishing communities
  • To promote complementary livelihood opportunities and skills development

Major Milestones and Activities.

  • Comprehensive scholarship scheme
  • Implementation of access-to-education projects
  • Development of livelihood-skills projects

It remains to be seen how successful Ghana’s multistakeholder approach to marine and fisheries management will be; the research and stakeholder-informed action plans have just been launched. But the effort has been noteworthy in its explicit recognition of the need for government leadership, industry support, and civil-society cooperation and collaboration in order to tackle a critical environmental and socio­economic challenge. Ghana’s marine environment and fisheries are of paramount importance to its coastal population, and a successful collaborative model could represent an approach that has global applicability.