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Fracking dominates the November ballot

One of the most highly debated issues during the November election was the question of whether localities have the authority to enact fracking bans. Several cities throughout the country have attempted to enact prohibitions against hydraulic fracturing with varying degrees of success. Denton, Texas has become one of the latest cities to consider such a ban.

On November 4th, Denton residents voted on whether the city should enact a ban against hydraulic fracturing within the city limits. The measure passed with 59 percent of Denton residents voting in favor of the measure and 41 percent voting against it. The Denton … Continue Reading

Fracking goes to the ballot: Multiple venues to vote on hydraulic fracturing bans tomorrow

Recently, the debate over hydraulic fracturing has centered on whether localities have the authority to enact fracking bans. As one commentator described, courts are confronted with “the right of home rule versus the authority of the state to regulate natural resource development.”[1] Several cities throughout the United States have attempted to impose such bans with varying success. One of the latest cities to join this movement is Denton, Texas. Because Texas courts have not yet addressed this issue, it is unclear whether localities have the authority to pass that form of legislation. This article analyzes the viability of local … Continue Reading

Seismic activity and fracking concerns prompt new rules for oil and gas disposal wells in Texas

On October 28th, the Railroad Commission of Texas (“RRC”) amended its existing oil and gas disposal well regulations to require seismic activity data in permit applicants, provide for more frequent monitoring and reporting for certain wells, and allow modification, suspension, or termination of permits on grounds that a disposal well is contributing to seismic activity. Specifically:

  • Applicants for a disposal permit must provide U.S. Geologic Survey (“USGS”) data regarding seismic events within a circular 100 square mile area centered on the well (a radius of approximately 5.64 miles).
  • The RRC may require additional information, including logs, geologic cross-sections, pressure front
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Update on Texas Railroad Commission’s proposed rule amendments for injection wells – the EPA weighs in

The EPA recently sent a letter to the Texas Railroad Commission commenting on that agency’s recently-proposed rule amendments for wastewater injection wells.  While the letter contains several minor, technical criticisms of the proposed rule amendments, the general tone of the letter is positive.  In the words of the EPA’s managers, the “RRC’s proposed regulatory changes represent a step forward . . . .”

For more information, see our previous analysis of the proposed rule amendments.


This post was written by Barclay Nicholson (barclay.nicholson@nortonrosefulbright.com  or 713 651 3662) and Jim Hartle (jim.hartle@nortonrosefulbright.com or 713 651 5695) from Norton Rose Continue Reading

Two studies raise doubt in links between fracking and groundwater contamination

Two studies concluding that hydraulic fracturing is not linked to groundwater contamination were released on Monday, September 22, 2014. The results of these studies could impact lawsuits claiming fracking caused groundwater contamination and shift the emphasis of regulators to the impact of faulty fracked wells themselves.

The United States Department of Energy released a study of fracking in the Marcellus Shale in western Pennsylvania which found no evidence that fracking fluid from the fracking operation contaminated groundwater. In the second study, researchers from Ohio State University, Duke University and the University of Rochester released the results of a study concluding … Continue Reading

Study finds no link between hydraulic fracturing and water pollution in Marcellus and Barnett Shale regions

A report published Monday concludes that, in areas of the country where natural gas drilling is common, recent cases of natural gas migration into drinking water sources likely are not the direct result of horizontal drilling itself nor of the hydraulic fracturing process, but rather can be traced to instances of defective well construction.

Researchers from five universities sought to identify whether elevated gas levels were a result of human activity and what mechanisms caused the elevated levels. The report examines data from “eight discrete clusters of fugitive gas contamination”—seven from the Marcellus Shale area and one from the Barnett … Continue Reading

Researchers tout new substance for use in treating flowback water

Researchers with the Southwest Research Institute (“SwRI”) and The University of Texas at San Antonio (“UTSA”) reported last week that they have created and tested substances called “biochar” for use in treating flowback water from wells using hydraulic fracturing. In a press release, the researchers note that biochar is a stable, charcoal-like substance created from plant-based agricultural waste. The biochar operates by attracting and retaining water, trapping impurities in the water in the process.

The researchers tested the efficacy of different types of biochar in filtering from water the specific substances oil and gas companies use in their fracking fluids. … Continue Reading

Texas Railroad Commission seismologist speaks on agency’s motivation in proposing injection well rule amendments

Last Monday, August 25, 2014, Texas Railroad Commission seismologist Craig Pearson testified before the Texas House of Representatives. Pearson noted that researchers from Southern Methodist University continue to track ongoing, extremely low-grade seismic activity in North Texas, which he called “micro-earthquakes.”

Pearson continued, stating that the Commission believes that it is a “change in pressure that’s affecting existing faults in the earth and allowing them to move and cause earthquake[s].” He said that one of the proposed rule amendments would require injection well operators to calculate the magnitude and physical extent of pressure increases their wells cause to rock formations, … Continue Reading

Texas proposes rule to evaluate seismic activity related to fracking

On August 12, 2014, the Railroad Commission of Texas (“RRC”) approved several proposed amendments to fracking regulations in the Texas Administrative Code for publication in the Texas Register. These proposed amendments relate generally to additional permitting requirements for disposal wells. Additionally, the proposed amendments would codify the RRC’s authority to request increased monitoring and reporting related to seismic events near disposal wells and to modify, suspend, or terminate a permit if fluids are not confined to the injection interval.

Over the past several years, suspicions of a connection between hydraulic fracking and earthquakes have spurred many studies and debates. In … Continue Reading

New EPA emissions proposal draws harsh criticism in Texas

A recent EPA proposal to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants has drawn harsh criticism from Texas leaders. The proposal requires a 30 percent reduction in emissions by 2030.

Critics of the rule say the EPA has no authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, and that the rule has an outsized and disproportionate impact on Texas. According to a statement by Governor Rick Perry, these rules are the “most direct assault yet” on the energy industry.

Existing coal plants will be met with new costs to comply with the new emissions limits, and at least … Continue Reading

EPA reviews states’ solid waste management regulations for oil and gas operations

In an April 1, 2014 memorandum, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) summarized state regulatory programs concerning the management of solid waste from oil and natural gas exploration, development and production (E&P) operations.

In reviewing each state’s regulations, the EPA focused on surface storage and disposal facilities managing produced waters, drilling muds, drilling cuttings, hydraulic fracturing return fluids, and various other waste liquids and materials intrinsically related to oil and gas E&P.

The EPA found that the state regulations were primarily concerned with the “technical requirements associated with the design, construction, operation, maintenance, closure, and reclamation of surface pits, … Continue Reading

Senators question EPA’s proposed research into states’ efforts to regulate hydraulic fracturing

In a letter dated May 8, 2014, five U.S. senators urged the Office of Inspector (OIG) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to discontinue its “preliminary research on the EPA’s and states’ ability to manage potential threats to water resources from hydraulic fracturing,” arguing that such a review is “well outside the mission and expertise of the OIG…[and] duplicative of numerous other federal efforts.”

The OIG announced its proposed research in a memorandum dated February 5, 2014, stating that it would evaluate the regulatory authority that is available to the EPA and the states, identify potential threats to water … Continue Reading

Denton, Texas City Council approves moratorium on oil and gas drilling permits

On May 6, 2014, in a 7-0 unanimous vote, the City Council of Denton, Texas approved an extension of its moratorium on oil and gas drilling permits until September 9, 2014, in order to allow the city to re-work and improve its gas well ordinances by adding provisions for notice to landowners of hydraulic fracturing activities, clustering of wells, and requiring companies to pay a bond and provide certification of insurance .

The moratorium applies to the receipt, processing and approval of gas well permits and specific use permits in Denton. Operators would be allowed to continue extracting gas from … Continue Reading

Dallas jury awards damages for natural gas drilling nuisance claim

On April 22, 2014, a Dallas jury in a 5 to 1 verdict awarded $2.925 million to a Wise County, Texas family who claimed serious health problems caused by the natural gas wells drilled on neighboring properties by several oil and gas companies. In their Eleventh Amended Petition, the Parr family alleged that “cumulative environmental contamination and polluting events” from the companies’ activities caused diminution of the value their 40-acre property and damages for physical pain and suffering and for mental anguish. They argued that they were forced to evacuate their home because medical tests revealed the presence of … Continue Reading

Trial begins in Texas hydraulic fracturing lawsuit

On April 8, 2014, opening arguments were heard in the case of Parr v. Aruba Petroleum, Inc., Cause No. 11-01650-E (Dallas County Ct. at Law, Mar. 8, 2011), a lawsuit in which the Parr family claims that they have serious health problems due to defendant’s oil and gas development activities, including hydraulic fracturing. This is one of the first cases to go to trial alleging medical injuries linked to the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.
In January 2014, the court severely limited the family’s lawsuit by dismissing the claims for negligence and negligence per se and only allowing the … Continue Reading

Lesser prairie-chicken added to US Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of threatened species

After more than 15 years of review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced on March 27, 2014 that the lesser prairie-chicken, a species of prairie grouse, is a “threatened” species, a step below “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The lesser prairie-chicken’s population is in rapid decline, due largely to habitat loss and fragmentation and the on-going drought in the southern Great Plains.

Once abundant across much of the five range states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, the lesser prairie-chicken’s habitat of native grasslands and prairies has been reduced by an estimated 84%. The … Continue Reading

Barnett Shale gas operators encounter opposition to hydraulic fracturing

Environmental groups, anti-fracking activists, and many urban residents want to tighten oil and gas regulations in the Barnett Shale in North Texas.

Cities in the area are passing or considering legislation to limit where new wells can be drilled or to ban hydraulic fracturing completely.

Recent occurrences have been:

  • On October 18, 2013, the city of Denton, Texas filed suit against Eagleridge Energy LLC to prevent the company from continuing to drill two new gas wells in an area between two residential developments without the required city permit approvals. The city argued that Eagleridge was violating ordinances that require approval
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What’s shaking? Induced seismicity

The US Geological Survey (USGS) has long studied and prepared hazard maps predicting the risks of natural earthquakes. Now the USGS plans to integrate information relating to induced earthquakes and potentially induced earthquakes into its National Seismic Hazard Map.

Since its last earthquake map in 2008, the USGS has identified a “remarkable” spate of earthquakes triggered by industrial activities in parts of the country.

The USGS sees this increased induced seismicity to be a hazard that should be analyzed. In assessing the risk, the scientists need to determine whether the activity causing the earthquakes is likely to end quickly or … Continue Reading

House Democrats request hearing on induced seismicity

Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, issued a letter to their Republican counterparts requesting a joint hearing on the issue of seismic activity induced by the underground injection of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing activities. In the letter dated December 18, 2013, the members cite the increased seismic activity in previously seismically inactive locations, the critical need for additional data, and the potential regulatory gaps in current law that put people and property at risk from man-made earthquakes.

According to the … Continue Reading

Dallas City Council approves strict gas drilling regulations

On December 11, 2013, the Dallas City Council adopted revisions to the gas drilling and production regulations of the Dallas Development Code.  In a 9 to 6 vote, the Council approved regulations that require pad sites to be at least 1,500 feet from homes, schools, churches, daycare centers, hospitals, nursing homes, and other protected property.  Individual drilling permits may qualify for an exception to the 1,500 feet, but any exception must be approved by two-thirds of the Council.  Also, drilling on park land would be allowed if certain conditions are met and if the state Parks and Wildlife Department gives … Continue Reading

President Obama promises to veto hydraulic fracturing bill and other energy-related legislation

On November 20, 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives approved two energy-related bills – one bill concerning hydraulic fracturing regulations on federal lands (H.R. 2728) and the second relating to applications for permits to drill (H.R. 1965). Two other energy bills are pending, one dealing with the permitting of natural gas pipelines (H.R. 1900) and the other with the standards to be used by the EPA in disseminating its report on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources (H.R. 2850).

President Obama has threatened to veto at least three of these measures in the unlikely event they pass … Continue Reading

International Energy Agency predicts that the US will become world’s top energy producer in 2015 but will relinquish that position by 2020

The International Energy Agency (IEA), which was formed in the 1970s to keep track of trends and improve energy security, released its World Energy Outlook 2013 in London on November 12, 2013. The 2013 Outlook provides a review of key trends that IEA believes will shape the future of global energy through 2035. For the US, the IEA projects that it will pass Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s top oil producer by 2015 due to the use of hydraulic fracturing and other unconventional technologies in developing its shale gas resources. This will bring the US closer to energy … Continue Reading

Texas Court of Appeals interprets Horizontal Pugh Clause in oil and gas lease

On January 26, 2005, Community Bank of Raymore, as Trustee or Agent (“CBR”) entered into an oil and gas lease with Chesapeake Exploration L.L.C. and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.

The lease covered approximately 16,000 acres in Loving County, Texas, which was divided into four blocks. During the primary term, the companies drilled 13 producing wells on Block 2, to a formation at 5,672 feet below the surface.

When the primary term expired on January 26, 2010, CBR requested the companies to release the mineral rights to all formations below 5,672 feet. When the Companies refused, CBR sued for declaratory judgment and … Continue Reading

Proposed legislation would allow a state to control hydraulic fracturing on public lands within its borders

On July 18, 2013, U.S. Representative Bill Flores (R-Texas) proposed legislation (H.B. 2728 – Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act) that would allow a state to control hydraulic fracturing on public lands within its borders if the state has hydraulic fracturing rules already in place. This legislation would bar the federal government from applying the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed regulations (see prior blog dated May 16, 2013, “BLM Releases revised proposed rules on hydraulic fracturing”) regardless of whether the state’s rules are duplicative, more or less restrictive, have different requirements or do not meet federal … Continue Reading

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