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Posts Tagged ‘hydraulic fracturing’

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 @ 03:08 PM gHale

As production of shale gas soars, the industry’s effects on nature and wildlife remain largely unknown, according to a new study.

The report emphasizes the need to determine the environmental impact of chemical contamination from spills, well-casing failure, and other accidents.

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“We know very little about how shale gas production is affecting plants and wildlife,” said author Sara Souther, a conservation fellow in the Department of Botany at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “And in particular, there is a lack of accessible and reliable information on spills, wastewater disposal and the chemistry of fracturing fluids. Of the 24 U.S. states with active shale gas reservoirs, only five maintain public records of spills and accidents.”

The 800 percent increase in U.S. shale gas production between 2007 and 2012 is largely due to the use of hydraulic fracturing. Also called fracking, the process uses high-pressure injection of water, laden with sand and a variety of chemicals, to open cracks in the gas reservoir so natural gas can flow to the well. A similar technique also sees action when extracting oil from “tight” geologic formations.

The chemical makeup of fracturing fluid and wastewater, which can include carcinogens and radioactive substances, is often unknown. The authors reviewed chemical disclosure statements for 150 wells in three top gas-producing states and found, on average, two out of three wells ended up fractured with at least one undisclosed chemical.

Pressured by growing concern about pollution to groundwater and surface water, government and the industry have made some steps toward openness, Souther said, but added there needs to be more progress.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s website is one of the nation’s best sources of publicly available information on spills of fracking fluid, wastewater, and other contaminants. Even so, gas companies failed to report over one third of spills in the last year,” she said. “How many more unreported spills occurred, but were not detected during well inspections? We need accurate data on the release of fracturing chemicals into the environment before we can understand impacts to plants and animals.”

One of the greatest threats to animal and plant life identified in the study is the cumulative impact of rapid, widespread shale development, with each individual well contributing collectively to air, water, noise and light pollution.

“The past has taught us that environmental impacts of large-scale development and resource extraction, whether coal plants, large dams or biofuel monocultures, are more than the sum of their parts,” said Morgan Tingley, a researcher from University of Connecticut. “We can’t let shale development outpace our understanding of its environmental impacts.”

“If you look down on a heavily fracked landscape, you see a web of well pads, access roads, and pipelines creating islands out of what was, in some cases, continuous habitat,” Souther said. “What are the combined effects of numerous wells and their supporting infrastructure on wide-ranging or sensitive species, like the pronghorn antelope or the hellbender salamander?

“I am from West Virginia, which is underlain by one of the largest shale gas reservoirs in the U.S. However, this industry doesn’t just impact gas-producing states. Here in Wisconsin, shale development is affecting areas that supply sand for use in hydraulic fracturing.”

“Some of the wells in the chemical disclosure registry were fractured with fluid containing 20 or more undisclosed chemicals,” said co-author Kimberly Terrell, a researcher at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “This is an arbitrary and inconsistent standard of chemical disclosure.”

With shale gas production projected to increase exponentially over the next 30 years, the authors hope the study will guide the application of limited scientific resources to the most important questions, and enhance cooperation among scientists, industry and policymakers to minimize damage to the natural world.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 @ 09:05 AM gHale

One of the arguments against fracking is there is such a huge unknown about its environmental affects, but now there is a new water treatment technology for gas extraction that could significantly reduce the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing.

Advanced dialysis cells use excess carbon dioxide to desalinate waste water for reuse and also produce hydrochloric acid and carbonate salts as byproducts on site, which end up used in fracking and which drillers would have to purchase and transport long distances, said Alfred Lam, who was a project member during his doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia.

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Hydraulic fracturing — known as fracking — involves injecting large amounts of water, grit and chemicals into gas and oil wells under high pressure to fracture the rock and release natural gas. When the pressure release, millions of liters of contaminated, briny water backflows out of the well and must end up treated, said Lam, who is helping shepherd the project as an adviser for Vancouver-based Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, which specializes in early-stage clean energy projects.

Waste carbon dioxide ends up produced by gas flaring and the operation of generators at well sites.

The process addresses carbon management and water desalination, while supplying a part of the industry’s chemical requirements.

“A lot of technologies look at these issues as two separate problems, but we are simultaneously addressing both of them,” said David Wilkinson, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at UBC and a member of the Clean Energy Research Centre.

“What is most striking about this technology is that it uses waste inputs to do the work of desalination and it produces high-value chemicals at the back end,” said Lam. “There are also situations at the front end, where the water available for fracking needs to be desalinated before being used.”

If the technology ended up applied across Alberta in tight oil and shale gas extraction at commercialization, it could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than one million metric tons per year and reduce fresh water use by more than two billion liters, he said.

By estimates, the system could mitigate about five kilograms of carbon dioxide per barrel of waste water treated and produce about two kilograms of carbonate salt and about 0.8 kilograms of hydrochloric acid per kilogram of carbon dioxide used in the reaction.

“These are chemicals you would normally find in frack fluid to produce tight oil or shale gas,” said Lam. “The producers then don’t have to source these materials from elsewhere and that further reduces the carbon footprint.”

The UBC team and Simon Fraser University collaborator Steven Holdcroft earned a $500,000 grant from the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation to scale up and commercialize the system.

Researchers will test a larger version of the system in the lab using real backflow liquid recovered from oil and gas wells, before moving to field trials.

Lam expects portable, modular treatment systems to find a market in Alberta and the United States — where unconventional drilling and extraction require 367 billion liters of fresh water annually — and in British Columbia’s fast-expanding northern gas fields.

The provincial government is encouraging a massive expansion of the natural gas export industry to take advantage of liquefied natural gas prices in Asia that are three times higher than in North America.

If five LNG plants went up in British Columbia, the government estimates the industry could attract up to $98 billion in capital investment and create 75,000 permanent jobs by 2020. They also project the industry could generate $100 billion in new government revenue over 30 years.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 @ 11:05 AM gHale

The government failed to inspect thousands of oil and gas wells it considers potentially high risks for water contamination and other environmental damage, congressional investigators said.

The report points to substantial gaps in oversight by the agency that manages oil and gas development on federal and Indian lands, according to a report published by The Associated Press.

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Investigators said weak control by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management resulted from policies based on outdated science and from incomplete monitoring data.

The findings from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) come amid an energy boom in the country and the increasing use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. That process involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to split open rocks to allow oil and gas to flow. It has produced major economic benefits, but also raised fears that the chemicals could spread to water supplies.

The audit also said the BLM did not coordinate effectively with state regulators in New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah.

The bureau has become a symbol of federal overreach to industry groups opposed to government regulations related to oil and gas drilling. Environmental groups say the Obama administration needs to do more to guard against environmental damage.

In the coming months, the administration should issue rules on fracking and methane gas emissions.

The report said the agency “cannot accurately and efficiently identify whether federal and Indian resources are properly protected or that federal and Indian resources are at risk of being extracted without agency approval.”

In response to the report, Tommy Beaudreau, a principal deputy assistant interior secretary, wrote he generally agreed with the recommendations for improved state coordination and updated regulations.

The report makes clear in many instances the BLM’s failure to inspect high-priority oil and gas wells is due to limited money and staff. BLM officials said they were in the process of updating several of its policies later this year.

Investigators reviewed 14 states in full or part: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. In Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, fracking has become increasingly prevalent.

The report said the BLM had failed to conduct inspections on more than 2,100 of the 3,702 wells it had specified as “high priority” and drilled from 2009 through 2012. The agency considers a well “high priority” based on a greater need to protect against possible water contamination and other environmental safety issues.

The agency had yet to indicate whether another 1,784 wells were high priority or not.

The BLM has developed agreements with some states, which also have jurisdiction over well inspections on federal lands. According to the GAO, it had reached agreements with regulators in California, Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming.

The report said BLM has not reviewed or updated many of its oil and gas rules to reflect technological advances, as required by a 2011 executive order. They include guidance on spacing of wells, which the report said could help maximize oil and gas production.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 @ 07:04 PM gHale

When it comes to fracking, the secret sauce is always the chemicals companies use to help break up shale and release oil and gas. Secret is the key word there.

Now Baker Hughes said it is ready to reveal all the chemicals it uses in hydraulic fracturing. That is something other big frackers limited by asserting the recipes they use to get at trapped oil and gas are trade secrets.

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The Houston-based oil field services firm said in a release “it is possible to disclose 100 percent of the chemical ingredients we use in hydraulic fracturing fluids without compromising our formulations — a balance that increases public trust while encouraging commercial innovation.”

Baker Hughes included a disclaimer: It would reveal its chemical data “where accepted by our customers and relevant governmental authorities.” The company said it will take several months for it to negotiate with its suppliers before it can release its data.

The new disclosures, the company said, would eliminate any trade secret claims about its reports to FracFocus, an industry-backed database that regulators in Texas and other states use as a clearinghouse for fracturing-fluid data. It contains data on more than 68,000 U.S. oil and gas well sites.

The trade secret argument came about last year when researchers from Harvard’s environmental law program said FracFocus has “serious flaws” because it allows oil producers to withhold information on the fracturing fluids they use, by asserting trade secret exemptions.

Baker Hughes said its new data format will calm concerns, as it will include in its newly formatted reports a complete analysis of its fluid mixtures, down to tiny trace elements of ammonium hydroxide.

The release of Baker Hughes’ data would come as activist investors and environmental groups press oil companies to disclose the chemicals they use in the modern technique of blasting a mix of water, chemicals and proppants sometimes two miles under the earth’s surface to crack open shale oil and gas reservoirs.

Baker Hughes said 60 percent of U.S. natural gas would be trapped in shale and other reservoirs if not for hydraulic fracturing, a technique that has been around for some six decades but only recently targeted shale reserves since the mid-2000s when engineers combined the process with horizontal drilling.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 @ 11:04 AM gHale

A Texas oil company is facing a $25,000 fine for performing a drilling technique consistent with fracking in central Collier County in Florida.

In addition to the fine, the company ended up barred from using the technique further until it completes a groundwater study, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller.

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According to a consent order filed by the DEP, the Dan A. Hughes Co. performed the unpermitted technique for two days in December and January and defied a cease-and-desist order from DEP for one day. The well in question is at Hogan Island, just south of Lake Trafford, near the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed lands.

Dan A. Hughes Co., “proposed an enhanced extraction procedure that had not previously been used in Florida. The company proposed to inject a dissolving solution at sufficient pressure to achieve some openings in the oil bearing rock formation that would be propped open with sand in pursuit of enhancing oil production,” according to the DEP statement.

The description given by the DEP is consistent with hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” which is in active use in part of Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Dakota and Texas.

According the Environmental Protection Agency drillers frack by injecting a combination of water and chemicals into a geological formation at high pressure to fracture the rock. Once the rock is broken, the fluids expand the fracture and a propping agent pumps in to keep them open to allow drillers to extract the resource.

“That’s pretty heavy. That’s pretty serious, to introduce fracking to Southwest Florida without DEP approval,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the Fort Lauderdale-based South Florida Wildlands Association, which is a plaintiff in a permit challenge to another proposed Dan A. Hughes well.

DEP did not release more information about what Dan A. Hughes did. The technique qualifies as a “confidential trade secret” and ended up shielded from public disclosure under Florida law, according to the DEP order.

Under Florida law, a company does not need a separate permit to perform hydraulic fracturing, but it must notify DEP and obtain permission.

Monday, January 6, 2014 @ 03:01 PM gHale

A new year means new rules take effect and that is exactly what happened in Oklahoma when it comes to fracking chemicals.

The rule requires all oil and gas well operators in the state to report the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Previously, only operators of horizontal drilling wells had to disclose fracking chemicals. That rule took effect at the beginning of 2013. This new rule is an extension to that.

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Operators must report fracking chemicals to, or to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which will add the information to on behalf of the operator. went live in 2011, and many operators began voluntarily reporting chemical makeup at that time.

Hydraulic fracturing remains a controversial topic with the public because of the chemicals involved in the process.

Although most operators maintain the bulk (typically 99 percent) of fracking fluid is made of water and sand, the remaining chemical composition has been the target of repeated inquiry.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013 @ 01:12 PM gHale

Goodrich Petroleum Corp., one of the largest leaseholders in the emerging Tuscaloosa Marine Shale area, has problems with one of its key wells.

Test results for a well located in Amite County, MS, near the Louisiana border face a delay until early next year as the company works to unclog it. The well, called Huff 18-7H-1, was near completion and was producing oil and gas when it ended up clogged with debris during the drilling process.

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The Tuscaloosa Marine Shale oil region covers central Louisiana and southwest Mississippi.

Houston-based Goodrich is trying to use new horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, techniques to tap into oil and gas trapped in the hard layer of rock that makes up the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale. During fracking, drillers pump a mix of water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure, cracking open the rock to release oil and gas. Horizontal drilling allows companies to frack multiple sections of an oil reserve from a single well.

Experts estimate the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale holds 2.7 billion barrels of oil spanning much of central Louisiana, from Vernon Parish on the western side into Washington and St. Tammany parishes as well as a section of southwest Mississippi to the east.

But companies have struggled to find the right formula to drill profitable wells. Oil in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale is deeper underground and the rock is full of naturally-occurring cracks that make it easier for debris to fall into and clog wells. The cost of drilling a well in the Tuscaloosa remains much higher than in other parts of the country.

Goodrich made a big move into the area in August when it purchased more than 270,000 acres located largely in Louisiana from Devon Energy Corp. of Oklahoma City for $26.7 million. Goodrich has a history of using new techniques to lower the cost of drilling in areas such as the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas and the Haynesville Shale in northwest Louisiana. Company executives said they can do the same in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale.

Monday, December 16, 2013 @ 01:12 PM gHale

Fracking is coming to Oman as BP will drill wells to push out gas trapped deep under the Omani desert over the next 15 years in a $16 billion project.

The Khazzan tight gas project, which aims to extract around one billion cubic feet (bcf) per day of gas from sandstone at depths of up to 4,500 meters in central Oman, is a showcase for BP’s tight gas extraction technology.

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“Today’s signing is an important step in the Sultanate of Oman’s plans to meet growing demand for energy over the coming decades and to contribute to economic development in Oman,” said the country’s oil and gas minister, Mohammed Al Rumhy.

“The Khazzan project is the largest new upstream project in Oman and a pioneering development in the region in unlocking technically challenging tight gas through technology.”

BP will have a 60 percent operating stake in the project, which involves a 15-year program of drilling into sandstone to extract gas using hydraulic fracturing technology, or fracking, developed in the United States.

BP expects to invest around $9.6 billion over the full field development, in accordance with its 60 percent stake in the $16 billion project, a BP spokesman said. State-owned Oman Oil Company Exploration & Production (OOCEP) will have a 40 percent stake. The $16 billion total investment estimate includes around $1.5 billion already spent.

“We are a company who have said that we will use a very disciplined capital framework and for the rest of the decade we will keep BP’s capital investments between $24 and $27 billion a year,” said BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley.

“There are other projects that we have put aside but this is one that is big, it is important and it is a good partnership… It fits with our strategy as a company to develop large reservoirs.”

Construction should begin in 2014, with first gas expected in late 2017 and plateau production of around 1 bcf, or 28.3 million cubic meters, per day expected in 2018.

This would be enough to meet around a third of the country’s current domestic gas needs. But Omani energy demand is rising rapidly and Muscat also hopes to import Iranian gas in a 25-year deal signed in August.

BP expects to develop around 7 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas in the Khazzan project, and to pump around 25,000 barrels per day (bpd) of gas condensate, a light oil, helping ensure a good rate of return from the investment.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 @ 01:11 PM gHale

There are new rules in Wyoming that will require companies drilling for oil and gas in the state to first test for pollution in nearby water wells and other water sources.

The goal of the new rules adopted by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is to document the condition of groundwater near oil and gas wells. That could help state regulators determine the source of any groundwater pollution that turns up later.

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One example of a place where testing might have helped is the Pavillion gas field. Local homeowners and gas field owner Encana Corp. have been disputing for years the cause of foul-smelling well water there.

The five-member commission chaired by Gov. Matt Mead met in Casper. Three years ago, the commission adopted rules that made Wyoming the first state to require companies to disclose the ingredients in the specially formulated fluids they use during hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of pumping pressurized water, fine sand and chemicals into oil and gas wells to shatter rock and boost the flow of oil and gas.

“This is another example of Wyoming leading the nation in striking the right balance between producing needed energy and protecting our natural resources,” Mead said.

The rules require companies to test water sources within the year before beginning to drill. Companies will then need to conduct follow-up testing starting at least a year after drilling finishes.

Companies must sample water wells and other water sources within a half-mile radius of a planned oil or gas well, or the first of multiple gas wells planned from a concentrated location. Up to four such water sources have to undergo testing.

The tests will need to look for bacteria, hydrocarbons, BTEX compounds, naphthalene, dissolved gases and other substances.

The rules require follow-up testing if dissolved methane exceeds a certain threshold. Follow-up testing will determine if the dissolved methane originates from bacteria or is the same thermogenic, or fossil-fuel, methane companies are drilling for.

The presence of thermogenic methane could indicate a problem with gas targeted for development seeping into groundwater.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 @ 04:10 PM gHale

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas in the Utica shale has not created any major problems with Ohio’s drinking water, according to data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management has investigated 183 water-well complaints that Ohio landowners filed from 2010 through mid-October. Only six water supplies suffered any kind of impact by drilling over the nearly four-year period, state spokesman Mark Bruce said.

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All of those problems stemmed from old, vertical-only wells, not today’s big horizontal wells that rely on fracking to free natural gas, oil and other liquids from rocks deep underground, he said.

To date, Ohio approved 927 horizontal wells in the Utica shale formation, of which 577 ended up drilled as of Oct. 12. There are 164 Utica wells in production. Thirty drilling rigs are in Ohio.

“None of the impacted water supplies were related to hydraulic fracturing or horizontal shale drilling,” Bruce said.

Senate Bill 165 tightened Ohio’s rules on well construction and should further reduce the risk when those rules end up adopted, said Shawn Bennett, a spokesman for Energy in Depth-Ohio, a pro-industry drilling group.

Activists worry that 5 million gallons of water used to frack a well and drillers cannot clean and reuse that water and it ends up injected into rocks below ground in Ohio, said Mary Greer of Shalersville Township, a spokeswoman for Concerned Citizens Ohio.

One Ohio complaint came in 2011 from Carroll County, where the state found high levels of salt in a well in Brown Township. The state traced the problem to a leak from a nearby drilling rig’s temporary disposal pit. The company involved, EnerVest, supplied clean drinking water for several months until the salt levels dropped.

In comparison, Pennsylvania, where drilling began in the Marcellus shale earlier than Ohio’s drilling, has received 969 complaints since 2008, according to its Department of Environmental Protection. Drilling and leaks/spills linked to 106 water problems, the agency said.

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