Energy Exchange

Why New Mexico shouldn’t rush toward repurposing oilfield wastewater

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of New Mexico recently announced an agreement to create a working group to explore the regulatory landscape regarding potential new options for managing oil and gas wastewater.

In 2017, New Mexico’s oil and gas operators produced nearly 38 billion gallons of wastewater – also known as “produced water.” In drought-prone New Mexico, the prospect of critical water shortages is very real and it may be tempting to repurpose this water for other uses.  However, produced water can contain hundreds of potentially toxic chemicals, making the management of this waste stream extremely challenging.

This new working group should proceed with caution so their examination doesn't lead to new problems.

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Preventing Future Aliso Canyon-Sized Gas Leaks – the Importance of Well Integrity

AlisoCanyon4Southern California is now in month three of one of the country’s worst environmental disasters. In October 2015, a natural gas storage well operated by SoCal Gas sprung a massive leak hundreds of feet underground, releasing nearly 1,400 tons of gas into the air each day at its peak. Thousands of local residents impacted by noxious fumes and oily mist have been evacuated from the communities around the Aliso Canyon storage field. Because the leak is so large and technically complex, SoCal Gas has been working for months to fix it – so far without success.

In January, California Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency because of the ongoing leak. In addition to addressing the immediate disaster at Aliso Canyon, Gov. Brown ordered emergency regulations for the state’s natural gas storage industry and has directed several state agencies and commissions to prepare and submit reports and propose how to prevent similar leaks at similar sites across the state. Read More »

Posted in Air Quality, Aliso Canyon, California, Methane, Natural Gas / Tagged | Comments are closed

EPA's Water Report: A Good but Incomplete Start

7580640864_0e9392584b_zOne study cannot answer every question about water pollution risks from oil and gas drilling, nor should it be expected to. But as my colleague Nichole Saunders pointed out, the oft-quoted statement of EPA’s water study – that it found no evidence of “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water sources”– implied to some that activities related to hydraulic fracturing had been declared risk-free.

That couldn't be further from the truth.

EPA’s draft report acknowledged in several places that available data on the impact of oil and gas operations on water resources was severely lacking. The limited scope, the large number of unknowns and the inadequate data were then used to characterize national impacts, leading to the “no widespread, systemic impacts” conclusion simply because confirmed impacts were small compared to the nationwide number of wells. That’s dangerous math that added up to misinterpretation and confusion following the report’s release. Read More »

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What Texas’ Elected Officials Should Know About House Bill 40

HB40The Texas Senate is poised to vote on House Bill 40, new legislation that threatens to gut municipal rules and oversight of oil and gas drilling. The bill, an over-the-top reaction to the Denton fracking ban, stacks the deck in favor of industry and if passed, will undo almost 100 years of local home-rule authority.

That’s a big problem for Texas cities, especially since there seems to be broad misconception about what HB 40 does and doesn’t do. Despite what supporters are saying, this is not a “narrowly tailored” bill, but instead, a complete restructuring of Texas government that will drastically impact a city’s ability to protect the health, public safety and property of Texans who live in areas with heavy drilling activity.

Here are the facts: Read More »

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No Easy Answers When Disposing of Oil and Gas Wastewater

We all want easy answers. And often times the harder the question, the easier we want the answer to be.

Source: Nicholas A. Tonelli Flickr

Increased natural gas use, for example, can help decrease U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as it has a lower carbon content compared to coal or oil. Natural gas also can help transition our energy mix to more renewable energy sources. This is because properly designed, gas-fired generation can respond quickly to pick up the slack if the wind suddenly dies or clouds unexpectedly roll in. But, these benefits mean nothing if the communities where gas is produced suffer air and water pollution, or if methane – a powerful global warming pollutant that is the primary ingredient in natural gas – is allowed to leak into the atmosphere unchecked.

We all should be worried about global warming and the role that sloppy oil and gas production and distribution practices contribute to the problem. But communities where oil and gas development is taking place are also worried about how oil and gas drilling is impacting their water supplies. This is a key issue and one aspect of the groundwater contamination concerns, rightfully gaining attention in these communities, is how and where toxic wastewater is disposed of that is produced along with oil and gas. But here, too, the answers don’t come easy. Read More »

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Why The Texas Railroad Commission Must Get Well Integrity Right

On February 28, 2013, something went very wrong on a well site in Hemphill County, Texas:

According to Railroad Commission investigators, there was “one injury from well head being blown off when casing parted.”

According to the investigators, it took almost two weeks before this “frac water” stopped flowing out of the wellbore, and another week for the well to be plugged. The investigation did not determine the underlying cause of this accident.

Getting the rules right on well integrity is about preventing pollution, protecting the environment, securing property and, most importantly, saving lives. There were no fatalities in this accident, but sadly, that is not always the case (learn more about risks EDF’s natural gas work addresses).

The Railroad Commission is close to finalizing a historic well integrity rulemaking, the most significant overhaul of these practices in several decades. It is, on the whole, an excellent effort, bringing Texas back to the forefront on well construction, operation and maintenance practices. The proposals are progressive and will lead to real environmental benefit.

One particular provision of the proposal, however, falls short of the standard set by the rest of the rulemaking. It has to do with the amount of space surrounding casings, the steel pipes that go underground. This “annular space” (or “annular gap”) is supposed to be filled with cement as necessary to isolate groundwater from pollution, protect the casing from corrosion, and prevent gas from migrating to places it does not belong.

The width of the annular gap matters. In order for a cement job to be effective, the gap must be neither too wide nor too narrow.

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