April 2010 Archives

April 23, 2010

Oil Field Pollution in South Texas

An interesting article by Joe Carroll of Bloomberg News explores the problems faced by South Texas Ranchers seeking to require cleanup of old oilfield contamination. These problems are widespread in Texas and in my opinion the Texas Railroad Commission is ill equipped to address the problems.
April 23, 2010

Gatti vs. State of Louisiana - a Challenge to Multiple-Well Pooling Orders in Louisiana

An interesting case has recently been filed in Louisiana challenging the authority of the Louisiana Department of Conservation to approve pooled units containing multiple wells. In Gatti et al. vs. State of Louisiana, et al., Number 589350, Division 23, filed in the 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish, the plaintiffs sued the State Department of Conservation and several operators in the Haynesville field, including Chesapake, Encana, Exco, Conoco Phillips, Petrohawk, SWEPI, EOG, Questar, Forest and XTO, claiming that the Department of Conservation was routinely allowing the drilling of "alternate unit wells" on previously established units, in violation of Louisiana law. A copy of the petition may be found here.  Gatti v. St of Louisiana.pdf.

Louisiana has a forced-pooling statute that allows an operator to propose to the Department of Conservation a unit for a well which, if approved, forces all mineral owners in the unit to pool their interests for the drilling and production of that well. According to the plaintiffs, this statute only authorizes the Department to approve units large enough to cover an area drained by one well. The practice in Lousiana for the Cotton Valley and Haynesville fields is to obtain orders for 640-acre units, and later obtain approval to drill additoinal "alternate unit wells" on those units. The suit contends that this practice is unfair to the owners of minerals and royalties in the unit, and violates state law. The suit seeks certification of a class action on behalf of all owners of mineral rights in Haynesville Zone in Louisiana. It seeks a declaration that the Department has no authority to establish a unit having an area in excess of the area drainable by one well, and that any such unit is "null and void." The suit also seeks unspecified damages against the defendant companies.

An interesting article describing the history of forced pooling in Louisiana and arguing that multiple-well units are illegal may be found at fairdrilling.com.

I have written previously about the proceeding before the Texas Railroad Commission for adoption of field rules for the Carthage (Haynesville Shale) Field. In that proceeding, the applicants sought and obtained field rules establishing a standard proration unit of 640 acres for wells in the field, with "optional" 40-acre units. The examiners who heard the evidence opined that Devon had produced no evidence that a well in the field could drain 640 acres, and they recommended a 320-acre standard unit, but the Commissioners overruled them and agreed to Devon's request for 640-acre units.

It appears that in both Lousiana and Texas the regulators are going along with the fiction advocated by operators that wells in the Haynesville should be developed with 640-acre units, despite the fact that everyone knows the wells will in fact be drilled with 160 or 80-acre spacing. Everyone understands that this fiction is intended to accommodate the desires of the operators to construct larger units in order to (i) have more flexibility in how they space their wells and (ii) hold more acreage with a single well. I have sympathy with the first objective, but not with the second. It is impossible to drill wells with horizontal legs of 5,000 feet or more unless fairly large units are created. Conversely, it is unfair to the mineral owners in a large unit for their leases to be held by production from a single well in the unit where several wells are necessary to fully develop the reservoir under their lands.

April 9, 2010

BLM Agrees to Consider Effect of Oil and Gas Leasing in Montana on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Bureau of Land Management has signed a settlement agreement in which it agreed to "suspend" oil and gas leases covering BLM lands in Montana until it has completed a review of the effect of oil and gas development on greenhouse gas emissions.

The settlement was entered in Montana Environmental Information Center, et al. v. United States Bureau of Land Management, Case No. 08-178-M-DWM, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, Missoula Division, on March 11, 2010. The case was brought by citizens groups who contended that federal law required the BLM to consider the cumulative impacts of oil and gas development on the environment, and specifically the greenhouse gas emissions caused by oil and gas well drilling and production, before granting oil and gas leases on lands in Montana.

The plaintiffs' petition contains some interesting facts:

The State of Montana published a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory and Reference Case Projections 1990-2020G, in 2007; it estimated that oil and gas operations in Montana released 4.7 million metric tons of CO2 or its equivalent in 2005, more than 12% of the state's total GHG emissions.

According to the Inventory of U.S. GHG Gases and Sink: 1990-2006, by the Environmental Protection Agency, oil and gas systems are the largest human-made source of methane emissions and account for 24% of methane emissions in the U.S. - 2% of the U.S.'s total GHG emissions. (Methane - natural gas - has 21 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide.)

The EPA has a program called the Natural Gas STAR Program, designed to encourage oil and gas companies to voluntarily reduce their GHG emissions by following GHG reduction technologies and practices. EPA reported that industry partners in its STAR Program achieved GHG emission reductions totaling 92.3 billion cubic feet. This is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from approximately 6.8 million passenger vehicles.

Companies producing oil and gas have reported success in utilizing a number of methane reduction measures, including replacement of high-bleed pneumatic controllers with low-bleed pneumatics, installing plunger lifts, using "green" completions (not venting gas produced during completion operations), replacing gas-actuated pumps with solar electric pumps, and utilizing vapor recovery units (devices that capture vapor emitted from storage tanks and recycle it back into the production stream), and conducting regular inspections of facilities to identify and reduce fugitive leaks from valves, flanges and other connectors.

We may expect that federal agencies like the BLM and the Minerals Management Service, who are responsible for leasing of federal lands, will move toward imposing requirements on oil and gas operators to reduce their GHG emissions by using best available technologies like those enumerated in the plaintiffs' petition in this case. Those same technologies could be used to reduce emissions in and around the Barnett Shale, where residents are increasingly complaining about emissions from oil and gas compressors and other facilities.

April 5, 2010

EIA to Change Methodology for Estimating U.S. Gas Supply

The Wall Street Journal reported today that the Energy Information Administration will revise the way it estimates U.S. natural gas supplies, after concluding that its current method significantly over-estimates supply. An analysis has concluded that there are discrepancies of as much as 12% between the total gas supply (gas produced or imported) and gas demand (gas consumed or stored). In December, the EIA reported gas supply at 87.8 bcf/day and total demand of 80 bcf/day. The high estimates for supply may have unnecessarily depressed prices.

The EIA requires the nation's largest producers to file a monthly report, Form 914, to report production; based on that report and its models, EIA estimates production by smaller producers. EIA has been less able to account for smaller companies' production, and it is believed that this is in part a result of shale development and other advances in technology.