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Texas task force notes benefits of fracking, calls for more data

The Task Force on Environmental and Community Impacts of Shale Development in Texas on Monday released a 204-page report analyzing fracking’s impacts on the state. The Task Force, a group sponsored by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas and comprised of individuals from varied backgrounds in the energy and environmental community, lauded the economic benefits of fracking but also called for better oversight of its effects.

The report first notes the revolution that was the shale boom—that is, the proliferation of horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing in the oil and gas industry—and the significant economic and … Continue Reading

Latest USGS study finds fracking is not a current threat to drinking water

In a study published May 31, 2017, the United States Geological Survey concluded that unconventional oil and gas production in the Eagle Ford, Fayetteville, and Haynesville shale formations is “not currently a significant source of methane or benzene to drinking water wells.”

Researchers sampled over one hundred drinking-water wells in the frack zones of Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. This produced two key observations about the quality of the water. First, over 90 percent of the wells containing methane had concentrations below the government’s proposed threshold of 10 milligrams per liter. And even then, “most of the methane detected in groundwater … Continue Reading

State funding triggers TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program

The TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program, under the auspices of the University of Texas, is getting going, fueled by $4.5 million allocated by the Texas Legislature, with two new hires and seismographic equipment soon to be deployed.  The new project manager for TexNet is Alex Savvaidis, who operated a similar program in Greece.  Peter Hennings, a former ConocoPhillips structural geologist, will also join the UT Bureau of Economic Geology.  He will manage research at the new Center for Integrated Seismicity Research to analyze the TexNet data, working with Professor Ellen Rathje, a UT civil engineering expert on the impact of … Continue Reading

Wall Street Journal assesses induced seismicity liability debate

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal added to the debate over induced seismicity with an online opinion piece entitled, “Should Oil Firms Be Held Liable in Earthquake Lawsuits?” Law professor Blake Watson at the University of Dayton took the position that oil and gas companies should be held strictly liable if underground fluid injection causes earthquakes, even if companies did nothing negligent.  By contrast, Catrina Rorke, director of energy policy at the R Street Institute think tank noted that the executive and legislative branches are better poised than courts to address induced seismicity risks.  As these issues emerge, … Continue Reading

Texas railroad commission rejects claims that injection wells cause seismic activity

Earlier this year, the Texas Railroad Commission (Commission) required that XTO Energy Inc. (XTO) and EnerVest Operating LLC (EnerVest) show cause as to why the two companies should be permitted to continue their drilling operations in the Barnett Shale. The Commission’s request was triggered by a Southern Methodist University study that suggested that the injection wells in the Barnett Shale caused seismic activity in the region. As discussed previously on this blog, opponents of hydraulic fracturing have attempted to manufacture a causal connection between hydraulic fracturing and seismic activity.

Last week, the Commission concluded that there is no definitive … Continue Reading

Resolution in Denton’s hydraulic fracturing litigation ban after H.B. 40

The Denton County District Court granted an order filed by the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TxOGA), dismissing all claims filed against the city of Denton on Sept. 4, 2015, largely in light of the approval of what is known as the “Denton fracking bill,” H.B. 40. The district judge considered the parties agreed motion to dismiss and found that all claims should be dismissed as moot. The order states that the city of Denton’s ordinance placing a moratorium on gas well permitting had expired, and the ordinance banning hydraulic fracturing was repealed by Denton’s own city council in June … Continue Reading

Texas Railroad Commission clears another well of inducing earthquakes

In a proposal for decision issued September 10, the Texas Railroad Commission concluded that the Briar Lease Well No. 1 was constructed properly and that “the evidence on the record” did not support a finding that the well triggered earthquakes. The order comes nearly five months after the Texas Railroad Commission ordered the operator of the well to “show cause” for why the well permit should not be revoked. The June show cause hearing before Technical Examiner Paul Dubois and Administrative Law Judge Marshall Enquist resulted from speculation by scientists that two wells induced nearby seismic activity. In Thursday’s proposal … Continue Reading

Texas Railroad Commission Announces Standard of Proof for Induced Seismicity

On August 31, the Hearings Division of the Texas Railroad Commission issued a Proposal for Decision involving the West Lake SWD Well No. 1.  The order comes four months after the Commission filed notice on April 24 that it would conduct a hearing to consider whether operation of the well in the Barnett Shale field is causing or contributing to seismic activity in the vicinity of Reno, Texas in Parker County.

In Monday’s order, the Commission noted that the Show Cause Hearing on June 10 “was called in response to the publication of the article ‘Causal Factors for Seismicity Near … Continue Reading

Berkeley Lab researchers quell frackquake fears, FEMA discusses induced seismicity

On July 9 the California Council on Science and Technology in collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, released an expanded independent scientific report on hydraulic fracturing discussing anthropogenic earthquakes. Berkeley Lab researchers found “no recorded cases of induced seismicity” in California. The report concludes that to date there have been no known seismic events linked to disposal of produced water by underground injection in California.

The findings were part of a wide-ranging research study of hydraulic fracturing commissioned by the California legislature after passage of SB 4, the state’s first fracking regulatory legislation that became effective in 2013. The … Continue Reading

Induced seismicity developments: Earthquake lawsuit jurisdiction, new research, and seismic monitoring

This June earthquakes captured the attention of courts, researchers, and regulators in key oil and gas producing states. Oklahoma’s highest court gave the green light to a lawsuit blaming injection wells for a plaintiff’s home damage and personal injuries suffered during an earthquake. Kentucky is increasing seismic monitoring within the state, and Texas oil and gas regulators continue to study the issue. As geophysics experts seek to know more about the true risks associated with induced seismicity, understanding by the U.S. Geological Survey and researchers continues to take shape.

In a first-of-its kind ruling on June 30, the Oklahoma Supreme … Continue Reading

Texas Railroad Commission Chair weighs in on induced seismicity

Texas Railroad Commission Chairwoman Christ Craddick criticized finger-pointing at the oil and gas industry for recent Texas tremors in a May 15 interview, noting that the cause of recent seismic events is still not known “for sure.” Chairwoman Craddick commented, “The political rush to judgment and the press rush to judgment that every earthquake’s being caused by oil and gas in this state, particularly in the metroplex, is a bit concerning when the facts haven’t necessarily proven that out.”Craddick also discussed the importance of preventing delays in the Railroad Commission’s well permitting process, which now includes a seismicity risk … Continue Reading

Earthquake risks prompt evaluation of wastewater injection

Earthquake risks recently prompted lawmakers and regulators in several oil and gas producing states to evaluate wastewater injection purportedly linked to seismic activity. Key developments include:

  • 4/21: SMU faculty publish geophysical report blaming two wells for Azle, Texas quakes
  • 4/23: US Geological Survey issues report claiming seismic events in 8 states were induced
  • 4/23: Oklahoma Geological Survey issues statement saying seismic events unlikely to be natural
  • 4/24: Texas Railroad Commission issues public statement that it will order show cause hearings for the two Azle wells
  • 5/4: Researchers and Railroad Commission officials testify before Texas House Energy Resources Committee induced seismicity
Continue Reading

Fracking bill approved by Texas Senate committee

On Thursday, April 30th, the Texas Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee (Committee) voted to approve H.B. 40. As discussed in a previous post, H.B. 40 is a response to the fracking ban enacted by the city of Denton, Texas during the latter part of last year. The Committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill. If enacted, H.B. 40 would prohibit localities from enacting legislation governing oil and gas operations. In its current form, H.B. 40 would permit localities to adopt legislation regulating “surface activity that is incident to an oil and gas operation, is commercially reasonable, … Continue Reading

State bill prohibiting local fracking bans one step closer to enactment

After Denton, Texas adopted a ban against hydraulic fracturing, many commentators predicted that the anti-fracking measure would be short-lived. While the lawsuits challenging the local fracking ban are still in the early stages, the Texas Legislature is quickly taking steps to block local fracking bans. On Friday, the Texas House of Representatives passed H.B. 40—one of several bills recently proposed to address anti-fracking measures similar to Denton’s fracking ban.

Under H.B. 40, localities are expressly preempted from adopting legislation concerning oil and gas operations. Localities would, however, have the authority to adopt ordinances that regulate “surface activity that is incident … Continue Reading

Texas house committee on energy resources approves bill to preempt local fracking bans

Denton, Texas garnered national attention when it enacted a local measure banning hydraulic fracturing within the city limits. At the time, many spectators suggested that the measure would be short-lived because of legal challenges in the court system and potential legislation from the Texas Legislature. Soon after the enactment of the ban, several members of the Texas Legislature proposed bills aimed at restricting the ability of local governments to enact anti-fracking bills similar to the measure adopted by the city of Denton. One of those bills—H.B. 40—took one step closer to being passed this week.

On Monday, the Texas House … Continue Reading

Texas Legislature considers incentives for use of alternative fracking fluids

The Texas Legislature is currently considering several bills related to hydraulic fracturing and the oil and gas industry in general. Last Friday, March 13th, two additional bills were proposed in the Texas Legislature that would incentivize the use of alternative fracking fluids. The bills—H.B. 4035 and H.B. 4021—were introduced by Representative Drew Darby and Representative Abel Herrero, respectively.

H.B. 4035 proposes to establish a tax credit for oil and gas operators that use a “no water production technique” in their drilling operations. An operator utilizes a “no water production technique” if the operator “uses nitrogen, carbon dioxide, or fluids other … Continue Reading

Texas Legislature considers bills to restrict local regulation of oil and gas activities

Soon after Denton, Texas enacted its hydraulic fracturing ban, many commentators suggested that the Texas Legislature may enact legislation targeted at restricting the ability of local governments to adopt anti-fracking measures. It appears that this prediction was accurate. On March 13th, members of the Texas Legislature introduced two bills aimed at limiting the authority of local governments with respect to oil and gas regulation.
One of the bills—S.B. 1806— proposes to invalidate any local ordinance that conflicts with state law. The other bill—S.B. 1673—also proposes to nullify any local measure that conflicts with state law. In … Continue Reading

Texas Supreme Court refrains from deciding subsurface trespass issue

Earlier this month, the Texas Supreme Court issued its decision in Envt’l Processing Sys., L.C. v. FPL Farming Ltd. The case garnered a significant amount of attention from the oil and gas industry because it involved the issue of whether a party can sue for trespass over the subsurface migration of wastewater. Indeed, a number of amicus briefs were filed on this issue. The Supreme Court refrained from ruling on that issue, however.
This case arises from a dispute between two neighbors. FPL Farming, Ltd. (FPL) owned the groundwater rights to its tract of land but not the mineral … Continue Reading

Mineral rights owners’ suit against Denton to remain in federal court

To say that the city of Denton, Texas is embroiled in litigation concerning its drilling ban would be an understatement. The city is currently facing two lawsuits challenging the validity of the recently enacted ban against hydraulic fracturing, one suit filed by the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the other suit filed by the Texas General Land Office.

Although those lawsuits have garnered the majority of attention from onlookers, Denton is also facing another suit regarding a fracking moratorium adopted by the city while it debated enacting an actual ban.

On September 12, 2014, several mineral rights owners sued … Continue Reading

Methane emissions from fracking on the decline

Anti-fracking groups have been clamoring over the negative impact fracking has on the environment. One of the primary arguments raised by these groups is that fracking leads to high methane emissions. A newly released study suggests that anti-fracking groups may need to find a new argument against fracking.

The Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas (UT) released a study, finding that methane emissions from natural gas production have decreased. The study also found that the majority of methane emissions come from a small group of natural gas wells and associated equipment. Therefore, most oil and gas operators … Continue Reading

Environmental groups seek to defend Denton fracking ban

Soon after the city of Denton passed a prohibition on fracking earlier this year, the city was sued by several parties alleging that the fracking ban was invalid. It appears that the city of Denton may have some support in its defense of the fracking ban. On December 4th, Earthwork and the Denton Drilling Awareness Group (DDAG) filed a petition to intervene in the state of Texas’s lawsuit challenging the ban.

In support of their request to intervene, Earthwork and DDAG argued that they would have been able to successfully defend the fracking prohibition if the suit had been filed … Continue Reading

Fracking bans may thrust California localities into contentious legal battle

On November 4th, Denton became the first city in Texas to enact a ban against hydraulic fracturing. The next day, several members of the oil and gas industry and the state of Texas sued Denton, alleging that the ban was invalid. It is possible that other parties are also planning on suing Denton over the fracking ban. Mendocino and San Benito counties may be following in Denton’s footsteps.

Mendocino and San Benito counties passed legislation on November 4th prohibiting hydraulic fracturing. A fracking ban was on the ballot in Santa Barbara county, but the ban was defeated. Observers have noted … Continue Reading

The Texas General Land Office sues Denton to stop enforcement of fracking ban

On November 4th, the majority of Denton residents voted in favor of a proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing, thereby making it the first Texas city to adopt such a measure. As many observers predicted, the ban has sparked legal challenges. The morning after the election, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) filed a motion for a permanent injunction against the enactment of the ban.

In the motion, the GLO emphasized that the ramifications of the Denton fracking ban will be felt throughout Texas. The Texas Constitution created the Permanent School Fund (PSF) to provide funding to Texas public schools. … Continue Reading

The Texas Railroad Commission enacts new rules governing disposal wells

On Tuesday, the Texas Railroad Commission (Commission) adopted several amendments to the current rules governing disposal wells. The Commission circulated an earlier version of the amendments in August; however, the Commission made slight variations to the amendments based on several comments it received during the public comment period. The revised amendments are set to become effective on November 17th.

Under the amendments, an applicant for a disposal well must examine the United States Geological Survey seismic database to determine if earthquakes have occurred in the vicinity of the drilling location. In addition, the Commission is now authorized to change, cancel, … Continue Reading