The American West is home to the vast majority of the nation’s federal and tribal lands, which account for well over half of the total land area of several Western states. And, the Western states are also significant centers of domestic oil and gas production, contributing 80 to 90 percent of total federal and tribal production.
Now, a new report estimates that fugitive and vented losses from oil and natural gas operations on federal and tribal lands amounted to over 65 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas in 2013, representing over 1 million metric tons of harmful methane pollution.
The report, released this week by the independent consultancy ICF International and commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund, looks at oil and gas development on federal and tribal lands —specifically, emissions from gas that is leaked, vented, or flared every year.
Oil and gas emissions matter. Excessive venting, flaring and leaking of gas can degrade regional air quality. Moreover, natural gas is comprised mostly of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. In addition to the emissions associated with these activities, we believe venting, flaring and leaking of natural gas represents the wasteful loss of a finite and valuable natural resource.
Wyoming has a long history of living with the oil and gas industry that goes back to the nineteenth century, but that doesn’t mean that new drilling projects in new parts of the state don’t get the public’s attention. New neighbors are always a source of local interest and an approach to air quality regulations that includes different requirements for different parts of the state can lead local residents to ask what new oil and gas development will mean for their neighborhoods, for their air, and for their quality of life.
If the robust turnout of several hundred people at two recent public meetings in Laramie and Converse counties is any indication, there is significant interest in how potentially rapid oil and gas development could impact local communities. Read More
Business 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
Posted in Natural Gas Also tagged Orphan Wells
The 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
Posted in Natural Gas Tagged Wyoming
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
Posted in Natural Gas Tagged Wyoming
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