December 2009 Archives

December 31, 2009

Tiny Town of Dish, Texas Stirs Up Hornet's Nest Over Air Pollution in Barnett Shale

Dish is a town of about 200 residents north of Fort Worth, Texas. The mayor and town council have recently become concerned about emissions from gas compressors in and around the town, from the Barnett Shale gas development. Large compressor stations are located near Dish; these stations have big internal combustion engines that compress gas to move it through gas transmission lines in the area. The town hired an environmental firm, Wolf Eagle Environmental, to conduct air quality tests and has complained to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The small community has now become the focus of the larger debate over the impact of Barnett Shale wells on air quality in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and the impact of oil and gas drilling and production activity on the environment generally.


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December 24, 2009

Texas Railroad Commission Adopts New Temporary Field Rules for Carthage (Haynesville Shale) Field

On December 15, the Railroad Commission adopted new field rules for a newly designated field, the Carthage (Haynesville Shale) Field, in East Texas. It also consolidated several previously designated fields in East Texas that produce from the Haynesville and Bossier formations into this single RRC-designated field. These rules will govern the development of the Haynesville and Bossier formations in Harrison, Nacogdoches, Panola, Rusk and Shelby Counties in East Texas. These new rules are important to landowners principally because they will give operators a basis to form pooled units of up to 640 acres or more for development of the field.

A little backrgound is in order: Large portions of the land in East Texas within the Haynesville and Bossier play were previously drilled to develop the shallower Travis Peak and Cotton Valley formations. The field rules originally adopted for the Cotton Valley fields provided that only one well could be drilled for each 640 acres of land. Over time, the field rules were amended to allow operators to drill wells in the Cotton Valley with a density of as little as 40 acres per well. Operators initially formed pooled units of up to 704 acres, a size allowed by most lease standard pooling clauses. Cotton Valley wells drilled on these pooled units are still producing, thus keeping in force the leases included in the pooled units. Generally, the pooled unit designations filed by operators for the Cotton Valley wells pooled all depths under the units, including the Haynesville and Bossier formations, which lie immediately below the Cotton Valley formation. Companies now desire to develop the deeper Haynesville and Bossier formations under these Cotton Valley units.

Field rules are special rules adopted by the Railroad Commission governing the spacing of wells in a designated field. Once special field rules are adopted for a field, they govern how wells must be spaced in that field and how much acreage an operator must have to drill a well in the field. Special field rules are adopted in response to an application made by an operator of wells in the field. The operator presents evidence to hearings examiners at the RRC as to the characteristics of the formation and how much area will be drained by a well in that field, and the operator proposes rules to be adopted by the RRC. The hearing examiners review the evidence and may or may not adopt the rules requested by the applicant. The hearing examiners make a recommendation to the three RRC commissioners, and the commissioners may either adopt the recommendations of the examiners or make changes in those recommendations.

Devon Energy Production Co., LP made application to the RRC for new field rules for development of the Haynesville and Bossier formations in East Texas, and it requested that several fields previously designated by the RRC be consolidated into a single "field" for purposes of the new rules. The new rules proposed by Devon would govern wells completed in the Haynesville and Bossier formations in Harrison, Nacogdoches, Panola, Rusk and Shelby Counties. In effect, Devon proposed that the Haynesville and Bossier formations be treated as a single formation for RRC regulatory purposes. Devon identified the Haynesville-Bossier formation as the formation found at depths between 9,568 feet and 11,089 feet in the Devon-Hull Unit A Lease, Well No. 102 (API No. 42-365-36749), in Panola County. This interval is more than 1,500 feet in thickness.

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December 18, 2009

TCEQ Answers Rep. Lon Burnam's Questions on Investigations of Air Quality

State Representative Lon Burnam, Dem. Fort Worth, asked nine questions of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality concerning its investigations of emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds from oil and gas operations in the Barnett Shale area and in Texas in general. Recent air quality tests by private companies for local towns in the Fort Worth area have created a stir and caused some to call for increased monitoring and additional testing of emissions from oil and gas operations. Rep. Burnam has also called for the City of Fort Worth to place a moratorium on issuing permits for drilling until additional testing has been done. A group of concerned citizens has formed the North Central Texas Communities Alliance, to press for a moratorium in the DFW area until environnmental and other concerns are addressed.

The TCEQ's response to Rep. Burnam's questions provides some interesting data.

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December 17, 2009

Congressmen from Producing States Weigh in on Safety of Hydrauling Fracturing

Twenty-two U.S. House Democrats from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, Utah and Idaho delivered a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa P. Jackson, cautioning the EPA to do a "reasonable and transparent study" of whether hydraulic fracturing of wells creates risks to drinking water. EPA is required to study whether hydraulic fracturing creates risks to underground sources of drinking water under the 2010 Appropriations Act for the Department of the Interior. The producing-states Congressmen want to be sure that the EPA's study is scientific, systematic, transparent, accurate and valid.

The EPA conducted a similar study of fracing in 2004. That study was done to investigate whether hydraulic fracturing of wells completed in coalbed methane seams posed a risk to groundwater drinking supplies. The study was in response to alleged incidents of groundwater contamination and to a judgment of a U.S. Court that, because hydraulic fracturing of coalbeds to produce methane is a form of underground injection, the EPA is required to regulate it under Part C of the Safe Drinking Water Act. That Act requires states to regulate underground injection of fluids and to develop an Underground Injection Control Program approved by the EPA. The EPA's 2004 study of fracturing of coalbed methane wells found no evidence that any water had been contaminated by fracing of wells or that fracing posed any risk to drinking water. That study was criticized by some, including scientists in the EPA. In 2005, Congress exempted hydraulic fracturing from coverage under the Safe Drinking Water Act, in part at least based on EPA's 2004 study.

The requirement for a new EPA study of fracing in 2010 has been driven, in my opinion, by the development of the Marcellus Shale play in Pennsylvania and New York. New York has placed a moratorium on permits for wells and has published its own draft study of risks to surface and underground water supplies caused by drilling in the area of upstate New York that provides drinking water to New York City. That study is still subject to comment and revision and has caused much controversy in New York. The New York draft study likewise concludes that hydraulic fracturing poses no risk to drinking water if properly regulated. In a related development, a bill in Congress, the FRAC Act, proposes to require companies to disclose the chemical content of frac fluids.


December 15, 2009

International Energy Agency Climate-Change Policy Scenario

The International Energy Agency (IEA) issued a forecast of world energy consumption and use, and for the first time included a scenario projecting the impacts of taking steps to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at about 450 parts per million by 2030. This "450 Secnario" would limit overall temperature increases to 2 degrees C., versus a rise in global temperature of as much as 6 degrees if no efforts to curb carbon dioxide are made. The report compares this 450 Scenario to its "reference scenario," its projections of energy production, prices and consumption assuming no policy changes are enacted.

Its conclusions:

Under the reference scenario, oil prices would increase to $87/bbl in 2015, $100/bbl by 2020, and $115/bbl by 2030 (in 2008 dollars). Under the 450 Scenario, the oil price would level off at $90/bbl by 2020.

Natural gas prices would grow 17% by 3020 under the 450 Scenario, or an average of 0.7%/year.  In 2030, gas prices would be 17% lower than under the reference scenario.

Although significant additional investment would be necessary to meet the 450 Scenario, this investment would be more than offset by fuel cost savings. Oil and gas import costs for OECD countries would be much less. Oil and gas import costs for China and India would be 30% lower in China and India in 2030 than in the reference scenario.

December 7, 2009

Pooled Units and Unleased Mineral Interests

I have recently received several inquiries about the rights of unleased mineral owners whose tract is included in the boundaries of a pooled unit. There seems to be some general miss-perception about this issue. 

A typical oil and gas pooling clause allows the lessee to combine separate tracts covered by separate oil and gas leases into a single pooled unit for purposes of exploration and production. This allows the lessee to treat the pooled unit as a single lease. Wells drilled anywhere on the pooled unit are considered to have been drilled on the leased premises covered by each separate lease in the pooled unit, and production from the pooled unit will keep the lease in force beyond its primary term, just as if the production were from each tract in the pooled unit. Production from wells on the pooled unit is allocated among the tracts in the unit, for purposes of paying royalty, on an acreage basis. If a tract in the unit comprises 25% of the total acreage in the pooled unit, then 25% of the unit production is allocated to that tract for royalty purposes, and the mineral owners in that tract receive their royalty on production from the pooled unit just as if 25% of the unit production were produced from the tract.

What happens, then, if the lessee has acquired oil and gas leases on only a portion of the minerals in a tract? Can the lessee include that tract in a pooled unit? If so, how are royalties paid to the owners of unleased minerals in that tract? Do the unleased mineral owners have the right to share in production from the pooled unit?

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