Articles Posted in Barnett Shale

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A team of lawyers in Pennsylvania has filed an anti-trust suit against Chesapeake and Williams Partners (Formerly Access Midstream Partners) alleging that they conspired to restrain trade in the market for gas gathering services in and around Bradford County, Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs also sued Anadarko, Statoil, and Mitsui, all of whom own interests in Chesapeake’s leases. The suit alleges violation of the oil and gas leases granted by the plaintiffs, violations of ant-trust law, and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). A copy of the complaint, filed in federal court in Pennsylvania, can be found here.

The team of lawyers who filed this suit have their own website, “Marcellus Royalty Action.” They say that their approach differs from other suits against Chesapeake in that they will not seek class action status, they intend to pursue discovery before negotiating settlements, and they will sue all working interest owners responsible for royalty payments.

Royalty owner suits against Chesapeake have become a growth industry for attorneys. Recently, Chesapeake requested that multiple royalty owner suits against it in the Barnett Shale region of Texas be assigned to a pretrial court for consolidated and coordinated pretrial proceedings.  (Defendants Joint Motion for Transfer and Request for Stay) The request says that more than 3,200 landowners have filed 97 separate suits in Johnson, Tarrant and Dallas Counties alleging that Chesapeake and Total E&P, USA, Inc. (Chesapeake’s working interest partner in the Barnett Shale) have charged excessive post-production costs. This request results primarily from multiple suits filed by the McDonald Law Firm. See http://royaltyripoff.com/.  McDonald has said he does not oppose Chesapeake’s request.

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Michael Brick has written an excellent article in the Houston Chronicle about the Texas Railroad Commission’s new seismologist, David Craig Pearson. The article, “Vexed by Earthquakes, Texas Calls In a Scientist,” relates the events leading up to his hiring, his background, and the RRC’s initial foray into addressing the issue by proposing new rules on injection well operators.

Dr. Pearson grew up in McCamey, worked in the oil fields, studied at SMU, and worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico for 13 years. He left in 2006, returning to West Texas and ranching. He inherited some mineral rights in Upton County. When the RRC advertised for a seismologist, he applied and was hired.

So far, Dr. Pearson has published no conclusions, but the RRC has been praised for its new proposed rules. Pearson testified in August before the House Energy Resources Subcommittee on Seismic Activity that he wants to wait for reports from SMU’s study of seismic and injection activity around the town of Azle, in the Barnett Shale, before drawing any conclusions. 

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A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examining eight clusters of contaminated water wells in Pennsylvania and Texas, found that the wells’ contamination was either from naturally occurring gas deposits — i.e., the gas is naturally occurring within the aquifer — or from poor casing and cementing of nearby gas wells. The study concluded that the hydraulic fracturing of the wells was not a cause of groundwater contamination. The study was led by a researcher at The Ohio State University and included researchers at Duke, Harvard, Dartmouth and the University of Rochester. The researchers were able to “fingerprint” the gas by measuring the amount of “noble” gases such as helium included with the natural gas. The researchers were able to distinguish between the fingerprints of naturally occurring methane in the aquifers and gas from the Barnett and Marcellus Shale formations. Ohio State’s press release about the study can be viewed here.

I have written previously about the ongoing battle between Range Resources and the Lipskys over the Lipskys’ claims that Range’s wells contaminated their groundwater. A facet of that battle is pending in the Texas Supreme Court. This new study will add fire to the debate.

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Investigations continue in response to complaints of alleged contamination of water wells from drilling activity in the Barnett Shale.

In May, the Texas Railroad Commission issued a report of its investigation of complaints of well contamination by methane in Parker County. It concluded that “the evidence is insufficient to conclude that Barnett Shale production activities have caused or contributed to methane contamination in the aquifer beneath the neighborhood.”

But Parker County resident Steve Lipsky, who’s complaint at the RRC caused it to conduct its new study, continues his battle with Range Resources, arguing that its wells are responsible for the methane in his water well.  Two other scientists who have reviewed the RRC test data concluded that the gas in Lipsky’s water is definitely the result of fracking operations.

Lipsky’s battle with Range continues in the Texas Supreme Court, where Lipsky and Range have both filed petitions for writs of mandamus. Lipsky has asked the court to dismiss Range’s claims against Lipsky for defamation and business disparagement. Range accused Lipsky and his expert Alisa Rich of fabricating evidence in Lipsky’s suit for damages for contaminating his well.  Range asks the court to reinstate its claims that Lipsky and his wife and Rich conspired to fabricate evidence to defame the company. The court has not yet ruled on the petitions.

Meanwhile, the University of Texas at Arlington, along with UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology, are conducting a study of 550 water wells in North and West Texas, including baseline testing of wells in Nolan County using samples taken before commencement of drilling in that county, to investigate the impact of drilling and disposal operations over time. Some states, including Pennsylvania — but not Texas — require drillers to test nearby water wells before drilling to provide baseline data on groundwater.

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A jury has awarded damages in a second nuisance case against an operator, this time against Chesapeake Energy.  In Crowder et al. v. Chesapeake Operating Inc., case number 2011-008169-3, in Tarrant County Court at Law, the jury awarded the Crowders $20,000 for what the jury found to be a temporary nuisance – drilling operations conducted by Chesapeake in a field behind their house, where Chesapeake has drilled 13 wells. The Crowders complained of offensive odors and extensive noise. The jury failed to find that Chesapeake’s operations created a permanent nuisance, which would have entitled the Crowders to additional damages. The Crowders filed their suit in 2011.

While the jury award in Crowder will not excite plaintiffs’ attorneys to look for additional such cases — unlike the $2.9 million verdict recently awarded in another case, Lisa Parr v. Aruba Petroleum, Cause No. 11-01650-E, in the County Court at Law No. 5 of Dallas County — the case does show the viability of nuisance claims aimed at oil and gas operations near residences, especially in urban areas.

The Dallas city council recently adopted a drilling ordinance prohibiting well locations within 1,500 feet of any residence, effectively prohibiting most drilling within the city limits. The setback in Fort Worth is 600 feet. There are more than 1,700 wells in the City of Fort Worth.

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Emissions of methane from oil and gas exploration, production and transportation facilities have become a big topic in the news recently. The E&P industry touts natural gas as a more environmentally friendly fuel than coal for electric generation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and there is much debate over the amount of fugitive emissions from wells, pipelines, processing facilities and other industries handling the fuel.

  • The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has endorsed natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to reduce greenhouse gases.
  • The EPA has issued estimates of methane fugitive emissions that have been criticized as low by environmental groups.
  • The Obama Administration has recently outlined a new strategy for reducing methane emissions.
  • Colorado has recently adopted regulations to require operators to reduce and capture fugitive emissions and monitor for leaks.

Emissions from oil and gas exploration and production also are being blamed for increased ozone readings in shale-boom areas in Wyoming and Texas. In Texas, a state-funded study by the Alamo Area Council of Governments is underway to determine whether drilling in the Eagle Ford is contributing to increased ozone readings in San Antonio. San Antonio may soon be cited by the EPA as a nonattainment area for ozone, which would require the city to impose additional air quality regulations. Recently, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which is funding the study, froze increased funding because the Alamo Council issued a statement tying increased ozone levels around San Antonio to Eagle Ford drilling without getting clearance from the TCEQ. 

San Antonio’s problems are reminiscent of a debate a few years ago over whether oil and gas exploration in the Barnett Shale was contributing to air pollution in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The TCEQ has concluded that Barnett Shale drilling has had no significant impact on local ozone levels.  But a recent study by a graduate student at the University of North Texas concluded that ozone is higher in areas with drilling activity in the Barnett Shale.

I expect that the Texas Railroad Commission and the TCEQ will come under increased pressure to tighten rules for fugitive emissions of methane from oil and gas activities in Texas.

 

 

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On December 20, the Office of Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency issued its “Response to Congressional Inquiry Regarding the EPA’s Emergency Order to the Range Resources Gas Drilling Company.”  The report was requested by Congress as a result of an emergency order issued by the Dallas regional office of the EPA against Range Resources on December 7, 2010. That order required Range to take certain actions based on EPA’s finding that Range’s wells in the Barnett Shale were the likely source of contamination of water wells in Parker County.

I have written about Range’s saga before.  EPA sued Range to enforce its emergency order. Range disputed and fought the EPA order, suing in the U.S. Court of Appeals to get the order revoked. Range called a hearing before the Texas Railroad Commission (in which EPA did not participate), after which the RRC found that Range’s wells were not the source of the gas in the water wells. One of the well owners, the Lipskys, sued Range in state court for damages;  Range countersued, contending that the Lipskys had falsified evidence and defamed the company. The district court found that Lipsky had created a “deceptive video” that was “calculated to alarm the public into believing the water was burning.” The Lispkys have appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, where their case remainds pending.

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/02/17/3744111/owner-of-contaminated-water-well.html#storylink=cpy

The EPA and Range eventually settled their dispute, Range agreeing to conduct tests of 20 water wells in the area every 3 months for a year. Those tests showed no methane contamination of the water wells.

The Range-EPA fight led to the resignation of the Dallas regional admnistrator of the EPA, Dr. Al Armendariz, after he was videoed saying that, because of the limited number of staff in his office, his enforcment approach is to act like the Romans: “They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them. And then you know that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”  His actions were criticized in Congress, leading to a congressional request that the Office of Inspector General investigate EPA’s actions in the Range matter.

The OIG’s report vindicates EPA’s actions.  If found that the EPA’s actions “conformed to agency guidlines, regulations and policy.” It also found that “the EPA lacks quality assurance information for the Range Resources’ sampling program, and questions remain about the contamination.”

A large part of the controversy concerned the EPA’s “isotopic fingerprinting and compositional analysis” of the gas in the Lipskys’ well, from which EPA concluded that the methane came from the Barnett Shale.  In Parker County, the principal aquifer lies just above a shallow formation that contains methane, and water wells will become contaminated with that methane if they are drilled through the aquifer into the shallow gas sands. Range’s evidence at the RRC hearing showed that EPA’s “isotopic” analysis was flawed and that the gas in the Lipskys’ well was not from the Barnett Shale. Range’s evidence for the source of the gas is not mentioned in the OIG report.

Armendariz, now employed by Sierra Club, said that the OIG report is “complete and total vindication of the work we did at EPA.”  Lipsky continues to believe that Range is responsible for contamination of his well:  “The holding tanks [for well water] in people’s garages are going to explode and I don’t care where it’s coming from, someone is going to get killed,” he said.

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StateImpact Texas has published a series of good articles about the growing evidence that the huge quantities of wastewater being injected in the Barnett Shale field are causing earthquakes — some of sufficient intensity to cause significant damages. Lawsuits have been filed in Johnson County to recover for the damage.  StateImpact’s most recent article can be found here. Links to all of StateImpact’s articles on earthquakes caused by oil and gas activity are here.

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UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology has issued a comprehensive report on the estimated reserves in the Barnett Shale Field. The study, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, looked at 16,000 wells in the field. It has been submitted for peer review before publication, but a summary of the report can be found on the BEG website.

The BEG created a model with data from 15,000 wells drilled through 2010. Assuming a $4 constant gas price, the model predicts another 13,000 wells through 2030. It predicts total field production of 44 Tcf of gas through 2050. Here are two images showing results of the study:

BEG Barnett Shale 1.JPG

BEG Barnett Shale 2.JPG

 

The BEG plans to complete similar studies of the Marcellus, Haynesville and Fayetteville Shales by the end of 2013.

 

 

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I recently heard an interview with George Mitchell, the independent operator who found the key for combining hydraulic fracturing technology and horizontal drilling to unlock vast reserves of gas in the Barnett Shale, the first shale play. And it only took him 17 years to figure it out. Now 93 years of age, Mr. Mitchell was interviewed by American Public Media’s Marketplace radio program. You can view the interview here.

Mr. Mitchell has some unorthodox views for a wildcatter. First, his foundation, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, has given millions of dollars to support development of clean energy resources. And he supports a carbon tax on hydrocarbons.

Mr. Mitchell also supports tough regulation of independent operators. “I’ve had too much experience running independents,” Mitchell says. “They’re wild people. You just can’t control them. And if it doesn’t do it right, penalize the oil and gas people. Get tough with them.” Earlier this year, Mr. Mitchell told Forbes magazine that he is in favor of federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing by the U.S. Department of Energy. 

Mr. Mitchell and NY Mayor Micheal Bloomberg recently teamed up to write an Op Ed piece in the New York Times supporting the development of natural gas reserves with the new fracing technology and pledging their foundations to support efforts to develop responsible regulations to assure that drilling can be done safely:

Several states, including Colorado, New York and Ohio, are taking the lead in this regard, recognizing the need to establish an appropriate framework for regulatory safeguards. It appears that Texas, as the pioneer of hydraulic fracturing in shale formations, is poised to step forward in developing promising state guidelines as well. More such leadership is needed.

To jump-start this effort, each of our foundations will support organizations that seek to work with states and industries to develop common-sense regulations that will protect the environment — and ensure that the industry can thrive.

We will encourage better state regulation of fracking around five key principles:

     Disclosing all chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process;

     Optimizing rules for well construction and operation;

     Minimizing water consumption, protecting groundwater and ensuring proper disposal of wastewater;

     Improving air pollution controls, including capturing leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas; and

     Reducing the impact on roads, ecosystems and communities.

The latest research, including peer-reviewed studies out of Carnegie Mellon University and Argonne National Laboratory, suggests that if properly extracted and distributed, the impact of natural gas on the climate is significantly less than that of coal. Safely fracking natural gas can mean healthier communities, a cleaner environment and a reliable domestic energy supply right now.

. . .

We can frack safely if we frack sensibly. That may not make for a great bumper sticker. It does make for good environmental and economic policy.

The Texas Railroad Commission has recently published revised draft regulations specifically aimed at assuring that fracing and well completion operations are conducted safely and adequately protect groundwater resources.

I agree with Mr. Mitchell. Drilling technology is much more complex than it was ten or twenty years ago. Fracing involves managing very high pressures and toxic chemicals. Wells now cost $8 to $10 million. Texas needs to take the lead in assuring that these operations are conducted with the best available technology and safety practices, and the Railroad Commission needs to crack down on operators who don’t follow those practices.

 

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