A company known as Biodentify, based in the Netherlands, announced that it can help predict oil and gas deposits based on DNA in the soil just a foot beneath the surface! Specifically, the company claims that by analyzing the microbiological DNA of shallow soil samples, it can predict “sweet spots” in shale reservoirs with 70% accuracy.
The Deep Carbon Observatory at the Carnegie Institution for Science is using “Big Data” to locate deposits of minerals, using techniques similar to those used by Amazon to recommend books based on a buyer’s previous book orders, or by Netflix to recommend new movies to a subscriber based on past movie choices. In a paper published in the American Mineralogist, scientists at the Observatory report the first application to mineralogy of network theory. Network theory has also been used to analyze the spread of disease, the scope of terrorist networks or even Facebook connections. The study reported in the paper was led by Shaunna Morrison of the Deep Carbon Observatory and Robert Hazen, Executive Director of the Observatory.
These scientists are using network theory to analyze data on the vast amount of information on Earth’s more than 5,200 known mineral species together with with data on the surrounding geography, the geological setting, and coexisting minerals, and from this producing patterns of occurrence and distribution of minerals that might otherwise be hidden. Dr. Morrison stated that “(t)he quest for new mineral deposits is incessant, but until recently mineral discovery has been more a matter of luck than scientific prediction. All that may change thanks to big data.” According to Dr. Hazen “(n)etwork analysis can provide visual clues to mineralogists regarding where to go and what to look for. This is a brand new idea in the paper and I think it will open up an entirely new direction in mineralogy.”
In terms of oil and gas exploration, petroleum geologists can use this new tool to discover new oil and gas reservoirs. One benefit will be that data analysis will be a lot less expensive than drilling test wells. In addition, fewer dry holes and test wells will be a good thing in terms of environmental impact.
As many Texans are aware, hydraulic fracturing (“fracing”) uses a lot of water. In fact, one of the important ways in which Texas oil and gas lawyers assist their clients is to make sure that the oil and gas leases they sign contain appropriate protections for the client’s freshwater sources.
ConocoPhillips recently announced the availability of its “Water Visualization Tool” to use in discussing their water use with landowners in the Eagle Ford Shale. This is a 3D modeling tool that contains a model of the subsurface based on data from state and federal public databases, such as the US Geological Survey. With this tool, the oil company can demonstrate to a landowner the location and depth of the reservoir from which it is obtaining water and the spacing between horizontal wells and water sources.
The Water Visualization Tool sounds like it will assist in clear communication between oil companies and landowners. However, the more important issue is the need to continue to push to find non-freshwater sources for water used in fracing. For example, ConocoPhillips itself used municipal wastewater from Karnes City, Texas in the fracing of its wells in Karnes County. Other companies have used brackish water or are recycling water to use in fracking.
The U S Geological Survey (USGS) just published a revised assessment of oil and gas reserves in the Sprayberry formation in the Permian Basin in Texas. In the revision, USGS estimates the formation holds 4.2 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 3.1 trillion cubic feet of gas. This represents a 700% increase over its prior assessment in 2007. The researchers at USGS said that as more wells are drilled in this region, the more data they have with which to calculate assessments and the better their ability to map and understand these formations. This assessment is the largest ever released by USGS and represents the largest oil and gas reserve in the lower 48 states.
The Sprayberry formation is one of seven formations in the Permian Basin area of Texas. The Permian Basin is the largest petroleum-producing basin in the United States and has produced a cumulative 28.9 billion barrels of oil and 75 trillion cu ft. of gas. This news probably means more oil and gas wells will be drilled on existing leases, and that oil companies may be seeking new leases as well.
The Texas Railroad Commission regulates oil and gas production activities in Texas. The Commission has the authority to issue and suspend permits for production companies and Texas oil and gas lawyers can file complaints with the Commission on behalf of landowners who believe they have been harmed by a well’s operations. Periodically, an energy company’s drilling and wastewater injection permit will be challenged by landowners on the grounds that a well has caused earthquakes, and the Commission conducts hearings to review the evidence of whether the permit should be revoked. The issue of whether injection wells cause earthquakes has come before the Commission several times over the past few years.
The Commission’s investigations have consistently determined that the earthquake swarm activity experienced in Oklahoma and north Texas over the past few years has not been linked with any specific oil and natural gas drilling activity, and until the seismic activity can be linked to a specific producer’s drilling activity, wells should remain open and operational. While scientists at the United States Geological Survey and other research institutions have opined that there is a link, Texas oil and gas regulators have indicated that oil and natural gas production should not be terminated until there is definitive proof of a correlation between drilling/wastewater activity and earthquake activity.
Some of the specific incidents and findings by the Texas Railroad Commission are:
On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order entitled “Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth”, rolling back regulations governing emissions. The order is aimed at changing the Obama Administration’s climate policies and regulations. The order comes as a fulfillment of repeated campaign promises for the overhaul of emission standards for the oil and gas industry and the Clean Power Plan. The exact wording of the executive order states that it is in the best interest of the United States to continue to perpetuate the growth of energy development “while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that universally encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation.” Detractors take this as a direct blow against environmental protection and climate change. However, many in the industry who saw the Clean Power Plan as putting too much power in the hands of federal bureaucrats (who are not elected and not accountable to anyone), and taking it away from state regulatory agencies, applaud the order.
Among other things, the order requires the review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) carbon emission restrictions for power plants in the United States and the standards that new power plants must meet. Additionally, the order rescinds a memorandum by President Obama to the EPA which directed carbon pollution standards for power plants and that were aimed at cutting carbon emissions in the United States and curbing the impacts of climate change.
The order directs U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, to ensure that the EPA cooperates with these requests. The EPA responded by stating they will review the Clean Power Plan and will hold any environmental litigation in abeyance while they conduct their review of the order.
For the last eight years, the EPA has been quite literally running amok. Officials at the EPA have enacted regulations that exceed the scope of the EPA’s authority from Congress in the form of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Congress has the obligation and the procedure to cancel these regulations, but completely failed to do so. The EPA has brought lawsuits against individuals for what the EPA considered to be infractions of these unconstitutional regulations, causing these individuals to incur attorney’s fees and court cost expenses that they could not afford, only to find these lawsuits dismissed later by a court as unfounded.
The need for a balanced approach is critically important to both the environment and the economy and hopefully Mr. Pruitt can bring this approach to his new role.
A recent study on emissions related to U.S. natural gas transmission and storage operations by the Energy Institute of Colorado State University found that total emissions were 27.5% lower than emissions calculated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
The study estimated the methane emissions from natural gas transmission and storage operations in the United States by evaluating data collected during 2012 including 2,292 on-site measurements, emissions data from 677 facilities, and activity data from 922 facilities. The report estimates that total methane emissions from transportation and storage is 1,503 Gigagrams/yr with a confidence interval of 1,220 to 1,950 Gigagrams/yr. The EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory estimate is 2,071 Gigagrams/yr with a confidence interval of 1,680 to 2,690 Gigagrams/yr. The EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory estimates an overall methane loss rate of 6.2 Tetragrams/yr which is approximately 1.3% of all methane transported in the U.S.
The United States Geological Survey (“USGS”) has just announced the assessment of this country’s largest oil and gas shale deposit located in Texas. You can review a copy of the actual assessment here. The area where the deposit is located is known as the Wolfcamp shale contains 20 billion barrels of oil and 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That is Almost three times more petroleum than found in North Dakota’s Bakken shale in 2013. As can be seen in the map shown here, this deposit covers a wide swath of West Texas.
In September 2016, Oklahoma experienced a 5.6-magnitude earthquake near the town of Pawnee. The quake was the first in a series that started on the morning of Saturday September 3, 2016. While no one was severely hurt or killed during the earthquake, somey buildings suffered moderate to severe damage. The quake was the second largest in Oklahoma history and was felt as far away as Chicago and Austin, Texas. After the 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck in the morning, several smaller earthquakes occurred weighing in at magnitudes of 3.6, 3.4 and 2.9, according to an article in The New York Times.
One prominent theory for the cause of these quakes in states such as Oklahoma and Texas is that these earthquakes are the result of high pressure injection of wastewater from fracing into wastewater disposal wells. The theory is that wastewater is injected into the ground under such high pressure that the wastewater is able to percolate between the rocks in the ground and can act as a lubricant allowing stressed fault lines to slip. The sudden release of pressure from slipping fault lines then causes earthquakes, or so the theory goes.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which is the Oklahoma agency that regulates oil and gas production activities within that state, ordered more than three dozen wastewater disposal wells within five hundred square miles around where the earthquake occurred to be shut down, even though the United States Geological Survey (USGS) could not attribute the earthquakes to wastewater injection well activity in the area.