Friday, July 29, 2011

EPA Continues to Plug Abandoned Wells in NY

In a press release today EPA reports the agency has plugged close to 300 abandoned – and in some cases leaking – oil wells in Western New York. This was part of an effort to prevent any remaining oil that may be in the wells from reaching nearby lakes, rivers and streams. The abandoned wells, many of which no longer have owners, have not been maintained for decades, reported the EPA. The wells were deteriorating to the point at which crude oil could leak from broken well casings, pipes and storage tanks. To prevent future leaks, EPA has had the wells filled with concrete and a fine clay substance called bentonite to immobilize any remaining oil.  

“Oil is one of the worst water pollutants, and the abandoned oil wells like the ones that EPA has cleaned up represent a threat to our most vital natural resource – clean water,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck. “By plugging hundreds of abandoned oil wells, we’re protecting public health and the environment, and fixing a problem that had been decades in the making.”

Since 2005, EPA has overseen the plugging of 294 wells at six locations in western NY:

136 wells plugged at the Curtis Farm Oil Wells Site in Bolivar near the Little Genesee Creek, a tributary of the Allegheny River.

91 wells plugged at the West Union Oil Wells Site in West Union, near the New York/Pennsylvania border in Steuben County. Areas from which contaminated soil was removed were filled with clean soil. Students from SUNY-Brockport helped replace native plants that were damaged or destroyed during the removal.

34 wells at the Weston Lot 7 Oil Wells Site in Olean, which borders Mix Creek, a tributary of the Allegheny River.

31 wells at the Ballard Oil Lease Site in Bolivar, near the Little Genesee Creek.

1 well at the Dodge Creek Oil Well Site in Clarksville, bordering Dodge Creek, a tributary of the Allegheny River. Dodge Creek is a trout habitat and home to the Eastern Hellbender salamander, a species of listed special concern in New York State.

1 well at the McGraw One Oil Well Site in West Union, near Marsh Creek, a tributary of the Genesee River.

Later this summer, EPA will oversee the plugging of abandoned wells on the Burrows Oil Lease Site in Olean. The site comprises 13 crude oil production wells, some of which are leaking or show evidence of past leakage. The site borders Mix Creek, a tributary of the Allegheny River.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

EPA Proposes Air Pollution Standards for Oil & Gas Production

Natural gas is touted as a “cleaner, greener” fuel. But drilling, producing and transporting gas from well to market puts a tremendous amount of pollutants into the air. Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), diesel fumes, particulates, and fugitive methane emissions contribute to smog, ground level ozone and climate change.

For the past year Cornell scientists Robert Howarth, Tony Ingraffea and Renee Santoro have warned that emissions from shale gas development are much higher than conventional drilling and likely to aggravate global warming. Their peer-reviewed research was published in Climate ChangeLetters this April, and just last month they released a new report that looks at the indirect emissions of carbondioxide from Marcellus shale development.

Since last year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been taking a harder look at air pollution resulting from oil and gas drilling operations. Today the EPA proposed updated standards - issued in response to a court order – that would rely on cost-effective existing technologies to reduce emissions. EPA believes these standards would help improve operators’ ability to capture and sell methane currently leaking into the air as “fugitive emissions” and result in more efficient operations while reducing air pollution.

Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation noted that the proposed standards will help ensure responsible production of domestic energy. “Reducing these emissions will help cut toxic pollution that can increase cancer risks and smog that can cause asthma attacks and premature death - all while giving these operators additional product to bring to market,” she stated in a press release.

The updated standards would cut volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from several types of processes and equipment, including a 95 percent reduction in VOCs emitted during the completion of new and modified hydraulically fractured wells. Technologies referred to as “green completions” already exist that allow companies to capture gas that currently escapes to the air.

According to the EPA, domestic gas production is growing, with more than 25,000 new and existing wells fractured or re-fractured each year. The proposed VOC reductions will help reduce ozone and reduce methane, which EPA labels “a potent greenhouse gas”.  Not only that, upgrading storage tanks and other equipment could save the industry tens of millions of dollars each year, says EPA.

EPA is required to take final action by Feb. 28, 2012. As part of the public comment period, EPA will hold three public hearings, in the Dallas, Denver and Pittsburgh areas. Details on the hearings will be announced soon at

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

There will be Winners (and Losers)

Last Thursday and Friday the Finger Lakes Institute presented a conference focusing on proactive approaches to mitigating the impacts of Marcellus shale development. A number of sessions touched on economic development and impacts from the “boom-bust cycle” that accompanies extractive industries.

Timothy Kelsey, from Pennsylvania State University extension, emphasized that at some point gas activities go away. In the long run, he said, you need to ask how you make sure communities remain whole.  

There is a lot of uncertainty about the costs, risks and long-term implications, Kelsey said. But one thing is for certain: there will be “haves” and “have nots”. Communities are divided by development.

The biggest problem, though, is the rapid pace of Marcellus development in Pennsylvania’s northern tier. Kelsey believes that neither communities nor state regulatory agencies had time to adequately prepare for the rapid influx of drillers. “The timing, pace and scale of drilling drives the impacts,” he said. Although the overall impact might be felt by the state as a whole over the next 30 years, localized impacts would more likely reflect the short-term lifespan of the individual wells.

His remarks echo what Cornell professor Susan Christopherson says. She is an economic geographer with Cornell’s Department of City and Regional Planning. During a recent interview she highlighted concerns about the regional impacts of industrialized drilling.

Unconventional shale drilling and production activities depend on many ancillary services:
  • pumping stations for water withdrawal
  • waste disposal facilities
  • temporary housing for large labor force
  • gravel quarries
  • staging sites and equipment storage

While the economic effects from drilling are unevenly distributed, everyone pays the costs says Christopherson. Some towns will experience an upswing in their economies during the boom part of the cycle, but the overall region will become industrialized to support the drilling, storage and transportation of gas. Counties that never see a penny of drilling-related revenues may still feel the impacts of heavy truck traffic, gas storage facilities or pipeline.

As for the gas industry’s promise of job creation, Christopherson noted that the actual numbers coming out of Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor are only a fraction of industry predictions. The problem, she said, is that economists making rosy predictions have been simply relying on input-output models – they haven’t been checking actual labor figures.

The numbers generated by models are not real job figures, Christopherson said. They’re just crude estimates of “job creation potential”. The numbers coming out of PA are inflated, she says, because both industry and media have concentrated on the number of “new hires”. That number, however, includes rehires of previously laid-off workers.

Once you take all the figures into account, Christopherson said the actual number of jobs created by Marcellus drilling is just under 10,000. More importantly, and what’s not reflected in those numbers, is that the high-paying corporate jobs end up in Texas, where corporate headquarters are located. “What we’ll get in NY is construction jobs, retail and hospitality.” You can find her most recent report (and some other interesting reading) here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Signs of the Times

Like Burma Shave signs, drilling-related billboards give insight into what's going on.  Usually I don't have my camera with me, so I appreciate someone sending me this photo.

Seen along Route 706 just outside Montrose PA (Susquehanna County)

I understand that Energy in Depth is having a billboard contest. So who knows what you'll see next. Maybe they'll send me a photo - as long as the language is FCC-approved I can post it. Judging from some of their entries, they're gonna need an editor or three.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Farmers Need Haliburton Loophole Too

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Today EPA sent out a press release reporting that a PA dairy farmer has been ordered to provide drinking water to his neighbors. Seems he contaminated their well water.

According to David Sternberg at the EPA, the order requires the dairy farmer to provide an alternative source of drinking water to the owners of the contaminated well within 10 days of the effective date of the agency’s order. The order also requires the farmer to pay for sampling of the contaminated well, and to develop an effective plan to manage his dairy operation’s process wastewater, and manure.  The dairy farmer has said he intends to comply with the order.

Back in November an EPA inspector determined that the farm was not taking adequate measures for managing manure. Their manure management allowed contaminants such as fecal coliform bacteria, including E. coli, and ammonia to infiltrate underground sources of drinking water through sinkholes on the farm property.

If not managed properly, notes EPA,  animal feeding operations can be sources of contaminants such as fecal coliform bacteria, nitrate, and ammonia.  These contaminants can endanger human health, harm local water quality, and may also cause detrimental effects to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

I’m not going to defend sloppy manure management, but you’ve got to wonder: how can Cabot get away without providing a permanent source of water to those 18 families in Dimock, PA? How come Anschutz isn’t building a pipeline for the folks in Horseheads, NY? Where’s the frackin’ justice?

Susquehanna River Basin Puts Water Withdrawals on Hold

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) isn’t waiting for PA officials to declare a drought. Today the agency announced that they are temporarily suspending 36 separate water withdrawals due to low stream flow levels at many locations in the Susquehanna basin – especially in northern Pennsylvania.   

The water withdrawals have been temporarily suspended by virtue of the Commission’s passby flow restrictions, said SRBC Executive Director Paul Swartz. “The vast majority of those suspended withdrawals are related to water for natural gas development.”

Under SRBC’s passby flow restrictions, when streams drop to pre-determined protected low flow levels, project sponsors who are required to meet the agency’s passby requirement must stop taking water.  They cannot resume taking water until streams have recovered above the protected level for at least 48 hours.

SRBC and its regulated project sponsors monitor real-time stream flow data generated by stream gages maintained and operated by the U.S. Geological Survey. Regulated project sponsors are also required to install tamper-proof water meters that automatically record their water withdrawals on a daily basis.  SRBC requires that information be reported t quarterly, in addition to continuous spot-inspections by SRBC field staff working out of the field office in Sayre, Bradford County, Pennsylvania.

Swartz said, “Our system is based on science and kicks in well before streams drop to critical low levels.  We base our surface and groundwater withdrawal approvals on conservative assumptions regarding hydrologic conditions.”

Companies And Their Water Withdrawal Sources In Pennsylvania Temporarily Suspended As Of July 19, 2011:

Blair County
  • Smith Transport Warehouse, Bald Eagle Creek

Bradford County
  •  Chesapeake Appalachia, Chemung River (Barrett) and Sugar Creek (Isbell)
  •  Healthy Properties, Sugar Creek
  •  Southwestern Energy Production Company, Wyalusing Creek (Ferguson)
  •  Talisman Energy, Fall Brook, Seeley Creek, Sugar Creek, Towanda Creek, Tributary to North Branch Sugar Creek, and Wyalusing Creek
  •  Tennessee Gas Pipeline, Towanda Creek
  •  Towanda Country Club, Little Wysox Creek

 Clearfield County
  •   Chief Oil & Gas, Clearfield Creek
  • Keister Miller Investments, West Branch Susquehanna
  •  Lebanon County
  • Pine Meadows Golf Complex, Little Swatara Creek
 Luzerne County

  •  Eagle Rock Community Association, Abandoned Quarry associated with unnamed tributary to Tomhicken Creek
  • Lycoming County
  • Hughesville-Wolf Township Joint Municipal Authority, Effluent Discharge
  • Pennsylvania General Energy Company, Pine Creek (Poust)
  • XTO Energy, Lick Run

Potter County

  • Ultra Resources, Pine Creek

Susquehanna County

  • Chesapeake Appalachia, Elk Lake Stream
  • Leonard and Jean Marie Azaravich, Meshoppen Creek
  • Stone Energy Corp, Wyalusing Creek (Stang 1)
  • Tennessee Gas Pipeline, Meshoppen Creek and White Creek
  • Williams Production Appalachia, Snake Creek

 Tioga County

  • LDG Innovations, Tioga River (Losey)
  • Tennessee Gas Pipeline, Tioga River and Unnamed tributary of North Elk Run
  • Ultra Resources, Cowanesque River

Wyoming County

  • Geary Enterprises, Buttermilk Creek
  • Mountain Energy Services, Tunkhannock Creek
  • Randy M. Wiernusz, Bowman Creek
  • Sugar Hollow Trout Park and Hatchery, Hatchery Effluent
  • Susquehanna Gas Field Services, Meshoppen Creek

Sunday, July 17, 2011

We Need to Drill More Gas!

One of the biggest points the landmen – and the gas industry – makes when they try to get you to sign their lease is that the gas they drill will help fuel America. American gas drilled from American farms, fields, forests and elementary school playgrounds will help get our country off its dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

That’s what they say anyway.

But according to Rigzone (an industry newsletter) and a recent article in Bloomberg News, there is too much gas, so companies are exporting it to Mexico (and China and other places). According to Rigzone, exports of US natural gas into Mexico are expected to average 1.3 Bcf/d – that’s billion cubic feet per day – up  450 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d) from 2010.

According to a mid-June report from Barclays Capital, Mexico will need even more gas to meet their demands, and that could lead to further US exports in 2012.

Exporting gas to Mexico is not new – we’ve been doing it for at least a decade, shipping about 850 MMcf/day. What has changed is the amount; in the first quarter of 2011 the exports averaged highest in the past decade.

It’s not a lot of gas – only one percent says Rigzone. But it is starting to add up and several factors suggest the trend towards increased exports could continue over the next few years. In fact, Barclays believes US will increase exports by another 200 MMcf/d next year, bringing the average exports to 1.5 Bcf/d.

And that’s just Mexico. Barclays also noted increased export activity to Asia and Europe, and some port cities are gearing up with LPG terminals.

So much for made-in-America energy fueling American homes…. It looks like the real agenda is to drill as much as possible as fast as possible to make as many bucks as possible before the energy bubble bursts.