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Friday, October 3, 2014

Everything's coming up roses

Earlier this year, as I wrote here, the US Energy Information Administration reported that a Marcellus Shale well completed by a rig in April 2014 can be expected to yield over 6 Mcfg per day more than a well completed by that rig in that formation in 2007 - a testament to the industry's resourcefulness in getting more gas out of every well.

This article from NaturalGasIntel.com is a must-read.  It describes some of the advances in drilling technology and operations that are driving down costs for Marcellus Shale drillers - and driving up profits.

Some excerpts:
The Marcellus Shale has for some time now been touted for its low finding and development costs, and even as natural gas volumes in the formation are expected to surpass 16 Bcf/d this month, exploration and production (E&P) companies are bent on getting more for less.
The technological and operational gains the play has witnessed in recent years have come not only at the drillbit, but above the surface as well.
Drilling efficiencies, better completions, cost reductions and streamlined operations have aligned behind the headlines of the nation's largest producing gasformation. But further innovations, representatives from two of the play's leading operators say, will continue to drive growth into the formation's marginal areas and help recreate the Pennsylvania story in developing horizons, such as the Upper Devonian and Utica shales....
Geosteering, fracture and completion design, cluster spacing and longer laterals are a few of the techniques that have reduced Chesapeake's well costs by $1 million in the last year...
...[Drilling and completion] techniques in the Marcellus will continue improving, while the same success is likely to occur in the Utica and Upper Devonian shales in Pennsylvania, albeit at a slower pace as development is only just beginning in those formations.
Cue Ethel Merman. 

Everything's coming up roses for Pennsylvania's shale gas producers, but consider the cumulative impacts of this rosy - perhaps seven decades-long future - on Pennsylvania's landscape, environment, and citizens if the environmental performance of the industry, regulatory oversight, and enforcement are all not drastically improved...


Thursday, October 2, 2014

State oil/gas groundwater protection rules improved, but still need major work

The Ground Water Protection Council has issued an update to its 2009 report on groundwater protection rules in 27 states that account for more than 98 percent of the country’s oil and gas production.

State oil and gas regulations designed to protect water resources, 2014 Edition says that states have “substantially improved” groundwater protection laws and regulations governing oil and gas production. But the report also identifies “emerging issues that merit more detailed consideration in future state regulatory evaluations”, including:

  • Analyzing the potential migration of injected fluids from the stimulated zone to water supplies, using an area of review concept (a concept embraced by the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, but not by Pennsylvania). 
  • Mandatory suspension of fracking operations when problems are encountered 
  • Taking a lifecycle approach to well integrity through monitoring 
  • Sampling and analysis of water resources potentially at risk from oil and gas development 
  • Treatment and waste stream management related to the use of brackish groundwater 
  • Reuse of produced water 
  • Proper disposal, handling and exposure limits related to NORM
The report also discusses the need for additional research on the risks to water from fracking and NORM.

Finally, in updating their rules, GWPC said that states should focus on:

By some measures, Pennsylvania compares fairly favorably to other states in terms of its oil and gas regulations. But that may be nothing more than damning with faint praise. An assessment of what exists on paper is at best half the equation. How regulations are interpreted and enforced are key. In Pennsylvania, at least, enforcement has been seriously degraded by savage budget cuts and political ideology.

Valuable reports like GWPC's need to be considered – and their limitations understood.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Today's lesson in irony

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering introducing new regulations that would require companies to disclose the composition of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), but the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) is warning that such a rule could jeopardise the trade secrets of its members, which include small businesses that manufacture chemicals used in oil and gas exploration.
Use FracFocus, goes the industry mantra - despite the obvious and well-documented shortcomings of that reporting mechanism.

Yet major hydraulic fracturing company Baker Hughes - starting today -
has implemented a new policy of disclosing 100% of the chemistry contained within its hydraulic fracturing fluid systems, without the use of any trade secret designations.
Baker Hughes' action - even though they are using FracFocus for disclosure - is exemplary, and so far singular.  The rest of the industry, in taking a social-license-to-operate-be damned stance,  justifies public suspicion of fracking and hampers better understanding of actions needed to minimize risks to public health and the environment from unconventional oil and gas development.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Study: Treated fracking wastewater could still threaten drinking water

Researchers from Duke University and Stanford University have found that if treated wastewater from unconventional oil and gas operations is discharged into rivers and streams that are used downstream as public drinking supplies, the chlorination of that water for drinking purposes can create carcinogenic chemicals in drinking water.

Their study, Enhanced Formation of Disinfection Byproducts in Shale Gas Wastewater-Impacted Drinking Water Supplies was published last week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.  As State Impact Pennsylvania reports: 
The research confirms what scientists have been warning about for some time. The high concentrations of salty brine, which flows up from deep underground once a well is fracked, are difficult to remove from the wastewater without the aid of an expensive technique called reverse osmosis or a cheaper method known as thermal distillation. If the wastewater is treated conventionally, which does not remove the bromides, chlorides or iodides, then it can be combined with chlorine at a drinking water facility, and create carcinogens such as bromines and iodines… 
What they found was that just .01 percent per volume of fracking wastewater, when combined with the disinfectant chlorine used by drinking water facilities, created trihalomethanes. The EPA limits the amount of these compounds in drinking water because of their link to kidney, liver and bladder cancer…
In 2011 the Department of Environmental Protection asked Marcellus Shale drillers to voluntarily stop sending their wastewater to conventional treatment facilities. The industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition pledged to stop. It’s unclear whether or not all of them are still complying with that request. The Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to our questions...(E)ven if all of the Marcellus Shale drillers have stopped using these facilities, wastewater from the smaller, conventional drillers could still have the same impact. 
The "regulatory" history here is pertinent for 3 reasons. First, and obviously, requests and promises are not nearly good enough. This issue demands strong regulation, careful monitoring, and strict enforcement. 

Second, it's amazing - and disturbing - that no one has apparently bothered to verify or track the results of the meager request and resulting promises that were made 3 years ago.

Third, unconventional and conventional drillers alike must be held to a much tougher standard.  And that may be difficult. Because as State Impact Pennsylvania has also reported:
During July budget negotiations, state Republican leaders slipped controversial language into the fiscal code that requires state regulators to differentiate between “conventional” or shallow wells and modern, deep shale wells. 
Will the prospect of toxic municipal drinking water change anything?


Monday, September 29, 2014

Back to Princeton (personal)

I'm headed back to Princeton University today to discuss the technical and policy aspects of unconventional natural gas development in two separate talks.

At noon, I'll be presenting a lecture on "The Business Case for Sustainable Shale Gas Development" as part of The David Bradford Seminars in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy. The seminar is co-sponsored with the Princeton Environmental Institute.

Afterwards, I'll meet for a three-hour session with MPA students from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Ph.D. science and engineering students.  They're participating in an intensive workshop on state policy opportunities to reduce methane emissions from unconventional natural gas extraction in the US.  The students are working to identify best practices in state regulations overseeing hydraulic fracturing and to recommend policies appropriate for gubernatorial executive orders and principles for legislation.  

I'll be giving a lecture on hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania and suggesting a path forward to sustainability - embracing the methane issue and lots more - that greatly expands on my lunchtime topic. I'm looking forward to interacting with the students.