Chinese villagers concerned over shale gas explosion

The New York Times has reported that local villagers of the Jiaoshizhen have been warned not to discuss a gas fire incident that claimed eight lives to outsiders.

One night on April 2013, villagers heard a loud explosion  and found the source to be from a shale gas well in the area, where flames from the gas fire reached 100 meters in height. Within twenty four hours, workers working on the well pad were moved to work in another location, whilst villagers were issued with

Chinese Energy giant Sinopec are the first company to open a shale play within the nation of China, and have stated that a controlled explosion took place, with no loss of life.

You can read the NY Times article here.

Exxon Mobil subsidiary charged for fracking waste water spill

On 2nd January 2014, a Pennsylvania state Magistrate charged XTO Energy with expelling tens of thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing waste water at a Marcellus shale drilling site in 2010.

XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, will face charges including violations of both the state Clean Streams Law and the Solid Waste Management Act. All eight charges will be “held for court,” implying that there is enough evidence to take the Oil, Coal and Gas corporation to trial.

The charges were only brought forward in September 2013, where XTO Energy contested the charges stating that there had been “no lasting environmental impact,” and that pursuing the charges could “discourage good environmental practices.”

Keiser Report: Proposed trespass laws allow drilling under private land without permission

RT

On the 8th of April 2014, Russia Today‘s ‘Keiser Report’ takes a look at proposed law changes that will allow fracking companies to drill and frack under private property without seeking permission and in exchange for 100 pounds.
Also given consideration is the fact that the energy input for unconventional shale gas extraction is higher than the energy output, resulting in an energy negative process, which increases national debt.

You may view the full article here.

Tamboran resources granted six month extension

Local Fermanagh newspaper, the Impartial Reporter have announced that Tamboran Resources have been granted a six month extension on their three year license permit that expired this week in regards to conducting high volume hydraulic fracturing in County Fermanagh.

tamboran

Under the terms of its licence – which was granted by the Department of
Trade and Investment (DETI) on April 1, 2011 – Tamboran was required to
make a drill or drop decision before the end of the third and final year.

However, Tamboran were unable to do so and DETI have decided to extend the deadline by six months until Tuesday 30th September.

You may read the article in full here.

Public Consultation of Planning Process N.I.

The Department of Environment for Northern Ireland is holding Public Consultation on their Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS).

Consultation closes on the 29th of April 2014.

The benefit of this consultation is the provision of the opportunity for citizens, County Fermanagh and beyond, to have an input into the planning process which may have an effect on planning parameters for any and all applications, including Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction, also refered to as hydraulic fracking or hydraulic fracturing.

In the words of the DoE:

“Existing planning policies are currently detailed and operational in nature.  However, in preparing for the introduction of the two-tier planning system, it is intended that the consolidated planning policy document will be much more strategic in its focus, simpler and shorter. Key strategic policies will remain in place set out in the one document.

The SPPS will set out the core principles that planning authorities should observe in the formulation of local planning policy, the preparation of development plans and the exercise of development management functions.”

This consultation provides opportunity for local stakeholder involvement by all citizens, nationwide.

Included also, is consultation on the Strategic Environmental Assesment (SEA). This legislation is designed to gauge the likely impact and the pressures on the environment from any plans, programmes or projects which are likely to affect it.

If you wish to partake in the consultation, or want more information, you can do so here.

Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing

Of strong concern on the environmental safety of unconventional shale gas extraction, is the possible contamination of sub-surface ground waters by extensive USGE operations. A 2011 study in northeastern Pennsylvania by Osborne et al has found that as concentrations of methane gas increased with proximity to gas wells undergoing high volume hydraulic fracturing. Water wells showed elevated levels of methane in wells located near (1 km) from the drilled areas had much lower methane concentrations. Osborne’s findings also show that in some instances, methane concentration was at a state that rendered the water explosive. Furthermore, the methane gas was found to be thermogenic in nature released form shale rock by unconventional shale gas extraction.

Fig1.

The report investigated the Catskill and Lockhaven formations that overlie the marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania State, and the Genesee group that overlies the Utica Shale in the State of New York as depicted below.

Fig2

The study sampled groundwaters from 68 private water wells that ranged from 36-190 meters deep. Measurements were taken of dissolved salts, water isotopes as well as other dissolved constituents. However, 60 of the 68 wells were tested for dissolved gas concentrations of methane and other organic hydrocarbons.

Methane concentrations were found in 85% (51 out of 60) of the drinking water wells. For wells located in close proximity to active unconventional gas extraction wells, methane concentrations found to be around 17 times higher than drinking wells located further away from gas extraction operations. Whilst the average methane concentrations across all samples were found to be under the defined action level for hazard mitigation (10-28 mg per litre), the highest observed value of 64 mg per litre is well above the hazard line as shown below.

fig3

The U.S. Department of the Interior, advises owners of wells with dissolved methane concentrations greater than 28 mg/L to “immediately contact their local county health department to obtain assistance and guidance in venting the wellhead and for other possible remediation alternatives.”, due to the explosivity of the water. As can be seen above, samples from nine active gas extraction areas meet that criteria.

Furthermore, owners of wells with methane concentrations greater than 10 mg/L but less than 28 mg/L are recommended to “contact their local county health department for further assistance and might consider removing ignition sources from the immediate area.”

However methane concentrations less than 10 mg/L require no action, other than periodic monitoring to assess changes in concentration over time.

Methane gas can exist naturally as ‘biogenic‘ gas, and it has been argued that relatively high methane in this part of the Appalachian Basin is due to natural flux of methane and is not linked to the shale gas drilling. However whilst biogenic gas can exist in waters naturally, the methane gas associated with unconventional shale gas extraction is ‘thermogenic‘ in nature. Understanding the origin of the methane is of importance as it helps determine the source of contamination.

As a result, Osborne et al had to determine wether or not the methane concentrations found in the private drinking water wells were as a natural result of biogenic sythnesis, or anthropogenic release due to unconventional shale gas extraction.

fig3.1

fig3.2

They found that the water wells that lay in close proximity to active gas extraction areas were contaminated with thermogenic methane, peaking at 64mg per litre as shown in graph (A) above. Conversely, private drinking water wells in non active extraction areas were found to have much lower concentrations of dissolved biogenic methane gas.

The task to separate methane sources and thus the distinction between natural flux and anthropogenic contamination is based on the different isotopic and geochemical compositions of thermogenic relative to biogenic methane sources. It was shown that the elevated methane in drinking water wells near the shale gas wells had a thermogenic composition (e.g., heavier) than wells located 1 km away from shale gas sites with an apparent mixed thermogenic-biogenic composition.

In regards to ethane and other higher-chain hydrocarbons contamination of those analytes were found in only 3 of 34 drinking-water wells from nonactive drilling sites. In stark contrast however, ethane was detected in 21 of 26 drinking-water wells in active drilling sites. Further to this, trace contamination of other gas extraction related analytes, such as propane and butane were also detected from active drilling areas, but not in wells from nonactive areas.

The investigation did not find any evidence of brine or fracking fluid contamination. Furthermore, they found no evidence for contamination of the shallow wells near active drilling sites from deep brines and/or fracturing fluids and salt concentrations in wells from active drilling areas were consistent with the baseline historical data and levels of radon were indistinguishable between active and inactive gas extraction areas.

In short, the geochemical and isotopic fingerprint for water measured in the shallow wells from both active and nonactive areas are consistent with historical data and inconsistent with contamination from mixing Marcellus Shale formation water or saline fracturing fluids as shown below.

table2

Leaky gas-well casings were considered as a transport mechanisms that promote contamination. Another transport mechanism considered was the formation of new fractures improving connectivity rapid migration as a result of reduced pressure.

In conclusion, the main findings of the peer reviewed report found that methane concentrations not only increased in proximity to active gas wells, but results reflect that contamination of methane gas in the water was thermogenic in nature, and therefore released by unconventional shale gas extraction.

You may read the peer reviewed paper here.

***

References

1) Osborne.S, Vengosh.A, Warner.N, Jackson.R. (2011). Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing. PNAS. 108 (20), 8172-8176.

2) USGE. (2006). Methane IN West Virginia Water. Available: http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2006/3011/. Last accessed 25/03/2014.

3) Molofsky LJ, Connor JA, Farhat SK, Wylie AS, Jr, Wagner T. Methane in Pennsylvania water wells unrelated to Marcellus shale fracturing. Oil Gas J 2011; 109: 54–67

4) Van Stempvoort D, Maathuis H, Jaworski E, Mayer B, Rich K (2005) Oxidation of fugitive methane in groundwater linked to bacterial sulfate reduction. Ground Water 43:187–199.

5) Cramer B, Schlomer S, Poelchau HS (2002) Uplift-related hydrocarbon accumulations: the release of natural gas from groundwater. 196 (Geological Society Special Publica- tions, London), 447–455.

Los Angeles – Largest U.S. city to approve fracking ban

On 28th of February, the city of Los Angeles placed a moratorium on unconventional shale gas extraction (USGE), making it the largest city in the United States to do so.

The city of L.A. City council voted unanimously to ban the practice within city limits, 10-0. The L.A. ordinance prevents operation of USGE until effective government oversight and regulation is in place at local, state, and federal levels. The motion, brought forward by councilmen Koretz and Bonin will hold in place until verification that USGE does not pollute the ground waters of the city. The council curbed “all activity associated with well stimulation, including, but not limited to, hydraulic fracturing, gravel packing, and acidizing, or any combination thereof, and the use of waste disposal injection wells.”

“Until these radical methods of oil and gas extraction are at the very least covered by the Safe Drinking Water Act, until chemicals are disclosed and problems are honestly reported, until we’re safe from earthquakes, until our atmosphere is safe from methane leaks, we need a fracking moratorium,” said Councilman Koretz.

fracking-calif-map

The moratorium was met with applause. Liz Crosson, executive director of Los Angeles Waterkeeper said, “While state oil and gas regulators drag their feet on enforcing existing rules and taking adequate precaution for the health of our communities, rivers and ocean, L.A. residents suffer from what is already occurring at the nation’s largest urban oil field and in communities throughout the city,”. She further stated, “We don’t know all of the chemicals oil companies are exposing us to when they frack in our neighborhoods, but we know enough to know we don’t want them in our air or in our water.”

There will now be an attempt to introduce a ban on USGE and related activities across the state of California.

***

References

1) Reyes, E. (2014). L.A. City Council takes step toward fracking ban. Available: http://www.latimes.com/science/la-me-0301-fracking-ban-20140301,0,6285538.story#axzz2xCYvuYPq. Last accessed 27/03/2014.

2) Russia Today. (2014). Los Angeles becomes largest US city to prohibit fracking. Available: http://rt.com/usa/los-angeles-fracking-ban-290/. Last accessed 27/03/2014.

3) Sustainable Business. (2014). Los Angeles Bans Fracking. Available: http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/25555. Last accessed 27/03/2014.

4) Baker, B. (2014). Los Angeles Passes Fracking Moratorium. Available: http://ecowatch.com/2014/02/28/breaking-los-angeles-passes-fracking-moratorium/. Last accessed 27/04/2014.

Californian almond farm ruined by fracking company operations

In January 2010, a farmer was awarded USD$8.5million damages by an unconventional shale gas extraction (USGE) company that had been found guilty of contaminating local waters that had accessed his farmland.

Farmer Fred Starrh of Kern County, California owns 6,000 acres of farmland that harvested pistachios, alfalfa, cotton and almonds.

Oil and Gas company Aera Energy are estimated to have dumped 2.4billion barrels of ‘produced’ fracking waste water into unlined percolation ponds on the edge of Mr Starrh’s land.

Mr Starrh noticed the environmental damage after he mixed his ground water with local aqueduct water that watered his cotton plants, before they wilted heavily. The water also killed off almond trees that he had managed to farm at 155 per acre.

Mr Starrh had considered that contaminants of the produced frack waste water could have caused the pollution. Well waters within his land were tested and were found to be positive for boron and chloride – two chemicals associated with the USGE callied out by Aera Energy, a joint venture between Shell and Exxon Mobil.

After a nine year court case, Mr Starrh was awarded $8.5million in damages by Kern County Court. However, despite winning his case against Aera Energy, Starrh appealed the court decision, stating that, as a result of the damage caused by Aera, he will need as much as $2 billion to rehabilitate his land and construct terraced ponds to properly “flush” his soil and groundwater of toxins.

Mr Starrh was in court again last year as a jury retired on 8th March 2013 to determine wether Mr Starrh be awarded further punitive damages from Aera Energy in order to fully remediate his land.

As a result of previous findings about Aera’s responsibility for the pollution, much of the case has revolved around the usefulness of Starrh’s native groundwater with regard to irrigation.

Aera’s lead attorney, Stephen Kristovich recalled testimony that the area’s groundwater has long been understood to be too salty and with too much boron to work on crops, hence the farming boom that arrived with the California Aqueduct in the 1960s.

Starrh’s attourney Ralph Wegis countered by referencing studies suggesting that at least 20 different crops can live on Starrh’s native groundwater.

In a practice he called ‘devoid of morals’, Wegis drew attention to Aera’s use of an accounting concept known as “net present value” to make, or help make, strategic decisions. By using the system, Wegis claimed Aera used net present value to determine that it was more profitable over the long run — even in the event of a jury’s award of punitive damages — to let the groundwater pollution continue into Mr Starrh’s farmland, rather than offer remediative or preventative measures.

Kristovich responded by saying that net present value has been just one of many criteria guiding Aera’s decisions, and that the others include environmental responsibility. He added, “There’s nothing wrong with using economics and using that as part of your decision-making process.”

In his rebuttal, Wegis told the jury that Aera decided it was in its best financial interest to wait rather than stop the pollution.

The jury returned 13th March 2013 to deny Mr Starrh further punitive damages, stating that Aera Energy’s contamination of the adjacent aquifer was accidental.

Mr Starrh was dissapointed in the result, “I was totally devastated, that’s all,” Starrh said. “I couldn’t accept it from a personal perspective.”

Mr Starrh and his attourney Ralph Wegis will re-appeal the decision.
Fred starrh
***

References

1) Millar, J. (2010). Oil and Water Don’t Mix with California Agriculture. Available: http://www.hcn.org/issues/42.21/oil-and-water-dont-mix-with-california-agriculture. Last accessed 17/04/2010

2) The Bakersfield Californian. (2013). Aera-Starrh lawsuit goes to jury. Available: http://www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/business/x837007080/Aera-Starrh-lawsuit-goes-to-jury. Last accessed 17/04/2014.

3)The Bakersfield Californian. (2013). Akern grower gets another bumper crop of disappointment. Available: http://www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/business/oil/x738927654/Kern-grower-gets-another-bumper-crop-of-disappointment. Last accessed 17/04/2014.