Energy Exchange

It’s time for the Texas Railroad Commission to curb flaring to prevent waste, protect property rights

This piece originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle

The Texas Railroad Commission has a unique chance to save the state’s oil and gas industry from one of its own worst habits — setting fire to over 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas each year, transforming a valuable asset into waste and pollution with zero benefit to anyone. Now, as commissioners eye production cuts in response to collapsing oil prices, they also have an opportunity to stem the profligate practice known as flaring.

The measure under consideration is called proration. Last used in the 1970s, it allows the commission to set a monthly production ceiling equal to market demand, with shares allocated among the state’s producers based on a variety of factors. Often described as a way to raise prices by limiting supply, authority for proration actually comes from the commission’s statutory obligation to prevent the waste of natural resources and protect property rights.

Flaring, of course, is the very definition of waste. Since 2013, operators in Texas have burned off roughly a trillion cubic feet of natural gas — enough to meet the yearly needs of every Texas home three times over. In 2019, Permian operators alone flared almost 300 billion cubic feet of gas, sending over a million dollars a day up in smoke.

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Posted in Air Quality, Methane, Methane regulatons, Natural Gas, Texas / Comments are closed

The oil industry’s wastewater is one of the biggest challenges facing Permian producers

This post originally appeared in the Midland Reporter Telegram. 

Nowhere is the current energy boom more apparent than in Midland, Texas. But with this dramatic growth in oil and gas also comes a growing amount of wastewater. Texas oil and gas companies alone produce over 300 billion gallons of wastewater a year, twice as much as any other state, and that volume is expected to increase. This is no ordinary water. In addition to the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process, it can contain radioactive materials and a number of naturally occurring pollutants – including high concentrations of salt that can kill plants and ruin soil for decades if not handled properly.

Most of the time, companies dispose of wastewater by reinjecting it deep underground. This is a cost-effective and largely environmentally sound solution. However, there is growing concern that this option may be less available or more costly in coming years due to a range of challenges from earthquakes to capacity. This, paired with growing demands for water, particularly in drought-stricken regions, is driving companies and policymakers to look at new options for disposing or reusing industry’s wastewater.

These newer options – while promising – are not without their own sets of risks. Read More »

Posted in General, Natural Gas, produced water, Texas / Comments are closed

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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Posted in Natural Gas, produced water, produced water / Tagged | Comments are closed

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 »

Posted in Natural Gas / Tagged | Comments are closed

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 »

Posted in Natural Gas, Texas / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed