Author Archives: Matt Watson

Leading States Tackling Fugitive Emissions Problem Head-On

statesYou see something once, and it might just be an anomaly. See it twice, maybe coincidence. But when you see it a third time – that’s a pattern. A trend.

With Ohio’s move last week to control “fugitive” emissions from oil and gas operations, that’s what we’re seeing – a rapid trend from leading states to control this major source of air and climate pollution. The Ohio rules come on heels of similar actions in Wyoming and Colorado. Together, these rules signal a fast-growing recognition that fugitive emissions are a problem that has to be dealt with, and that there are cost-effective ways we can slash these emissions today.

Read More »

Posted in Air Quality, Colorado, Methane, Natural Gas, Ohio, Wyoming| Comments closed

What LEED Did for Buildings, This Could do for Shale Gas Production

Matt Watson PhotoThis commentary originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) put out the Open For Business sign today – a key milestone in this innovative effort to up the game on environmental protection in shale gas development.  The question now is, will energy companies step up?

We hope so.

CSSD is an unprecedented collaboration – bringing together environmental groups, philanthropic organizations and energy companies to develop performance standards for reducing environmental impacts from shale gas production, and setting up a system so gas producers can have their operations audited and certified against those standards.

CSSD isn’t a substitute for effective regulation.  Strong rules and robust oversight is a nonnegotiable bottom line.  But we like the idea of upping the ante.  Why not have a program that recognizes companies for going beyond the regulatory minimums and doing more to protect communities and the environment?  These companies are tough competitors – so let’s make environmental performance part of what they compete on. Read More »

Posted in Climate, Natural Gas, Pennsylvania| Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Is BLM Phoning It In?

Source: Soundcheck-WNYC

Yesterday the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a new draft of its so-called “fracking rule.” To be fair, the proposed rule does represent a level of progress compared to sorely outdated rules on the books. But we’re dealing with critical issues here – not the kinds of things we can afford to only get half right.  And unfortunately, “half right” is about all we got here.

The most significant failings of the proposed rule have to do with well integrity – the way an oil or gas well is constructed and operated to minimize risks to the environment and public safety. Proper casing, cementing and pressure management are critical to protecting groundwater resources and the lives of the men and women who work the rigs. The rule takes steps in the right direction, but it doesn’t include nearly the level of detail necessary to ensure casing is set where it’s needed, operators are getting good cement jobs and the whole system is checked for mechanical integrity at critical points in the well development process.

The rule also falls short on chemical disclosure. We’re pleased to see the agency propose the same basic disclosure framework that has already been established by leading states – including requirements that operators disclose all chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids (not just chemicals subject to OSHA reporting), and requirements to post the information on a user-friendly, publicly accessible website like FracFocus. But the proposal is far too weak on trade secrets. For the public to have confidence trade secret protections aren’t being abused, there needs to be a clear path for challenging trade secret assertions and policing the system.

Finally, while we recognize that you can’t address every issue in a single rule, it’s still worth noting two areas where agency rules are in glaring need of an overhaul. First, BLM needs to improve its rules for the handling, storage and disposal of the huge volumes of wastewater produced by unconventional oil and gas operations (the proposed rule merely asks operators to submit a plan). Second, BLM needs to adopt requirements to minimize emissions of methane – a highly potent greenhouse gas – and other contaminants that create local and regional air quality problems like they’re seeing in Colorado and Wyoming. There’s long been talk of dealing with methane emissions at BLM, but so far we’ve yet to see action. We hope that changes soon. Read More »

Posted in Natural Gas| Tagged , , , | Comments closed

Ohio Energy Bill Falls Short Of Governor’s Vision For Chemical Disclosure

Ohio Governor John Kasich showed real leadership earlier this month when he introduced energy bill with the most comprehensive rules in the country for chemical disclosure during oil and gas operations. The Governor's bill would have required disclosure of not only the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing – as a number of other states have done – but also the full range of chemicals used throughout the lifecycle of a well. Hydraulic fracturing gets all the attention, but the Governor and his team understand that dangerous chemicals are also used in drilling, producing, servicing and shutting down wells. The entire process should be transparent from beginning to end — "from spud to plug," as it’s called.

This was smart policy when the Governor proposed it. And it’s smart policy today. Unfortunately, the energy bill passed yesterday by the Ohio General Assembly fails to fully deliver on that vision. In the face of intense industry opposition, lawmakers eliminated many of the reporting requirements contained in the original bill. EDF is disappointed the final bill does not live up to what Governor Kasich proposed, but we give the Governor credit for putting the idea forward and expanding the terms of the debate – both in Ohio and nationally.

To be fair, even in its scaled-back version, the Ohio disclosure policy breaks new ground. It requires disclosure of the chemicals used in stimulating a well. This includes not just hydraulic fracturing but also other kinds of stimulation techniques – something most states have missed in their disclosure rules.

Additionally, companies will be required to disclose the chemicals used in a well until the surface casing is set in place. As we testified in the Ohio House, this still leaves the public in the dark about a lot of dangerous chemicals that are used to drill and operate a well. But again, it’s a step forward compared to what other states have done.

We’re disappointed, though, by changes the House made to the trade secret provisions in the bill. In the original version, companies would have been required to report trade secret information to the Department of Natural Resources. This would have ensured that the agency had quick access to chemical information it might need to respond to a spill, initiate an investigation or respond to a complaint.  Under industry pressure, the Assembly caved on that language, and companies will now be allowed to withhold trade secret information from the regulators. 

The bill establishes an unqualified right for certain land owners to challenge trade secret claims in court. So, there’s at least a mechanism in place to police the system and make sure companies aren’t hiding behind bogus trade secret claims. But it would have been far better to have trade secrets turned over to the state – not only in cases where this information is needed to protect public health and safety, but also because it would have given anyone, not just the land owners, a right to challenge trade secrets under the Ohio Public Records Act.

This is a big bill. It addresses a wide range of issues – not just oil and gas – and includes far too much to cover here. It has some good provisions, such as new requirements for companies to report where they’re getting their water from and how much they’re using, and requirements for companies to test the baseline water quality in nearby water wells before they start drilling. The bill also has some really bad provisions – like an egregious one that strips citizens of the right to appeal permits issued to oil and gas operators.

The passage of the energy bill is not the end of the process: the agency rules implementing this bill will be written in the months ahead, and EDF will be working to make sure they are as strong as possible. And we’ll be working on other rules to reduce the risks oil and gas operations pose to communities and the environment.

This includes improving Ohio’s rules for air pollution from oil and gas operations. It means making sure we have tough standards in place to manage the huge waste streams these operations produce. It means putting smart planning in place to preserve landscapes and protect the fabric of local communities. And sooner rather than later, it’s going to mean coming back to the General Assembly and fixing what didn’t get done right the first time.

Posted in Natural Gas| Comments closed

Ohio Senate Passes Major Energy Legislation: All Eyes On The Ohio House To Restore Provisions On Chemical Disclosure

Yesterday the Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 315, major energy legislation that addresses a wide range of issues – including provisions relating to transparency in oil and gas operations.  Unfortunately, the version that passed falls short of Governor Kasich’s ambitious call for broad chemical disclosure.

In the introduced version of the bill put forward by Governor Kasich and sponsored by Chairwoman Shannon Jones, companies would have been required to publicly disclose all chemicals used throughout the entire lifecycle of oil and gas wells – the so-called “spud to plug” approach to chemical reporting.

This comprehensive approach to chemical reporting stands in contrast to other state policies that merely require disclosure of those chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process.  It reflects an understanding that a wide range of dangerous chemicals are used in drilling, stimulating, operating and closing wells, and regulators and the public need to know what’s being used in order to evaluate risks and put strong standards in place that protect communities and the environment.  Governor Kasich deserves a lot of credit for advancing this idea in the original version of the bill.

Unfortunately, in the face of intense industry opposition the version of SB315 that passed yesterday eliminates much of the reporting that would have been required under the Governor’s original proposal. 

The version of the bill that passed yesterday still has requirements for reporting the chemicals used in stimulating a well (which includes hydraulic fracturing).  It also has requirements for reporting chemicals used for drilling the surface interval of a well.  And it’s worth noting that the bill language for these provisions – while still needing improvements – is stronger than what was in the introduced version of the bill.

But the requirements for disclosing chemicals used for drilling beyond the surface interval were dropped – as were most of the requirements for disclosing chemicals used to service and operate the well.  So, it’s now up to the Ohio House of Representatives to restore these important provisions.  There’s a lot of nasty stuff that goes down a well during drilling and production.  In fact, it tends to be the case that companies use increasingly dangerous chemicals the deeper they go in the drilling process.  So, limiting disclosure of drilling fluids to just what’s used in the surface interval doesn’t make sense.

In addition to restoring the full “spud to plug” approach to the chemical reporting, the House also needs to add bill language ensuring that Ohio citizens can challenge any trade secret claims that companies may make to conceal the identity of chemicals.  That’s just a basic necessity for policing the system and giving the public a reasonable level of confidence that companies are playing on the up and up.

Finally, the bill should be amended to begin the process of assessing and reporting the chemical composition of waste streams from oil and gas operations.  Without an adequate picture of the chemical makeup of wastewater and other wastes that come from oil and gas operations, it is difficult to impossible to determine whether various methods of waste handling and disposal are protective of human health and the environment.

EDF was pleased to offer our support for the “spud to plug” concept embodied in the introduced version of the bill, but SB315 needs to be strengthened to earn our support going forward.

Transparency is just one small part of all that must to be done to ensure oil and gas operations are safe for communities and the environment, but it’s a critical piece of the puzzle that lays a foundation for developing protective rules and rebuilding the public trust.  So EDF looks forward to working with our partners, leaders in the General Assembly and the Governor to make sure the final version of SB315 lives up to its full promise and sets Ohio on the right path for protecting communities and environment.

Posted in Natural Gas| Tagged | Comments closed

Mixed Bag Out Of Pennsylvania On Hydraulic Fracturing Chemical Disclosure

Last night the Pennsylvania (PA) General Assembly passed legislation on fracturing fluid chemical disclosure that, on the whole, isn’t half bad – particularly considering where they started.  Unfortunately, the bill contains a major flaw that prevents us from being able to hold it up as a model for other states to follow.  Still, there’s quite a bit to be liked.  More on that below.

I should also point out that the disclosure legislation was part of a much larger bill that addresses a broad range of issue related to shale gas development in PA.  The overall bill has been the target of quite a bit of criticism from local environmental groups – particularly for eliminating much of the discretion of local jurisdictions to manage and plan for oil and gas activities within their borders.  We didn’t work on those provisions, so I’ll leave it to those who did to offer up their assessments and, for now, just give a run-down on the disclosure piece.

As originally drafted, the disclosure provisions in this bill were, quite frankly, useless.  All they would have done is codify current rules at the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  Under those rules, companies only reveal the chemicals that have to get reported on material safety data sheets – which leaves out maybe half the chemicals used in fracturing fluids.  And there was no requirement for posting disclosures on an easily accessible website for the public to see.  That kind of regime comes nowhere close to what EDF calls “disclosure,” and it’s way behind the times in terms of where the national conversation is today.  So, EDF teamed up with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council to improve the draft.

The Good

The first thing to understand is that PA will require two kinds of reporting.  Operators will disclose chemical information on the well completion reports they turn in to the DEP after drilling, fracturing and beginning production on a well.  And then, certain operators will be required to also post their disclosures on Frac Focus, the disclosure website run by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission.

As for the well completion reporting requirements, they’re quite good.  Operators will have to disclose all the chemicals they use, along with chemical concentrations.  They’ll also disclose the trade-name additives they use and the purposes they serve.  Taking it a step further than what other states have done, PA will also require operators to report their water sources and how much recycled wastewater they use in hydraulic fracturing treatments – an important step forward in disclosure requirements.

As with every other state disclosure rule, PA will allow operators to claim trade secret protections to keep certain chemical identities confidential.  These claims will be governed by PA’s “Right to Know” law, which means PA will be on the leading edge of how states are currently dealing with trade secrets in fracturing chemical disclosure rules.  Companies will be required to actually submit their trade secret information to the DEP (instead of completely withholding it, as some states allow).  Citizens will have broad standing to challenge trade secret claims at the PA Office of Open Records; and when there are challenges, the burden will be on the DEP and operators to prove why a trade secret claim is legitimate.  We’re aware that some in industry repeatedly tried to gut the Right to Know provisions in the bill, and credit is due to Governor Corbett’s office for fending off those attacks.

As we’ve mentioned before, we support the recommendation of the DOE Secretary of Energy Advisory Board that “the barrier to shield chemicals based on trade secrets should be set very high.”

Finally, the PA bill gives added emphasis to the need for making information available in formats that are useful and user friendly.  Mirroring the language that was pioneered in the Colorado rule, PA is now the second state to call for improving the search functions on Frac Focus.

The Bad (and Ugly)

Unfortunately, the bill took a major wrong turn on one key point.  While operators of all oil and gas wells will be required to disclose chemical information on their well completion reports, only operators of “unconventional” wells will be required to post their disclosures on Frac Focus.  The bill defines unconventional wells as those that are drilled and fractured below the Elk Sandstone formation in PA.  We’re not sure yet how many wells this will leave out, but it’s a fair guess it will be a lot.  So, we’re really only getting partial public disclosure here.

That’s a shame.  Public concern about fracturing chemicals doesn’t have anything to do with geologic stratigraphy.  Spills, bad casing and cementing jobs, loss of well control and failures in waste containment facilities can happen regardless of the depth of your target formation.  The potential pathways for contamination are there for all wells (and arguably, they’re even higher for shallower wells).  So, there’s no rational reason why all wells shouldn’t be required to post their disclosures on Frac Focus.

PA is the only state that’s made this bizarre differentiation between conventional and unconventional wells.  We’ll be looking to fix that problem in the future.  And in the meantime, we’ll be working overtime to make sure no other state repeats this mistake.

Posted in Natural Gas| Tagged , | Comments closed
  • About the author

    National Director of State Programs, Natural Gas
    Matt Watson oversees EDF’s efforts to improve environmental performance and oversight of oil and gas production activities in key states and provides strategic planning direction to EDF’s Natural Gas efforts as a whole.

  • About this Blog

    EDF Energy Exchange - Accelerating the clean energy revolution

    EDF's energy experts discuss how to accelerate the transition to a clean, low-carbon energy economy.

    Follow EDFEnergyEX

  • Categories

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS