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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Changes

I’m honored to have been selected by Pennsylvania Governor-elect Tom Wolf as his nominee to serve the citizens of Pennsylvania as their Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, starting on January 20, 2015. I’m deeply honored, humbled, and excited by this opportunity.

The position is subject to confirmation by the Senate of Pennsylvania.

With my return to public service, I’m suspending this blog.

Thank you for reading.

Until we meet again.


Monday, December 29, 2014

As I've been saying

This Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article reports on the ongoing search for and testing of waterless fracking technologies. And this sponsored article reports on a plasma technology being applied to existing wells.

Frequent readers of this blog will find the material familiar - especially the comment by one service company official who told the Trib that his company's "technology can compete economically with water-based fracking when the cost of sourcing and disposing of water and potential environmental impacts are factored in."

I think that when it comes to deploying waterless fracking technologies, full recognition of and accounting for all of the costs and risks associated with the use of water and chemicals in fracking is the key. It's also the key to smart regulations governing the practice.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

New York bans fracking

Yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State because of concerns over health risks.

The New York State Department of Health's report on its review of fracking is here. And here's an annotated version of the same report from StateImpactPA.

Here in Pennsylvania, the New York report should add great weight to the already self-evident case for tougher, more comprehensive regulation - and for the urgent study of the the many unanswered questions about the public health, environmental, and socioeconomic impacts of unconventional oil and gas development.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Researchers: more study on fracking biocides needed

The subject of the use of chemicals in hydraulic fracturing has led to misleading headlines, and calls for vastly improved disclosure, for comprehensive reporting, for closing existing loopholes on chemical use, and for caution and more study. Now, a study on one class of fracking chemicals - biocides - underscore the need for caution and further study.

Biocides are chemicals that are added to hydraulic fracturing fluid to kill bacteria that can corrode well casings, reduce efficiency of oil and gas extraction, and produce (highly toxic) hydrogen sulfide gas. University researchers haves completed "the most comprehensive review to date of the environmental fate and toxicity of the biocides most commonly used in hydraulic fracturing fluids" and found that they are "largely unknown."

Biocides in Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids: A Critical Review of Their Usage, Mobility, Degradation, and Toxicity was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. According to a University of Colorado press release, the review of "more than 200 research papers, studies, and other literature" found that:

  • [L]ittle is known about what happens to these biocides if they are accidentally spilled on agricultural soil, enter surface or groundwater, or are exposed to the high temperature and pressure conditions in well boreholes...
  • None of the 16 major biocides used in hydraulic fracturing are specific to the oil and natural gas industry. All of them are used in other industrial processes and/or commercial products...
  • Of the 16 major biocides used in fracking, nine have been reported to have chronic toxicity effects (such as developmental, reproductive, mutagenic, carcinogenic, or neurological effects). Of the seven that have not shown any evidence of chronic toxicity, three may transform into intermediate products with toxic potential.
  • Based on currently available data, surface spills appear to be the most likely cause for environmental contamination by fracking fluids...
  • If inadvertently released into the environment, some biocides will primarily contaminate water and will thus be more mobile but also break down faster. Others will stick to soil and be less mobile and thus take longer to break down.
  • Many biocides degrade naturally in the environment, but some may transform into more toxic or persistent compounds.
  • Hardly anything is known about transformation, sorption and transport of fracking chemicals once injected into these deep formations, which have high temperature, pressure, salt and organic matter concentrations. Consequently, little is known about the type and toxicity of the compounds that return to the surface with produced/flowback water. More research is critically needed to understand these processes.
  • Several biocide alternatives exist but are rarely used because of higher costs and high energy demands or potential formation of toxic disinfection byproducts such as chloroform.
  • Environmental and human health risks associated with the use and disposal of hydraulic fracturing fluids are not well understood due to lack of research.
Additional research is surely needed.  As is a drive to waterless, chemical-free fracking. Industry innovation can get us there; for example, according  to this publicity piece (caveat emptor), new technologies are being developed to replace water and chemicals for enhanced oil recovery from existing wells.  That innovation can be driven by better accounting and coupled with next-gen regulations to get us there faster. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Report: oil and gas industry has a long way to go on disclosure to investors

As regular readers of this blog know, the need for better disclosure of the chemicals used and risks associated with hydraulic fracturing is a frequent topic. Disclosure serves the public interest - and the industry's social license to operate

Demands for thorough disclosure by investors is a movement that merits close watching, if for no other reason than the weak industry response to it, according to a report issued last year.  Has it gotten any better since?

According to a just-released analysis, there's been some dramatic improvements at some companies, but the oil and gas industry as a whole has a long way to go.

Disclosing the Facts 2014 is a joint effort of As You Sow, Boston Common Asset Management, Green Century Capital Management, and The Investor Environmental Health Network. Using publicly available information that the companies provide on their websites or in financial statements or other reports linked from their websites, the report benchmarks the public disclosures of 30 oil and gas companies on 35 key performance indicators and assesses five areas of environmental, social, and governance metrics:
  1. toxic chemicals; 
  2. water and waste management; 
  3. air emissions; 
  4. community impacts; and 
  5. management accountability, emphasizing quantitative disclosure
The findings for 2014:
As was the case with the 2013 scorecard, the results of this year’s scorecard demonstrate a widespread industry trend of underperformance in disclosing key performance metrics. Across the board, companies are failing to provide investors and the public with sufficient quantitative information to adequately understand and compare the risks and opportunities these companies present regarding their shale play operations.
Although industry-wide performance continues to lag investor expectations, several companies have significantly improved their disclosures over the past year. This change is consistent with continued close investor, public, and regulatory scrutiny of hydraulic fracturing activities as well as broader patterns of innovation within the industry, where companies deploy better practices and other companies follow in what we hope is a race to the top for best performance. Investors plan to continue pressing companies to adopt effective practices for managing the risks and impacts, and thus capturing the full value, of their hydraulic fracturing operations.
Companies should report data associated with their operational impacts using quantitative metrics, on a play-by-play basis, in order for investors to be able to rigorously assess company practices...
The report's conclusion is - or at least should be - self-evident: 
We believe companies implementing current best practices in operations and providing thoroughly transparent information about these efforts will: enhance the likelihood of securing and maintaining their social license to operate; reduce regulatory and reputational risks; reduce liabilities associated with poor performance, spills, contamination, and lawsuits; and thereby increase their access to capital.