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Shale & Fracking Tracker

News & Flashes

  • 24
  • May
  • 2016

UK Approves First Fracking Permit Since Lifting Moratorium

On May 23, an English county government approved the UK’s first permit to allow hydraulic fracturing since the country lifted its moratorium on fracking in 2012. Despite being heavily promoted by David Cameron’s government, fracking has been slow to take off in the UK in the face of opposition from environmental groups and local residents. Britain has taken measures to speed up development via the 2015 Infrastructure Act, which contains provisions that remove unnecessary delays in the local planning process. Nonetheless, given the current pace of developments in the UK, analysts predict that large scale development remains at least five to ten years away.

  • 12
  • May
  • 2016

EPA Releases Final Rule on Oil and Gas Sector Methane Emissions

On May 12, 2016, the U.S. EPA released a final rule aimed at reducing methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions from new, reconstructed, and modified oil and gas sources. The final rule places new compliance burdens on compressor stations and well sites, including detecting and repairing equipment leaks, capturing gas from the completion of hydraulically fractured wells, and limiting emissions from certain new and modified equipment used at gas transmission compressor stations and well sites. 

The final rule differs from the proposal released last fall in a number of ways. For example, compressor stations will be required to monitor leaks every quarter, and well sites will be required to do so semiannually, regardless of their compliance histories. Low production wells that were previously exempted in the proposed rule will also be required to comply with the new requirements. 

The final rule will take effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Additionally, EPA is expected to release proposed rules limiting methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources in the future. See the final rule here and a list of sources covered here. Check back for more detailed analysis of the final rule next week.

  • 06
  • May
  • 2016

Environmentalists Seek Regulation of Oil and Gas Wastes Under RCRA

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday, May 4, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking to compel EPA to review and revise regulations for oil and gas industry wastes under the Resource Conservation and  Recovery Act (RCRA) Subtitle D solid waste program.  Plaintiffs allege that the agency has not reviewed Subtitle D regulations for oil and gas wastes since making a determination in 1988 that the regulations were in need of revision. The environmental groups further allege that currently “there are no comprehensive federal regulations setting minimum standards for the disposal, storage, transportation, and handling of oil and gas wastes.”  Plaintiffs argue that the agency’s non-action violates RCRA, which requires EPA to review the Subtitle D regulations for oil and gas wastes every three years.
Congress conditionally excluded most oil and gas exploration and production wastes from regulation as hazardous wastes under RCRA’s Subtitle C program; EPA’s 1988 determination concurred that regulation of these wastes under Subtitle C was not warranted.  Nonetheless, in its 1988 determination, EPA concluded that the existing federal regulatory scheme did not “fully address oil and gas waste concerns.” If the agency were compelled to revise Subtitle D regulations for oil and gas wastes, there could be significant new requirements for these wastes. Currently, such wastes under Subtitle D are largely regulated by the states alone. Read the complaint in full here.

  • 02
  • May
  • 2016

Colorado Supreme Court strikes down local fracking restrictions

On May 2, 2016, the Colorado Supreme Court issued a pair of decisions striking down two local measures restricting hydraulic fracturing on preemption grounds.  The measures overturned were an outright ban in Longmont enacted via referendum in 2012 and a five-year moratorium in Fort Collins enacted via referendum in 2013. The Colorado Oil & Gas Association challenged both measures in state court. When Colorado district courts struck down the measures on preemption grounds in 2014, Longmont and Fort Collins each appealed. In its May 2, 2016 rulings, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the local measures conflict operationally with and are, therefore, preempted by applicable state law. In particular, the Court found that the local measures impede the implementation of Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Act and its implementing regulations, as well as the effectuation of the state’s interest in efficient development and uniform regulation of resources.  Read the opinion in City of Fort Collins v. Colo. Oil and Gas Ass’n, Case No. 15SC668 here, and the opinion in City of Longmont v. Colo. Oil and Gas Ass’n, Case No. 15SC667 here.

  • 30
  • March
  • 2016

New USGS Forecast Includes Seismic Events Attributable to Human Activities

On March 28, 2016, the United States Geological Survey (“USGS”) published its first projection of seismic risk that includes seismicity potentially attributable to human activities such as fluid injection or extraction. The report, titled the 2016 One-Year Seismic Hazard Forecast for the Central and Eastern United States from Induced and Natural Earthquakes, does not “explore the causes of the increased seismicity, but rather [tries] to find a way to quantify the associated hazard.” Nonetheless, the model that underlies the report took into account the locations of oil and gas plays, sedimentary basins, and wells. The report concludes that areas in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Arkansas face increased seismicity risks due to active injection areas. The report identifies an area spanning north-central Oklahoma and southern Kansas, where the injection of produced water is common, as the area most at risk. Read the report in full here.

  • 17
  • February
  • 2016

Sierra Club Files Suit Against Oklahoma Operators

On February 16, 2016, the Sierra Club filed a federal citizen suit against multiple operators in the Western District of Oklahoma. The suit alleges that the defendants’ use of wastewater injection wells presents an “imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment,” in violation of RCRA, because it supposedly causes “waste-induced earthquakes.” It asks the court to order defendants to substantially reduce the volume of wastewater they inject into disposal wells, reinforce vulnerable structures, and establish a seismic activity monitoring center to further analyze (and predict) the potential for seismic effects of underground injection of oilfield wastes. It should be difficult for the Sierra Club to prosecute its case in a court of law, and questions abound as to the applicability of RCRA to the underlying allegations, but the court of public opinion may be the group’s intended venue. Read the complaint 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.

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