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Posts Tagged ‘Marcellus Shale’

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 @ 11:04 AM gHale

A Marcellus Shale drilling company resumed fracking operations Friday at a Wyoming County, PA, site where a breach in equipment caused thousands of gallons of fluid to flow from the uncontrolled natural gas well last month.

Carrizo Oil and Gas received permission from the Department of Environmental Protection to resume fracking at the Yarasavage pad in Washington Twp. after meeting with regulators and agreeing to make changes to improve its fracking procedures, the company said.

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The company’s fracking operations throughout Pennsylvania remained on hold after a failure in an above-ground piece of well equipment called a “frac tree” on March 13 allowed about 200,000 gallons of fluids to flow from the Yarasavage well. That incident spurred an overnight evacuation of three families from nearby homes until workers could bring the well under control the next day.

Officials said they were able to capture most of the fluid in tanks at the site but some ran off the pad into an adjacent field and a roadside ditch. Water testing around the site is ongoing and regulators said they have found no clear signs of contamination during the “extensive” sampling performed so far.

“Carrizo will continue sampling for some time to fully evaluate whether there are any impacts to water resources,” DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said. The company will characterize the environmental conditions at the site and remediate it if necessary as part of the clean-up process, she said.

Richard Hunter, a Carrizo spokesman, said the initial round of the company’s tests found “nothing unusual, nothing unexpected in the water.”

In the weeks since the incident, regulators and the company have learned more about its cause and impact.

The problem started while crews were in the 23rd stage of fracking the well, a process of injecting chemically treated water and sand underground at high pressure to crack the gas-bearing shale. Each fracking stage releases gas from a new section of a horizontally drilled well.

In a response to DEP’s request for more information about the incident, Carrizo said the equipment ended up breached at a flange that possibly loosened by pressure or temperatures cycles or vibration caused by the pumping operations during fracking. The sand-laden fluid, which DEP said was a mixture of fresh water, chemicals and acid when it injected into the well, rushed through the gap and began to erode other parts of the assembly.

The company collected about 360,000 gallons of fluid from the site, including a mixture of rain and snow melt and about 220,000 gallons Carrizo said originated in the well, Connolly said.

“Carrizo is implementing an increased preventative maintenance and inspection program during hydraulic fracturing operations to prevent a similar failure,” she said.

In a March 18 letter, DEP “strongly” recommended Carrizo halt its fracking operations in Pennsylvania “until the cause of this problem and a solution are identified,” a request the company honored. The agency also cited the company for violating environmental laws regarding fluid containment, surface water protection, waste management and well control.

The violation notice said the spilled frack fluid flowed into a ditch that receives shallow groundwater in a wetland, but Connolly said the department does not think any fluids or contaminants reached nearby streams.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 @ 09:10 AM gHale

A New York state judge invalidated Binghamton’s two-year moratorium on natural gas drilling, which marks the first time a court struck down a local law banning fracking in New York.

State Supreme Court Justice Ferris D. Lebous became the latest New York judge to weigh in on local bans or moratoriums, ruling the city law approved December 2011 failed to meet the standards of a properly enacted moratorium. Lebous said the city never established there was a “dire emergency” regarding a practice still not allowed in New York.

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“There can be no showing of dire need since the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has not published the new regulations that are required before any natural gas exploration or drilling can occur in this state,” Lebous wrote in his decision.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is considering whether to allow natural gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process involving the injection of wells with chemically treated water.

As the DEC review continues, more than 30 upstate municipalities have passed bans on gas drilling and more than 80 have enacted moratoriums. The laws enacted by towns sitting atop the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation are typically in response to fears fracking could contaminate water supplies, though the energy industry says the process has safely been in use for years.

Local bans in Dryden and Middlefield have already passed muster with state courts. Lebous referred to those two previous court decisions as “well-reasoned” and focused his decision on Binghamton’s actions. Despite the loss for Binghamton, environmentalists said the ruling reaffirms the legal right for local bans. Lawyers for environmental groups said they don’t believe this ruling would imperil the other local bans.

Binghamton Mayor Matthew Ryan said Wednesday an appeal is likely. He said the city could try to pass a similar law that would not run afoul of the court.

Monday, August 20, 2012 @ 02:08 PM gHale

Three workers suffered injuries after a spark from a natural gas drilling operation in north-central West Virginia ignited methane gas several hundred feet underground Friday, sending up a fireball and starting a blaze that officials said burned for about an hour on the floor of the rig.

Two of the injured ended up airlifted to a hospital after the fire at the Antero Resources site near Sycamore in Harrison County, WV. Firefighters put out the blaze and since the well pad was in a rural area, it posed no danger to the public.

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Two victims flew out to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, said Sgt. Heather Mick of the Harrison County 911 Center. A third went to the hospital by ambulance.

Their conditions weren’t immediately available, but state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman Tom Aluise said one had returned to the job site by 9 a.m.

Workers were in the early stages of drilling a Marcellus shale gas well, Aluise said. The drill was about 400 feet deep when they began to withdraw it, creating a spark that ignited the methane. That created more of a fireball than an explosion, he said.

The accident happened at the Cottrill No. 3 well on Antero’s Southern pad, and Aluise said the crew doing the work was with Hall Drilling LLC of Ellenboro.

Neither Hall Drilling nor Colorado-based Antero immediately returned messages Friday.

Aluise said Antero voluntarily shut down the operation, and a DEP investigation is under way.

The rig suffered enough damage that a new one may need to come in “if and when they resume drilling,” Aluise said.

In June, another Antero drilling operation triggered several backyard geysers when workers struck an aquifer in the Sardis area and inadvertently re-pressurized a handful of old water wells. Emergency management officials and residents said some were 10- to 12-feet high.

There was no interior damage in the affected homes. The residents’ all on a public water supply so the wells did not cause severe damage.

On July 31, the DEP ordered Antero to provide a detailed incident report, including a chart outlining the pressures involved, a list of the water wells affected and the current status of those wells.

The DEP also wants pre- and post-water analyses for each of those wells, along with a map showing their locations in relation to the well pad.

Monday, May 7, 2012 @ 02:05 PM gHale

Companies drilling for oil and natural gas on public and Indian lands will need to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations, according to new rules set by the Obama administration.

The proposed fracking rules also set standards for proper construction of wells and wastewater disposal.

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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the long-awaited rules will allow continued expansion of drilling while protecting public health and safety.

“As we continue to offer millions of acres of America’s public lands for oil and gas development, it is critical that the public have full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place,” Salazar said.

The proposed rules will “modernize our management of well-stimulation activities, including hydraulic fracturing, to make sure that fracturing operations conducted on public and Indian lands follow common-sense industry best practices,” he said.

The new rules, which have been under consideration for a year and a half, ended up softened after industry groups expressed strong concerns about an initial proposal leaked earlier this year. The proposal would allow companies to file disclosure reports after drilling operations end, rather than before they begin, as initially proposed. Industry groups said the earlier proposal could cause lengthy delays.

Some environmental groups criticized the change as a cave-in to industry, but Salazar said the rules were never intended to cause delays, but to ensure the public is “fully aware of what chemicals were going into the underground” by companies seeking to produce oil and natural gas.

The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees drilling on public lands, estimated 90 percent of the approximately 3,400 wells currently drilled on federal and Indian lands use hydraulic fracturing techniques.

The rules would not affect drilling on private land, where the bulk of shale exploration is taking place. A nationwide drilling boom in formations such as the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian region and the Bakken in North Dakota and Montana, as well as in traditional production states such as Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, has led to 10-year lows in natural gas prices.

Still, Salazar said he hopes the new rules could act as a model for state regulators.

The proposed rules will be subject to public comment for 60 days, with a final order expected by the end of the year, said Bob Abbey, director of the land management bureau.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 @ 03:04 PM gHale

Testing is over on 20 more water wells in a northeastern Pennsylvania community at the center of a debate over the safety of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale and it shows no dangerous levels of contamination, according to a report issued Friday by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA had already tested 11 wells in Dimock, PA, showing the presence of sodium, methane, chromium or bacteria in six of the wells before the results of the latest round of testing.

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Three of the newly-tested wells showed methane while one showed barium well above the EPA’s maximum level, but a treatment system installed in the well is removing the substance, an EPA spokesman said.

Featured in the documentary “Gasland,” the Susquehanna County village of Dimock has been at the center of a fierce debate over drilling, in particular the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process involves injecting a mixture of water and chemicals deep under ground to free trapped natural gas so it can come to the surface.

State environmental regulators previously determined Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. contaminated the aquifer underneath homes along Carter Road in Dimock with explosive levels of methane gas, although they later determined the company had met its obligation to provide safe drinking water to residents.

The EPA is still providing drinking water to three homes where prior tests showed contamination. A second round of test is under way, regulators said.

A group of Dimock residents suing Cabot assert their water also suffers from pollution with drilling chemicals, while others say the water is clean and the plaintiffs are exaggerating problems with their wells to help their lawsuit.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 @ 03:10 PM gHale

The country is experiencing the Marcellus Shale boom, and while that is a good thing, it also shows there is a lack of inspectors. That means safety is an issue.

One person died and three others suffered critical injuries earlier this year after an explosion of a natural gas pipeline in a Philadelphia neighborhood.

One month later, a natural gas pipeline exploded, killing five people, including an infant, in Allentown.

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Because of those tragedies, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) Chairman Robert Powelson said he has one goal.

“We don’t have another situation like Philadelphia Gas Works had or UGI had in Allentown. That keeps me up at night,” Powelson said.

Powelson said what he worries about on those sleepless nights are the natural gas pipelines that connect Marcellus Shale wells to larger transmission lines in western Pennsylvania.

He said the federal agency that should be inspecting those lines hasn’t been looking after them and he asked the state PUC to do so.

“My organization is set up for mission failure if I can’t put those boots on the ground,” Powelson said.

The PUC has nine inspectors already keeping an eye on 47,000 miles of gas transmission pipelines.

“That’s what my nine are tasked with now. You bring on Marcellus Shale pipeline development and our whole world changes. I mean, I don’t have the resources to get properly reimbursed to go out and hire these people, let alone train them to get out in the field,” said Powelson.

The PUC and Marcellus Shale industry are backing two bills in Harrisburg to give the PUC the authority and federal funding to inspect gas well pipelines.

“What’s so key is that we have even more local understanding of these pipelines and that we can have inspectors in a position where they can know what’s going on on the ground,” said Katie Klaber, of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Thursday, May 19, 2011 @ 03:05 PM gHale

Chesapeake Energy Corp. is facing nearly $1.09 million in fines for contaminating the drinking water of 16 families with natural gas, and, separately, for an explosion at a condensate storage tank, said officials at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The state agency said throughout 2010 it investigated complaints of methane contamination in the drinking water of several residential water wells in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Bradford County.

Investigators determined that “improper well casing and cementing in shallow zones” allowed gas from deep basins to seep into drinking water aquifers, the agency said.

Chesapeake has agreed to pay the state $900,000 for the contamination, including $200,000 that will go to a state fund that pays to plug abandoned wells. The Oklahoma City energy producer also has agreed to set aside an unspecified amount of money to cover the cost of water-treatment equipment at some water wells near its drilling activity.

DEP also fined Chesapeake $188,000 for a Feb. 23 fire at a liquid-natural-gas storage facility in Avella, in southwestern Pennsylvania. That blaze injured three workers.

“The water well contamination fine is the largest single penalty DEP has ever assessed against an oil and gas operator, and the Avella tank fire penalty is the highest we could assess under the Oil and Gas Act,” said Mike Krancer, who heads the state agency. “Our message to drillers and to the public is clear.”

The vast Marcellus Shale, which lies beneath Pennsylvania and several neighboring states, has drawn a flurry of natural-gas drillers to the state in recent years. It wasn’t until the past few years that technological advances enabled producers to tap into the huge natural- gas reserves. With the drilling boom have come several incidents of groundwater contamination, surface chemical spills and fires, however.

Chesapeake, the second-largest U.S. natural gas producer, said while its review of the contamination cases remained “inconclusive,” it believes “taking prompt steps to enhance our casing and cementing practices and procedures was the right thing to do.”

Chesapeake said it has added additional layers of steel and cement to its well casings to better block gas from seeping into aquifers as it rises to the surface. The company said it will also expand water quality testing to all known water sources within 2,500 feet of proposed drilling sites.

Chesapeake said it was resuming normal operations in Pennsylvania after voluntarily halting all well-completion work in the state in response to an April 19 blowout in Bradford County. In that incident, in which the company lost control of a well in Leroy Township, chemicals spilled into a nearby stream and nearby residents had to evacuate after a wellhead valve flange failed.

Friday, April 15, 2011 @ 05:04 PM gHale

Extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale could do more to aggravate global warming than mining coal, according to a new Cornell study.

While some consider natural a clean-burning fuel that produces less carbon dioxide than coal, ecologist Robert Howarth said we should worry more about methane leaking into the atmosphere during hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

Natural gas is mostly methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas, especially in the short term, with 105 times more warming impact, pound for pound, than carbon dioxide, Howarth said.

Even small leaks make a big difference, Howarth said. He estimated as much as 8 percent of the methane in shale gas leaks into the air during the lifetime of a hydraulic shale gas well – up to twice what escapes from conventional gas production.

“The take-home message of our study is that if you do an integration of 20 years following the development of the gas, shale gas is worse than conventional gas and is, in fact, worse than coal and worse than oil,” Howarth said. “We are not advocating for more coal or oil, but rather to move to a truly green, renewable future as quickly as possible. We need to look at the true environmental consequences of shale gas.”

Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology, Tony Ingraffea, professor of engineering, and Renee Santoro, a research technician in ecology and evolutionary biology, analyzed data from published sources, industry reports and even PowerPoint presentations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

They compared estimated emissions for shale gas, conventional gas, coal (surface-mined and deep-mined) and diesel oil, taking into account direct emissions of CO2 during combustion, indirect emissions of CO2 necessary to develop and use the energy source and methane emissions, which converted to equivalent value of CO2 for global warming potential.

The study is the first peer-reviewed paper on methane emissions from shale gas, and one of the few exploring the greenhouse gas footprints of conventional gas drilling. Most studies use EPA emission estimates from 1996. The EPA updated those numbers in November 2010 after determining greenhouse gas emissions of various fuels are higher than previously believed.

“We are highlighting unconventional gas because it is a contemporary problem for us in upstate New York, and because there is a big difference between developing gas from an unconventional well and a conventional well, for the mere reason that unconventional wells are bigger,” Ingraffea said.

He noted hydraulic fracturing process lends itself to more leakage because it takes more time to drill the well, requires more venting and produces more flowback waste, he said.

“We do not intend for you to accept what we’ve reported on today as the definitive scientific study in regards to this question. It’s clearly not,” he added. “What we’re hoping to do with this study is to stimulate the science that should have been done before. In my opinion, corporate business plans superseded national energy strategy.”

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