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Friday, July 19, 2013

A response to Food and Water Watch on my work in Maryland

At the risk of calling attention to something that I don’t think deserves much, this blog post by Jorge Aguilar of Food and Water Watch – whom I’ve never met or spoken to -takes a skewed look at both me and my work consulting (mentioned here, for example) to Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources on shale gas development.

Mr. Aguilar notes that I “served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources during the state’s rapid expansion of fracking” – suggesting that correlation implies causation. He doesn't say - and may not even know - that I was not a regulator but a public lands manager – one who was ordered by the General Assembly to lease state forest land for gas exploration to help balance the state budget, and who voiced concern about it at my professional peril. I worked with the women and men of the agency to minimize the impact of the mandated leasing, and to understand its potential impacts. I worked with my former colleague John Hanger to enact (for a time) additional protections for state forest land that would be drilled. I ordered the development of best management practices and a comprehensive monitoring program for gas development on state forest lands. And I wrote and helped convince my boss Governor Ed Rendell to sign a moratorium on further state forest leasing. 

Aguilar goes on to unfold his indictment:
Now a consultant, Quigley has written this report for the DNR, shared anonymously with Food & Water Watch by administration officials, that shows O’Malley tapping into Quigley’s expertise to push controversial “comprehensive drilling plans,” a new type of regulation that aims to cluster fracking drill pads in small sacrifice zones within the state.
Read my report - which will be posted on Maryland Department of the Environment's website and presented at a public meeting on Monday - for yourself to see if you can detect any hint of controversy over CDP’s.  Except, perhaps, from opponents of drilling who see any contemplated regulation – regardless of how strict – as allowing drilling, and therefore unacceptable.

But it gets better. 
We shouldn’t be surprised though. Quigley, after all, has been a main consultant for PennFuture, an environmental group who was a strategic partner in creating the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. This center is a marriage of pro-business environmental organizations like PennFuture and the Environmental Defense Fund and major oil and gas companies such as Chevron and Shell to develop voluntary performance standards for fracking. In other words, these groups are promoting voluntary rules agreed to by the industry. Former PennFuture CEO John Hanger also went on to become Pennsylvania’s secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection and failed to protect the state’s environment from the inevitable pollution from fracking.
I was a consultant to PennFuture from February, 2011 until April 2012 (and - shudder - worked for the organization back in 2003-2005). I was not involved in their work with the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, though I support it. The gratuitous swipe at my friend and former colleague John Hanger is about as wrong as it can be. 
In a ridiculous gesture of public relations prowess, Quigley says in his report that Maryland has a chance to create environmental and business “win—wins” by moving forward with the “responsible” drilling of natural gas. What Quigley views as the first “win” is really just “less loss” from an environmental perspective. This is coming from a guy who might not have been setting the bar very high for safety when he said, “incidents and accidents are inevitable; you’re never going to bat 1.000. 
Putting aside Aguilar’s snideness, read the rest of the report and the linked article and judge my level of concern for the environment for yourself.  And if you’re interested in more, peruse this blog, or this one, and again judge for yourself.

Aguilar quotes Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission member Paul Roberts.  I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Mr. Roberts and corresponding with him. I deeply respect his views, though we might not agree on everything – such as natural gas’ role in combating climate disruption. He is certainly entitled to his views. 

I was born and raised - and eventually became an elected official - in a "production zone" - a coal town in Northeastern Pennsylvania that still reels from the impacts of mining decades after most of it ended. I know more than I wish I did about environmental degradation from irresponsible fossil fuel extraction.  I've spent a good deal of my career working for a better way and for a sustainable future, now trying to do that in my consulting practice.  I believe that the approach that Maryland is taking - a careful, methodical, cautious, and transparent one - is exemplary.  I think the regulations that they are contemplating if - if - drilling is eventually allowed to go forward would make the Old Line State among the nation's strongest regulators of natural gas production and protectors of our natural endowment. Could they be improved? Should they be implemented? Those are questions for the citizens of Maryland to decide.

And unlike Mr. Aguilar, I do believe it's possible to get fracking right.  We in this nation are a long way from that now, but with continuing vigilance and participation of all stakeholders, we can get there. We must get there - as fast as possible. Maryland and Governor O'Malley are trying to do it right.  That effort should be recognized and respected.  The highest form of respect is to participate in the process. Its success depends on all of us.

Oil and gas infrastructure out of synch with fracking boom - a landscape peril, but is there a climate play?

America’s oil and gas infrastructure is out of sync with its newfound, hydraulic fracturing-enabled abundance of supply.  Fixing that situation is essential for environmental and public safety (as well as economic) reasons.  And it also presents an opportunity to strike a grand bargain that brings the oil and gas industry to the table to achieve significant carbon emission reductions.   That is the gist of two must-read articles about our nation’s oil and gas boom.

This Washington Post piece notes a U.S. Energy Information Administration report that says that, due to a lack of capacity of existing oil pipelines not meant to handle the new volumes of shale oil being produced domestically, U.S. transport of crude oil by rail, truck, and barge has jumped 57 percent between 2011 and 2012, surpassing 1 million barrels per day. That obviously brings with it greater risks of accidents and spills – and rail incidents alone have “skyrocketed in recent years, up from one or two a year early in the previous decade to 88 last year.”

The Post reports that “nearly one-third of the natural gas that’s produced in North Dakota is simply burned off, or ‘flared,’ because there are no pipelines to bring it to market” – a small-scale disaster for air quality and climate, and an immense waste of resources. Here in Pennsylvania, the story is the same.  While over 7,200 unconventional wells have been drilled or are under development (as of July 13), less than 4,700 have reported production values and have either been capped or are being flared- largely because gathering and pipeline infrastructure has yet to catch up with drilling activity. 

Yet, pipeline building in the U.S. has surged.  But it's out of synch with the shale boom, and much more development is needed.  The Post report highlights an excellent piece by Jason Bordoff, who writes in the on-line journal Democracy:
enough miles of pipeline (has been built in the U.S.) in the last eight years to travel three-quarters of the distance to the moon, (but) it “was built to move oil from the Gulf Coast up into refineries in the middle of the country. But that entire infrastructure now needs to be flipped on its head to accommodate the massive growth in production from Canada, North Dakota, and other parts of the midcontinent.
Indeed, he writes: 
According to Deutsche Bank, more than 20 large or medium-sized macro (oil) pipelines will likely be going into service in the United States and Canada in 2013, and around 60 pipeline projects are planned or in process. The natural gas pipeline system, too, will require a rapid build-out, and much is already underway. The National Petroleum Council estimates 30,000 miles of new long-distance natural gas pipelines will be needed to manage the new sources of supply… (P)ipeline spending in North America is projected to increase nearly fivefold in 2013 from the prior year, and dozens of pipeline projects are planned.
Bordoff argues that Federal and state policy reforms will be needed to facilitate and rationalize these projects - reforms that include streamlining of permitting.  That rings major environmental and ecological alarm bells unless landscape-level planning is required as part of any streamlining.  The landscape industrialization and habitat fragmentation potential of this scale of pipeline development is immense and federal and state policies must recognize the threats and risks posed by massive pipeline development.

But Bordoff argues that the needed reforms:   
hold the promise of bringing industry to the table to support serious action on climate. Although oil and gas will remain important parts of our energy infrastructure for the foreseeable future, we must act now to avoid the worst impacts of climate change….The new energy infrastructure that the changing landscape requires can be an essential part of a compromise that seeks to advance domestic supply increases while taking meaningful action to address climate change.
Bordoff may be right.  But our nation’s new energy infrastructure needs must not be allowed to further compromise landscapes and ecosystems that are already in great peril from development, and face devastation from climate disruption.  We cannot allow further destruction of the environment in an effort save it.   Smart planning must be an absolutely essential piece of any infrastructure policy reform, and any grand energy bargain.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Three shale layers now being developed in PA; need for smart planning ever more apparent

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Tim Puko reports on the growing development of a third layer of shale beneath Pennsylvania - the Upper Devonian - which joins the Marcellus and Utica shale layers in production in the Keystone State.  It offers a convenient excuse for me to bring up subjects related to oil and gas development that I blog about frequently - landscape industrialization, cumulative impacts,  and the essential need for the gas industry to practice - and regulators to require - comprehensive development planning.

Puko writes that experts believe that "Drillers will target the Marcellus first, and, in most cases, come back for the Upper Devonian later, maybe generations from now."

Read that again.  Generations from now.

What will Pennsylvania look like after several more decades of oil and gas exploration? Indeed, if you accept the proposition that we will likely dig up every last hydrocarbon and burn it before switching to zero-carbon energy, what will other shale gas states look like generations from now?

 A 2011 EIA shale map

A 2012 USGS map of previously unassessed East Coast shales

Next Monday, I'll be addressing Maryland's Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission to make the case for comprehensive development planning. (Full disclosure: I consult to Maryland's Department of Natural Resources on its approach to shale gas development.) Maryland has recently proposed requiring comprehensive development planning for unconventional gas development, which would place the Old Line State among the vanguard of states in the management of this activity.  I hope this proposal is adopted. It would be an example to the nation. And it's also good business.

What will shale gas states look like generations from now?  The answer is up to all of us.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Study to look at Marcellus wells for enhanced gas production and CO2 storage

Researchers from Penn State University, West Virginia University, and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory are studying the possibility of capturing carbon dioxide produced at power plants and industrial facilities and pumping it into existing Marcellus natural gas wells in Pennsylvania – to enhance gas production and to extend the life of the wells, and to provide for permanent storage of CO2.

The study started in the fall of 2011 and is expected to be completed in November 2013. It will look at the economics of enhanced gas recovery – similar in concept to enhanced oil recovery.  Researchers recognize that the costs of the process can be substantially decreased – and the economics of using CO2 in this dual manner substantially improved -  through shared transportation infrastructure like pipelines and compressor stations.  So, they are studying the feasibility of building a transportation network that could capture the carbon dioxide at multiple power plants and industrial facilities and transport it to the wells where it would be injected and stored.

While significant questions remain about whether fracking precludes - or at least potentially conflicts with -  underground storage of CO2, the Penn State/WVU/NETL study is an important one whose results will merit close scrutiny.