Archive for the ‘Hydraulic Fracturing’ Category

Fracking Updates in NY, IL, and MN

Probably not the best sand for fracking. Photo by Sharon Mooney, some rights reserved.

A quick update on fracking regulations at the state level around the country: The New York State Assembly passed a two-year moratorium on high volume hydraulic fracturing, which must now go before the Senate, then Governor Andrew Cuomo. The bill also would require the State University of New York to conduct a review of high volume fracking. The Assembly’s bill follows similar moratoria passed in 2010 and 2011 that went nowhere in the Senate; however, the political makeup of the Senate makes the bill’s passage more likely this year.

Governor Cuomo’s administration is awaiting its own health impact study of fracking before proceeding with the Department of Environmental Conservation’s fracking regulations. This regulatory review process has already resulted in what is essentially a five-year ban on fracking. DLA Piper, whose memo gives the details on the moratorium, sees the prospects for shale gas production in New York to be low.

In contrast, Illinois, after five months of negotiations between environmental groups and the energy industry, has worked out draft regulations on fracking. The Natural Resources Defense Council stepped in to ensure that drillers were liable for water pollution and that they disclosed the chemical makeup of fracking fluid, among other safeguards.

The makeup of the fracking fluid that is injected to extract shale gas has been a hot topic recently, but a few Minnesota towns are making news by rejecting Minnesota Proppant’s proposal to open a sand processing and rail-loading facility. The sand near St. Charles Township in southeastern Minnesota is just the right size and strength to wedge open cracks just enough for natural gas to escape. And after St. Charles Township rejected their proposal, next-door St. Charles did the same. Supposedly Wisconsin has been more pro-sand mining in the past, but there is some evidence that it might not be smooth sailing there, either, as the town of Bridge Creek rejected similar plans for a sand mine there.

Fracking in California and Moviemaking in Pennsylvania

The Promised Land? Photo by Alan Bowring, some rights reserved.

In July, we wrote about the scramble to regulate fracking. Last month, California entered the fray, releasing a “discussion draft” of hydraulic fracturing regulations and seeking comments from interested parties ahead of the formal rulemaking process set to begin in February.

California’s Department of Conservation’s Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Division released the draft, detailing testing, monitoring, operating, and disclosure requirements (thanks to Arnold Porter for their advisory). The Division will operate a chemical disclosure directory to which operators will have to disclose information about the chemicals and concentrations used as well as data on the amount of fluid recovered. There is a trade secret exemption, but in the case of an operator withholding information, they must submit documentation of the type of information withheld, why it was withheld, and that the proprietary information could not be gathered through testing. However, operators would have to be able to provide the information immediately if necessary to investigate a release of fracking fluid or to a doctor to treat an individual exposed to fracking fluid.

Information from required pre-fracking testing would be available to the public before fracking at a particular well begins, and operators would be required to monitor certain variables in and around a well during fracking and for thirty days after.

A personal tidbit of my own says something on the topic as well.

I just saw Matt Damon and John Krasinski’s Promised Land, which seems to encourage viewers to focus on its exploration of selling mineral rights leases to gas companies rather than its characters and story, so I will do just that. Centered on a Pennsylvania town whose struggling farms are sitting on millions of dollars of natural gas, Matt Damon’s character as a representative of Global Crosspower Solutions claims to be offering the town its last chance to fund and prolong the myth of the small town of family-run farms. At a town meeting, an influential local science teacher raises questions about the risks surrounding the type of drilling Global plans to do – fracking – leaving some of the community hesitant to join farmers promised a big payout in their enthusiasm for the gas company’s drilling plans.

And though the appearance of a fake environmental advocate employed by Global to discredit environmental concerns portrays townspeople as uncritical pawns of interest groups, the point that such tactics may not be far from the truth is certainly taken. The questions Promised Land raises are as much emotional and cultural as scientific and political, but maybe with the information gathered through California’s regulations the debate in the future can be informed by a more measured understanding of its risks.

Second Term Preview of Environmental Regulation

Photo by Carl Chapman, some rights reserved

In the next four years, the Obama administration will make its mark on energy and environmental laws, working through pending legislation and proposed regulation as well as considering further reforms in response to environmental and industry lobbying.

A Marten Law memo has the rundown on anticipated changes to energy and environmental laws. Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy, well chronicled at the Green Mien, is likely to continue. Federal renewable energy programs have seen opposition recently, and the outcome of the pending battle of the wind energy production tax credit will be an early test of the Obama Administration’s policy. Either way, renewable energy growth is likely to be lower in the coming years as production of natural gas continues to increase.

Fracking, too, has contributed to the domestic supply surge, while prompting calls for closer regulatory scrutiny. In response, the Obama Administration has proposed regulation of fracking on federal lands, and EPA is studying the potential impact of horizontal drilling on drinking water.

Energy infrastructure questions are on the agenda, too. Most importantly, the Administration will decide whether to authorize a re-routed Keystone XL pipeline bringing oil from Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. Proposals for coal and natural gas export terminals are making their way through state and federal agencies as well.

In the news this week is Obama’s stance on climate change, a topic he avoided during his election campaign. A second term will ensure that EPA will proceed with its plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under existing provisions of the Clean Air Act, a plan upheld last summer by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In addition, EPA is expected to release standards for greenhouse gas emission from power plants and refineries. Several challenges to air quality rules are still pending, though, notably the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Boiler MACT rule affecting industrial facilities.

At a press conference Wednesday, President Obama responded to a reporter’s question about his specific plans to address climate change. You should read his entire response here, but he made himself clear that ignoring jobs and growth simply to address climate change is not on his agenda: “I won’t go for that.” An agenda for job growth that includes making a dent in climate change, however, is “something the American people would support.”

In addition to air and energy policy previews, Marten Law’s memo has summaries of expected policy developments in natural resources and hazardous waste regulation.

EPA Struggling to Keep Pace with Fracking

Photo care of geograph. Some rights reserved.

Two reports were released by the Government Accountability Office this week detail challenges facing the EPA in overseeing the oil and gas drilling boom in the U.S. The growth of the dispersed and hard-to-follow fracking industry is the focus of the first report, while the second addresses the public health and environmental impacts of oil and gas development.

EPA officials report that inspection and enforcement of fracking sites is challenging due to limited information on many aspects of the industry. The EPA doesn’t receive information about new well sites in Ohio, for example, and their sheer number makes tracking them difficult. Baseline water-quality data are unavailable in most areas, so assessing groundwater contamination is difficult.

In addition, legal limits on EPA’s authority affects their ability to regulate some aspects of the fracking process. Exploration and production waste, for example, are not regulated under hazardous waste provisions in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The Hill, with more details on the reports (here and here) notes that attempts to increase regulation of the industry have not advanced in Congress.

The second report notes that though all oil and gas development poses environmental and public health risks, the risks from shale gas development are particularly poorly understood. Studies the GAO reviewed, according to the report, “do not generally take into account the potential long-term, cumulative effects” so the extent and longevity of risks is unknown.

The Scramble to Regulate Fracking

North Carolina, now open for fracking. Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service, some rights reserved.

As the risks and potential benefits of fracking become impossible to ignore for local and state governments, communities are taking action to address the shale gas development that seems inevitable in many places. At the state level, North Carolina’s legislature voted to override Governor Beverly Perdue’s veto of Senate Bill 820, opening the doors to fracking and shale gas development in North Carolina and establishing a regulatory framework. In addition, Colorado local governments are attempting to address air quality issues from hydraulic fracturing and imposing temporary moratoriums.

In North Carolina, Governor Perdue vetoed the fracking legislation for its inadequate environmental protection, though she expressed support for shale gas development in general. To override a veto requires a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the General Assembly. The Senate voted 29 to 13 to override the veto, and with Republicans needing every last vote in the House of Representatives, a five-term Democrat accidentally pushed the wrong button to open the state to fracking. A do-over was not granted, perhaps because the vote took place late Monday night in a marathon 36-hour legislative session. Details on the legislation can be found in a McGuireWoods memo here.

Separately, (thanks to a Davis Graham & Stubbs memo for its insight) local governments in Colorado have imposed temporary moratoriums banning fracking until better regulations addressing air quality and other environmental impacts are developed. Localities in Colorado cannot ban oil and gas operations altogether, but many are stepping up their efforts to regulate environmental impacts associated with oil and gas operations, an area whose jurisdiction is uncertain. Colorado and other states are trying to pass statewide legislation to preempt local regulation, but the jurisdictional uncertainty remains for now.

“In response to a court deadline…”

“In response to a court deadline,” the EPA yesterday finalized the long-awaited (and long-dreaded, by some) rules that aim to reduce air pollution from the oil and natural gas industry, including setting “the first federal air standards” for natural gas wells that are hydraulic fractured. According to the EPA, these rules are expected “to yield a nearly 95 percent reduction in [volatile organic compound] emissions from more than 11,000 new hydraulically fractured gas wells each year.”

Back in August of 2011, when we covered the release of the proposed rules, the EPA was supposed to finalize the rules by February 28, 2012. However, prompted by the outpouring of public comments on the release – including requests to extend the comment period – the litigants agreed to a 35-day extension, pushing out the deadline to April 3, 2012 (um…a few weeks ago, by my count).

Plaintiff WildEarth Guardians was understandably pleased at the news.

More analysis of the new rules can be found on The Hill’s Energy & Environment Blog.

USGS Links Fracking to Earthquakes

A hydraulic fracturing drilling rig. Image by Cliff Weathers. Some rights reserved.

The American Midwest has seen something of an earthquake boom in recent years, and speculation that the earthquakes are related to shale gas drilling has run rampant. In 2001, the frequency of earthquakes from Montana to Alabama began to rise, the number of quakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater reaching 87 in 2009. The 134 quakes of that magnitude recorded in 2011 represent a sixfold increase over 20th century levels.

As shale gas production has grown at a rate of 50 percent per year over the past 5 years, official concern has been growing. Back in November, we wrote about a report from the Secretary of Energy laying out recommendations to improve the safety and reduce the environmental impact of shale gas development, including a section on eliminating the use of diesel in fluids used for hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking,” is a method of extracting gas and petroleum from source rocks. The injection of fracturing fluid into a drilled wellbore creates an extended crack in underground rocks typically under high pressure, allowing petroleum or gas to flow from the porous rocks where it is trapped to a natural reservoir from which it can be extracted.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently released the abstract of its report finding a link between fracking and the sharp jump in earthquakes, the latest in a wave of research on the process. It follows a USGS report from last August that noting a series of 50 small earthquakes that came shortly after fracking operations began in Oklahoma. In November, a British shale gas developer admitted that they likely caused small earthquakes in the vicinity of their operations, and in March, Ohio regulators found that some fracking processes probably induced twelve earthquakes in northeastern Ohio.

The USGS thinks most of the earthquakes are caused not by the fracking itself, but from the disposal of the millions of gallons of wastewater produced by each well – often by injecting it back into the earth, as regulators found in Ohio. The bottom line is that the dramatic increase in earthquakes has never been seen outside of volcanic activity or in the absence of a main earthquake, neither of which exist in this region.

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