03 May 2016

Sidley Shale and Hydraulic Fracturing Report

Vol. 5, No. 18

Topics discussed in this week’s Report include:

  • DRBC announces plans to hold hearings on proposed PennEast pipeline project.
  • Oklahoma: Drilling companies seek dismissal of Sierra Club lawsuit regarding seismic activity.
  • New York: Pipeline companies say they will challenge state’s denial of permits for Constitution pipeline.
  • Pennsylvania officials investigate seismic activity near hydraulic fracturing operations.
  • Duke University researchers associate elevated level of contaminants with brine spills.
  • Texas study finds changing concentrations of chemicals in groundwater as hydraulic fracturing increases.

Federal

DRBC announces plans to hold hearings on proposed PennEast pipeline project. In an April 25 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) announced that it would hold a series of hearings on the proposed PennEast pipeline instead of participating in the FERC hearing process. The proposed 119-mile pipeline would carry natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to East Coast utilities at a projected cost of $1.2 billion. Citing high levels of interest within the basin, the DRBC announced that it would hold the hearings in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 2017. The PennEast pipeline project is expected to be completed in 2018.

States

Oklahoma: Drilling companies seek dismissal of Sierra Club lawsuit regarding seismic activity. Four oil and gas companies are seeking dismissal of a Sierra Club lawsuit alleging that disposal of wastewater from their drilling operations is causing seismic activity. The lawsuit seeks to impose stringent limitations on underground injection of oil and gas wastewater. The companies argue that issues related to wastewater disposal should be addressed by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, not the court. They also allege that Sierra Club cannot bring a lawsuit under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act because disposal wells are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act’s Underground Injection Control program instead.

New York: Pipeline companies say they will challenge state’s denial of permits for Constitution pipeline. Several partners in the Constitution pipeline project threatened to challenge New York’s denial of Clean Water Act permits needed to construct the pipeline. New York argues that the pipeline would damage trout habitat and old growth forest habitat. The pipeline proponents assert that FERC already considered those factors when it approved the pipeline in 2014. They also assert that the pipeline would provide thousands of jobs and supply much-needed natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to the East Coast.

Pennsylvania officials investigate seismic activity near hydraulic fracturing operations. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is investigating possible links between hydraulic fracturing operations and seismic activity in western Pennsylvania. On April 25, two earthquakes with magnitudes of 1.9 occurred near a Hilcorp Energy Co. well that was being completed using hydraulic fracturing. The magnitude of the earthquakes was substantially smaller that those occurring in Oklahoma, Kansas and other oil-producing states. The earthquakes occurred along the Ohio border in the same area where seismic activity had been observed and alleged to be linked to oil and gas development activities. DEP’s investigation is ongoing, and the department has not reported whether it believes any link between hydraulic fracturing and seismic activity can be confirmed.

Studies

Duke University researchers associate elevated level of contaminants with brine spills. A recent study published by Duke University researchers in Environmental Science & Technology found elevated concentrations of several chemicals downstream of brine spills in North Dakota. The researchers studied soil and wastewater samples downstream from four such spills. They found elevated levels of ammonium, selenium, lead and salts, as well as radium in soil samples. While the researchers asserted that their findings demonstrated that contamination was “widespread and persistent,” state government representatives responding to the report stated that most brine spills were cleaned up in a matter of days, with limited, if any, downstream effects.

Texas study finds changing concentrations of chemicals in groundwater as hydraulic fracturing increases. In research published in Science of Total Environment, researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington found changes in chemical concentrations in groundwater while oil and gas development using hydraulic fracturing increased. From December 2012 to January 2014, the researchers took samples at four different times in the Cline Shale formation in west Texas. The researchers report finding that pH, total organic carbon, total dissolved solids, chloride, bromide and other chemicals initially increased in concentration, peaked and then declined over time. While the researchers suggested that data show that hydraulic fracturing can increase chemical concentrations in groundwater, critics questioned whether any conclusions could be drawn from the correlation including whether the fluctuating chemical concentrations could be attributed to increases in hydraulic fracturing.

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