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Shale & Fracking Tracker

News & Flashes

  • 02
  • March
  • 2018

OCC Issues New Seismicity Protocol

On February 27, 2018, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (“OCC”) issued a new seismicity protocol for oil and gas operators in the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province (“SCOOP”) and the Sooner Trend Anadarko Basin Canadian and Kingfisher counties (“STACK”) plays. The new protocol requires all operators in a certain defined area to have access to a seismic array giving real-time seismicity readings; lowers the minimum level at which operators must take response actions from 2.5 magnitude to a 2.0 magnitude; and requires some operators to pause their operations for 6 hours at when readings exceed 2.5 magnitude, rather than 3.0 magnitude under the previous protocol. (Readings from the seismic array are necessary because tremors of less than magnitude 2.5 generally cannot be felt by humans on the ground surface.)

The new protocol is separate from existing rules addressing wastewater injection in the Arbuckle formation, in the northern area of Oklahoma. Drilling activities in the SCOOP and STACK plays have far less water associated with them than similar activities in the Arbuckle, where the disposal of produced water remains Oklahoma regulators’ “larger concern” in addressing seismic activity, according to an OCC news release. Indeed, seismic activity in the SCOOP and STACK plays is “relatively rare and smaller on average than [that] linked to injection activity. Most importantly, the risk of such events appears to be manageable,” according to the OCC. Read the news release in full here.

  • 01
  • December
  • 2017

DRBC Proposed Rule Would Ban High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing

On November 30, 2017, the Delaware River Basin Commission (“DRBC”) published a proposed rule that, if finalized, would prohibit “high-volume hydraulic fracturing” within the Delaware River Basin.  The proposed rule reflects the DRBC’s conclusion that “high volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant, immediate and long-term risks to the development, conservation, utilization, management, and preservation of the water resources of the Delaware River Basin.”  The Delaware River Basin extends into four northeastern states and includes seventeen counties in Eastern Pennsylvania, many of which lie above the Marcellus Shale formation.

The proposed rule defines “high-volume hydraulic fracturing” as fracturing operations that use “a combined total of 300,000 or more gallons of water during all stages in a well completion . . . whether the water is fresh or recycled and regardless of the chemicals or other additives mixed with the water.”  This definition is likely to capture most hydraulic fracturing operations.   For example, the preamble to proposed rule states that the average hydraulically fractured natural gas well in the nearby Susquehanna River Basin injected 4.3 million gallons of water from 2008-2013; similarly, the preamble cites the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 hydraulic fracturing study, which concluded that the median volume of water used per well fracturing event in Pennsylvania between January 2011 and February 2013 was 4.18 million gallons.

In addition to the proposed ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, the proposed rule would also discourage the exportation of waters from the Delaware River Basin “to support hydraulic fracturing outside the Basin,” require an assessment of alternatives before allowing the importation of produced water into the Delaware River Basin, and require DRBC approval for produced water treatment within the Delaware River Basin.

The DRBC is accepting comments on the proposed rule through February 28, 2018 at 5 PM.  In addition, the DRBC will convene a series of public hearings on the proposed rule on January 23, 2018 in Waymart, Pennsylvania and on January 25, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Read the proposed rule in full here.

  • 29
  • August
  • 2016

Colorado Anti-Fracking Measures Fail to Satisfy Signature Validation Requirements

State officials in Colorado have indicated that supporters of two anti-fracking initiatives did not collect enough valid signatures to qualify the initiatives for the November ballot. Supporters of the initiatives initially submitted more than the required 98,492 signatures for each initiative, but fell short of meeting the required threshold after the Secretary of State’s office screened the signatures to determine their validity. The measures would have authorized local communities to limit or ban hydraulic fracturing and created a 2,500-foot setback requirement, which could have severely limited oil and gas production throughout the state. The announcement marks another high profile defeat for anti-fracking activists following the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year that municipal regulation of hydraulic fracturing is preempted by existing state law. Proponents of the initiatives have 30 days to appeal the decision to the Denver District Court.

  • 22
  • June
  • 2016

Federal Court in Wyoming Strikes Down BLM Fracking Rule

In a June 21 ruling, the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming set aside the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) comprehensive hydraulic fracturing regulations, holding that BLM lacks the statutory authority to regulate the hydraulic fracturing process.  BLM promulgated a final rule in March 2015 that regulated wellbore construction, chemical disclosure, and water management for hydraulic fracturing operations on federal and Indian lands.  The rule was scheduled to take effect in June 2015.  States and industry groups challenged the rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act, and the court stayed the effective date of the rule before it went into effect.  

BLM had claimed “broad authority” to regulate all oil and gas operations on federal and Indian lands under a bevy of statutes, but the court concluded that BLM’s authority under these statutes did not extend to “the kind of comprehensive rulemaking” aimed at the process of hydraulic fracturing embodied in its March 2015 rule.  Rather, the court held that the Safe Water Drinking Act (“SWDA”) originally vested the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) “with the authority and duty to regulate hydraulic fracturing on all lands, federal state and tribal,” but that Congress, in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, explicitly removed non-diesel hydraulic fracturing from EPA regulation under the SWDA.  Pursuant to the court’s holding, BLM is now without the statutory authority to regulate the process of hydraulic fracturing, though it may appeal the court’s decision; indeed, the government had already appealed the court’s stay of the rule’s effective date to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Read the opinion in full here.

  • 08
  • January
  • 2016

Pennsylvania DEP Releases Proposed Oil and Gas Well Requirements for Surface Activities

On January 6, 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released a package of proposed regulations that would place new requirements on surface activities at conventional and unconventional oil and gas well sites. The proposed Chapter 78 and 78a rules would require secondary containment for regulated substances, ban the use of temporary waste storage pits at unconventional well sites, and require reporting of gas production and waste generation. Well permit applications would also be required to identify potentially impacted public resources located within a certain distance of the well, and applicants would be required to notify agencies responsible for those resources. According to the state's regulatory analysis form, the new rules could cost the unconventional oil and gas industry up to $73.5 million in initial costs, and up to $31.1 million in annual costs. In addition, the rules could cost conventional operators up to $634,500 in initial costs and $28.6 million in annual costs. Trade groups have suggested that the actual costs of these regulations may be even higher. The state's Environmental Quality Board is currently scheduled to consider adopting the rules at a meeting on February 3, 2016.

  • 23
  • December
  • 2015

Wyoming DEQ Draft Final Report Concludes that Upward Migration of Fracturing Fluids at Depth Is Unlikely

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality ("WDEQ") has released its draft final report in response to resident concerns alleging a link between well water taste and odor issues in the Pavillion Gas Field and hydraulic fracturing activity. In contrast to a 2011 draft report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA"), which concluded that hydraulic fracturing fluids may have impacted groundwater in the Pavillion Gas Field, WDEQ's draft final report concludes that "[i]t is unlikely that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallower depths intercepted by water-supply wells." This finding is consistent with EPA's 2015 draft hydraulic fracturing study, which did not identify any instances where fluids migrated from the factures made in rock formations more than a mile below the surface up into aquifers that could be potential sources of drinking water. Like other recent studies, WDEQ further concludes that well construction issues present the "most probable pathway for gas or other fluids to reach shallow depths" via seepage along the wellbore. WDEQ is accepting public comment on its draft final report through March 18, 2016. Read WDEQ's draft final report in full here.

  • 17
  • June
  • 2015

Railroad Commission Holds Second "Show Cause" Seismicity Hearing

On Monday, another operator of a North Texas oil and gas wastewater disposal well appeared before the Railroad Commission's Hearings Division to "show cause" why its injection permit should not be revoked in light of a Southern Methodist University (SMU) study linking wastewater injection activities to North Texas seismicity. A summary of the hearing is available here.

  • 11
  • June
  • 2015

Railroad Commission Holds First "Show Cause" Seismicity Hearing

An operator of a North Texas disposal well appeared before the Railroad Commission's Hearings Division on Wednesday to "show cause" why its injection permit should not be revoked in light of a Southern Methodist University (SMU) study linking oil and gas wastewater injection activities to North Texas seismicity. A summary of the hearing is available here.

  • 05
  • June
  • 2015

Today's Railroad Commission Workshop Previews Upcoming Show Cause Hearings

Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton held a workshop today to review the results of a Southern Methodist University study regarding induced seismicity in North Texas. A summary of the workshop is available here.

  • 03
  • June
  • 2015

Maryland Bans Fracking for at Least Two Years

On May 30, 2015, the Maryland General Assembly instated a moratorium that will prevent the issuance of permits to hydraulically fracture natural gas wells for at least two years. House Bill 449 will take effect on October 1, 2015 and prohibits the Maryland Department of the Environment ("MDE") from issuing any drilling permits for hydraulic fracturing before October 1, 2017. The bill also directs the MDE to promulgate permitting regulations specific to hydraulic fracturing activities by October 1, 2016, with those regulations becoming effective one year later.

Hydraulic fracturing has been under a de facto moratorium in Maryland since June 2011, when former Governor Martin O'Malley issued an Executive Order directing the MDE and the Department of Natural Resources to study economic, environmental, and public health issues related to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale. After reviewing several thousand public comments, the departments released their final study on November 25, 2014, which concluded that any environmental or health risks from hydraulic fracturing could be adequately managed through a regulatory regime based on best practices and recommendations identified in their report. On January 9, 2015, the MDE proposed stringent regulations that would require an application for a permit to drill a well to include an Environmental Assessment and two years of baseline monitoring in the vicinity of the well pad, chemical disclosure, and drilling setbacks, among other things.

There has been no hydraulic fracturing in Maryland in recent years, even though two counties in the state's panhandle region overlie the rich Marcellus Shale formation. You can read the text of House Bill 449 here .

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