Energy Exchange

Rogue methane leaks from idle wells carry four big takeaways for policymakers

An ongoing methane leak involving several long-term idle wells in Southern California is raising safety concerns for nearby residents and highlights an important climate issue. Southern California has some of the worst air quality in the country, and leaks like these compound the negative impacts on some of the country’s most vulnerable populations. Both in California and across the country, many hundreds of thousands of end-of-life oil and gas wells are idle. That means that they are just sitting around awaiting proper site closure, which involves plugging the wells with cement to prevent gases or liquids from escaping and threatening the environment and public health.

Several such wells were recently found to be leaking methane — a powerful greenhouse gas that often escapes from oil and gas facilities alongside other toxic pollutants — in the Morningstar section of Bakersfield, CA. Local residents are concerned about the possibility of subsurface methane migration to homes and other structures in the vicinity.

While CalGEM and other agencies work to investigate and remediate the situation, four takeaways are already emerging:

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Posted in Air Quality, California, Methane, Natural Gas / Language: / Comments are closed

Funding to plug and remediate orphan wells moves forward in the Senate

The bipartisan infrastructure bill currently under debate in Washington includes a new, $4.7 billion program to address a significant environmental legacy of the fossil fuel industry — the plugging and remediating of orphan oil and gas wells.

Orphan wells have no owner, so the cleanup liability falls largely to the public. Nearly 60,000 such wells have been documented by state and federal agencies, but there are likely many hundreds of thousands more scattered across more than two dozen states.

Unless properly plugged, oil and gas wells no longer in use pose major environmental hazards. They can contaminate groundwater and surface water resources. They emit methane — a potent greenhouse gas over 80 times more powerful in contributing to warming in the short term than carbon dioxide. They can also release air pollutants that are hazardous to human health.

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Posted in Air Quality, Methane, Natural Gas, New Mexico / Language: / Comments are closed

Maximizing the historic job creation opportunity waiting in our nation’s old and leaking oil and gas wells

After over 150 years of boom and bust oil and gas development, there are over a million inactive, unplugged oil and gas wells across the country. A new study published in the journal Elementa describes how, when not properly plugged, these wells can contaminate groundwater and emit methane as well as harmful chemicals into the atmosphere that endanger the economy and public health in communities where they are found. It also provides suggestions for how to maximize the environmental benefits of efforts to plug these wells.

There are 57,000 documented “orphan” wells across the country, meaning they have no owner of record, at least not one that’s still in business, and hundreds of thousands more orphan wells that are not documented. State, federal and tribal governments are left with the responsibility of plugging these wells – some of which have been abandoned for decades.

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Posted in Methane, Natural Gas, Pennsylvania / Language: / Comments are closed

Annular pressure monitoring and testing makes for safer wells

There are nearly a million active oil and gas wells in the United States, and if not correctly designed and maintained, they can leak harmful substances that will irreversibly pollute our land, air and water.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at data from over 100,000 wells and estimates that at least 14% experienced some loss of integrity, which could indicate a leak.

The study’s authors were able to determine the functionality and health of these wells based on data collected from annular pressure tests. In fact, the study analyzed almost 500,000 pressure tests conducted across three different basins — one of the largest studies of well integrity conducted to date.

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Posted in California, Colorado, Methane, Natural Gas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania / Language: / Comments are closed

How oil & gas states did (and did not) protect land and water in 2020

More than 30 states actively regulate oil and gas development with a variety of practices and rules designed to reduce health, safety and environmental impacts. States engage in a process of continuous improvement by adopting new rules and practices as technologies and risk mitigation techniques evolve — even in an extraordinary year like 2020. EDF tracks state trends in oil and gas regulation related to the protection of land, water and local communities, reporting notable state actions each year.

2020 presented multiple challenges for the oil and gas industry and state regulators, including the twin shocks of an OPEC price war and a steep decline in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, many states showed strong commitment to ensuring environmental integrity by adopting critical new rules across a variety of topics.

Here are the big things we saw in 2020.

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Posted in Methane, Methane regulatons, Natural Gas, produced water / Language: / Comments are closed

EDF issues new framework to help make oil and gas wells safer

The United States onshore oil and gas industry operates nearly one million production wells across 30 states. To protect our health and environment, these wells must be designed, constructed, operated, maintained and closed in a way that prevents leaks and explosions.

To help regulators keep current on leading practices for protecting our environment from the risks associated with oil and gas production, EDF teamed up with Southwestern Energy and dozens of experts in industry, government, academia and advocacy to develop a Model Regulatory Framework for Hydraulically Fractured Hydrocarbon Production Wells in 2014. The framework has been used by states around the country as they have developed or updated well integrity regulations — notably, when Texas adopted several dozen ideas from the framework, blowouts fell 40% (and injuries from blowouts 50%) the next year.

EDF recently launched a new edition of the framework, which contains around 60 improvements based on the latest research and recommendations from oil and gas industry’s technical societies.

Here are some of the key changes in this new edition.

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Posted in Air Quality, Natural Gas, produced water, Water / Language: / Comments are closed