Selected tags: Hydraulic Fracturing

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 To be fair, the proposed rule does represent a level of progress compared to sorely outdated rules on the books.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 »

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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.

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Improving New York’s Proposed Hydraulic Fracturing Regulations

Around the country, states are taking a serious look at their regulations to manage shale gas development.  New York has the potential to be a leader among these states. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) believes that strong regulations and aggressive enforcement is critical to protecting public health and the environment from high-volume hydraulic fracturing and other hydrocarbon extraction activities in New York State. To that end, we have submitted detailed comments on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)’s proposed rules and permitting conditions for hydraulic fracturing. The NYSDEC can put New York at the forefront of safe and clean shale gas development by implementing our suggestions in several critical areas:

1)      Chemical Disclosure: Full public disclosure is rapidly becoming the industry norm across the country, but the proposed NYSDEC disclosure rules for chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process only covers chemicals with Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), thus failing to capture perhaps half or more of the chemicals used. This is especially problematic because MSDS only explore hazards in occupational settings and do not consider implications for public health or the environment. Further, the proposed rule only requires disclosure of additive products proposed to be used in hydraulic fracturing, as opposed to the chemicals actually used during the hydraulic fracturing process. EDF feels strongly that operators should disclose all hydraulic fracturing chemicals used on a well-by-well basis, posted on a searchable, publically accessible website.

2)      Well Construction: Properly constructed, tested and maintained wells are critical to protecting New York’s precious groundwater and surface water aquifers from contamination by drilling fluid, wastewater and natural gas seepage. The proposed well construction regulations and permitting conditions need improvement to meet industry best practice standards. Furthermore, some of the proposed rules represent potential safety hazards for well pad workers. A model regulatory framework EDF, and others, are developing could be used to greatly improve NYDEC’s proposed well construction regulations.  

3)      GHG Emissions/Methane Leakage: EDF is a leading advocate of strict standards on limiting methane emissions from natural gas production. Methane is a pernicious greenhouse gas, many more times more powerful than carbon dioxide.  To reduce the peak warming and improve air quality, it is critical to minimize the amount of methane vented or flared at the production site or leaked during storage and transmission. We strongly urge the NYSDEC to impose specific Green Completion and other emission-reducing requirements on operators, and to formulate hard emissions targets that provide incentives for operators to reduce methane leakage even further.

4)      Wastewater: Hydraulic fracturing produces huge volumes of potentially toxic and radioactive wastewater. New York recognizes this problem but does not seriously address the lack of capacity for processing or safely storing hydraulic fracturing waste materials within the state. Current technology does not allow for safe, cost-effective purification of hydraulic fracturing wastewater at treatment centers for re-introduction into the water system, and should be banned. Insofar as it appears that the final disposition of the bulk of the wastewater produced in New York will be trucked out of state to deep injection wells, the proposed regulations and permitting conditions must grapple with this expensive and perhaps unsustainable practice. Finally, since wastewater recycling will likely be the dominant treatment option undertaken by shale gas operators in New York, this practice needs to be more thoughtfully and transparently regulated.

5)      Phase-in: Even with the best rules on the books, it will take time to hire and train the necessary staff to implement and enforce the rules properly.  New York is essentially building a regulatory program from scratch.  EDF believes the NYSDEC should learn how to walk before it can run.  Our suggestion is that New York phase in the regulatory program region by region.  In this way, the state can be sure that the pace of drilling activity will not outpace its ability to adequately administer the regulations.  So, too, this phase-in approach will allow the state to acquire valuable experience in step-wise fashion. The key is not doing it quickly, but doing it correctly.

These and other adjustments to the proposed rules and permitting conditions are necessary to protect public health and the environment in New York. Shale gas extraction can be made safe through strong regulations and aggressive enforcement to protect communities. EDF is committed to working with the NYSDEC on these issues to produce the most responsible hydraulic fracturing regulatory framework in the nation.

EDF’s full comments on New York’s hydraulic fracturing regulations are available here.

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Transparency Is Key To The Future Of Natural Gas

A bill was filed in the Texas House of Representatives today that will require natural gas service companies and operators to publicly disclose the chemical composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids used in Texas.   After the public beating the natural gas industry has been taking, we think participating in legislation to bring transparency to the industry would be a pretty good idea. 

Basic regulations, like disclosure, provide insulation for responsible companies from the actions of those who may not have best of interest of the broader industry or public in mind. 

From our Scott Anderson:

“Disclosure of the fluids used in hydraulic fracturing is key to gaining an understanding of the impact this process has on the environment and human health.”

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