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Staying Shale: Finding balance between maximizing production and safeguarding the environment
by Joe Baker
May 25, 2014 | 82 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With the enormous amount of activity that has exploded across the Eagle Ford Shale region over the past several years, concerns are often expressed about the impact that such development will have on the environment.
With the enormous amount of activity that has exploded across the Eagle Ford Shale region over the past several years, concerns are often expressed about the impact that such development will have on the environment.
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SAN ANTONIO – With the enormous amount of activity that has exploded across the Eagle Ford Shale region over the past several years, concerns are often expressed about the impact that such development will have on the environment.

At the Eagle Ford Consortium Conference in San Antonio April 23 during his remarks introducing Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), State Rep. Richard Raymond emphasized in this regard that energy companies need to be “good corporate citizens.”

“Bryan Shaw is one of those people who makes things work,” Raymond said, “who helps things move along, that helps us move in a way that we can be partners and do things that are right for Texas, right for the economy and right for the future.”

Shaw told the group that Texas has seen success in keeping a good balance between protecting the environment while allowing the development of the resource leading to greater economic prosperity for Texans.

“The (successes) don’t just happen because we have an agency that is trying to do things right; they don’t just happen because we have a legislature that is trying to do things right; they don’t just happen because the industry understands the need to be able to maintain that social license to continue to operate,” Shaw said.

“The good things have happened in a way where we have found the environmental benefits that we have, we have been able to continue to have the economic growth that is the envy of much of the United States and certainly of the world,” Shaw said. “That is because of partnerships. That is because of people who are willing to come together and have open discussions.”

From an environmental perspective, where Texas is right now, serves as an example for others to follow,” Shaw said.

Exploration and production of oil and gas has been revolutionized by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, Shaw said.

“This is probably not a boom that we used to know,” Shaw said. “They used to be pretty quick and over with, but this is more of a sustained boom.”

About half the drilling rigs in the world are operating in the United States right now, he added, and of those, half are operating in Texas.

“So we have roughly one quarter of all the drilling rigs in the world are operating in the state of Texas right now,” Shaw said.

Every good opportunity has challenges, he said, but TCEQ is striving to make sure there is a balance.

“(A balance) where we don’t get in the way of making progress but that we stand fast in our responsibility to ensure we do it in an environmentally protective manner,” Shaw said.

Texas remains a workhorse, not only in oil and gas production, but also in its capacity to refine those oil and gas products, with a fourth of all the U.S. refining capacity located in the state.

Since August 2009, TCEQ has surveyed more than 3,500 oil and gas sites, collecting millions of air samples, Shaw explained.

“Of those millions of air samples we have collected in those operating oil fields, we found four of those samples that demonstrated a need for immediate action,” Shaw said. “Those were addressed accordingly and appropriately.”

TCEQ continues to constantly examine its own rules and regulations to make sure the environment is protected, he added.

“The data are supporting that the rules and regulations we have in place are working,” Shaw said. “In fact, the issues where we find levels of concern, those have, without fail, been a failed mechanical system of some sort, not a failure of the regulatory process. They have been a valve that was stuck open; they have been leaks and seals that were failing, allowing escapes of materials to occur. They were those types of things where hatches were left open. The things that are just a maintenance and routine maintenance and inspection type of fix—not something that calls for a wholesale change to the regulatory process.”

Shaw described how TCEQ used infrared cameras mounted on helicopters to survey 15,000 storage tanks in the Eagle Ford Shale area and found that about five percent had visible emissions of some sort. Some of those emissions are normal and authorized, however.

“There is a very small universe of any leaks that are occurring or any emissions that are occurring at these facilities, and now we are using these tools to be able to go out and target in our investigations—to follow up on those sites where visible emissions were, so we can get on the ground and determine if those emissions are causing a concern, seeing what those emissions are and determine if they are authorized or not and take appropriate action.”

“What history has told us, is that if they are following the rules and regulations in place, there is not something to be concerned about,” Shaw said. “I think it speaks well to the process that we continue to refine.”

Shaw said that data from a new air quality monitoring site in Floresville are showing no concerns in regard to impact on ozone measurements in the San Antonio area.

“The Calaveras monitoring site has been registering some of its lowest values in the last couple of years on the Eagle Ford Shale side of the city,” Shaw said.

He said the issue of water resources for the state is rapidly become a huge issue, but it is important to keep in mind that less than one percent of the state’s water is used for hydraulic fracturing.

Efforts continue to move forward to find more creative ways to produce drinkable water or maximize the efficiency of how the resource is used.

“We are a state that is continuing to grow, our water demand is continuing to grow,” Shaw said. “While we are in times of drought, we are trying to find ways to be more efficient with the water resources that we use.”
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