30 November 2016

Sidley Shale and Hydraulic Fracturing Report

Vol. 5, No. 48

Topics discussed in this week’s Report include:

  • New leadership at EPA still to be chosen.
  • Oklahoma residents filed class action over earthquakes.
  • Canadian researchers suggested hydraulic fracturing drilling may be linked to increased seismic activity.

New leadership at EPA still to be chosen. The administration of President-elect Trump will likely strongly support oil and gas development, including the use of hydraulic fracturing. Consistent with that approach, leaders from oil and gas producing states are among those being considered for the top post at the Environmental Protection Agency, such as Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R). Pruitt has been at the forefront of legal challenges to the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan as well as other regulations. Kathleen Hartnett White, a Distinguished Senior Fellow-in-Residence and Director of the Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, is also reportedly being considered. Formerly, White served as the chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Oklahoma residents file class action over earthquakes. The residents of Pawnee, Oklahoma, the location of the state’s magnitude 5.8 earthquake in early September, filed a class action lawsuit in the Oklahoma District Court for Pawnee County seeking punitive and compensatory damages from Cummings Oil Co., Eagle Road Oil LLC and other unnamed oil and gas companies that operate hydraulic fracturing and wastewater injection sites in the region. The complaint alleges that the defendants caused the earthquake by injecting wastewater from oil and gas drilling operations into disposal wells, leading to increased seismic activity nearby. The alleged injuries include property damage and emotional distress. The class action lawsuit follows a case brought earlier this year on behalf of the Sierra Club and other groups in federal court in Oklahoma similarly alleging that disposal of wastewater from oil and gas operations was causing an imminent and substantial endangerment to the environment, including an increase in regional earthquakes. The case is pending.

Canadian researchers suggest hydraulic fracturing drilling may be linked to increased seismic activity. A study conducted by a research team at the University of Calgary indicates that hydraulic fracturing in western Canada may be causing earthquakes in the region. The researchers were careful to distinguish this seismic activity from the earthquakes in Oklahoma, which regulators have attributed to the injection of hydraulic fracturing wastewater, not the drilling itself. The Canadian researchers analyzed data and concluded that the spread of fractures caused by the drilling pressure to access shale oil and gas triggered active faults in Canada. Additionally, the researchers believe that while the pressure-linked fault triggers diminish quickly after drilling operations, fracturing fluid left underground after drilling may contribute to the seismic activity. The researchers caution, however, that more study is needed to understand the relationship between drilling pressure and earthquakes.

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