Energy Exchange

The connection between jobs and addressing orphan oil and gas wells

All across the country right now, there are tens of thousands of officially documented “orphan” oil and gas wells creating environmental hazards for their communities. These are wells that the oil and gas industry walked away from because they became uneconomic over time. Rather than properly sealing them, they left state and federal taxpayers holding the bag. These wells can be big sources of air, water and climate pollution if left unaddressed.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions more of these inactive, unplugged wells that need to be addressed. This is not to mention the potential for adding hundreds of thousands of currently active wells to the orphan well inventory as oil and gas producers struggle to survive the downturn in petroleum prices.

Luckily, efforts are underway in Congress and within the presidential transition plan to address these orphan wells. In his economic plan, President-elect Joe Biden laid out his vision for a cleaner and healthier future.

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Also posted in Air Quality, Methane, Natural Gas, New York, Pennsylvania / Comments are closed

Another study reveals Permian methane levels are abnormally high, reinforcing need for action

By Jon Goldstein and David Lyon

A new peer-reviewed study published today once again confirms the Permian Basin has some of the leakiest oil and gas wells in the country.

For the study, researchers with the University of Wyoming used a mobile methane laboratory to quantify emissions from 46 randomly selected well pads in New Mexico and 25 in Texas. They found those sites are emitting between 5 to 9 times more methane pollution than The Environmental Protection Agency estimates suggest.

This granular look at well pad emissions is a critical part of understanding what is causing the emissions. Earlier this year, EDF used this data to estimate total methane emissions across New Mexico and concluded the state was likely emitting up to one million metric tons of methane per year.

When combined with other measurement techniques, we can get an even clearer sense of the entire region’s methane footprint. The satellite-based TROPOMI methane instrument, as well as aerial surveys conducted through our PermianMAP project — can detect emissions from other types of oil and gas equipment.

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Also posted in Air Quality, Methane, Methane regulatons, Natural Gas, New Mexico / Comments are closed

Two chemicals that remind us why we should exercise caution with the oil industry’s wastewater

Over the past few years, we’ve written a lot about the wastewater generated from oil and gas production — specifically, how little is known about what’s in it and the potential risks of exposure.

But as states try to set standards for how to safely treat and dispose of this waste, there are two chemicals in particular that deserve to be among the regulatory priorities.

The first is a class of synthetic chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — PFAS for short. Members of this class, often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are highly persistent in the environment, are known to cause adverse health impacts in humans. This can include a range of symptoms, including damage to the immune system, low infant birth weights and cancer.

The second chemical is 1,4-dioxane. Short-term exposure to this carcinogen can cause immediate health impacts, like eye, nose and throat irritation and impaired lung function. Prolonged exposure can lead to liver and kidney damage, as well as cancer.

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Also posted in Colorado, Natural Gas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, produced water / Comments are closed

BP, Shell and investment giants call for Texas zero flaring regulations. Will others follow?

The first time I saw a natural gas flare in the oilfield was in 2015. Our team at Environmental Defense Fund was beginning to study methane emissions and collaborate with companies to solve the problem. Early one morning, we loaded into a van with industry collaborators and technology entrepreneurs, venturing out into the Eagle Ford Shale in south Texas.

Outside the van windows, flares dotted the landscape. A company representative explained that natural gas, or methane, was being burned on the spot rather than sent on for productive use in the economy. Why? Because there was no infrastructure in place to handle the gas coming from the region’s wells, most of which were built to produce only oil for market.

The good news, he explained, was that the problem was just temporary. Infrastructure would soon catch up with oil well drilling. The flares would soon be extinguished for good.

But more than five years later, flares are still burning nonstop.

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Also posted in Methane, Methane regulatons, Natural Gas / Comments are closed

Texas oil and gas regulators offer a weak fix to flaring

This post was originally published in The Dallas Morning News

After months of promising talk about curbing the oil and gas industry’s wasteful and polluting flaring habit, the Texas Railroad Commission unveiled a plan that does little to fix the problem. Despite calls from mineral owners, the public and even some in the industry itself to end routine flaring, the commission instead embraced largely empty measures advanced by an oil and gas trade group.

Flaring, setting fire to natural gas produced as an oil byproduct, is a colossal waste of resources and releases both carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. In recent years, the Railroad Commission has served as little more than a rubber stamp for oil and gas flaring in Texas. Since 2013, operators have obtained 35,000 flaring permits without a single denial.

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Also posted in Air Quality, Methane, Methane regulatons, Natural Gas / Comments are closed

Zero routine flaring by 2025 and the Texas policy needed to get there

Routine flaring at oil and gas production sites in Texas has been a chronic issue for years, as the rampant process burns off viable fuel product while emitting carbon dioxide, methane and toxic pollutant emissions into the atmosphere. Yet momentum for eliminating the practice is building among investors, operators and landowners, pushing the state’s regulatory body, the Texas Railroad Commission, to consider new flaring policy.

Several major operators, such as Chevron and Pioneer, have already significantly reduced flaring rates to less than 1%. In a recent blog touting Exxon Mobil’s greatly improved Permian flaring performance, the operator stated their experience, “demonstrates that zero routine flaring is within everyone’s reach.”

But as J.P. Morgan Asset Management stated in a recent flaring report, “voluntary operator actions to reduce routine flaring, while necessary, have proven insufficient to deliver on the industry’s full potential,” while reiterating “zero routine flaring by 2025 represents an important and achievable goal.” In order to achieve this goal, policymakers must step in to ensure widespread adoption and outline actionable goals.

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Also posted in Air Quality, Methane, Methane regulatons, Natural Gas / Comments are closed