The 2011 Meeting of the Groundwater Protection Council, a grouping of US regulators, was held in Atlanta, GA late last year. ALL Consulting’s J. Daniel Arthur offered a primer on well integrity testing, noting that, contrary to popular belief, integrity testing is widely used by industry. For example, the tubular casing used in shale gas wells is tested at the steel mill. Before a frac job, it is pressured-up to check for leaks. If it fails it is replaced and tested again. Other tests are carried out at the wellsite. Arthur concluded that internal and external well integrity tests have been the cornerstone of US EPA’s underground injection control (UIC) program since 1980. Today, with the growth of non conventional exploitation, well integrity is more critical than ever before.
Mike Nickolaus presented the GWPC’s activity in chemical disclosure and groundwater protection. The GWPC’s attention was drawn to fracking by the LEAF case (an early challenge to fracking in coalbed methane operations) and has been active in advising congress on regulation since 2000. The GWPC published the Shale Gas Primer in 2009, followed by a two state study of contamination incident investigations and oilfield practice in September 2011. Most recently, the GWPC has launched the FracFocus hydraulic fracturing chemical disclosure registry which now has over 4,400 frac records loaded. Nickolaus concluded that the time some spend protesting against fracking would be better spent protesting more significant sources of pollution such as septic tanks, agriculture and inadequate storm drainage.
The GWPC has a history of digital data collection going back to 1992 when it introduced its ‘risk-based data management system’ (RBDMS), developed for the oil and gas regulatory program. GWPC’s Paul Jehn outlined the RBDMS Environmental module which collects qualitative and measured field observations for soil, sediment, water and air metrics. RBDMS includes roles-based security, forms for facility creation, sample data, and field and laboratory results all running on a ‘server-neutral’ GIS. Data is delivered using the EPA’s WQX schema, allowing for EPA-compliant data straight from a LIMS*. A new RBDMS hydrofrac module tracks water use and the ‘sentinel indicators’ of fracking’s effects on watersheds.
The GWPC and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission are now planning a web site of national oil and gas well information for public access. The RBDMS National Oil and Gas Portal will feature live data feeds of oil, gas, and injection information across contiguous state boundaries in a clickable map application. Bi-directional data transfer between states and the portal will be enabled by web services from partnering agencies. Data ‘harvesting’ will initially target areas where frac operations are raising concerns such as the Susquehanna and Delaware river basins.
Chris Harto presented Argonne National Lab.’s investigations into the environmental costs of managing produced brines. Harto recommends a ‘hybrid life cycle assessment’ approach to balance energy consumption, emissions and water use.
Sheila Olmstead of the Washington-based think tank ‘Resources for the Future’ introduced a new study on managing the risks of shale gas development. The survey will seek expert opinions on the risks of shale gas development, survey public perceptions, assess the drivers of and policy levers to reduce risks, understand the current and prospective regulatory landscape and develop recommendations for regulation and voluntary action by firms to reduce risks. The $1.2 million 18 month study has just kicked-off, funded by a $1.8 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Proceedings on the GWPC website.
* Laboratory information management system.
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