Wishful thinking and industry estimates do not actually make fracked gas a good climate strategy.
The post Methane Leaks Erase Climate Benefit Of Fracked Gas, Countless Studies Find appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Wishful thinking and industry estimates do not actually make fracked gas a good climate strategy.
The post Methane Leaks Erase Climate Benefit Of Fracked Gas, Countless Studies Find appeared first on ThinkProgress.
A new lawsuit is hoping to stop oil and gas companies from injecting dangerous amounts of wastewater into underground wells, before those injections cause a really big earthquake.
The post New Lawsuit Looks To Stop Fracking-Induced Earthquakes In Oklahoma Before It’s Too Late appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Fracking activity in California has been tied to earthquakes, according to a new study, the first of its kind.
The post Fracking Water Disposal Tied To Earthquakes In California appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Fracking in otterland is probably not the best idea.
The post Offshore Fracking Put On Hold In California After Environmental Group Sues appeared first on ThinkProgress.
The Florida House passed a bill this week that would allow regulated fracking throughout the state, but would also stop local bans on fracking.
The post Florida Passes A Bill To Regulate Fracking, Bans Local Fracking Bans appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Will candidates be forced to comment on these five recent events?
The EPA's own advisory board says the agency needs to clarify its findings on fracking.
The post The EPA Says Fracking Doesn’t Create Widespread Impacts On Water. These Scientists Aren’t So Sure. appeared first on ThinkProgress.
The link between Oklahoma's earthquakes and fracking is about to be tested.
The post Oklahoma Fracking Company Defies Plan To Reduce Earthquakes appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Chesapeake Energy, the second largest producer of natural gas in the U.S., may have to pay tens of millions to thousands of people.
The post Major Fracking Company Accused Of Cheating Thousands In Rural Pennsylvania appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Environmental groups are suing over a new ordinance that gives oil and gas companies a 20-year lift of the review process.
The post California’s Oil And Gas Industry Spent $10 Million Getting Rid Of Environmental Review appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Having to pay for earthquake lawsuits would make the Grapes of Wrath "look like a comedy," the oil industry says.
The post Oklahoma’s Oil And Gas Industry Says Paying For Earthquake Damage Would Be Really Terrible appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Eighty percent of Americans don't want the oil export ban lifted, but Big Oil is set to make $22 billion on this.
The post The U.S. Is About To Get A Lot More Fracking, Thanks To Congress appeared first on ThinkProgress.
According to a recently published paper, fracking companies have gotten worse about disclosing the kinds of chemicals they are using.
The post Fracking Companies Have Been Getting Worse About Disclosing The Chemicals They Use appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Great news for carbon emissions. Bad news for anti-fracking communities.
The post This Country Just Promised To Get Rid Of All Its Coal Plants appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Lately, black gold looks more like black pyrite. The price of Brent crude began falling in late June, and dropped below $100 a barrel in September – and it’s on track for a double digit quarter average for the first time since January 2011. All-in, the price of oil has declined 25 percent from a June 19 peak of $115.19 to $86.36 in mid-October. What’s behind the plunge? The price of a commodity can fall for two reasons—too little demand or too much supply. Or both. While demand from Europe and Japan has been sluggish of late, oversupply is what’s really driving prices lower. A remarkably successful effort over the last five years to extract oil from previously untappable shale beds in North Dakota and Texas has flooded the U.S. market with oil. The U.S. shale revolution, no longer just a local phenomenon, is putting downward pressure on global oil markets, and Credit Suisse believes it will continue to do so for at least the next three years.
Oil production outside the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has grown an average of 800,000 barrels per day each year since 2009. The United States, where oil production rose from 5.3 million barrels per day in 2009 to 7.4 million in 2013, is the single biggest driver of that growth. The Obama Administration is considering lifting a ban on crude oil exports, but for now, American crude stays at home. As a result, the U.S. needs less foreign oil. Imports fell from 12.9 million barrels per day in 2009 to 9.9 million in 2013, even as the economy improved dramatically. (They may not be exporting crude, but American refineries have built a booming business shipping out diesel fuel and other refined products.)
All that said, all signs pointed to a global supply crunch as recently as June, when the militant group ISIL launched a devastating offensive in the key oil-producing region of northern Iraq. As a result, says Credit Suisse Global Energy Economist Jan Stuart, speculators bid up prices. But oil production in southern Iraq was never affected, and the Iraqi Army (with foreign assistance) began to make headway against ISIL. Meanwhile, Libyan oil exports, which had stopped entirely since the summer of 2013 as the post-Gadhafi civil war intensified, began to re-enter markets in July. By August with the country’s largest export terminal re-opened for business after a year offline, flows averaged more than 500,000 barrels per day.
Through it all, global crude oil inventories actually rose rather than fell, as they usually do in summer, partly due to increasingly efficient refineries. In August, as it became clear that markets were actually oversupplied, oil prices that had been slowly weakening since late June suddenly began to sell off dramatically. Markets remain bearish. Oil prices for future delivery remain higher than spot prices, a so-called contango situation that reflects a supply surplus and the ongoing incentive to build inventory.
Credit Suisse energy analysts expect average Brent crude prices of $92 in the fourth quarter. Weak economic data out of Europe and China augurs softer demand, while both Libya and Iraq delivered higher oil production than previously estimated in August and September. Further out, Stuart expects the growth pace of the U.S. oil boom to level off in 2015 and 2016, but says crude oil production alone should still grow by more than 1 million barrels per day each year. Energy analysts have lowered their forecasts for Brent crude to an average of $91.50 in 2015, $90 in 2016, and $88 in 2017. Meanwhile, the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil produced in the U.S. is expected to average $86 in the fourth quarter of 2014, $84.50 in 2015, $82 in 2016, and $81 in 2017.
Those forecasts are a radical departure from the triple-digit prices of the last four years, but prices could slide even further if Saudi Arabia maintains current production levels. If Saudi Arabia doesn’t cut production, WTI prices could fall to $70 a barrel. At that level, Stuart says, U.S. exploration and production activity would decline quickly, with the number of completed wells falling by at least 11 percent and production growth falling by a third to 740,000 barrels per day. Crucially, however, growth wouldn’t deflate entirely, and would re-accelerate quickly once prices rise again. In the end, Stuart believes the kingdom will cut oil production as soon as next month, and will keep production toward the bottom end of its comfort range in 2015. . Saudi officials have repeatedly said that they prefer stability above all else, and that oil prices close to $100 per barrel makes everyone “happy.”
While politicians and policy makers may disagree about how to capitalize on the recent U.S. oil and gas boom, they do share enthusiasm for what it may bring: energy independence. But since conflict broke out between Russia and Ukraine last month, an increasingly vocal cohort in Washington has been touting another idea: energy diplomacy. The country has long been isolationist when it comes to its own energy resources — crude exports have been banned since the 70s — but some now see the opportunity to use the fruits of the boom as a new and powerful foreign policy tool.
Were the U.S. to export sizeable amounts of natural gas to Europe, the thinking goes, it could lessen the continent’s reliance on Russia for energy and weaken its regional influence. Influential lawmakers such as House Speaker John Boehner have called for accelerated plans to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) while also repealing the ban on shipping U.S. crude abroad. “The ability to turn the tables and put the Russian leader in check lies right beneath our feet, in the form of vast supplies of natural energy,” Boehner wrote in the Wall Street Journal in March. The argument gained even more weight last week, when Russia nearly doubled the price of gas it sends to Ukraine.
Timely editorials or no, quick increases in U.S. exports of any sort are unlikely. For starters, the U.S. isn’t even in a position to increase exports of gas. Current export capacity wouldn’t support it, and new LNG terminals aren’t scheduled to come online until next year. Moreover, any hope of offering gas to Europe at lower prices than Russia’s may be a non-starter anyway. It costs money to ship gas, and unless the U.S. wants to literally give it away, those countries Washington might seek to influence may not be able to afford the prices required for an economic rationale as well as a political one.
Politics will also come into play. The mere suggestion of exporting oil raises a host of thorny questions, starting with whether doing so would cause the price of domestic gasoline to rise or fall. And then there would be the inevitable criticisms: the U.S. has long chastised countries for engaging in petro-politics, such as when it condemned Hugo Chavez’ shipments of subsidized oil to regional allies like Cuba.
All that said, the longer-term prospects of the idea are better than at first glance. Especially if you consider that lawmakers’ motivations are as much about economic considerations as they are about political ones, says Thomas Marchetti, energy equities strategist at Credit Suisse.
While the approval process for exporting gas is tied in the requisite amounts of red tape, dozens of producers have already applied for licenses to build export terminals. And while most crude exports have been prohibited since the Energy Policy Conservation Act was enacted in the 1970s to protect the U.S. from price shocks, the dramatic increase in U.S. production has decreased its historical reliance on imported oil. U.S. daily crude output rose 15 percent last year to 7.5 million barrels and is on track to hit 9.5 million by 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
There’s no question that there’s oil to sell. The debate is over the merits of selling it. U.S. refiners have enjoyed growing profits as increasing but captive U.S. supply has lowered the benchmark West Texas Intermediate price of U.S crude relative to Brent, the global benchmark, and a repeal of the ban would likely raise the price of the American crude they process. Environmental groups are also opposed, arguing that an increase in exports would encourage more fracking, which they believe causes pollution and potential water contamination. A third group of opponents worries that exporting crude could increase domestic gasoline prices.
Both Marchetti and Jan Stuart, head of energy commodities research at Credit Suisse, say that last worry is misplaced. Their argument: Europe’s refineries are operating below capacity because they can’t get enough of the light crude they’re designed to process. As a result, European demand for imported refined products — including gasoline — has pushed those prices up. So the export of crude might actually lower U.S. gasoline prices in the long term. That fact notwithstanding, the mere suggestion of a possible increase in gas prices – whether or not it’s likely — could still make changing export laws politically untenable. “If Congress has to get involved, the chances of that happening are close to zero,” says Stuart.
In an effort to circumvent a possible Congressional dead end, policymakers and lawmakers are exploring changing trade regulations enforced by the Commerce Department. There’s precedent for such maneuvering: U.S. producers can already export crude to Canada because of a free trade agreement. Other U.S. trading partners, such as South Korea, Mexico, Chile and Israel could theoretically get equal treatment, Stuart says. And that’s when politics sneak back in: consider South Korea, which has no domestic oil production, and therefore relies heavily on the Middle East for imports. If Washington starts to think that way, similar trade pacts with the European Union and Japan might not be far behind either.
The most likely first step towards increased exports would involve a product called lease condensate. Under current rules, condensate is classified as crude oil because it comes directly out of a well as a liquid. The industry, on the other hand, doesn’t think of it as crude because the ultra-light liquid resembles a refined product. Lawmakers such as Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, have argued that the Commerce Department should therefore reclassify condensates as an exportable product. In doing so, she has joined a growing chorus. Its refrain: the era of U.S.-as-crude-exporter could soon be upon us.
Could oil tankers like the one above soon be carrying oil drilled in the U.S.A.?
Of this, there is no debate: The future of Mexico’s oil industry lies offshore, where billions of barrels of crude are locked under the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico. The country’s deepwater frontier is promising, but successfully extracting offshore oil is expensive and technically difficult, and Petroleos Mexicanos, the state-owned oil monopoly known as Pemex, doesn’t have the financial resources to singlehandedly exploit the Gulf’s ample resources. So they’re going to bring in outside help. In a dramatic about-face, the Mexican government, which historically has been fiercely protective of its energy assets, has finally concluded that outside help is necessary. Reform legislation signed into law in December will, for the first time in 75 years, make it possible—and attractive—for established foreign energy producers to help set those buried hydrocarbons free.
The need is obvious in Pemex’s own results: On Feb. 27, the Mexico City-based company posted its fifth straight quarterly loss—76.5 billion pesos, or $5.8 billion, on production of 2.52 million barrels per day in 2013, down from 2.55 million barrels per day in 2012. Output at the Cantarell oil field, the world’s third-largest when it was discovered 38 years ago, has fallen from 2.1 million barrels per day in 2003 to 400,000 barrels last year.
The company pays more than 90 percent of its operating profit back to the government, so its losses are hitting the Mexican economy where it counts. To boost production and exploit new deepwater opportunities, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had little choice but to relax the decades-old laws that nationalized the energy sector, and to open Mexico’s oil fields to foreign investment for the first time in nearly four generations. Pemex currently functions in a vacuum, without a single significant revenue-sharing partnership that would provide access to the new technologies, knowledge and financial resources that could boost productivity. “Mexico has a lot of potential with regard to hydrocarbons,” Rolando Galindo, Pemex’s head of investor relations tells The Financialist. “But these more complex reservoirs have higher costs and technology requirements…and it was getting very complicated for Pemex to do all of this alone.”
The reform legislation allows three new types of production contracts. Profit-sharing contracts will award foreign companies a portion of the profits generated by a given oil-and-gas concession; production-sharing contracts allow them to keep a share of the actual oil and gas production; and licenses require them to pay taxes and royalties to the government to explore and extract oil from a specific concession.
The licensing and production-sharing contracts represent a sea change, allowing foreign and private investors to book the production from Mexican oil fields as assets for the first time. Until the recent reform, only Pemex could own Mexican crude, whether it was untapped reserves or those extracted at the wellhead. But by loosening the monopoly, the government hopes it can outsource the most technically difficult parts of the job to companies like BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell.
The potential payoff is enormous. Mexico’s proven reserves stand at around 10.3 billion barrels of oil and 17.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but the most optimistic estimates of offshore reserves are double that. Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya thinks that the Perdido Fold Belt in the northwestern part of the Gulf holds between 8 billion and 13 billion barrels of oil-equivalent alone.
The state-owned oil company has already drilled 14 commercially viable deepwater wells, and last month it announced the discovery of high-quality light crude at a well in the Perdido Fold Belt. Pemex has also done some initial exploration work in Holok-Temoa, a deepwater natural gas field located in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico.
If the reforms proceed as expected, Pemex’s Lozoya estimates it could generate about $10 billion in new investment by 2025. For its part, Pemex forecasts oil production will grow 60 percent over the current level of approximately 2.5 million barrels per day by 2025, while natural gas production should double to 14.6 billion cubic feet a day. That, in turn, could boost annual GDP growth by 1 percent annually by 2018 and up to 1.6 percent annually by 2025.
Mexico’s 2.1 million barrel-per-day domestic demand is expected to absorb some of the new production, but there are export plans as well. The U.S. buys about 78 percent of Mexico’s oil, but the boom in shale oil and gas production has already reduced U.S. imports and will likely continue doing so. So Pemex has already begun to market its light Olmeca crude abroad, with shipments scheduled to India and the Cressier refinery in Switzerland.
Congress is expected to spell out the details of the new production contracts by the end of April. Meanwhile, Pemex has until the end of March to decide which fields it wants to develop on its own and which it will seek partnerships to tap, after which the Ministry of Energy has six months to approve the decision. Galindo said it will likely take until late 2015 or early 2016 to start working on those so-called Round Zero projects.
The energy buzz in North America has been from further north of late, whether it’s the Canadian tar sands or United States’ shale fracking. But if things go as hoped, North America’s third-largest economy should soon be enjoying an oil boom all its own.
Last-minute efforts to push through a bill that would repeal the fracking moratorium in the state of North Carolina failed yesterday, with Representative Mike Hager (R-Rutherford), who steers energy bills to the floor, quietly admitting the loss. In the final days of session for the General Assembly, the House recognized the bill was too divisive to push through without full consideration in committee. “We like for controversial legislation to go through the committee process,” Hager said. “I’m not going to hurry — we’ve been accused of that before.”
Senate Bill 127 would have repealed a prohibition on fracking permits, which critics of the bill say would essentially lift the state’s moratorium on fracking. The legislation would have also decreased tax rates on oil and gas companies in an attempt to encourage drilling activity in the state. According to the News and Observer, the fracking provisions in the bill were unknown to most House members just 36 hours earlier, after being discreetly inserted into legislation that originally would reconfigure the N.C. Department of Commerce. This misleading tactic has been used before in the North Carolina General Assembly this session, including attaching stringent abortion restrictions first to an anti-Sharia measure and then again to a motorcycle safety bill.
Representative Hager previously failed to repeal North Carolina’s successful Renewable Energy Standard (RES), despite attempts to push through the bill without even a vote count. The 2007 RES law has been widely popular in North Carolina, creating thousands of clean energy jobs and pumping billions into the economy. Even the CEO of the largest electricity power holding company in the United States, Duke Energy Corp., has expressed support for the law on behalf of the company.
These attempts to ram through unpopular reform are not isolated events. Recently, North Carolina has received national attention for its regressive policies being approved by a newly established Republican majority and governor, including relaxing gun regulations, restricting access to the ballot, and adopting tax reform that would disproportionately benefit the rich. These measures have disenfranchised North Carolinians, motivating them to participate in the largest liberal protest in the nation, which has led to the arrest of over 900 citizens.
Rep. Hager is a well-known member of ALEC, a right-wing legislation factory that is backed by the Koch brothers and that drives the campaign behind repealing the RES and also supports the oil and gas industry. Despite widespread bipartisan support for renewable energy usage and a state-wide fracking ban, Hager will continue his misguided efforts on behalf of his conservative backers – he has promised to reintroduce a RES repeal next legislative session and has suggested the fracking bill could be reconsidered in a special session.
The post Last-Minute Attempt To Repeal Fracking Moratorium Fails In North Carolina appeared first on ThinkProgress.
A new report finds natural gas must peak “sooner than many policymakers currently realize is necessary—if the United States is to meet its climate goals and avoid the worst impacts of global warming.”
The report, from the Center for American Progress (where I am a senior fellow), concludes:
There needs to be a swift transition from coal to a zero-carbon future by ensuring that the use of natural gas, particularly in the electric-power sector, peaks within the next 7 years to 17 years.
This is based on climate science, pure and simple:
… the crux of this report is that any long-term expansion and dependence on natural gas for electricity generation is incompatible with climate-stabilization targets because it also results in carbon pollution, although less than coal. The increase in global temperature must be kept within 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, which means that the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gas must be stabilized within 450 parts per million, or ppm, CO2 equivalent by 2050. This is the internationally recognized threshold, which was adopted in 2010 at the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Exceeding the 2 degree threshold would cause severe and frequent droughts, heat waves, floods, and storms, and lower-income households would be harmed the most, as they are less able to prepare for and recover from climate disasters.
To meet the 2C (3.6F) goal, the Obama administration set these emissions-reduction targets, relative to 2005 levels:
A key point the report makes is that “This is a modest level of emissions reductions; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, endorses a significantly more ambitious target of 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.” Equally important, the IPCC says that stabilizing at total atmospheric greenhouse gas levels of 450 ppm CO2-equivalent requires taking U.S. emissions down more than 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.
So, while the 2020 target is “easy” to meet at low cost by substituting gas for coal (if we ignore the issue of methane leakage), the 2030 and 2050 targets set a very sharp constraint on total fossil fuel consumption, including natural gas:
In the most recent set of data released by EPA, total domestic CO2 emissions were 5,612.9 mmt in 2011, with 5,277.2 mmt of those CO2 emissions coming from the combustion of fossil fuels. By 2030 it is possible to expect approximately a 50 percent decline in emissions from coal and a 30 percent decline from oil, assuming aggressive vehicle-fleet turnover with new fuel-economy standards, strict EPA regulations of carbon pollution from coal plants, and increased coal-to-gas switching. Even if natural-gas use stays constant during this interval to 2030, therefore, CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels would still be at 3,716.5 mmt, which exceeds the modest 2030 emissions-reduction goal of 3,334.3 mmt of CO2. The use of natural gas therefore cannot expand unchecked. Even minor increases in the near term mean that we will need to aggressively drive coal and oil from the U.S. fuel mix.
There simply is no room for substantial expansion of natural gas over the next decade. And for those who don’t want very sharp decreases in gas after the next decade, the only hope would be successful demonstration and commercialization and mass deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS), which right now is going nowhere due to myriad practical problems and general disinterest by the fossil fuel industry.
That’s why the CAP report has this key recommendation:
Ensure that natural-gas infrastructure and capacity are not overbuilt. The increased supply of natural gas has lowered gas prices, thereby increasing demand for gas to generate electricity. This should not, however, lead to a significant increase in natural-gas electricity-generation capacity. Modeling of a natural-gas bridge in the context of climate change suggests that natural-gas generation should peak within approximately 40 percent of total energy supply. Any new natural-gas generation capacity in excess of what is needed to meet this 40 percent threshold could lead to new capital investments in natural-gas plants that would have to be retired early once the transition to lower-carbon sources is complete, thereby wasting some of these investments. Writing off these assets would likely translate to a rate hike on consumers, a scenario that would make a transition to zero-carbon fuel sources much more expensive and difficult. A national CES would help prevent overbuilding natural-gas capacity. State-level renewable portfolio standards, or RPS, would help achieve this goal as well. (An important note of caution regarding any decision to increase natural-gas exports is that increased demand is likely to contribute to overbuilt infrastructure, which, as we note, could make the transition to renewable fuels difficult.)
I explained last year why “Exporting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Is Bad For The Climate — And A Very Poor Long-Term Investment.”
Any substantial investment in new, long-lasting natural gas infrastructure is a major diversion of resources far better spent on the inevitable transition to carbon free power. That is why the report recommends policies to ensure that natural gas does not substitute for or slow down renewable energy: Any “expansion of natural gas should be used to create dedicated revenues to support aggressive investments in research, development, and deployment of clean energy technologies; aggressive investments in energy efficiency; and investments in the resilience of communities threatened by climate-related extreme weather.”
In short, “the expansion of natural gas should be used to create a financial bridge to a zero-carbon economy and climate stabilization.”
As part of that, CAP continues to recommend a carbon price to help ensure that any new natural gas only displaces coal, not renewables.
Develop a domestic carbon price. CAP has advocated several policies for pricing carbon, both directly through a carbon tax and market-based mechanisms such as cap and trade and indirectly through measures such as EPA regulation. A carbon tax would raise revenue, stimulate investment in clean energy technologies, and create jobs while reducing carbon pollution. It is a win-win measure that could untangle the ongoing federal budget debate.
The report notes that because natural gas is mostly methane, and methane is a potent greenhouse gas, any substantial leakage of methane during the entire life cycle from production to combustion vitiates much if not all of the climate benefit of shifting from coal to gas. Some recent studies find a very high rate of leakage — see “NOAA Confirms High Methane Leakage Rate Up To 9% From Gas Fields, Gutting Climate Benefit.”
I think it is at best premature to expand natural gas use substantially until we have resolved the leakage issue.
Finally, the report recommends, “The natural-gas expansion must be managed in an environmentally sustainable manner.” I personally believe the jury is out on whether that is even possible (see “Natural Gas, Once A Bridge, Now A Gangplank”). A Propublica exposé in Scientific American, “Are Fracking Wastewater Wells Poisoning the Ground beneath Our Feet?” reported:
“In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted,” said Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA’s underground injection program in Washington. “A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.”
This double repost excerpts the releases for two new important articles in the journal Science. The first is “Enhanced Remote Earthquake Triggering at Fluid-Injection Sites in the Midwestern United States” (subs. req’d). The second is a review article, “Injection-Induced Earthquakes” (subs. req’d) by U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist William Ellsworth. The first release, from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, explains:
A surge in U.S. energy production in the last decade or so has sparked what appears to be a rise in small to mid-sized earthquakes in the United States. Large amounts of water are used both to crack open rocks to release natural gas through hydrofracking, and to coax oil and gas from underground wells using conventional techniques. After the gas and oil have been extracted, the brine and chemical-laced water must be disposed of, and is often pumped back underground elsewhere, sometimes causing earthquakes.
Earthquakes induced by fracking wastewater reinjection are a major concern because those wells are already prone to fail and leak (see “Natural Gas, Once A Bridge, Now A Gangplank“). The Propublica exposé in Scientific American, “Are Fracking Wastewater Wells Poisoning the Ground beneath Our Feet?” quoted engineer Mario Salazar, who worked for a quarter century as a technical expert with the EPA’s underground injection program: “In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted. A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.”
Here is an extended excerpt from the Columbia release:
Large earthquakes from distant parts of the globe are setting off tremors around waste-fluid injection wells in the central United States, says a new study. Furthermore, such triggering of minor quakes by distant events could be precursors to larger events at sites where pressure from waste injection has pushed faults close to failure, say researchers.
Among the sites covered: a set of injection wells near Prague, Okla., where the study says a huge earthquake in Chile on Feb. 27, 2010 triggered a mid-size quake less than a day later, followed by months of smaller tremors. This culminated in probably the largest quake yet associated with waste injection, a magnitude 5.7 event which shook Prague on Nov. 6, 2011. Earthquakes off Japan in 2011, and Sumatra in 2012, similarly set off mid-size tremors around injection wells in western Texas and southern Colorado, says the study….
“The fluids are driving the faults to their tipping point,” said lead author Nicholas van der Elst, a postdoctoral researcher at Columba University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “The remote triggering by big earthquakes is an indication the area is critically stressed.”
… “We’ve known for at least 20 years that shaking from large, distant earthquakes can trigger seismicity in places with naturally high fluid pressure, like hydrothermal fields,” said study coauthor Geoffrey Abers, a seismologist at Lamont-Doherty. “We’re now seeing earthquakes in places where humans are raising pore pressure.”
The new study may be the first to find evidence of triggered earthquakes on faults critically stressed by waste injection. If it can be replicated and extended to other sites at risk of manmade earthquakes it could “help us understand where the stresses are,” said William Ellsworth, an expert on human-induced earthquakes with the USGS who was not involved in the study.
What follow is an extended excerpt of the other release, by William Ellsworth, Jessica Robertson, and Christopher Hook via USGS blog. It is an excellent overview of this important subject. For ease of reading, I’m not indenting the text.
The number of earthquakes has increased dramatically over the past few years within the central and eastern United States. More than 300 earthquakes above a magnitude 3.0 occurred in the three years from 2010-2012, compared with an average rate of 21 events per year observed from 1967-2000.
This increase in earthquakes prompts two important questions: Are they natural, or man-made? And what should be done in the future as we address the causes and consequences of these events to reduce associated risks? USGS scientists have been analyzing the changes in the rate of earthquakes as well as the likely causes, and they have some answers.
USGS scientists have found that at some locations the increase in seismicity coincides with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells. Much of this wastewater is a byproduct of oil and gas production and is routinely disposed of by injection into wells specifically designed and approved for this purpose.
U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist William Ellsworth reviewed the issue of injection-induced earthquakes in a recent study published in the journal Science. The article focused on the injection of fluids into deep wells as a common practice for disposal of wastewater, and discusses recent events and key scientific challenges for assessing this hazard and moving forward to reduce associated risks.
Although it may seem like science fiction, man-made earthquakes have been a reality for decades. It has long been understood that earthquakes can be induced by impoundment of water in reservoirs, surface and underground mining, withdrawal of fluids and gas from the subsurface, and injection of fluids into underground formations.
Water that is salty or polluted by chemicals needs to be disposed of in a manner that prevents it from contaminating freshwater sources. Often, it is most economical to geologically sequester such wastewaters by injecting them underground, deep below any aquifers that provide drinking water.
Wastewater can result from a variety of processes related to energy production. For example, water is usually present in rock formations containing oil and gas and therefore will be co-produced during oil and gas production. Wastewater can also occur as flow back from hydraulic fracturing operations that involve injecting water under high pressure into a rock formation to stimulate the movement of oil and gas to a well for production.
When wastewater disposal takes place near faults, and underground conditions are right, earthquakes may be more likely to occur, Ellsworth’s research showed. Specifically, an earthquake can be triggered by the well-understood mechanism of raising the water pressure inside a fault. If the pressure increases enough, the fault may fail, releasing stored tectonic stress in the form of an earthquake. Even faults that have not moved in millions of years can be made to slip and cause an earthquake if conditions underground are right.
While the disposal process has the potential to trigger earthquakes, not every wastewater disposal well produces earthquakes. In fact, very few of the more than 30,000 wells designed for this purpose appear to cause earthquakes.
Many questions have been raised about whether hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as “fracking”— is responsible for the recent increase of earthquakes. USGS’s studies suggest that the actual hydraulic fracturing process is only very rarely the direct cause of felt earthquakes. While hydraulic fracturing works by making thousands of extremely small “microearthquakes,” they are rarely felt and are too small to cause structural damage. As noted previously, wastewater associated with hydraulic fracturing has been linked to some, but not all, of the induced earthquakes.
USGS scientists are dedicated to gaining a better understanding of the geological conditions and industrial practices associated with induced earthquakes, and to determining how seismic risk can be managed.
One risk-management approach highlighted in Ellsworth’s article involves the setting of seismic activity thresholds for safe operation. Under this “traffic-light” system, if seismic activity exceeds preset thresholds, reductions in injection would be made. If seismicity continued or escalated, operations could be suspended.
The current regulatory framework for wastewater disposal wells was designed to protect drinking water sources from contamination and does not address earthquake safety. Ellsworth noted that one consequence is that both the quantity and timeliness of information on injection volumes and pressures reported to the regulatory agencies is far from ideal for managing earthquake risk from injection activities….
There is a growing interest in understanding the risks associated with injection-induced earthquakes, especially in the areas of the country where damaging earthquakes are rare.
For example, wastewater disposal appears to have induced the magnitude-5.6 earthquake that struck rural central Oklahoma in 2011, leading to a few injuries and damage to more than a dozen homes. Damage from an earthquake of this magnitude would be even worse if it were to happen in a more densely populated area….
Reposted from USGS blog.
I am an eco entrepreneur, author, and admin here on People Planet Profit Blog. Let me know if you have any questions I am here to help. I’ll show you how to make a rewarding and profitable career in the Energy Industry... just contact me.