Duke Researchers Release Report on Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing

By: Michael K. Reer

On April 24, 2017, researchers from Duke University released “The Geochemistry of Naturally Occurring Methane and Saline Groundwater in an Area of Unconventional Shale Gas Development” – a peer reviewed study that examined the effects of hydraulic fracturing activities on water quality in West Virginia. Significantly, the study tested water wells before and after nearby hydraulic fracturing activities, and found that the test results “showed no evidence of anthropogenic contamination” in groundwater. The study also examined the effects of fluid spills on nearby surface waters, finding that the chemistry and isotope ratios of surface waters near known spills or leaks mimicked the composition of Marcellus flowback fluids. The study’s finding with respect to surface waters is unsurprising given that the researchers specifically targeted water bodies nearby reported spills. The industry blog Energy in Depth has posted an extensive analysis of the study.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Another Induced Seismicity Suit Filed in OK

By: Michael K. Reer

On March 3, 2017, the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit in the District Court of the Pawnee Nation, alleging damages from induced seismic events, including damages resulting from a September 3, 2016 magnitude-5.8 seismic event that occurred near two wastewater disposal wells. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges absolute liability, negligence, private nuisance, and trespass causes of action and seeks compensation for physical damages to real and personal property, market value loss to real property, and punitive damages. Named defendants in the lawsuit include two wastewater disposal well operators and 25 unnamed companies that have “engaged in injection well operations in and around Pawnee.”

The Petition also discusses the U.S. Geological Survey’s recently released 2017 Induced Seismicity Forecast, which projects that Oklahoma has a greater than 10% chance of experiencing an induced seismic event in 2017.

Monday, March 20, 2017

USGS Releases 2017 Induced Seismicity Forecast

On March 1, 2017, the U.S. Geological Survey released an updated hazard map that forecasts the likelihood of induced seismic events for the coming year. This is the second year that USGS has published an induced seismicity forecast. Previously, the agency only projected naturally occurring seismic events and identified “induced seismicity zones.” According to USGS, the overall seismic hazard for 2017 is lower than that forecasted in 2016. USGS attributes the decrease in induced seismic events to an overall decrease in oil and natural gas wastewater injection. USGS uses induced seismicity data from the previous 12 months to project induced seismic events over the coming year.

In shale basins of note:

Texas (including Permian, Eagle Ford, Barnett, and Haynesville):

In 2016, USGS projected that parts of the Barnett shale had a 5% chance of experiencing an induced seismic event. In 2017, USGS projects that, aside from a small portion of the Permian, Texas has a less than 1% chance of experiencing an induced seismic event. USGS has identified a small area southwest of Odessa as having a slightly elevated chance (1%-2%) of experiencing an induced seismic event.

Appalachia (including Marcellus and Utica):

Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia continue to have a very small chance of experiencing induced seismicity. The 2016 model identified Appalachia as having a less than 1% chance of experiencing an induced seismic event, but noted that Ashtabula and Youngstown, Ohio were two induced seismicity zones that could impact future forecasts. Both zones remained quiet throughout 2016.

Rockies/Upper Midwest (including Bakken, Denver, and Pierre):

Colorado and the Upper Midwest remain relatively unlikely to experience an induced seismic event in 2017. According to USGS, the Bakken does not have any recorded incidents of induced seismicity, and some of Colorado’s induced seismic events are likely unrelated to oil and natural gas development activities. Aside from a small area in south-central Colorado, USGS projects that the region has a less than 1% chance of experiencing an induced seismic event in 2017.


Despite the overall decrease in induced seismic events, parts of Oklahoma continue to have a greater than 10% chance of experiencing an induced seismic event. USGS notes in its press release that despite the decrease in overall seismic events in 2016, Oklahoma experienced the largest seismic event ever recorded in the state as well as the greatest number of large seismic events compared to any prior year.
Thursday, March 02, 2017

USGS to Release Updated Hazard Maps

On February 23, 2017, the U.S. Geological Survey announced

that it will release updated maps detailing the potential of natural and induced seismic events on March 1, 2017. The 2017 maps mark the second year that USGS has projected both natural and induced seismic risks. USGS previously stated that the best indicator of future induced seismic events in a given region is the number of induced seismic events that the region experienced in the previous 12 months. Therefore, the 2017 induced hazard map is likely to reflect recent seismic activities that USGS believes were induced by human activities such as wastewater injection, coal mining, and reservoir drawdowns.

Friday, February 24, 2017

PA Alleges Salamanders Harmed By Spill

On February 22, 2017, Penn Live reported that Pennsylvania District Judge Jerry C. Lepley sent a summons to two oil and natural gas companies concerning an alleged leak of flowback water in Lycoming County. According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the two companies allowed over 1,000 gallons of flowback water to discharge into a nearby unnamed tributary, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 169 salamanders. The Fish and Boat Commission has also stated that tests of the tributary where the discharge allegedly occurred have revealed barium, chloride, and strontium. Although the Penn Live article does not specify what species the salamanders belonged to, green salamanders are currently listed as “Pennsylvania Threatened” by the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program.

The companies must appear in court on March 8, 2017.
Thursday, February 23, 2017

Duke Releases Study on Oil and Gas Related Spills

On February 21, 2017, the journal Environmental Science & Technology published “Unconventional Oil and Gas Spills: Risks, Mitigation Priorities, and State Reporting Requirements,” an assessment of spill data from unconventional development operations in Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania. The study found that between 2-16% of unconventional wells report a spill each year. The study also found that 75% of wells that reported spills were within the first three years of production, and that 50% of all spills were related to storage and moving fluids via flowlines.

The blog Energy in Depth published a critique of the Duke study, noting that the Duke study included freshwater spills in its analysis. Energy in Depth also pointed to similar spill studies that found that 78% of all oil and gas related spills are contained on the well pad and never effect the environment.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017

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