June 2010 Archives

June 30, 2010

Use of Fresh Water for Fracture Treatment of Horizontal Wells in Shale Plays

A major issue in shale plays is the use of underground supplies of fresh water to fracture-stimulate the well. Horizontal shale wells are fracture-treated with fresh water to which various chemicals are added, and huge volumes of fresh water are needed. A 5,000-foot lateral horizontal well will use up to seven million gallons of fresh water. Depending on the availability of underground water at the lease, the operator's use of that resource could have a substantial adverse impact on the landowner's subsurface water supply.


The impact of fracing in the Barnett Shale was a subject of study by the Texas Water Development Board in 2007. The TWDB concluded that 89% of the water supply for the region of the Barnett Shale field was supplied by surface water sources, and that groundwater used for Barnett Shale development accounted for only 3 percent of all groundwater used in the study area. In East Texas, underground water is more plentiful and using it to frac wells may not place a strain on aquifers. But the Eagle Ford Shale is generally in a more arid part of the state where surface water supplies are more scarce and underground water is a more precious resource. Where the mineral owner also owns the surface estate, attention needs to be paid to the impact of mineral development on underground water supplies.

Companies have developed recycling methods to re-use frac water, which have been tested on an experimental basis. Devon has reported that it has been able to recycle a small percentage of the frac water used in its Barnett Shale wells and in the last three years has recycled nearly 4 million gallons. One obstacle is cost. It was reported that it costs about 40 percent more to recycle the water than to dispose of it by underground injection. Devon has said that its cost of recycling water in Barnett Shale wells is $4.43 per barrel, vs. $2 to $2.50 per barrel for typical water disposal into an injection well. Devon said that less than 5% of Devon's revenue goes toward the cost of handling flow-back water. For a good article on recycling frac water, go to this link.

Continue reading "Use of Fresh Water for Fracture Treatment of Horizontal Wells in Shale Plays" »

June 29, 2010

John Hanger, Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Comments on Movie Gasland

John Hanger, head of the agency responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania, said in an interview by the Philadelphia Inquirer that the movie Gasland, by Josh Fox, was "fundamentally dishonest" and "a deliberately false presentation for dramatic effect," and called Fox a "propagandist." Hanger was interviewed by Fox in the movie, at the end of which Hanger walked out on the interview. Hanger was formerly head of the environmental group Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture). He has sought stricter regulation of the industry over its objections.

Fox's movie has come under criticism by others. Energy in Depth, an industry website, calls his movie "heay on hyperbole, light on facts." Fox blames much of the pollution depicted in the movie on hydraulic fracturing. The movie shows water coming out of a faucet charged with methane and lit on fire.

Richard Stoneburner, President of Petrohawk Energy, commenting on the environmental opposition to hydraulic fracturing, has written that natural gas often occurs naturally in fresh water sands.

America's Natural Gas Alliance, another industry group, has posted an entry on its website titled "The Truth About Gasland," rebutting allegations in the film:

In the film's signature moment Mike Markham, a landowner, ignites his tap water. The film leaves the viewer with the impression the flaming tap water is a result of natural gas drilling. However, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which tested Markham's water in 2008, at his request, methane in his water supply had "no indications of oil & gas related impacts to water well." Instead the investigation found that the cause was "biogenic" in nature, meaning it was naturally occurring due to the fact that his water well had been drilled into a natural gas pocket.

Professor Don Siegel at Syracuse University  told reporters in an interview that anti-drilling activists like Fox are distorting the facts about natural gas drilling. "As a hydrogeologist, I really am almost offended by some of the opposition that's trying to paint a picture of what groundwater resources are like that is completely wrong." He proceeded to list the "not-truths" about hydraulic fracturing.

June 25, 2010

EOG Withdraws Application for Temporary Field Rules in Eagle Ford Shale

At the hearing today before the Texas Railroad Commission for consideration of EOG Resources' application for temporary field rules for a new field consolidating 27 existing fields in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, the applicant EOG Resouces announced that it was withdrawing its application. (See my previous post on this application here.) EOG's lawyer said that the application was filed at the suggestion of Railroad Commission staff in order to have uniform rules for all wells drilled in the Eagle Ford, but because of the number of parties who had appeared in the hearing in opposition to the application, EOG would withdraw the application. He said that EOG plans to file a new application for temporary field rules for the Eagle Ford in eight counties where EOG has acreage: Gonzales, Wilson, Karnes, Atascosa, McMullen, La Salle, DeWitt, and Frio Counties. He said that the rules EOG would propose would apply to oil wells only, as EOG's acreage is in the oil window of the play. Other operators in the gas portion of the play are also expected to file additional applications for temporary field rules for gas wells.
June 22, 2010

Three Documentaries About Drilling in Shale Plays

Remarkably, three full-length documentaries are in circulation about the perils and benefits of the new shale drilling boom in the US. The first, Gasland, relates stories of the horrors caused by drilling in locations across the country. It won an award at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and is now showing on HBO. Its official website is a call for environmental action. The second documentary, Haynesville: A Nation's Hunt for Energy, has been shown at several film festivals and can be seen in Dallas, Houston and Forth Worth in July. The film critic for the Fort Worth Star Telegram calls Haynesville "fairer and smarter" than Gasland.  Watch the trailer at its website. The newest film is Gas Odyssey, which advocates development of the Marcellus shale in New York State. Its maker Aaron Price says that the issue of hydraulic fracturing "stopped being about science and facts a long time ago  It has become a political monster, and my hope is that this film will transcend politics and restore basic rights to New Yorkers - to develop their land through a tried and true, safe technology."  Watch all three and make your own conclusions.
June 18, 2010

TCEQ Chairman Defends Barnett Shale Air Quality

Bryan Shaw, Chariman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, published a letter in the Fort Worth Star Telegram assuring Fort Worth that there was no immediate health risk from contamination of air caused by oil and gas activities in the region. Shaw assured residents that "the TCEQ can state, without hesitation, that benzene levels in Fort Worth pose no immediate health risk."

The TCEQ has taken extraordinary measures over the past several months to test air quality in and around Fort Worth after Al Amendariz, then an engineering professor at Southern Methodist University and now regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, published a report that air emissions from oil and gas activity in the Barnett Shale play were significantly contributing to reduced air quality in the DFW area. The concerns were exacerbated by reports from the town of DISH, in Denton County, that air emissions from oil and gas facilities were causing health problems in that community.

The TCEQ has also come under more general criticism and scrutiny by the EPA since Armendariz's appointment. The EPA has contended that the TCEQ's air-permitting program violates federal law, and the EPA has threatened to take over the program from the TCEQ. The Texas Attorney General has filed a legal challenge to the EPA's efforts to pre-empt the State's permitting program. The TCEQ and the EPA are in discussions to try to resolve the dispute.


June 10, 2010

EOG Resources Proposes Temporary Consolidated Field Rules for Eagle Ford Shale

EOG Resources has filed an application with the Texas Railroad Commission proposing the adoption of temporary field rules for wells drilled in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas that could have a significant impact on thousands of oil and gas leases in the field. The application proposes to consolidate 27 designated fields that produce from the Eagle Ford Shale formation, and the proposed rules will replace any field rules previously adopted for those fields. The consolidated rules would apply to Eagle Ford Shale wells drilled in Railroad Commission of Texas Districts 1, 2 and 4. A copy of the notice of the Railroad Commission hearing for the adoption of the proposed rules may be found here:  eagle ford field rules.pdf. The hearing is scheduled for June 25, 2010, at 9 am in the William B. Travis Sate Office Building, 1701 Congress Avenue, Austin. Persons wishing to participate in the hearing must file a notice of intent to appear at least five working days in advance of the hearing date and serve a copy of the notice on the applicant and any other parties of record. More information can be obtained by calling the Office of General Counsel of the Railroad Commission at 512-463-6848.

Field rules are adopted by the Railroad Commission to govern the spacing of wells in a field. They specify how far wells must be from each other, how far wells must be from the nearest lease line, and how much acreage must be assigned to a well in order to obtain a permit to drill a well. The acreage assigned to a proposed well is known as a "proration unit." Well spacing and density rules were developed by the Commission after it was given jurisdiction over oil and gas operations in Texas in the early days of the oil industry, principally because of unregulated drilling in the East Texas Field. Because of unregulated drilling in that field, wells were being drilled that were not necessary for the efficient development of the field, and oil prices plummeted. The Commission was also given authority to "prorate" production from a field -- that is, to limit production, and to allocate or "prorate" the specified limit of production from a field among the wells in a field. The stated purposes of spacing and density rules are to avoid waste and protect the correlative rights of producers in the field. Theoretically, field rules should designate a size for proration units that approximates the amount of acreage in the field that can be efficiently drained by a single well.

The field rules proposed by EOG would provide:

Continue reading "EOG Resources Proposes Temporary Consolidated Field Rules for Eagle Ford Shale" »

June 10, 2010

Pennsylvania Suspends EOG's Right to Drill Wells after Blowout

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PDEP) on Monday ordered EOG Resources to suspend all drilling operations in Pennsylvania pending investigation of an EOG well blowout on June 3 in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. EOG had previously said it planned to drill 40 wells in the Marcellus Shale in 2010, and it not operates about 265 wells in Pennsylvania. The blowout shot gas and drilling mud and some 36,000 gallons of frac fluid 75 feet into the air. There was no fire, and no one was hurt. The PDEP banned EOG from drilling for up to seven days and from using hydraulic fracturing techniques for up to fourteen days. EOG said the blowout appears to have been caused by leaking seals in a blowout preventer.

PDEP also ordered C.C. Forbes, a unit of oilfield services contractor Forbes Energy Services, a Canada drilling company, to stop all work on Marcellus Shale wells. Forbes provided post-hydraulic fracturing services for EOG on the well that blew out. Forbes has idled to rigs in the Marcellus Shale.

This is the second time PDEP has banned an operator from drilling wells in the Marcellus Shale.  Previously, PDEP banned Cabot Oil and Gas from conducting hydraulic fracturing operations in Susquehanna County after three spills of a chemical used in hydraulic fracturing at Cabot wells. PDEP also fined Cabot $56,650 and ordered the company to submit a new Pollution Prevention and Contingency Plan and Control Disposal Plan for its wells.

The failure of EOG's blowout preventer is reminiscent of the environmental disaster now taking place in the Gulf of Mexico.