Here is an excellent article in which engineers discuss the crisis that almost shut down Texas’ electric grid: Texas Electricity Crisis: Engineers Explain What Went Wrong.
Article from Texas Tribune, by Erin Douglas, republished with permission:
Deep underneath the ground, fluids travel down and shoot through ancient shale formations, fracturing rock and starting the flow of oil — the essential part of hydraulic fracturing technology that’s transformed America’s oil industry.
But that’s not all that comes up out of the earth.
Salty, contaminated water — held in porous rocks formed hundreds of millions of years ago — is also drawn to the surface during oil production. Before an oil price war and the coronavirus pandemic caused prices to crash in March, Texas wells were producing more than 26 million barrels of the ancient and contaminated water a day, according to an analysis by S&P Global Platts.
In the oil patch, figuring out how to dispose of this water “is something that only gets worse,” said Rene Santos, an energy analyst for S&P Global Platts. “Every time (companies) produce, they have to do something with the water.”
Usually, it’s later injected back underground, into separate wells — a practice that has been linked to increased seismic activity. Sometimes it’s reused in another fracking well. But a new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decision allowing Texas to regulate the discharge of the water after it’s treated could be a first step toward new uses of the water — at least that’s what some Texas lawmakers and oil and gas producers hope. Continue reading →
I read recently that, because of increased wind and solar generation capacity in Texas, no new gas-fired generating plants are being built, and some are being mothballed. Then I read this week of rolling blackouts in California, being blamed on the unreliability of wind and solar power and the need to build more gas-fired plants.
EIA has projected the consumption of global energy by source out to 2040. Its projections don’t bode well for reducing carbon emissions. A depiction of its projections is below. By 2040 world energy consumption will increase 22%. Energy from oil, gas and coal will increase 11%. Coal consumption will be essentially flat. Energy from all other sources will increase 70%. Energy from wind and solar will increase a whopping 333%. But total energy production from sources other than oil, gas and coal will increase only from 19% to 26% of total energy production. (click on image to enlarge)
Read about most recent developments here. After failed efforts of the industry to self-police destruction of lizard habitat in the Permian, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to launch a full review of a proposal to classify the lizard as either endangered or threatened. The saga goes back to 2104, when development in the Permian accelerated. In the meantime, sand mines have invaded the Permian, further endangering the lizard.
Dr. Scott Tinker and Switch Energy Alliance have released their second documentary about energy, Switch On. A great film.
Scott’s first documentary, Switch, debuted in 2012, an award-winning film that has now been seen by millions. It sought to educate Americans and the developed world about the sources and uses of energy in the developed world, our challenges and our choices. Scott’s second documentary focuses on the challenges of energy production and consumption for two billion people in the developing the world, and what is happening with energy in those places. Switch Energy Alliance was formed by Scott as a non-profit “dedicated to inspiring an energy-educated future that is objective, nonpartisan, and sensible.”
Dr. Tinker is a geologist, educator, energy expert and documentary filmmaker. He is Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin and is the State Geologist of Texas. He holds the Edwin Allday Endowed Chair of Subsurface Geology and is Associate Dean for Research at the BEG. He has a gift for making difficult concepts simple and conveying information in an objective and entertaining way.
Two studies by University of Texas’ Jackson School of Geosciences analyzed data on water use in eight major US shale plays from 2009 to 2017. The first study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, quantifies how much water is produced from wells and how much is need for hydraulic fracturing. The second, published in Science of the total Environment, assesses the potential for using produced water in other sectors, including agriculture. UT’s announcement and summary of the studies can be found here. The announcement includes this:
Oil plays produced much more water than natural gas plays, with the Permian Basin producing about 50 times as much water as the Marcellus in 2017. As far as recycling potential for hydraulic fracturing, the research shows that in many cases there’s plenty of water that could be put to good use. For instance, in the Delaware Basin, which is part of the larger Permian Basin in Texas, scientists found that projected produced water volumes will be almost four times as great as the amount of water required for hydraulic fracturing.
Managing this produced water will pose a significant challenge in the Delaware, which accounts for about 50% of the country’s projected oil production. Although the water could theoretically be used by other sectors, such as agriculture in arid West Texas, scientists said water quality issues and the cost to treat the briny water could be hurdles. In addition, if the water is highly treated to remove all the solids, large volumes of salt would be generated. The salt from the produced water in the Delaware Basin in 2017 alone could fill up to 3,000 Olympic swimming pools.
The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation has funded research resulting in a report, “Emissions in the Stream: Estimating the Greenhouse Gas Impacts of an Oil and Gas Boom,” by to professors at UT Austin. The report focuses on downstream sources of methane emissions, and will be followed by a report examining policy and technology solutions to reduce emissions.
Here’s the abstract of the report:
The Shale Revolution has stimulated a large and rapid buildout of oil and gas infrastructure in the Gulf and Southwest regions of the United States (US), expected to unfold over decades. Therefore, it is critical to develop a clearer understanding of the scale and composition of the likely greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with this activity. We compile a detailed inventory of projected upstream oil and gas production expansions as well as recently and soon-to-be built midstream and downstream facilities within the region. Using data from emissions permits, emissions factors, and facility capacities, we estimate expected GHG emissions at the facility level for facilities that have recently been constructed or are soon to be constructed. Our central estimate suggests that the total annual emissions impact of the regional oil and gas infrastructure buildout may reach 541 million tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) by 2030, which is more than 8% of total US GHG emissions in 2017 and roughly equivalent to the emissions of 131 coal-fired power plants. A substantial fraction of the projected emissions come from petrochemical facilities (38%) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals (19%). Researchers have largely focused on upstream emissions such as fugitive methane (CH4) associated with new US production; our findings reveal the potentially greater prominence of midstream and downstream sources in the studied region.
The full report can be found here.
I recently heard a presentation by Dr. Scott Tinker, head of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas. He is the founder of the Switch Energy Alliance, about which I’ve written before. Switch Energy Alliance is “a 501(c)(3) dedicated to inspiring an energy-educated future that is objective, nonpartisan, and sensible.” It produced a documentary called Switch, and is working on another called Switch On. Switch can be viewed and downloaded on SEA’s website.
A premise of Dr. Tinker’s work is that rational decisions about energy and CO2 emissions and global warming can’t be made without understanding the role of energy in the world and the challenges facing efforts to wean ourselves of fossil fuels.
Here are just a few of the powerpoint slides from Dr. Tinker’s presentation (click on image to enlarge):
Sources and uses of energy in the US. Note the huge amount of “rejected energy” – wasted energy:
Global sources of energy:
A look at electricity. Electricity generation by region (note Asia Pacific): Continue reading →
Three recent cases illustrate a little known aspect of Texas law – administrative law and how it works, and doesn’t work. Although the cases don’t directly affect mineral owners, they show how different the Texas Railroad Commission’s administrative process is from other agencies’.
Many disputes in Texas are resolved not in trial courts but by administrative hearings. In many cases, the law that governs those hearings is the Administrative Procedure Act, found at Chapter 2001 of Texas’ Government Code. The hearings are held before an administrative law judge (ALJ) who works for the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). If two parties get into a dispute in which the law requires adjudication by an administrative hearing, an evidentiary hearing is held before an ALJ who hears testimony, takes evidence, and prepares a Proposal for Decision (PFD). The PFD then goes before the board of the responsible agency, which either adopts the PFD or makes changes, and issues a final order. That order can then be appealed to a state district court in Travis County. The district court acts as an appellate body, and must uphold the decision if it is supported by “substantial evidence” in the record from the administrative hearing and otherwise complies with the governing law.
The APA limits the grounds on which an agency can change a PFD and requires the agency to explain its reasons for doing so. APA section 2001.058(e) provides:
A state agency may change a finding of fact or conclusion of law made by the administrative law judge, or may vacate or modify an order issued by the administrative judge, only if the agency determines:
(1) that the administrative law judge did not properly apply or interpret applicable law, agency rules, written policies provided under Subsection (c), or prior administrative decisions;
(2) that a prior administrative decision on which the administrative law judge relied is incorrect or should be changed; or
(3) that a technical error in a finding of fact should be changed.
The agency shall state in writing the specific reason and legal basis for a change made under this subsection.
Two cases, both from the Austin Court of Appeals, are appeals of orders by administrative agencies. Hyundai Motor America v. New World Car Imports San Antonio, Inc., No. 03-17-00761-CV, is an appeal of a decision by the Board of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. The case involves the obscure laws that govern the relationships between car manufacturers and their dealers. Continue reading →
Last month the Environmental Defense Fund released an analysis of NOAA satellite data estimating volumes of gas flared in the Permian Basin in 2017. Its findings: operators report half of the amount of gas actually flared.
104 Bcf of gas is enough to serve all needs of Texas’ seven largest cities – $322 million worth of gas. The State also does not collect severance tax on that gas.
Operators must obtain permits to flare gas and report volumes flared. The RRC has not denied any permits. Between 2016 and May 2018, the RRC issued more than 6,300 flaring permits in the Permian. Between 2008 and 2010, the RRC issued fewer than 600 flaring permits for all of the state.
EDF’s analysis also compared the top 15 oil producers in the Permian (click on image to enlarge):