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Wyoming and fracking

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Introduction

Natural gas in Wyoming.

Natural gas, coal and oil have created a ten year long economic boom in Wyoming that has resulted in doubling the state's budget. However, as natural gas prices drop, so does the state revenue.[1]

Fracking, growing coalbed methane production, and the build-out of Rocky Mountain pipeline capacity helped Wyoming gas production grow from 1.84 bcf/day in 1995 to 6.4 bcf/day by 2009. In 2007, Wyoming produced a record-setting 436.3 billion standard feet of gas. Since the 2009 peak, however, gas production fell by more than 10% by mid-2012.[2] The Atlantic Rim in south-central Wyoming supports nearly 500 natural gas wells,[3] and Wyoming is proposing approximately 21,000 new wells at the same time natural gas prices are still declining. With the completion of the Wyoming-to-Oregon Ruby Pipeline this summer, Wyoming will will have more export capacity than production.

Coalbed methane (CBM) is natural gas found in coal beds.[4] The Powder River Basin accounts for nearly all CBM produced in the state. More than 26,000 CBM wells have been drilled in the PRB, and it has produced 4.73 tcf since commercial development began in 1997. The PRB is the second largest producer of CBM in the U.S., after the San Juan Basin in New Mexico.[5]

History

Citizen activism

Opposition to leasing in protected forest

Location of gas leases in the Niobrara formation in Wyoming and Colorado.
Too Special to Drill

The Noble Basin sits in the shadow of the Wyoming Range, most of which was protected from energy development by Congress in 2009. But previous leases bought by energy companies can still be developed, including one proposal for 136 wells to be drilled by Plains Exploration and Production (PXP). In 2012 the Citizens for the Wyoming Range were opposing PXP's plans to drill 136 natural gas wells in the Upper Hoback Basin, south of Jackson. Called the Eagle Prospect and Noble Basin Master Development Plan (MDP), it could be developed in a pristine area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest with 29 miles of new or upgraded roads and 17 well pads. The group is concerned about impacts on wildlife and local biodiversity. In 2011 the U.S. Forest Service released a draft of its environmental analysis of the proposed project, recommending against leasing of 44,720 acres for natural gas exploration.[6]

As of 2012, the U.S. Forest Service is conducting a final environmental review of the project. If officials decide that tighter restrictions on drilling near existing roads apply, it’s possible that the PXP leases would be less valuable and could be bought out by those who want the Noble Basin preserved in its current wild state.[7]

Groups sue over fracking fluids

In March 2012 environmental groups sued the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, stating that the agency has not done enough to justify honoring requests by companies to keep the public from reviewing ingredients in hydraulic fracturing fluids. The groups included Powder River Basin Resource Council, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Earthworks and OMB Watch. The groups alleged the commission denied their state open records requests to review fracking fluid ingredients. Laura Veaton of Earth Justice, who represents the groups, said that nearly all of the company requests to withhold trade secrets had been granted (50 out of 52 requests). Veaton said some were granted even though some companies did not comply with state requirements.[8][9]

Legislative issues and regulations

Disclosure of chemicals

Fracking: Lessons from Wyoming.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC) requires disclosure of the types and amounts of chemicals used in the state's fracking operations. Natural gas operators must submit data to the WOGCC prior to stimulation. The WOGCC catalogs the data while maintaining the confidentiality of any proprietary information. The WOGCC also restricts the use of diesel and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in hydraulic fracturing. Finally, the WOGCC requires a post-stimulation report, which must include information about the fracking conducted, including the amount of fluids used and several well parameters.[10]

However, the disclosure measure allows trade secret exemptions meant to protect companies from being forced to reveal proprietary information. In 2010 and 2011, the state granted 50 chemical secrecy requests by oil and gas service companies, including Halliburton, Weatherford International, and NALCO. Environmental groups discovered the information was being shielded from disclosure after seeking access to records on hydraulic fracturing chemicals used in the state; WOGCC provided some of the requested information in January 2012, but refused to turn over any chemical formulations that had been designated as “trade secrets.”[11]

In March 2012, community groups mounted a legal challenge against the Wyoming regulators, saying they were improperly approving oil and gas companies' “overly broad,” "boilerplate requests" to shield information about the chemicals used.[12] The outcome of the lawsuit could have implications for similar measures in other states, as Wyoming’s chemical disclosure requirement has been used as a model for other states.[11]

On March 25, 2013, the Natrona County District sided with the state of Wyoming, saying the lists of the fracking chemicals used are trade secrets that may be withheld from the public under Wyoming's open records law.[13]

Regulators

In June 2012 it was reported that the Petroleum Association of Wyoming was spending up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay federal regulators' wages and overtime in an effort to speed up the permitting process for new wells, as permit requests have more than doubled from about 100 to nearly 250 at the Bureau of Land Management's field office in Casper, which is short-staffed.[14]

In January 2013 State Sen. Floyd Esquibel, a Democrat from Cheyenne, introduced a bill, Senate File 157, which would require initial groundwater sampling before drilling begin. The Sen. said he wants to avoid a situation like what is playing out in Pavillion, Wyo., where the EPA has found pollutants used in fracking chemicals in local water supplies.[15]

In September 2014 Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission proposed setting a minimum of "500 feet between occupied buildings and vertical rigs and 750 feet for horizontal rigs -- up from 350 feet for both." The proposal came in response to the public concern over increasing oil production near communities.[16]

Wyoming draft regulations for drilling

On June 13, 2013 Wyoming Governor Matt Mead unveiled draft regulations that would establish a groundwater testing program for oil and gas operations in the state. It's been reported that these draft rules, if accepted, would require oil and gas operators to conduct tests establishing the quality of groundwater around sites before drilling begins and to follow up later with tests to monitor for potential impacts. The proposed regulations were met with applause by Environmental Defense Fund.[17]

Regulatory violations

In 2012 the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality recorded 204 oil and gas production spills, and pursued water quality fines against 10 producers.[18]

Citizen groups

Industry groups

Environmental impacts

EPA Finds Fracking Chemical in Pavillion

Is fracking to blame?

In November 2011, the EPA released raw data that indicated groundwater supplies in Pavillion, Wyoming contained high-levels of cancer causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing -- 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE). The findings were consistent with water samples the EPA collected from at least 42 homes in the area since 2008. This is the first time that the federal agency has drawn these conclusions. "Gasland" Director Josh Fox was arrested while trying to film a House Science Committee hearing on the EPA's investigation of this possible water contamination in Pavillion.[19][20][21] EPA concluded that contamination from "constituents associated with hydraulic fracturing" are in the "drinking water aquifer," around 800 feet down.[22]

The EPA is to release a comprehensive study about the effects of "fracking" on water resources, initial results are not expected until late 2012. The study is currently continuing.[23][24]

Later, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead disputed the EPA's findings, stating, "Somewhere along the line EPA seems to have abandoned a reasonable approach in favor of an effort resulting in a delay of further sampling and information development until the completion of the peer review process. This seems entirely backward."[25]

A report by Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project stated that four out of five people who returned a health survey reported symptoms that could be linked to Natural Gas Drilling operations in and around Pavillion, Wyoming. In the past, residents of the central Wyoming town have reported that fracking polluted their well water.[26]

In May 2012 the EPA's initial findings in Pavillion were validated by an independent expert.[27] On April 30, 2012, independent hydrologist Tom Myers submitted his review of the EPA’s draft report, stating that "it is clear that hydraulic fracturing has caused pollution of the Wind River formation and aquifer." Myers was commissioned by the NRDC, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Sierra Club, and the Oil and Gas Accountability Project.

It was reported by the Associated Press in May 2012 that Wyoming's governor persuaded the head of the EPA to postpone an announcement linking fracking to groundwater contamination, giving state officials — whom the EPA had privately briefed on the study — time to cha; the finding in the Pavillion, Wyoming area.[28]

E&E noted that while the finding challenges the industry talking point that fracturing has never contaminated groundwater, the fracking done in Pavillion was much closer to the surface and groundwater than the fracking in deeper shale formations like Pennsylvania's Marcellus. The EPA report will be subject to peer-review and "if EPA's findings are accurate, they point to some very basic problems in Pavillion. Oil and gas operators dumped their waste into unlined pits, which was legal at the time. They also did not seal their wells off from drinking water by encasing them in concrete all the way through the drinking water zone, a basic drilling practice laid out in the American Petroleum Institute's standards," according to E&E.[29]

In October 2012 the American Petroleum Institute criticized the EPA's study at Pavillioin, stating the agency used too small a sample size to determine whether fracking contributed to groundwater contamination. The group also said that the EPA's study could have far-reaching implications for they conduct their national study on that issue.[30]

USGS also finds contamination

After Wyoming state officials criticized the EPA’s conclusions on contamination in Pavillion, the EPA agreed to retest the wells, and call in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to conduct parallel tests. The USGS 2012 retest of one Pavillion, Wyoming well found evidence of many of the same gases and compounds the EPA found in 2011 - methane, ethane, diesel compounds, and phenol. The USGS provided the raw data of its retest but no interpretation, although a spokeswoman for the EPA said that the results are consistent with the agency's findings, and a later analysis by Sierra Club, Earthworks, and the Natural Resources Defense Council confirmed the EPA and USGS results. If the EPA's own retest and final report uphold the initial findings, driller Encana could be forced to address the homeowners’ water complaints. The company is still making periodic water deliveries to about 20 area households, who have been advised not to "cook or drink our water,” according to local farmer John Fenton.[31]

EPA cedes Pavillion study to state

In June 2013, the EPA dropped plans to have outside experts review its draft report suggesting fracking played a role in groundwater pollution in Pavillion, and the agency no longer plans to write a final report on its research. Instead, the EPA said state officials would lead further investigation into pollution in the Pavillion area, including ways to make sure people there have clean drinking water. The state will issue a final report in late 2014.[32] The EPA also dropped its investigations into water contamination from shale gas drilling in Dimock, PA, and Parker County, TX.[33]

It was reported in October 2013 that a top Obama aide Heather Zichal, worked the Pavillion fracking investigation. Zichal took a significant interest in the community's water supply in late 2011 and early 2012. As it was reported, "Documents show that Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, monitored and managed developments behind the scenes as U.S. EPA prepared to release its findings that hydraulic fracturing had contaminated groundwater in Pavillion. "Emails obtained by EnergyWire through the Freedom of Information Act show that Zichal got briefings from top EPA officials as they prepared to release the report, was informed the afternoon before the report was rolled out in December 2011 and sought to manage the fallout when it came under criticism. 'Can we get some talking points on this asap?' Zichal wrote to then-Deputy EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe on Jan. 3, 2012, above a news story on flaws in EPA's handling of the sampling process. The FOIA documents also show that Zichal emailed with then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on the Pavillion investigation. Jackson herself showed considerable interest in the case, sending nearly 100 emails involving Pavillion between November 2010 and April 2011, including a few from her personal email account."[34]

Ground-level ozone

In March 2011 it was reported that as a result of natural gas drilling operations, ozone levels in the western part of Wyoming were far exceeding EPA limits. Preliminary data showed ozone levels reached high as 124 parts per billion, or two-thirds higher than the Environmental Protection Agency's maximum healthy limit of 75 parts per billion. In 2010 Wyoming's gas-drilling area had days when its ozone levels exceeded Los Angeles' worst for 2009.[35][36]

In May 2012, Wyoming’s southwestern region was found to have an unsafe level of smog-causing ozone for the first time, a designation the EPA linked to a boom in oil and gas drilling in the state.[37] The U.S. EPA has determined that southwest Wyoming's Upper Green River Basin no longer met federal ground-level ozone pollution standards.[38]

Water use

The 2013 Western Organization of Resource Councils report, "Gone for good: Fracking and water loss in the West," found that fracking is using 7 billion gallons of water a year in four western states: Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and North Dakota.

Water contamination

Since the 1970s there has been an exemption to allow wastewater from oil and gas operations to be given to livestock in western states and reservations: "In the 1970s, when the Environmental Protection Agency was banning oil companies from dumping their wastewater, ranchers, especially in Wyoming, made a fuss. They argued that their livestock needs water, even dirty water," according to NPR. "So the EPA made an exception, a loophole, for the arid West. If oil companies demonstrate that ranchers or wildlife use the water, the companies can release it.... [O]ver time, states' rules have become stricter than the EPA's. Some states have all but outlawed dumping."[39]

Wastewater for livestock on Native reservations is determined by the EPA on a case-by-case basis. In August 2013 NPR reported that the EPA is proposing to let oil companies continue to dump polluted wastewater on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.[40] The wastewater contains toxic chemicals, including known carcinogens and radioactive material, according to documents obtained by NPR through Freedom of Information Act requests.[39]

Accidents

April 2012: Residents evacuate after gas leaks from Wyo. well

On April 25, 2012 an oil well blowout in Wyoming prompted 50 residents to evacuate their homes amid concern that a spewing cloud of natural gas could explode. Gas continued to erupt from the ground after the blowout near the Wyoming town of Douglas. Witnesses told local television station KCWY-TV they could hear the roaring gas from six miles away.[41]

Reports

Resources

References

  1. "Natural Gas Prices Plunge, Hurting Wyoming's Budget" Bob Beck, NPR, February 13, 2012.
  2. Bill Powers, Cold Hungry and in the Dark, NSP, 2013.
  3. "Wyoming’s next wave of natural gas drilling" Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile, May 17, 2011.
  4. "Wyoming Coalbed Natural Gas" Wyoming Geological Survey, accessed Oct 2013.
  5. Bill Powers, Cold Hungry and in the Dark, NSP, 2013.
  6. "Quick facts about PXP drilling plan for the Upper Hoback" Citizens for Wyoming on the Range, accessed on March 23, 2012.
  7. "Documentary Short: Natural Gas Drilling Threatens The Wild Heart Of Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest," Think Progress, July 12, 2012.
  8. "Wyoming: Environmentalists Sue Over Fracking Fluid" Mead Gruver, Associated Press, March 27, 2012.
  9. "Conservation Groups Ask Court To Release Fracking Chemical Secrets" Bob Beck, Wyoming Public Media, March 26, 2012.
  10. "Wyoming and Hydraulic Fracturing" Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project, accessed February 15, 2012.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Jennifer A. Dlouhy, "Environmentalists challenge trade secret protections for hydraulic fracturing," Fuel Fix, March 26, 2012.
  12. "Environmentalists challenge trade secret protections for hydraulic fracturing" FuelFix, March 26, 2012.
  13. Mead Gruver, "Judge sides with Wyoming in fracking chemical suit," AP, March 25, 2013.
  14. Jeremy Fugleberg, "To speed Wyoming drilling, industry pays for federal staff additions," Star-Tribune, June 22, 2012.
  15. "Bill calls for mandatory groundwater testing before fracking in Wyoming" Adam Voge, Star-Tribune, January 23, 2013.
  16. "Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission proposes increase in drilling setbacks" Benjamin Starrow, Star Tribune, September 7, 2014.
  17. "EDF supports Wyoming draft regulations for drilling" Bob Downing, June 13, 2013.
  18. Mike Soraghan, "Many mishaps among drillers, but few fines," E&E, July 15, 2013.
  19. "Gasland Director Josh Fox Arrested at Congressional Hearing on Natural Gas Fracking," Democracy Now, February 2, 2012.
  20. "EPA: Fracking may cause groundwater pollution" Associated Press, December 8, 2011.
  21. "EPA Finds Fracking Chemical in Wyoming Gas Drilling Town's Aquifer" Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica, November 11, 2011.
  22. Mike Soraghan,"What EPA really said about Wyo. fracking pollution," E&E, January 23, 2012.
  23. "Pavillion, WY, fracking study to continue" Pam Kasey, State Journal, March 9, 2012.
  24. "EPA says 'fracking' probably contaminated well water in Wyoming" Neela Banerjee, Los Angeles Times, December 8, 2011.
  25. "Wyoming governor disputes EPA study on fracking, groundwater" Platts, December 22, 2011.
  26. "Residents of Wyoming Fracking Community Report Illnesses" Water Contamination From Shale, accessed April 6, 2012.
  27. "Independent Analysis Confirms That Hydraulic Fracturing Caused Drinking Water Contamination In Wyoming" ThinkProgress, Jessica Goad, May 1, 2012.
  28. "AP Exclusive: Wyo. got EPA to delay frack finding" Associated Press, May 3, 2012.
  29. Mike Soraghan,"What EPA really said about Wyo. fracking pollution," E&E, January 23, 2012.
  30. "Oil-and-gas group questions EPA fracking study" Zack Coleman, The Hill, October 18, 2012.
  31. Mark Drajem, "Diesel in Water Near Fracking Confirms EPA Tests Wyoming Disputes," Bloomberg, Sep 27, 2012.
  32. Mead Gruver and Ben Neary, "Some Residents Oppose Wyo.-EPA Frack Study Deal," AP, June 20, 2013.
  33. Kate Sinding, "Why Would EPA Hide Info on Fracking & Water Contamination in Dimock?" NRDC, July 28, 2013.
  34. "Top Obama aide worked the Pavillion fracking investigation" Mike Soraghan, E&E, September 11, 2013.
  35. "Wyoming's natural gas boom comes with smog attached" Mead Gruver, Associated Press, March 9, 2011.
  36. "Wyoming's smog exceeds Los Angeles' due to gas drilling" USA Today, March 9, 2011.
  37. "Wyoming Area Found With Unsafe Ozone Level As Fracking Booms" FA Mag, May 1, 2012.
  38. "EPA gives heavily drilled Wyo. area 3 years to improve air quality" Scott Streater, E&E reporter, May 7, 2012.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Elizabeth Shogren, "Loophole Lets Toxic Oil Water Flow Over Indian Land," NPR, November 15, 2012.
  40. Elizabeth Shogren, "EPA Wants To Allow Continued Wastewater Dumping In Wyoming," NPR, August 7, 2013.
  41. "Residents evacuate after gas leaks from Wyo. well" Mead Gruver, Associated Press, April 25, 2012.

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