Author Archives: Jon Goldstein

In Wyoming, Neglected Orphan Wells May Soon Get Support

Jon-Goldstein-287x377Business is booming right now for the American oil and gas industry, which has fueled economic growth in major oil and gas producing states, including Wyoming. But what will happen when the music stops? When the boom cools – as booms inevitably do ­­­– will states be left holding the bag?

Too often, that has been the pattern. A problem acutely illustrated by the issue of “orphan wells.” When oil and gas companies walk away from wells that are no longer producing oil or gas at economic levels, states (meaning, taxpayers) are typically the ones left responsible for addressing risks from these wells. Until old oil and gas wells are properly plugged and surface sites remediated, they pose contamination risks to groundwater supplies, as well as safety risks to landowners and wildlife.

Plugging and remediating wells can be expensive business, and when the bottom falls out on commodity prices it has been too easy for operators to declare bankruptcy and walk away – sticking taxpayers with the tab for plugging and remediation. It is imperative that states ensure they have the financial resources to address orphan wells and the ability to hold producers financially accountable when problems occur. Read More »

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Wyoming Raises the Bar on Air Quality for Oil & Gas

Source: Evolving ITSM

When it comes to willingness to show leadership in the critical field of air quality, Wyoming is once again first out of the gate with important new requirements to reduce harmful emissions from leaking oil and gas equipment — a major source of air pollution that can create serious air quality problems.

A Wyoming program finalized last week requires operators that are requesting permits for new and modified sources, such as wells or tanks, in the state’s most active oil and gas fields to find and fix leaking equipment under required Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programs.  Companies are required to inspect their operations quarterly utilizing reliable, technologically-precise detection methods at those sites most likely to leak.

This sort of leadership is not new to the Cowboy State. Wyoming has a tradition of being a first mover on air pollution reduction requirements, including pioneering the so-called "green completion" rules to reduce emissions from new wells that have since become the federal standard.

Wyoming’s LDAR program is a smart step forward on sensible, effective air quality regulations for the oil and gas industry. Tightening systems so that leaks are plugged will both protect the air we breathe and reduce the waste of a precious natural resource. In fact, strong LDAR programs may be the best, most cost-effective way to fix leaks and minimize pollution.

EDF, the Wyoming Outdoor Council (WOC) and Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development (CURED) offered their strong support for the state’s proposed LDAR program in joint comments, while also suggesting key improvements – chiefly, that the state  ensure these programs use readily-available, cost-effective technologies (like infrared cameras) to detect pollution.

We are pleased that this improvement was included in the final requirements and it shows the state’s willingness to work collaboratively in addressing Wyoming’s air issues.

Next up, the state should consider making these strong requirements apply to existing sources, such as previously drilled wells already in production, and on a statewide basis. But in the meantime, other states, including Colorado, should take note. On protecting the air we breathe, Wyoming just raised the bar.

 

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“Go Time” for Groundwater Testing In Wyoming

Everyone wins when states institute strong, science-based groundwater testing programs around oil and gas development areas. Landowners get important information about their water quality and protection from potential spills. Oil and gas companies get what is essentially an insurance policy tracking the quality of area drinking water sources both before and after drilling. And regulators get an important new source of data to help them understand local conditions and target clean up, if needed.

EDF has advocated for a program in Wyoming that aims to do exactly this – establish a groundwater quality baseline in areas where oil and gas development is planned, and then follow up with two sets of tests to monitor for potential impacts from this specific activity. And Wyoming regulators have proposed a program that would, on the whole, create a strong, scientifically valid groundwater testing program.

Late last week, Wyoming’s powerful paper of record, the Casper Star-Tribune, announced it agrees.

Read More »

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Bringing Fugitives To Justice In Wyoming

Source: Scott Dalton for The New York Times

When it comes to healthy air, what you can’t see can hurt you.

Leaks of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and methane, the primary components in natural gas, may be invisible – but that doesn’t mean they are harmless.  These leaks – called “fugitive” emissions – can create serious air quality problems when VOC's are involved. Meanwhile, methane leaks mean less product available for sale and a wasted resource.

But, while you can’t always see leaks with the naked eye, you can use modern technology to help you detect and fix them.  Cameras that use infrared technology to “see” leaking hydrocarbons and inexpensive hand held sensors that measure leaks are commonly used to help operators find and fix leaking equipment.  Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programs that require operators to check for leaks frequently using these modern technologies, and expeditiously repair them, can produce huge air quality benefits.  Such programs are currently required in permits for a number of operators in Wyoming’s Jonah Pinedale Anticline Development Area. Read More »

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A Powerful Proposal To Increase Groundwater Knowledge In Wyoming

Jon GoldsteinThe Latin phrase “Scientia potentia est” may not ring a bell, but its translation should: knowledge is power.

The oil and gas industry spends millions every year to expand  its knowledge of underground energy reserves. That is because better geologic knowledge is powerful stuff, it can mean the difference between a very profitable well or a very expensive dry hole.

Doesn’t it make sense then for the industry to also invest in better knowledge of local water resources? Investing a small amount in understanding local groundwater quality before you drill, and following up to monitor whether that water is potentially impacted once energy production commences is also incredibly powerful for local residents, state regulators and the industry alike.

Wyoming oil and gas regulators have proposed a testing program that aims to do exactly this – establish a groundwater quality baseline in areas where oil and gas development is planned, and then follow up with two sets of tests to monitor for potential impacts from this specific activity. Read More »

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Wyoming’s Energy Strategy A Potential Step Toward Improved Oil And Gas Regulations

Source: Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile

Wyoming is one of the leading energy states in the country. It is the top overall energy exporter in the U.S., the third leading producer of natural gas, and number eight in oil production. In fact, if Wyoming were a country, it would rank tenth in the world in overall energy production.

It makes sense then that Wyoming would want to develop an energy strategy to ensure that these resources are developed wisely. A state that is also home to the nation’s first national park (Yellowstone) and a thriving outdoor recreation and tourism economy would not want one of its leading economic drivers to negatively impact another, or to harm the health of its citizens.

There is strong potential in the strategy released last week by Governor Matt Mead and his staff. The 47 policy prescriptions in the “Leading the Charge” document are broad and varied, but the ones pertaining to oil and gas regulation appear promising. These include:

  • Establishing a strong, scientifically-valid groundwater quality baseline testing program that gives landowners important information about potential impacts from oil and gas drilling.
  • An air quality management strategy and review of state flaring policies that can take into account the pollution problems in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin and seek to make improvements there and across the state.
  • Efforts to carefully examine the potential safe reuse of produced water from energy production.
  • Subjecting the state’s oil and gas regulations to a complete review by a broad group of experts through the nationally respected STRONGER process.
  • A review of state bonding requirements that can ensure well owners have the financial wherewithal to adequately plug wells and reclaim areas where drilling has occurred so the state is not left holding the bag for so-called orphan wells. Read More »

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This Is Your Final Warning: Enforcement Needed To Curtail Continued Pollution Problems

Source: Chucker & Reibach

What makes you slow down more, a speeding ticket with a hefty fine or a warning? For most people, getting a ticket for violating the speed limit and having to fork over some cash to pay the fine is a powerful deterrent. In this case, enforcement has done its job. Giving you a penalty for not following the law makes you more careful in the future.

Air pollution rules are no different. Getting the rules right and then following up with strong, fair enforcement actions incentivizes industry to follow them, reduce pollution and clean up our air.

Since 2011, Wyoming environmental regulators have issued an annual study examining air emissions from numerous engines deployed in the state’s oil and gas fields. These engines power things such as compressors used to deliver natural gas to market.

It’s not surprising that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has singled out these engines for special attention. A 2011 emission inventory for the Upper Green River Basin — a portion of the state that has struggled with ozone problems and is designated a nonattainment area by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for high pollution levels — found these engines to be by far the largest source of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.

NOx is one of the two air pollutants that lead to harmful ozone, or smog, formation. In fact, the 2011 inventory indicates these engines emitted more than twice the NOx pollution of heaters, the next biggest source in the basin. They accounted for 1,639 of the 4,529 tons, or around 36 percent, of NOx emitted in the basin overall. Read More »

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A Silk Purse From A Sow’s Ear: Federal Cuts May Spur Environmental And Energy Savings

Holly Pearen, EDF’s Attorney for the Natural Gas Campaign, contributed to this blog post.

Source: http://bit.ly/10w6rIi

The federal government notified 36 states last week that it plans to temporarily stop monthly mineral revenue payments as a part of the mandatory sequestration budget cuts. These cuts will hit western states especially hard with an estimated $26 million cut coming to New Mexico over the next six months, $8.7 million to Utah, $8.4 in Colorado and $5.5 in California, while North Dakota and Montana will see $3.2 and $2.5 million in cuts, respectively, according to data from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

However, no state will be hit as hard as mineral resource and federal lands-rich Wyoming, which has been notified to prepare itself to lose $53 million in federal mineral revenue payments through July.

The money is the state’s share of royalties paid by producers who operate on federal leases in Wyoming. Not surprisingly, Wyoming officials are very unhappy with the federal plan, both its details and the way it was announced to the states via letter with little forewarning. As Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said in a statement: "As far as communications go, this method of passing along significant information that greatly impacts Wyoming gets a grade of F minus or worse. It is not acceptable."

While Governor Mead has vowed to fight the plan and is working with the Wyoming Attorney General, Wyoming’s congressional delegation and neighboring states to come up with a strategy to oppose the cuts, we would like to offer a suggestion. Perhaps Interior should make up the shortfall owed to the states by charging royalties on vented and flared natural gas? Read More »

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New BLM Proposals For Large Oil And Gas Fields Ignite Wyoming Air Quality Concerns

Wyoming is already one of the country’s top natural gas producers. And large new developments under review by the

Source: Anne Nowell

U.S. Bureau of Land Management totaling more than 25,000 new wells in the coming years could further solidify Wyoming's status as a national energy leader.

But what will this leadership look like? Will this series of development projects lead to worsening air quality or set an example for safe, responsible development?

The first of these, the Continental Divide – Creston Project, is alone one of the largest onshore natural gas developments ever proposed on federal lands in the United States. This enormous development slated for the Wamsutter area of south-central Wyoming, includes drilling nearly 9,000 new natural gas wells across 1,672 square miles (or 1.1 million acres) of public and private lands — an area a bit larger than the state of Rhode Island. The well-known Jonah Field in western Wyoming, by comparison, covers about 21,000 acres and includes about 3,500 wells.

The scale, concentration and vicinity of new wells proposed by the CD-C project are fueling concern for regional air quality issues. If managed improperly, this project could lead to more unhealthy air for local residents and workers.

Unhealthy air, as a result of oil and gas development, has been a particular issue in Pinedale, a community just northwest of the CD-C proposal in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin. The past few winters have earned the area unwanted national attention for its U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nonattainment designation for ground-level ozone pollution – one of the first non-urban areas to report such high levels of smog. Read More »

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