October 1, 2010

More On the Frac'ing Controversy

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!


September 18, 2010

Water Fight in the Texas Panhandle

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.

Continue reading "Water Fight in the Texas Panhandle" »

September 8, 2010

Texas Supreme Court Asked to Re-examine NGPL v. Pool

A case now before the Texas Supreme Court that addresses issues important to Texas mineral owners. The case, BP America Production Company, et al., v. Stanley G. Marshall, Jr., et al., No. 09-0399, asks the Texas Supreme Court to address the applicability of the laws of adverse possession to mineral interests for the first time since the Court's decision in the Pool case, Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America v. Pool, decided in 2003. To understand the importance of BP v. Marshall, it is necessary to first review the Pool case.

Continue reading "Texas Supreme Court Asked to Re-examine NGPL v. Pool" »

August 30, 2010

Industry News

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. 


Rig Count

  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.


August 13, 2010

MIT Releases Study on Future of Natural Gas

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:

Continue reading "MIT Releases Study on Future of Natural Gas" »

August 4, 2010

Rig Counts In Major Texas Shale Plays

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.

July 23, 2010

New Report Provides Objective View of Debate Over Hydraulic Fracturing

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.

Continue reading "New Report Provides Objective View of Debate Over Hydraulic Fracturing" »

July 6, 2010

EOG Proposes New Temporary Field Rules for Oil Wells in Eagle Ford Shale

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.

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.