James Fallows is a national correspondent for Atlantic Monthly. ( jamesfallows.theatlantic.com ) In the last few years he has lived in and written about China. He has written the cover article for Atlantic's December issue, "Dirty Coal, Clean Future." I am a big fan of James Fallows; he writes clearly about big-picture issues, is a deep thinker, and does not talk down to his readers. Mr. Fallows' article is about the future of coal as a source of energy in the world, and how China is developing "clean coal" technology.Much has been made recently of new discoveries of natural gas in the U.S.; it has been touted as a solution to our dependence on foreign oil and as a way to reduce emission of greenhouse gases, by replacing coal-powered electric generating plants. Mr. Fallows does not write about new gas discoveries, but his discussion of the future of coal puts our domestic natural gas discoveries in perspective. Below are some excerpts from and summaries of Mr. Fallows' discussion. I recommend that you read his article in full.
The Dallas Office of the Environmental Protection Agency issued the following press release today:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered a natural gas company in Forth Worth Texas to take immediate action to protect homeowners living near one of their drilling operations who have complained about flammable and bubbling drinking water coming out of their tap. EPA testing has confirmed that extremely high levels of methane in their water pose an imminent and substantial risk of explosion or fire. EPA has also found other contaminants including benzene, which can cause cancer, in their drinking water.
EPA has determined that natural gas drilling near the homes by Range Resources in Parker County, Texas has caused or contributed to the contamination of at least two residential drinking water wells. Therefore, today, EPA has ordered the company to step in immediately to stop the contamination, provide drinking water and provide methane gas monitors to the homeowners. EPA has issued an imminent and substantial endangerment order under Section 1431 of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Parker County is located west of Fort Worth, Texas.
In late August, EPA received a citizen's complaint regarding concerns with a private drinking water well. During the inspector's follow-up inquiry, EPA learned that the homeowner had previously complained to the Texas Railroad Commission as well as the company, but their concerns were not adequately addressed by the State or the company. EPA then conducted an on-site inspection of the private drinking water well with the homeowner and a neighboring residence, and returned to collect both water and gas samples. These samples were sent to an EPA certified laboratory for analysis. The data was received in late November 2010 and was carefully reviewed by EPA scientists. The EPA scientists have conducted isotopic fingerprint analysis and concluded the source of the drinking water well contamination to closely match that from Range Resources' natural gas production well.
EPA has asked the company to conduct a full scale investigation. EPA is requiring Range Resources under this order to:
- Immediately deliver potable water to the two residences;
- Immediately sample soil gas around the residences;
- Immediately sample all nearby drinking water wells to determine the extent of aquifer contamination; and
- Provide methane gas monitors to alert homeowners of dangerous conditions in their houses.
- Develop a plan to remediate areas of the aquifer that have been contaminated.
- And, to investigate the structural integrity of its nearby natural gas well to determine if it is the source of contamination.
EPA has data showing the presence of natural gas at two wells. EPA is ordering Range to investigate other nearby properties to determine if their drinking water is at risk. EPA has been in contact with a rural water system operator approximately 1 mile away, and they are taking steps to test their water for natural gas constituents. Residents of other homes are advised to contact EPA immediately if their wells seize up or if their water begins to effervesce. EPA will contact nearby private well home owners to advise them of our actions and to let them know that we've required the company to test their wells.
The uncontrolled release of natural gas can be dangerous since it is odorless and flammable and it escapes facilities. Uncontrolled release of natural gas inside a building or home can cause a fire or explosion. Drinking water contaminated with natural gas impurities such as benzene is unhealthy.
EPA believes that natural gas plays a key role in our nation's clean energy future and the process known as hydraulic fracturing is one way of accessing that vital resource. However, we want to make sure natural gas development is safe. As we announced earlier this year, we are in the process of conducting a comprehensive study on the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.
In the meantime, EPA has made energy extraction sector compliance with environmental laws one of EPA's National Enforcement Initiatives for 2011 to 2013. The initiative focuses on areas of the country where energy extraction activities such as hydraulic fracturing are concentrated, and EPA's enforcement activities will vary with the type of activity and pollution problem presented.
To my knowledge, this is the first time the EPA has directly intervened in response to a complaint by landowners of groundwater contamination from horizontal shale wells. The EPA's press release emphasizes that the Texas Railroad Commission did "not adequately address" the landowners' complaints.
The EPA's letter to Plains Resources may be found here: http://www.epa.gov/region6/6xa/pdf/range_letter.pdf
The EPA's emergency order may be found here: http://www.epa.gov/region6/6xa/pdf/range_order.pdf
The two Range wells are the Butler Unit 1H and the Teal Unit 1H, both Barnett Shale wells drilled in 2009. The owner of one water well first noticed gas in his water in late December 2009, about four months after the Range wells began producing. One of the water wells lies about 120 feet in horizontal distance from the track of the Butler well bore, and the other about 470 feet from the Butler well bore. The EPA did a chemical analysis of the gas found in one domestic water well and found that it was substantially likely that it came from one of the Range wells.
The EPA order says that it consulted with the Railroad Commission and shared its findings with the Commission, and that "appropriate State and local authorities have not taken sufficient action to address the endagerment described herein and do not intend to take such action at this time." The EPA ordered Range to (1) provide replacement potable water supplies for the owners of the affected water wells, (2) install meters in the landowners' dwellings to detect gas, (3) provide EPA a list of all private water wells within 3,000 feet of the two Range wells along with a plan to sample the water in those wells, (4) submit a plan to conduct testing of soils and indoor air around the dwellings served by the water wells, and (5) submit a plan to identify the gas flow pathways to the aquifer, eliminate such flows, and remediate areas of the aquifer impacted by the gas flows into the aquifer.
Update: Range Resources has denied that its wells have contaminated groundwater in Parker County. "The investigation has revealed that methane in the water aquifer existed long before our activity and likely is naturally occurring migration from several shallow zones immediately below the water aquifer," the company said. Two producing Range natural gas wells in the area "are completed in the Barnett Shale formation, which is over a mile below the water zone." The Texas Railroad Commission has scheduled a hearing on the matter for January 10. http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/12/08/2690723/range-resources-denies-epa-allegation.html
Texas' Sunset Advisory Commission has issued its Staff Reports on review of three of the state's most important regulatory agencies: the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and the Public Utility Commission (PUC). These reports will frame the debate on legislation to renew the mandates of these regulatory bodies in the coming legislative session. Landowners should be aware of the Sunset Commission's recommendations and be prepared to weigh in on those issues that affect landowners' interests. Links to the full staff reports of the Sunset Commission can be found on the Commission's website at http://www.sunset.state.tx.us/ . Below is a summary of some key facts and recommendations on the RRC.
Recent news items of interest:
Barnett Shale Well Reaches 5 Bcf
The XTO Energy - TRWD #H2H Well in Tarrant County has produced more than 5 Bcf of gas, the first Barnett Shale well to reach that milestone. The well was completed in June 2005 with a 3,500-foot lateral. The well was drilled under a reservoir operated by the Tarrant Regional Water District, Eagle Mountain Lake, in northwest Tarrant County. It still produces more than 1 mmcf per day. The well highlights the difference between community acceptance of horizontal drilling and fracing technology in Texas compared to fears that the technology will cause water contamination in New York State, which so far has banned such wells. The newly elected Attorney General for New York, Eric Schneiderman, has recently said he opposes use of hydraulic fracturing until he is convinced that it is safe: "Neither the state nor the federal government has determined that hydrofracking is a safe practice, and I will sue to make sure that no drilling takes place until those determinations have been made."
TCEQ Air Monitor Installed in Decatur
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has installed a continuous air monitoring device in Decatur, Texas to continuously sample and report air quality and measure 46 volatile organic compounds. It is one of five such devices sited in the Barnett Shale area. Each monitor costs up to $250,000, plus $100,000 per year to operate. The data can be viewed on the TCEQ website, here:
A map showing the locations of TCEQ air quality sampling locations may be found here:
Chevron Buys into Marcellus Shale
Chevron Corporation announced that it has agreed to acquire Atlas Energy, which controlls 486,000 net acres in the Marcellus and 623,000 net acres in the Utica Shale. Atlas had previously made a joint venture with Reliance Industries Limited of India to develop its Marcellus leases. Chevron thereby joins Exxon Mobil (XTO acquisition) in buying into the domestic shale plays.
Halliburton Subpoenaed for Contents of Frac Fluid
The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a subpoena to Halliburton to obtain information on the chemical additives it uses in hydraulic fracturing fluids after Halliburton refused to voluntarily disclose the data. EPA has asked nine oilfield service firms to disclose data on frac fluid, and only Halliburton refused to respond.
Natural Gas In Storage Reaches Record
The U.S. Energy Information Administration has reported that natural gas in underground storage has reached 3.84 trillion cubic feet, a new record. The EIA forecasts that gas production in the U.S. will reach 61.49 Bcf per day in 2010, the highest level since 1973.
Texas Crude Oil Production on the Rise
Texas oil production in September rose to 32.7 million barrels, an increase of 1.1 percent over September 2009. Oil production in Texas peaked at 3.4 million barrels per day in 1973, and declined to 979,000 barrels per day in 2003, where it has leveled off in recent years. Because of higher oil prices in relation to natural gas, companies have been switching from drilling gas wells to oil wells. Rigs drilling oil wells now account for 43% of the 1683 active rigs in the U.S., up from 33% a year ago.
Fort Worth City Council Increases Budget for Air Quality Study
Fort Worth will spend an additional $250,000, for a total of $900,000, on an air quality study to be conducted by Eastern Research Group, testing 75 percent of the wells in the city. ERG told the city council that 68 percent of the approximately 200 sites it has tested so far have shown detectable emissions that require further study.
Chesapeake Threatens Colleyville Council with Suit over Attempt to Regulate Pipelines
The Colleyville City Council has revised its drilling ordinance to give it authority over pipeline routes in the city limits. An attorney representing Texas Midstream Gas Services, a Chesapeake subsidiary, told the council that the ordinance conflicts with state and federal law governing pipeline safety issues. The issue of municipal regulation of oil and gas activity will be a topic for the upcoming Texas legislative session.
Dimock to Get Water Line
The village of Dimock in Pennsylvania has been much in the news since residents found their water wells charged with natural gas. Cabot Oil & Gas, which has been drilling wells in the area, has denied responsibility, but the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has concluded that Cabot's wells have charged the community's aquifer. Now Pennsylvania authorities have approved a project to construct a $12 million, six-mile municipal water line to supply drinking water to Dimock residents. The Pennsylvanid DEP has said it will sue Cabot if it refuses to pay for the water line.
Arthur Berman, a geological consultant, has once again blasted the economics of gas shale plays -- this time the Marcellus. At the annual conference sponsored by the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas - USA, held on October 7-9 in Washington, D.C., Mr. Berman made a presentation: "Shale Gas--Abundance or Mirage? Why the Marcellus Shale Will Disappoint Expectations." His power-point from that presentation may be found here: Arthur Berman on Marcellus.pdf Mr. Berman argues that only a small percentage of the areas now being touted as productive in shale plays -- the "core areas" are economic at any price; that even within the core areas, performance is not uniform and the geology is complex; that the wells are very expensive and the break-even gas price is as high as $8-$12/mcf; that reserves have been overstated by the companies in the plays; that the industry is not properly estimating estimated ultimate recoveries from the wells; that changes in reporting rules recently adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission allow companies to "book" estimated reserves prematurely; and that the economies of the plays will ultimately be reflected in lower share prices of the companies participating in the plays.
For the Marcellus in particular, Mr. Berman asserts that infrastructure limitations -- lack of pipeline and gas processing capacity -- will slow development, that environmental issues -- fears about groundwater contamination, proximity to urban areas, and regulatory restraints -- will not go away, and that economics for drilling in the Marcellus Shale are no better than in the Barnett Shale. Mr. Berman says that shale gas is the nation's next speculative bubble likely to burst.
Mr. Berman created a stir just a year ago when he published a similar gloomy analysis of the Barnett Shale, at the ASPO conference in October 2009. At that time he was a contributor to a trade publication called World Oil, which is sent free to top oil & gas E&P executives. In early November 2009, World Oil was about to publish another article by Mr. Berman critical of shale plays, but the president of the publication ordered that it not be published. Mr. Berman resigned, and his editor Perry Fischer, who insisted that the article be published, was fired. All of this created a stir in the blogosphere. Fischer contended that World Oil executives were pressured by CEOs of two public E&P companies not to publish any more of Mr. Berman's critiques. Tudor Holt & Pickering, who analyze the oil and gas industry, published a critique of Mr. Berman's analysis, and two oil executives from Devon and Chesapeake wrote newspaper op ed pieces critical of his work. Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon said at the time that he expected gas prices to continue to rise, which would lead to an increase in drilling and production in the shale plays. "We think all of the elements are in place for gas prices to be higher in 2010 than they are today," McClendon said.
McClendon's predictions have not held true. Gas prices have continued to slide, although drilling in the shale plays has continued. Particularly in the Haynesville, wells are being drilled that are surely not economic at current prices. The only explanation I know of for this continued drilling is that the companies who paid $10,000 to $25,000 per acre for leases in the play must drill the wells to prevent the leases from expiring. The result is that gas production and drilling remains high despite lower prices, resulting in a continued glut in supply, further reducing prices. In the meantime Mr. McClendon, always quick on his feet, has moved to the Eagle Ford Shale play, a "liquids-rich" play, because oil prices, unlike gas, have not declined. Chesapeake acquired a large position in the "oil window" of the Eagle Ford and quickly made a deal with China's national oil company to sell them one-third of its acreage for $10,000 an acre. If indeed, as Mr. Berman believes, the shale plays are the next speculative bubble, maybe it will be national oil companies like China's who are left holding the bag.
A royalty owner in the Barnett Shale has sued Chesapeake in Oklahoma federal court for failure to properly pay royalties. The suit, Robyn Coffey vs. Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C. and Chesapeake Operating, Inc., Civil Action No. CIV-10-1054-C, was filed on September 27 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, in Oklahoma City. A copy of the complaint can be viewed here: Coffey v Chesapeake.pdf The plaintiff seeks to bring the case on behalf of all royalty owners in the Barnett Shale formation, as a class action.
The plaintiff alleges that Chesapeake "employs a scheme" to reduce royalty payments by selling the gas to its wholly owned subsidiaries at a price "substantially less than either the market value at well or the amount actually received by Chesapeake Operating."
The royalty clause in the plaintiff''s oil and gas lease is unusual. It provides for payment of royalties based on the "market value at the point of sale," but not less than "the actual amount realized by the Lessee." The clause says that all royalty paid to the lessor "shall be free of all costs and expenses related to the exploration, production and marketing of oil and gas production from the lease including, but not limited to, costs of compression, dehydration, treatment and transportation." Most gas royalty clauses provide that gas royalties will be based on "the amount realized by Lessee, computed at the mouth of the well," or similar language.
The plaintiff's lease does not expressly address sales by a lessee to a company which is affiliated with the lessee. The plaintiff in this case will therefore have to prove in effect that the sale to Chesapeake's affiliate is a sham designed to cheat its royalty owners. It is possible to draft a royalty clause that would deal with sales to affiliates -- in effect providing that royalties shall be based on the proceeds received by the lessee or any affiliate of the lessee -- in other words, based on the price received in the first arms-length sale to an unrelated third party.
The case is obviously drafted to be a class action. The amount of the individual plaintiff's claim is not stated in the complaint, but the plaintiff owns royalties on only about 3 acres. If the plaintiff is able to get the case certified as a class action on behalf of all Chesapeake royalty owners in the Barnett Shale, millions of dollars of royalty will be at issue in the case. It is evident that the lawyers elected to file in Oklahoma because the Texas Supreme Court has been very hostile to royalty owner class actions in Texas. In light of the unusual language in this royalty owner's lease, it will be interesting to see if the federal court in Oklahoma will be willing to certify this case as a class action.
Recent happenings in Pennsylvania:
- The controversy over natural gas in underground aquifers in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania continues. It was reported that private lab tests of contaminated water found chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Dimock resident Victoria Switzer said that the tests had found ethylene glycol, propylene glycol and toluene in her well water. The testing company said that the tests also found ethylbenzene and zylene in most of the affected water wells in the township. Read the Scranton Times-Tribune article here. The Pennsylvanie Department of Environmental Protection has fined Cabot Oil & Gas for improper casing and cementing that allegedly have caused natural gas to appear in Dimock's ground water.
- Cabot has denied that the tests show contamination of ground water by frac water from its wells. Cabot claims that it has not used xylene, ethyl benzene or toluene in its frac water. It said that the chemicals found in the ground water were present before Cabot ever drilled its wells, and Cabot notes that an automobile and truck repair garage is sited near the water wells tested and that these chemcials are primary constituents of car and truck fuel and are commonly found in gasoline spills. See article here.
- The EPA hearing on its well frac'ing study finally took place in Binghamton, New York. After all of the concern about the crowd and security, about 700 people showed up for the hearing, while others chose to demonstrate outside the hearing. There were demonstrators on both sides, some holding signs saying "Kids can't dring gas" and "Protect our water. Stop fracking America." Other signs said "Yes to science, no to paranoia" and "Pass gas now!" See Philadephia Inquirer article here.
Analyst Dave Pursell of Tudor, Pickering & Holt has addressed the frac'ing controversy tongue-in-cheek, inspired by Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men:
You want the truth? You can't handle the truth! We live in a world that needs clean natural gas, and gas wells have to be frac'd by men with rigs and pumps. Who's gonna do it? Microsoft? Apple? The energy industry has greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for your i-phone app, and you curse the frac crews. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what we know. That fossil energy fuels economic growth. And the existence of frac'ing, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, powers our economy. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about on Facebook, you want them on that frac, you need them on that frac. We use words like pressure, proppant, conductivity. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent producing gas. You use them as a punchline. We have neither the time nor the inclination to explain ourselves to someone who takes a hot shower every morning using the natural gas that we provide, and then questions the manner in which we provide it. We would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way. Otherwise, we suggest you pick up a pipe wrench, and meet us on location. We have wells to frac!
T. Boone Pickens has filed a lawsuit to protect his water rights in Hemphill County, a suit that highlights the problems with Texas' attempt to regulate pumping from aquifers in the State. The suit, Mesa Water, L.P. and G&J Ranch, Inc. v. Texas Water Development Board, was filed in Travis County in April. Water is a little outside the scope of my blog, but this fight concerns the Ogallala Aquifer in the Texas Panhandle, where I was born and grew up, and so is of special interest to me.
To understand the litigation, it is necessary to know something about the Ogallala and about Texas' efforts to regulate underground water resources.
EIA Forecast of Energy Prices
The Energy Information Administration has forecasted that oil and natural gas prices will rise slightly through 2011. It predicts oil to average $84/bbl in 2001, and that the Henry Hub spot price for natural gas will average $4.98/MMBtu in 2011, an incurease of 6% from 2010. EIA forecasts that US natural gas consumption will increase 3.8% from 2009 levels in 2010, then remain flat in 2011. It predicts total natural gas production to increase by 1.1 Bcf/d in 2010, an increase of 1.9%.
Devon Energy CEO Says Low Prices Will Mean Lower Rig Counts
John Richels, President of Devon Energy, said that the natural gas rig count will begin to fall by mid-2011 if prices continue to remain at $5/MMBtu or less. Richels said in a speech at the Houston Petroleum Club that drilling has remained high to hold leases bought in 2007 and 2008, and once that acreage is drilled enough to prevent lease expirations there will be little reason to continue drilling unless prices rise to the $6 to $7 range.
The US Baker Hughes rig count as of August 20 was 1,651 total rigs -- 655 oil and 985 gas. This is up 666 from a year ago, or 68%. The Texas rig count was 716, up 344 from last year's count of 372, or 92%. The state with the next highest rig count was Louisiana, with 184 rigs.
EOG Reports Results in Oil Window of Barnett Shale
EOG Resources reports that it has had significant success with wells in the Eastern Barnett 'Combo Play.' EOG says it has about 150,000 net acres in the liquids-rich portion of the Barnett. It says its Settle #1H has an EUR of 260,000 bbls of oil, 412,000 bbls of natural gas liquids and 3 Bcf of natural gas based on the first three months of production. Its Richardson 3H in Cooke County came on production at 325 bbls/d, and in Montague County, its King 1H had initial rates of 344/bbls/d, while its Olden B-1H had initial rates of 323 bbls/d and 1/7 MMcf/d, and its Alamo B-6H came on at 500 bbls/d.
EPA Postpones NY Meeting on Fracturing Study
The Environmental Protection Agency has been holding public hearings across the country on its study of hydraulic fracturing, mandated by Congress. It was forced to postpone a hearing scheduled to take place on August 12 in the Syracuse convention center. Originally that hearing was to take place at Brighamton University, but was moved after Binghamton said it wanted $40,000 to cover costs of an overflow crowd expected to exceed 8,000 people. No new date has been set. The agency originally scheduled three four-hour sessions for the New York meeting in anticipation of the larger crowds.
Range Resources Plublishes Contents of Frac Fluids
Range Resourcss has voluntarily published the chemicals used in its frac fluids in wells drilled in Pennsylvania. It has posted the information for three Marcellus wells on its website, and will publish the information for additional wells as they are drilled and completed.
Rosetta Resources Announces Results of Eagle Ford Shale Drilling
Rosetta Resources provided details of the results of its drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale in northern Webb County. In its Gates Ranch area, Rosetta has drilled 14 horizontal wells, and those wells have averaged 320 Bbl/d of condensate, 500 Bbl/d of natural gas liquids and 3.1 MMcf/d of gas for their first seven days of production. It said about 80% of the value from these wells is comprised of liquids. Wells costs are averaging $6.5-$7.5 million per well, with 13-15 frac stages per well. Rosetta expects to drill 30-35 Eagle Ford wells in 2010.
EOG Announces Eagle Ford Plans
EOG Resources has announced that it plans to drill 111 Eagle Ford wells this year and 245 Eagle Ford wells in 2011. EOG has about 505,0000 acres mostly in the oil window of the play. EOG said its recent Eagle Ford wells have had initial completion rates of 1,033, 1,022 and 625 Bbls/d of oil and condensate, and that its first two wells in Wilson County came on at rates of 707 and 836 Bbls/d.
A study group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has concluded that natural gas will play a leading role in the U.S. over the next several decades, both in providing fuel for the nation's energy needs and in reducing greenhous gas emissions. The study was conducted over two years by a group of thirty MIT faculty members, researchers and graduate students, assisted by an advisory committee of industry leaders and consultants. The study group has released an interim 80-page report summarizing its findings. A full report with additional analysis will follow later this year.
Among the study's findings:
RigData has compiled the numbers of active drilling rigs by county for each of the major shale plays in Texas: Barnett, Haynesville and Eagle Ford. These serve as a good measure of the degree of activity in each of the counties within these plays.
The Barnett Shale rig count shows a total of 81 rigs in July. The rig count has held steady around 80 for the last several months. Activity is concentrated in the core area, Tarrant and Johnson Counties.
The Haynesville Shale rig count has a total of 184 rigs working in both Texas and Louisiana, with 56 of those rigs in Texas - 12 in San Augustine County, 11 in Harrison County, 10 in Shelby County, and 9 each in Nacogdoches and Panola Counties. This count also has remained steady at around 180 rigs over the last several months.
The Eagle Ford in South Texas has 84 rigs running , up from 49 rigs in April, including 22 rigs in Webb County, 12 in La Salle County, and 10 deach in Dimmit and De Witt Counties. Operators are clearly moving rigs into the oil-rich portions of the Eagle Ford, to take advantage of the oil and liquid-rich portions of that play in light of low gas prices.
A new report on the risks and advantages of hydraulic fracturing by Ann Davis Vaughan and David Pursell, "Frac Attack: Risks, Hype, and Financial Reality of Hydraulic Fracturing in the Shale Plays," provides a much-needed objective summary and analysis of the recent debate over the safety of hydraulic fracturing. Ann Davis Vaughan founded Reservoir Research Partners and is a former investigative journalist for the Wall Street Journal. David Pursell is an analyst with Tudor Pickering Holt & Co., an investment banking firm in Houston specializing in the energy industry.
EOG Resources has filed an application for designation of two new fields and for temporary field rules for oil wells in seven counties in South Texas (Eagle Ford proposed rules.pdf). Unlike its previous application, which sought to consolidate numerous Eagle Ford fields in Railroad Commission of Texas Districts 1, 2 and 4 and provide for temporary field rules for oil and gas, the new application seeks rules oil well rules only, for seven counties -- DeWitt, Karnes, Gonzales, Wilson, Atascosa, LaSalle and McMullen. EOG asks for expansion of the existing Eagleville (Eagle Ford) Field, renamed the Eagleville (Eagle Ford -2) Field for Karnes and DeWitt Counties, and a new Eagleville (Eagle Ford -2) Field for Gonzales, Wilson, Atascosa, LaSalle and McMullen Counties.
The proposed rules would provide for a minimum 330 feet from lease line spacing, no between-well spacing, and a minimum of 100 feet from lease line to the first and last take points in a horizontal well, a "box" rule, and a special rule for off-lease penetration of the producing formation.
The standard proration unit size for oil wells would be 80 acres, plus additional acreage for horizontal wells as allowed by RRC Rule 86. Under the proposed rules, an operator would be allowed to assign up to 360 acres to a horizontal well with a 5,000-foot lateral.
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.