Friday, April 17, 2015

Wyo. coal-bed methane: Boom, bust and hard lessons

Jill Morrison, left, and Kenny Harbaugh observe an ephemeral Powder River
Basin draw in 2006. Usually dry, yet moist enough to provide good grazing,
the draw was flooded with water from coal-bed methane gas wells.
(Photo: Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)
Today Wyoming’s coal-bed methane gas play in the Powder River Basin is a bust. Few of the 24,000 wells drilled during the heyday of the 2000s produce much gas, many sit idle and approximately 3,000 wells are left orphaned—a liability for the state to clean up," reports in the public-interest publication WyoFile.
"But in the early part of this century, the fervor surrounding coal-bed methane gas and its potential was as enormous as Powder River Basin coal itself—a trove of mineral wealth lurking just below the surface in coal formations the size of Lake Erie. Coal-bed methane was a play for both big operators and mom-and-pops. It made new millionaires among companies and landowners—not to mention hundreds of millions of dollars for local and state coffers.
"Coal-bed methane also fueled hot controversies in the realms of landowner rights, environmental stewardship, the value of water and—at every turn—state and local politics.
Coal-bed methane gas drilling concentrated mostly in Campbell, Johnson and Sheridan counties. Shown here in winter 2015 is a well just east of the Pumpkin Buttes in southern Campbell County. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)
Coal-bed methane gas drilling concentrated mostly in Campbell, Johnson and Sheridan counties. Shown here in winter 2015 is a well just east of the Pumpkin Buttes in southern Campbell County. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)
"Some blamed the development for harming domestic water wells. One rural homeowner fired shots at a compressor station in rifle range of his house out of frustration at the constant whirring noise. A fistfight nearly broke out on a tour bus in front of elected officials, including then Montana Gov. Judy Martz, who stepped in to cool tempers. One operator said he feared he would be blackballed by his colleagues for putting in a new water well for an elderly couple on the Powder River to replace one that had supposedly been bled dry.
“If a company or an individual involved in trying to help these people with this [replacement] well were named, there would be those who would perceive them as being guilty of something,” Casper geologist Jimmy Goolsby of Goolsby, Finley & Associates, told the Casper Star-Tribune in December 2003.
"For a time, coal-bed methane was responsible for making the Powder River Basin the largest producing natural gas field in the state, at more than 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day. During the early 2000s, coal-bed methane was the only big gas play in the state—a godsend for a mineral revenue-dependent state that had endured a long dry spell in the 1990s.
"As did so many resource booms before it, Wyoming’s coal-bed methane gas boom burned brightly and then died, leaving a complicated legacy. And, as often is the case, it left lingering hope for a revival, as well as frustrations over lessons that still appear unlearned."
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Monday, April 13, 2015

Fracking's unintended consequence: Oklahoma quakes

In a piece published today in The New Yorker titled Weather Underground: The Arrival of Man-Made Earthquakes, Rivka Galchen writes: 

"Until 2008, Oklahoma experienced an average of one to two earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater each year. (Magnitude-3.0 earthquakes tend to be felt, while smaller earthquakes may be noticed only by scientific equipment or by people close to the epicenter.) In 2009, there were twenty. The next year, there were forty-two. In 2014, there were five hundred and eighty-five, nearly triple the rate of California. Including smaller earthquakes in the count, there were more than five thousand. This year, there has been an average of two earthquakes a day of magnitude 3.0 or greater.
"William Ellsworth, a research geologist at the United States Geological Survey, told me, “We can say with virtual certainty that the increased seismicity in Oklahoma has to do with recent changes in the way that oil and gas are being produced.” Many of the larger earthquakes are caused by disposal wells, where the billions of barrels of brackish water brought up by drilling for oil and gas are pumped back into the ground. (Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—in which chemically treated water is injected into the earth to fracture rocks in order to access oil and gas reserves—causes smaller earthquakes, almost always less than 3.0.) Disposal wells trigger earthquakes when they are dug too deep, near or into basement rock, or when the wells impinge on a fault line. Ellsworth said, “Scientifically, it’s really quite clear.”

Read the full story here

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Enviros cautiously optimistic about new Senate leader

                                                             Associated Press photo
What do environmentalists think of Chuck Schumer, the new Senate Democratic leader?

Elana Schor writes in Politico:

"Environmentalists see Harry Reid as their champion, a Senate leader who fought the nuclear industry and steered billions of dollars to solar and wind power.

"Chuck Schumer is a frequent lightning rod for liberals, who lament his ties to Wall Street and groaned when he said last year that fracking “has worked quite well.”

"Still, greens are cautiously optimistic for the dawning Schumer era in Senate Democratic leadership — pointing to reasons to think he’ll have their backs on issues like climate change, chemical safety and tighter limits on the nation’s oil and gas boom. On certain issues, some even hope he’ll be in their camp more than Reid has been."

Read the full story here 



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Friday, April 10, 2015

Good and not-so-good news on NJ greenhouse goals


Click to expand/close
The state is on a path to meet its goals to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution by 2020, but achieving its ambitious 2050 targets will take much more work, according to an updated inventory of those emissions by the Rutgers Climate Institute and Rutgers Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy..
Tom Johnson reports today in NJ Spotlight that:
"The 16-page inventory is the first prepared by the institute and Bloustein. It focuses on greenhouse-gas emissions in 2012. It shows that New Jersey is ahead of its 2020 target of reducing emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels, a point frequently made by the Christie administration.
"But achieving an 80 percent reduction by 2050 from 2006 levels will be much more difficult to attain, according to the study."
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Thursday, April 9, 2015

EPA proposes frack water ban at wastewater plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to ban publicly owned wastewater treatment facilities from taking untreated waste fluids from the unconventional oil and gas industry in a move that would guarantee the end of a disposal practice that the industry and states have already abandoned, Laura Legere reports today in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"In a notice Tuesday, federal regulators said they are taking comments on their plan to forbid publicly owned treatment works from accepting and discharging the wastewater, which often contains high concentrations of salt and lesser amounts of chemicals, metals and naturally occurring radioactive materials that are potentially harmful to human health and the environment. Public sewage treatment plants are not designed to remove those pollutants, which can flow through to streams untreated or interfere with the plant’s normal treatment processes.

"The rule would apply to wastewater that comes from production, field exploration, drilling, well completion or well treatment during unconventional oil and gas extraction, which generally uses the combined technologies of fracking and horizontal drilling to pull hydrocarbons from tight geologic formations, like the Marcellus and Utica shales."
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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

David Samson retires from law firm that changes name

Former NJ Attorney General and Port Authority chairman David Samson - NJBIZ photo
Former Port Authority Chairman David Samson, who resigned from the agency a year ago amid the broadening investigation into the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closures, announced today that he was retiring from the powerful law firm he co-founded, Steve Strunsky reports for NJ.com.

"For personal, professional and health reasons, I have made the decision to retire," Samson, 75, said in a statement issued by his spokeswoman, Karen Kessler. "After my five decades of practicing law, it was time for new leaders to transition the firm for the future."

The politically connected firm, Wolff & Samson, has a broad range of practices including lobbying and real estate law, and has represented public agencies. Not only is Samson leaving the firm, his name is, too. The 43-year-old firm, based in West Orange and New York City, is changing its name to Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC, according to its website.

The leadership reflected in the firm's new name includes Jeffrey Chiesa, a former chief counsel to Gov. Chris Christie whom the governor later named attorney general. Christie had also named Samson as Port Authority chairman. At times, the Wolff & Samson's clients did business with the Port Authority while Samson headed the agency. For example, Wolff & Samson represented NJ Transit at a time when a $900,000-a-year lease with the Port Authority for park and ride space in North Bergen was reduced to $1-a-year, while Samson was the Port Authority chairman. In February,


Samson's replacement as Port Authority chairman, John Degnan, said the agency was cooperating in an investigation by the office of U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in Newark, into whether United Airlines tried to curry favor with Samson by launching service between Newark Liberty International Airport and Columbia Metropolitan Airport, near Samson's South Carolina home.

That service was discontinued only days after Samson resigned as chairman. Fishman's office declined to comment Tuesday afternoon. Samson's resignation from the Port Authority amid the broadening Bridgegate scandal in March 2014 coincided with a downturn in his firm's lobbying business. State Election Law Enforcement Commission records show Wolff & Samson and its affiliated lobbying shop were paid $753,198 to lobby public officials in 2014, down from $1,067,029 in 2013 and $1,108,774 in 2012.

Read the full story here  


Related news stories:
United Airlines: “The chairman's flight” | The Economist
Ex-Port Authority Chairman David Samson Sues To Block ...
'General' David Samson has left Port Authority - Raw Story
Christie: Port Authority Chairman David Samson Resigns Amid GWB Scandal
Chris Christie 'firmly' backs embattled Port Authority ...


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Monday, April 6, 2015

NJDEP chief and Solvay read clean-up ad differently




A South Jersey chemical company on Sunday refuted a claim by the state’s top environmental official that it had prematurely ended its investigation into water contamination near its West Deptford factory, Jon Hurdle writes today in NJ Spotlight.
Bob Martin - DEP photo
NJDEP's Mob Martin
 A spokesman for Solvay Specialty Polymers said the company has no intention of terminating a probe into the presence of PFNA, a potentially carcinogenic chemical, despite criticism by Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin that it had failed to complete its work.
Spokesman David Klucsik said that an advertisement placed by Solvay in the South Jersey Times on April 2, and an accompanying statement, were intended to show that the company had reached a “milestone” in its investigation but is continuing to look into the presence of the chemical in local groundwater.
“Neither the statement nor the ad suggests in any way that our investigation is over,” he told NJ Spotlight. “In fact, we stated just the opposite. We stated that we anticipate the investigation will continue and we also stated that we hope to meet with the department to plan next steps.”
In the ad, Solvay said it had taken about 800 samples from ground and surface water sources, municipal and private wells, and Delaware River sediment over the past year, had contacted some 200 properties, and had studied air quality at specific sites.
The company said in the ad that it had found PFNA in an unspecified number of private water wells, among 95 tested, and that the DEP would determine how to treat the contaminated wells.
In conducting the testing, the company had “completed the elements of the work plan developed with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection,” the ad and statement said.
Klucsik told NJ Spotlight on Sunday that “15 or 16” of the 95 wells were found to contain PFNA at 20 parts per trillion or more, a level that merited treatment by the DEP. He was unable to say what the treatment would consist of but said the company has offered to pay for it.
In its statement, the company said it also found contamination in “some” sediment samples taken from the Delaware River, although no PFNA was found in the river’s surface water. 
Martin said in his own statement that he was “extremely disappointed” by Solvay’s ad, and accused the company of trying     
to evade responsibility for the contamination.
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