Regulatory round-up

Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission reports on idle and orphaned oil and gas wells. The Consumer Watchdog calls for California explorers to provide clean-up bonds before new wells are approved. 400-page report from Alberta Energy Regulator covers oil, gas and bitumen metrology and regulation. IDDRI study compares international oil and gas regulations. Texas RRC announces CASES public energy portal. RRC outlines drone surveillance program. RRC adds voluntary cleanup and brownfield response data to public GIS map viewer. Alberta Energy Regulator releases Athabasca and Cold Lake core descriptions and geophysical logs. Norwegian Petroleum Directorate publishes high resolution core images of 94 shallow wellbores in the Norwegian and Barents Seas.

The US Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), a multi-state government agency, has published a study of idle and orphan oil and gas wells. The study covers the number of such wells, costs and regulatory tools and funding sources for plugging and restoration. The work was based on a survey of 30 IOGCC member states and five Canadian provinces. Almost 300,000 wells are ‘approved’ idle wells (15.6%) of drilled and not plugged wells. States report from zero to over 13,000 ‘orphan’ wells, idle wells for which the operator is unknown or insolvent. Canadian provinces reported a total of 3,818 documented orphan wells. Per state estimates of undocumented orphan wells range from under 10 to 100,000 or more. These figures are a ‘serious concern’. States and provinces plugged a total of 3,356 orphan wells in 2018, with Texas plugging the most at 1,440. The average P&A cost was $18,940 (US) and for $61,477CND in Canada. Much more in the 70 page report from the IOGCC.

The Consumer Watchdog has called on California’s Governor Gavin Newsom to prevent oil companies from receiving approvals for new oil wells without first requiring full bonding for their clean-up. Citing the ‘impending bankruptcy’ of oil drillers and the State’s ‘grave deficit’, CW also requested that new permits should be issued with a requirement to plug a certain number of idle wells. CW puts the cleanup of California’s wells at a ‘whopping’ $9.2 billion compared with only $110 million in bonding for those wells. More in the CW letter.

A new, 400 page report from the Alberta Energy Regulator, ‘Measurement Requirements for Oil and Gas Operations’ a.k.a. Directive 017 updates Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) requirements for measurement points used for AER accounting and reporting purposes, as well as measurement required for upstream facilities and pipeline operations. The Directive reads like a comprehensive textbook covering oil, gas and bitumen metrology and regulation.

A study by France’s IDDRI think tank looks into ‘Regulation of the offshore sector 10 years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill’. Countries’ stances differ widely with some tightening regulations or banning drilling while others continue to promote development of the sector. Oil and gas extraction remains the least regulated maritime activity under international law although some international progress has been made in the EU and Africa notably with the COBIA initiative.

The Texas regulator, the Railroad Commission is to increase the transparency of its hearings with a new, public online portal for the energy industry. The Case Administration Service Electronic System (RRC CASES) provides public access to operator filings and other documents. The portal covers unresolved issues in oil and gas, pipeline safety, alternative fuels safety, gas utilities, and surface mining matters. Parties involved in a hearing can register as authenticated users and can upload documents for filing and review. Visit the RRC CASES public portal and checkout the user guide and video tutorial.

The RRC has also ‘launched’ a drone program. Drones will help inspectors quickly respond and inspect sites that are unsafe or inaccessible during emergencies such as fires, flooding and other natural disasters. To date, nineteen inspectors in the agency have received remote pilot certification from the FAA. The agency has a total of eight DJI/Mavic Enterprise drones.

Data release

The Railroad Commission of Texas has added more data to its public GIS map viewer. The public can now view information on the voluntary cleanup program and brownfield response program sites around Texas. The two programs are designed to incentivize the remediation and redevelopment of abandoned oil and gas sites. More layers have been added to the Environmental Permits information to show commercial waste disposal sites and discharge permits relating to oil and gas activities. The new data is housed in the Public GIS Viewer and the user guide is available in the application as well as on the Public GIS Viewer webpage.

The Alberta Energy Regulator has released a suite of annotated core descriptions and geophysical logs from the Athabasca and Cold Lake oil sands areas, Alberta. The dataset consists of an index of cored wells linked to the individual annotated logs and core descriptions which are provided as raster images in PDF format. Download the 440 MB zip file.

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate has published high resolution core images of 94 shallow wellbores in the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea. The wellbores are said to provide important stratigraphic information about the area. The shallow borehole surveys were carried out by IKU, the Norwegian Continental Shelf Institute (now part of SINTEF Petroleum Research) from 1982 to 1993. A total of over six kilometers of cores are available on the NPD’s Factpages. Upon request, geoscientists can study the cores in person by making the trip to Dora, an old submarine bunker in Trondheim.

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