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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Waterless fracking - and US companies - seen as keys to China shalegas development

The successful development of China's apparently massive shale gas reserves - the world's largest and 50% larger than the U.S.’s reserves - may depend on finding a way to perform fracking without water

According to this report, the world's most populous country and the world's largest energy consumer will only be able to develop the vast reserves in the arid north of China by either finding "some way to frack waterlessly or utilize a source of water that has yet to be identified."

The article also points out that almost all fracking technology and experience is owned by U.S. companies.  The China shale gas challenge presents an immense business opportunity and another imperative that can - and must - propel the shale gas industry toward developing new technologies that eliminate the use of water and chemicals in fracking, and many of the environmental and health risks along with them.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

PA Gov's office issues important report on natgas gathering lines

Patrick Henderson, Governor Tom Corbett’s Energy Executive, has issued a must-read report to the Pennsylvania General Assembly on natural gas gathering lines in the Commonwealth, as required by Act 13.

Gathering lines are the pipelines that carry natural gas from wells - in this case, unconventional gas wells - to a transmission line.  Currently, the report says that there are 1,728 miles of those lines in Pennsylvania – a number that will grow dramatically in Pennsylvania in the coming decades.  So, the topic is an extremely important one for Pennsylvania.

The report reviews existing laws governing gathering line placement and makes 16 recommendations for improving environmental and public safety - including six that aim to reduce or minimize the impact of gathering line development:

  • Remove legal impediments to the sharing of state and local road rights-of-way with gathering lines to encourage the use of existing corridors and reduce habitat fragmentation.  

Co-location of infrastructure is something that is required on the state’s public forestlands where drilling occurs; it should be the rule statewide.  Co-locating pipelines and roads in existing corridors or sharing new ones, besides saving developers money, avoids needless duplication and scenes like this:

Mark Godfrey/The Nature Conservancy

  • In a similar vein, county planning offices should work with drillers and gathering line companies to maximize opportunities for shared rights-of-way;
  • Enhance the PA Natural Diversity Inventory review tool to assist gathering line developers in avoiding conflicts with threatened and endangered species;
  • The Departmentof Environmental Protection should adopt environmental review standards for drilling proposals that avoid surface disturbances, impacts on sensitive lands, forest fragmentation, viewsheds and direct intersection with waterways;
  • County and municipal governments should be encouraged to consult with gathering line operators to better understand the implications of a proposed project on local comprehensive plans;
  • Pipeline operators should be encouraged to consult with appropriate experts to replant rights-of-way with vegetation that fosters habitat development for wildlife

These solid recommendations provide an excellent start to reducing the impact of gathering line development on Penn’s Woods. But they are only a start, for two reasons.

First, saying the right thing and doing things right are not necessarily the same. Details matter, and need to be spelled out. And regulations requiring that those recommendations are put into place - and then enforced - matter.  

Second, the report's recommendations are far from the last word.  One example is that limits must be placed on the amount of open trenching for pipelines that is allowed. 

Mark Godfrey/The Nature Conservancy

In situations like this, with mounded soil piled alongside perhaps miles of open trenches, heavy rain events can cause big erosion and sedimentation problems that needlessly threaten waterways.  Regulations preventing this practice are needed.

Improved infrastructure planning, development, management, and regulation of these activities are essential to ensuring responsible natural gas production.  This report should be read seriously and acted upon. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Update on U.S. EPA study of fracking and drinking water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues its essential work in studying the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.  EPA has scheduled a series of technical workshops on analytical chemical methods related to that study and is seeking subject-matter experts to contribute to the workshops.  

EPA has also posted information and materials from five Technical Roundtables held in November on water acquisition, chemical mixing, well injection, produced water, and wastewater treatment.  

EPA plans to hold additional technical workshops in 2013 on water acquisition, assessing impacts, wastewater treatment, well construction/operation, and case studies.