Environment
Politico | 21 November 2016

Obama Cuts Arctic Waters From 5-Year Drilling Plan

President Barack Obama is throwing up roadblocks to Donald Trump’s pledges to expand offshore drilling, with a new plan that will declare parts of the Arctic off limits.

Administration officials made no mention of whether President Barack Obama will seek to prevent Donald Trump from putting those areas back on the table. Credit: Getty.

Obama’s Interior Department on 18 November issued its final 5-year road map for offshore oil and gas drilling that took two areas in the Arctic out of contention, dealing a win to environmental groups and obstructing a path to new offshore drilling in the area. The plan is vulnerable to being unraveled by Trump, who has pledged to expand oil and gas production, but it would take at least a few years for him to do so.

The blueprint by the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management schedules 10 regionwide leases in the Gulf of Mexico from 2017 through 2022 and another in Alaska’s Cook Inlet in 2021. But the agency dropped its March draft proposal to offer leases in the Arctic’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 2020 and 2022, pleasing environmental groups.

“The plan focuses lease sales in the best places—those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict, and established infrastructure—and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. “Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward.”

Stanford | 18 November 2016

New Maps Reveal Safe Locations for Wastewater Injection

Stanford University geophysicists have compiled the most detailed maps yet of the geologic forces controlling the locations, types, and magnitudes of earthquakes in Texas and Oklahoma.

New stress maps of Texas and Oklahoma have black lines indicating stress orientation. Blue-green colors indicate regions of extension in the crust, while yellow-orange areas are indicative of crustal compression. Credit: Jens-Erik Lund Snee.

New stress maps of Texas and Oklahoma have black lines indicating stress orientation. Blue-green colors indicate regions of extension in the crust, while yellow-orange areas are indicative of crustal compression. Credit: Jens-Erik Lund Snee.

These new “stress maps,” published in the journals Geophysical Research Letters and Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, provide insight into the nature of the faults associated with recent temblors, many of which appear to have been triggered by the injection of wastewater deep underground.

“These maps help explain why injection-induced earthquakes have occurred in some areas and provide a basis for making quantitative predictions about the potential for seismic activity resulting from fluid injection,” said study co-author Mark Zoback, the Benjamin M. Page Professor of Geophysics in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences.

To create these stress maps, Zoback and his graduate students Jens-Erik Lund Snee and Richard Alt interpreted data from different parts of Texas and Oklahoma donated by oil and gas companies. “Companies routinely collect data that can be used for assessing the state of stress in the Earth as part of their normal oil and gas operations,” Lund Snee said.

When combined with information about the faults present in a given area, the scientists were able to assess which faults are likely to be problematic and why. In the areas where induced earthquakes have occurred in Texas and Oklahoma, the Stanford scientists show that a relatively small increase of pore pressure—the pressure of fluids within the fractures and cavities of rocks—would have been sufficient to trigger slip.

Reuters | 18 November 2016

Obama Administration Completes Rule To Curb Methane From Federal Oil, Gas Production

The US Interior Department finalized rules on 15 November aimed at preventing methane leaks from oil and gas production on federal and tribal lands, one of the last major Obama administration rules aimed at fighting climate change.

US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. Credit: Reuters/Chris Wattie.

US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. Credit: Reuters/Chris Wattie.

Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said the rule, updating 30-year-old regulations that govern flaring, venting, and natural gas leaks from oil and gas production, could avoid wasting up to 41 Bcf of natural gas per year.

“This rule to prevent waste of our nation’s natural gas supplies is good government, plain and simple,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

“We are proving that we can cut harmful methane emissions that contribute to climate change while putting in place standards that make good economic sense for the nation.”

Environmental groups praised the rule, but industry and some western states called it unnecessary. One industry group sued BLM. The incoming Trump administration has promised to cut what it calls superfluous restrictions on energy production.

StateImpact Pennsylvania | 16 November 2017

Pennsylvania Has More Abandoned Wells Than Expected, Says New Study

Pennsylvania has more abandoned oil and gas wells than previously thought, and some are leaking large amounts of climate-damaging methane gas, according to a new study published 14 November in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

An abandoned well in McKean County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Scott Detroit/StateImpact Pennsylvania.

An abandoned well in McKean County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Scott Detroit/StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Researchers from Princeton and Stanford combined field observations with old books, literature, historical documents, and modern databases to estimate there are likely between 470,000 to 750,000 abandoned wells, up from prior estimates of 300,000 to 500,000. As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, only a small fraction of these wells are tracked by the state.

The study found these abandoned wells collectively account for 5 to 8% of Pennsylvania’s annual man-made greenhouse gas emissions. As other scientists have found while looking at methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, the biggest problems often come from a subset of “super-emitters.”

“A few wells, just 10%, contribute about 90% of all the emissions we measured,” said study co-author Rob Jackson of Stanford University.

The Associated Press | 16 November 2016

Wyoming Study: Fracturing Likely Not Behind Well Water Problem

A final state report released on 10 November on foul-smelling well water in Wyoming contradicts an EPA report from 5 years ago that ignited a national backlash when it suggested hydraulic fracturing was the cause of the contamination.

Bacteria were more likely to blame for the problem in Pavillion than the oil and gas drilling process, officials with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality said after a 2-year study that was hailed by fracturing advocates.

“Today’s announcement from the Wyoming DEQ doesn’t just close the case on Pavillion, it’s a knockout blow for activists who have tried to use Pavillion as a key talking point for their ban-fracking agenda,” said Randy Hildreth, Colorado director of Energy in Depth, an advocacy arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said the federal agency was reviewing the state report and declined further comment.

Reuters | 8 November 2016

Canada To Spend USD 1.1 Billion To Boost Oil Spill Response

Canada’s Liberal government on 7 November vowed to toughen its response to oil spills at sea, a move that some critics say will increase local tanker traffic and hurt the environment.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a CAD 1.5 billion national Oceans Protection Plan while speaking at HMCS Discovery in Vancouver, B.C., Canada on 7 November 2016. Credit: Reuters/Ben Nelms.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a CAD 1.5 billion national Oceans Protection Plan while speaking at HMCS Discovery in Vancouver, B.C., Canada on 7 November 2016. Credit: Reuters/Ben Nelms.

As part of a marine safety plan to protect oceans, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa would spend CAD 1.5 billion (USD 1.1 billion) over 5 years on better response measures and research into how to clean up oil spills.

Trudeau said the plan “will make Canada a world leader in marine safety.”

However, environmentalists said the announcement was a sign Ottawa will approve the hotly contested Trans Mountain pipeline expansion next month, which will run from Alberta’s oil sands to the Pacific Coast.

Trudeau declined to comment on whether he will approve the pipeline.

Reuters | 8 November 2016

Canada Oil Spill Program Hit by Cheap Crude, Lacks Applicants

The 2-year oil price crash has hurt a Canadian government program that funds research on oil spill cleanups, resulting in fewer applicants than expected, a senior federal official said.

Absorbent foam is used to soak up crude oil in the La Chaudiere River in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on 10 July 2013. Credit: Reuters/Christinne Muschi.

Absorbent foam is used to soak up crude oil in the La Chaudiere River in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, on 10 July 2013. Credit: Reuters/Christinne Muschi.

As a result, the government will expand the scope of its Oil Spill Response Science Program and open a second call for applications this month, Marc Wickham, Natural Resources Canada’s director of energy science and technology programs, said in an interview.

The program funds research that improves cleanup methods for marine oil spills. Those eligible include production, pipeline, and shipping companies in the energy sector.

Offshore Energy Today | 8 November 2016

Ten Oil Majors To Invest USD 1 Billion To “Help Tackle Climate Challenge”

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), made up of chief executive officers (CEOs) of 10 major oil and gas companies, on 4 November announced an investment of USD 1 billion over the next 10 years to develop and accelerate the commercial deployment of innovative low-emissions technologies.

The CEO-led organization was designed to catalyze practical action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions following discussions during the 2014 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting and was officially launched at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York in September 2014.

It is currently made up of 10 oil and gas companies—BP, Shell, CNPC, Eni, Pemex, Reliance Industries, Repsol, Saudi Aramco, Statoil, and Total—that together represent one-fifth of the world’s oil and gas production.

OGCI Climate Investments’s aim is to deploy successfully developed new technologies among member companies and beyond. It will also identify ways to cut the energy intensity of both transport and industry. Working in partnership with like-minded initiatives across all stakeholder groups and sectors, the OGCI CI believes its emission reduction impact can be multiplied across industries.

In a joint statement, the heads of the 10 oil and gas companies that comprise the OGCI said, “The creation of OGCI Climate Investments shows our collective determination to deliver technology on a large-scale that will create a step change to help tackle the climate challenge. We are personally committed to ensuring that by working with others our companies play a key role in reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases, while still providing the energy the world needs.”

Bloomberg | 8 November 2016

Oklahoma Agency Plans To Shut Disposal Wells After Earthquake

Oklahoma’s oil and gas regulator plans to shut some disposal wells and reduce the volume of others as its initial response to the earthquake on 6 November near the oil hub of Cushing.

“Other plans are being developed that will encompass larger areas” and more details are coming tomorrow, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission said on 7 November in an emailed advisory.

The commission said the plan covered 700 square miles. It didn’t say how many wells were affected. When a quake of similar magnitude hit the state in September, the agency ordered 37 wells shut in a 500-square-mile area. The commission in 2015 established a “volume reduction area” covering 11,000 square miles, or about one-sixth of the state.

Environment Coastal & Offshore | 26 October 2016

Saudi Arabia’s Mysterious Coral Reefs Documented by International Team

Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida and King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, partnered in the initial, 2-week expedition focused on coral abundance, diversity, and stress, along with the abundance and diversity of butterflyfish, sea urchins, seagrasses, and other species that may indicate the health of this critical environment. Preliminary results suggest that some life forms may be healthier or more diverse in southern Gulf of Aqaba waters further from denser human populations. More data and analyses are needed to verify the possible significance of trends, and the researchers aim for another expedition in summer 2017.

A coral reef off the Saudi Arabian coast of the Gulf of Aqaba. Credit: King Abdulaziz University.

A coral reef off the Saudi Arabian coast of the Gulf of Aqaba. Credit: King Abdulaziz University.

The Gulf of Aqaba is bordered by Egypt on the west, Israel and Jordan in the north, and Saudi Arabia on the east. Though relatively small—about 111 miles long (180 kilometers) and 12 miles wide (20 km)—the gulf is one of the northernmost living coral reef ecosystems and estimated to host approximately 210 species of hard corals and 120 species of soft corals. Coastal development and industry are denser in and around the northern-gulf cities of Eilat, Israel, and Aqaba, Jordan, while the Saudi Arabian coast is far less populous and its waters are far less studied.

“I have had the good fortune to lead comprehensive, multiyear studies with colleagues in the northern gulf since the mid-1990s, and the Gulf of Aqaba is known for its beautiful coral reefs. However, the Saudi Arabian portion of this significant body of water is largely unexplored—in particular, comprehensive studies of reef biodiversity and coral health down the length of this coast are lacking,” said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, president and chief executive officer of Mote and leading US partner in the expedition.

“With this expedition, we’ve initiated the first in what we expect to be a continuous time series of multidiscipline data acquisition and analyses spanning from the northern border with Jordan south along the Saudi Arabian coast of the gulf and into the Straits of Tiran. We’re excited to partner with the outstanding marine science faculty and students of King Abdulaziz University to gather these baseline data, which are necessary for understanding and addressing emerging challenges to their coral reefs.”

E&P | 24 October 2016

Taking a Studied Approach to Drilling Waste

What is risk? As Leigh Buchanan and Andrew O’Connell put it in the January 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review, “Risk is an inescapable part of every decision.” Decisions regarding waste management policy in the oil and gas industry are no exception.

Drilling waste containing diesel-range organics and other constituents is being stored at a receiving site. Source: Scott Environmental Services.

Drilling waste containing diesel-range organics and other constituents is being stored at a receiving site. Source: Scott Environmental Services.

Drilling waste is one of the largest waste streams generated from oil and gas exploration and production in the US, with about 200 million bbl of solid drilling waste produced in 2014 alone. Drilling waste consists of the drilled cuttings and unrecovered drilling fluids, including water- and oil-based fluids. The risk management of drilling waste should be an important aspect of every drilling mud program. There are multiple publications that include important guidelines as well as several companies that are able to help assess and manage this risk.

Risk Is a Balance of Probability and Liability
In a mathematical sense, risk is a function of the probability of a poor or undesirable outcome and the associated costs or liability of that outcome. This is directly related to both probability and liability. One must first understand the probability and liability associated with a decision to determine risk. In accounting, this liability is generally referred to as a loss contingency and may or may not be reported on the balance sheet, depending on the probability of a loss event occurring. For an environmental risk assessment, human health and ecological risk assessments should first be calculated. The degree of risk can then be a factor in estimating financial liability.

Bloomberg | 20 October 2016

Consequences of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Ongoing

More regulations and more research are still to come on the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Government and academic specialists at a Capitol Hill briefing on 17 October offered a sampling of what has been done, is being done, and needs to be done as they discussed the consequences of the 2010 disaster.

The Interior Department has issued a series of rules to establish or revamp safety and environmental management systems, drilling safety, production safety, and Arctic-specific drilling requirements.

Upcoming will be a third set of requirements for safety and environmental management systems, according to Ryan Underwood, legislative counsel at Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

The bureau also is planning to develop more improvements stemming from equipment failure reporting and equipment lifecycle reliability data, Underwood said. The agency currently is engaging stakeholders in industry to develop a better understanding of why so many bolts fail and how to prevent the failures, he said.