Articles Posted in Energy Policy

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Flare
My clients regularly complain of flares from wells on their property. Most leases don’t require royalty payments on flared gas, so their royalty is going up in smoke. Flares often don’t function properly, resulting in emissions of toxic gases. Flares make noise.

The Environmental Defense Fund recently released an excellent report on flaring in the Permian Basin, Permian-Flaring-Report-2017.  EDF analyzed flaring and venting by 15 major producers in the Permian for the years 2014-2015. Here’s what they found (click on image to enlarge):

EDF-graph-flaring
On average, these operators flared at a rate of 3 to 4 percent of their production in these years, more than 80 Bcf of gas. At $3/mcf, that’s $240 million of gas.

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The DC Court of Appeals and the US District Court for the Northern District of California have struck down orders of the EPA and the Bureau of Land Management postponing compliance dates for the Obama administration’s rules requiring the oil and gas industry to monitor and reduce methane emissions. Both courts held that the agency’s orders were “arbitrary and capricious” and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.  Clean Air Council, et al. v. E. Scott Pruitt, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency and Environmental Protection Agency, No. 17-1145, opinion July 3, 2017; State of California, et al. v. U.S. Bureau of Land Management, et al., Case Nos. 17-cv-03804-EDL, 17-cv-388-EDL, opinion Oct. 4, 2017.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas contributing to human-caused global warming. The EPA’s rules, aimed at reducing emissions of methane from oil and gas facilities, were adopted in May 2016. They impose “new source performance standards” for finding and fixing leaks of methane in oil and gas production facilities. Those rules require operators to implement a leak monitoring plan using optical gas imaging to find and fix leaks from valves, connectors, pressure-relief devices, flanges, compressors and thief hatches on storage tanks.  The BLM issued similar rules in November 2016 to reduce waste of natural gas from venting, flaring and leaks during oil and gas production activities on Federal and Indian lands.

President Trump appointed Scott Pruitt as Administrator of EPA. Pruitt, as Attorney General of Oklahoma, sued the EPA at fourteen times on behalf of his state, attacking the EPA’s authority to regulate various industries. Pruitt rejects the scientific consensus that human activities contribute to climate change. Continue reading →

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The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) has issued a report on the environmental and community impacts of shale development in Texas. The report can be viewed on the TAMEST website. Its authors reviewed available literature on on six areas of impacts: seismicity, land, water, air, transportation, and economic and social impacts. Its authors make recommendations on further needed research and studies.

TAMEST members are the Texas-based members of the National Academies of Medicine, Engineering and Sciences, and the state’s nine Nobel Laureates. It hosts an annual conference and educational programs on key issues, and offers awards to aspiring researchers. Two years ago TAMEST organized a task force to review available research on the impacts of shale development in Texas.

Its shale report task force includes members of TAMEST and members from the oil and gas industry. The report was funded by the Cynthia and George Mitchel Foundation (“committed to promoting energy efficiency and minimizing the air and water impacts from energy production”). Each chapter of the report was authored by three of the task force members, with one of the TAMEST members serving as the lead author.

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I highly recommend a recent article by Liam Denning in Bloomberg, “Oil’s New World Disorder.” The US’s decreasing dependence on oil imports, and China and India’s increasing dependence on oil, coincide with the possible changing roles of those countries’ navies in policing oil shipping routes from the Middle East. The US currently has 50% of the world’s combined naval fleet. Should the US continue to be the policeman of the seas?

Naval power and oil have been inextricably intertwined since before World War II. Their relationship is part of the story of oil told in Daniel Yergin‘s two epic histories of the oil industry, The Quest and The Prize, both of which I highly recommend.

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A report from Texans for Public Justice, Public Citizen and the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter details the contributions made by the oil and gas industry to Texas legislatures’ campaign funds. You can find the report, Running on Hydrocarbons: Oil and Gas Funding to Every Texas Lawmaker, here: http://www.tpj.org/  No surprise. The Legislature finally passed the Texas Railroad Commission’s sunset bill, continuing the agency’s existence, after two failed attempts in prior legislative sessions. The bill contains no real reforms to how the RRC is run. There was not even any attempt to change its name.

Another report by the same group, Conflicted! Texas Railroad Commissioners ‘Self-Police” their Self-Interests, finds that 60% of Railroad Commissioners’ political contributions come from the industry. It details contributions to Commissioners by companies who had pending cases before the Commission at the time of their contributions.

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Public Citizen Texas, an environmental watchdog group, has issued its comments on the Sunset Commission’s report recommending changes at the Texas Railroad Commission. Its comments can be viewed here. The comments largely agree with the Sunset Commission’s recommendations, but in several areas recommend additional reforms. I think Public Citizen’s comments on lack of transparency are particularly appropriate:

There is an astounding lack of transparency at the RRC compared to other states. Many have searchable databases and statistics on their websites relating to inspections, complaints, and enforcement actions, by individual operator and in the aggregate. While the RRC is busy on social media putting out self-serving tweets, no useful statistics or information regarding these issues is readily available on their website. Examples of better practices:

Continue reading →

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The Sunset Commission has scheduled a public hearing August 22, 2016 to hear comments on its staff report on the Texas Railroad Commission.  I have written previously about the staff report here, here and here.

Information about the scheduled hearing can be found here.

The staff’s report on the RRC can be viewed here, along with prior Sunset reports and comments already submitted by industry representatives and environmental and landowner groups on the current report.

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An article by Jim Malewitz in The Texas Tribune, “As Oil Prices Plunge, Questions about Big Tax Credit,” sheds light on an arcane and technical issue not well understood even by most oil and gas lawyers – classification of wells as “oil wells” or “gas wells” by the Texas Railroad Commission. While most wells produce both oil and gas, under RRC rules a well must be either one or the other. Different rules apply depending on well classification. Why does it matter?

For one thing, oil and gas leases traditionally have allowed larger pooled units for gas wells than oil wells – allowing operators to hold more acreage with a single well. This distinction is based on the theory that gas wells drain a larger area than oil wells – probably true in most conventional reservoirs, where oil and gas migrate through the formation as wells withdraw production. Not so true for new unconventional shale formations, which have very low permeability and porosity, and where oil and gas don’t “flow” through the formation but are produced through artificially induced fractures.

But operators recently are rushing to “reclassify” wells as gas wells that were originally classified as oil wells. According to Malewitz, the RRC granted operator applications to reclassify 844 wells from oil to gas this year – nearly six times the number reclassified in 2013. And Devon Energy has asked the RRC to reclassify more than 200 of its wells from oil to gas. The reason? Tax credits. Continue reading →

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The rights of local municipalities to regulate or ban drilling activity within their jurisdictions has been a hot topic over the last few years in several states, especially Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado. Shale development has been intense in all three states, but their reactions to urban drilling regulation have differed markedly.

In Colorado, voters threatened to force a ballot initiative to ban hydraulic fracturing in the state. In response, the governor cobbled together a compromise that included the appointment of a task force to examine the impact of drilling on urban environments and make recommendations. That task force, the Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force, issued nine recommendations in February of this year. They make for interesting reading.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been conducting hearings across the state on two of the Task Force recommendations, both of which would require the COGCC to implement regulations. Both of the recommendations would increase municipalities’ participation in the permitting process for wells within their jurisdictions. Recommendation #17 would require companies planning “Large Scale Oil and Gas Facilities” to consult with local governments to try to reach agreement on the siting of those facilities and to engage in mediation if the parties are unable to reach agreement. Recommendation #20 would require companies to provide local governments a five-year plan for their drilling and development within their jurisdictions, to allow the municipalities to include those plans in the municipalities’ own long-range plans.

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When exploration began in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, it was the wild west transported to the east. Speculators sprung up and bought oil and gas leases with the expectation of selling them for a profit. The forms of oil and gas leases I saw being used in Pennsylvania were the worst I have seen in my career. Speculators paid for leases with 90-day drafts, hoping they could find a buyer for the leases in time to pay the bonuses.

But landowners soon caught on. They organized themselves, creating informal associations in geographic areas to negotiate leases as a group. The associations hired competent counsel. Large blocks of land were offered to multiple companies, forcing companies to bid against each other. Landowners educated themselves and realized that there was power in numbers.

Texas landowners, on the other hand, are an independent lot. They don’t like to give up their autonomy. They don’t like sharing their lease terms with other landowners. Every landowner thinks his lease form is the best. Landowners don’t like regulatory authorities telling them what they can and can’t do. One riot, one ranger.

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