‘De-escalating’ the war of words in Colorado is still an elusive goal for top industry group

I sat down with Tisha Schuller when she was in Washington, D.C., working on Colorado oil and gas issues. She presented a mission to ditch extreme rhetoric in her state’s drilling debate, and move the conversation to a more rational foundation. That sounded noble enough, but I checked in with Colorado sources to see how the conversation was really playing out on the ground.

This story appeared in EnergyWire in June 2013.

‘De-escalating’ the war of words in Colorado is still an elusive goal for top industry group
You’d think she was talking about nuclear warfare.

Tucked in a Washington, D.C., steakhouse in the shadow of the Capitol dome, Tisha Schuller peppers a conversation with words like “de-escalation,” “polarization” and “high-octane.”

Her tone is familiar in the clashes over energy development in Colorado, pitting the U.S. oil and gas industry against communities that don’t trust it. As president of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, Schuller has seen tensions boil over, making it hard for drillers, communities and conservationists to find common ground.

“If we’re talking about ‘Ban fracking’ or ‘Drill, baby, drill,’ they’re both extremes,” Schuller told EnergyWire last month. “So my focus for the next couple of years is de-escalating the conversation, spending all our time on this, doing the hard work in the middle.”

That was also her goal when she started at the industry group in 2009.

Since then, Colorado has started to look like other booming oil and gas-producing states, with oil and gas companies moving toward urban areas. For decades, Coloradans have navigated oil booms and busts in the western half of the state, and they associated energy development with bobbing pumpjacks spread out across open spaces. In recent years, however, encroachment in the Front Range around Denver has pulled quiet communities into disputes with powerful drilling interests. …

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EPA looks to build bridges at state regulators’ gathering

I traveled to Alabama for this annual meeting of state oil and gas regulators. By far, the most interesting story on Day 1 was the dynamic between the state officials and U.S. EPA adviser Bob Sussman.

This story appeared in EnergyWire in May 2013.

EPA looks to build bridges at state regulators’ gathering
POINT CLEAR, Ala. — Bob Sussman is on a goodwill mission here aside the glistening Mobile Bay.

At an annual meeting of state oil and gas regulators, the U.S. EPA senior policy counsel to the administrator is working to mend fences and ease anxiety. He has his work cut out for him.

During Sussman’s speech yesterday to the few hundred attendees of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission meeting, the only cheer he got was for his nod to states playing the leading role in oversight of energy development.

“The daily business of environmental protection is mainly the job of state and local governments,” he said to a burst of applause.

EPA and states “had our ups and downs, but we’ve also made some quick progress,” Sussman added later. “There’s certainly room to create a better relationship, which is one of the goals which we hope we can achieve through our presence at this meeting.”

The meeting comes at a time when relations between state regulators and their federal counterparts could hardly be more strained. EPA has made adversaries left and right in its effort to monitor unconventional oil and gas development — through investigations of water contamination charges, proposed guidance for diesel use in hydraulic fracturing and an ongoing federal study of fracking’s impact on groundwater.

Sussman said he understood why some state officials would be anxious about the study. It’s a high-stakes effort designed to answer questions about the overall safety of fracking, and it may be key in shaping public perception once it’s released in 2014. But the high level of attention on the study is all the more reason for EPA to get it right, Sussman said.

“We know through all of our experience that if we are not very careful, very thoughtful with how we do this study, we’re going to get attacked,” he told EnergyWire after his speech. “Above all, we want this to be a credible study, so we’re working very hard on that.”

Still, the agency was an easy target during the regulators’ meeting.

“It’s good to have the EPA in the room, isn’t it, guys? Did I say that sincerely?” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) joked after Sussman’s speech. …

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District Sweats

In April 2013, I launched District Sweats, a blog that chronicles marathon training and other fitness activities in Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore.

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Geologists link Oklahoma’s largest earthquake to injection wells

With the release of a highly anticipated earthquake study, I talk to the scientists behind the research that links injection of oil and gas wastewater to a magnitude-5 earthquake in Oklahoma.

This story appeared in EnergyWire in March 2013.

Geologists link Oklahoma’s largest earthquake to injection wells
A 2011 earthquake that rattled Oklahoma and destroyed 14 homes was not only unusual — it was probably unnatural, scientists say.

Research published yesterday in the journal Geology links the quake — the state’s largest at magnitude 5.7 — to underground injection of wastewater from nearby oil and gas production. It is the largest quake ever linked to injection.

The study, led by University of Oklahoma seismologist Katie Keranen, has been widely discussed over the past few months and has made waves in the geology community. State agencies have dismissed Keranen’s findings and concluded that the quakes were natural, while activists who believe oil and gas development is altogether unsafe have seized on the research as evidence of potential hazards.

Geologists have understood for years that sending brine into wells can lubricate faults and cause earthquakes. But those links are usually drawn between injections that triggered earthquakes almost immediately or in a period of just a few months. …

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Fracking fluid suppliers defend trade secrets on the West Coast

A small corner of the industry has been the most vocal on proposed regulations in California and Alaska. I look at why.

This story appeared in EnergyWire in March 2013.

Fracking fluid suppliers defend trade secrets on the West Coast
Makers of the specialty cocktails used to crack open the Earth and set loose gobs of oil and gas are sparring once again on behalf of their corner of the energy industry.

On the West Coast, oil field services companies are getting a head start pressing state officials to back away from what the industry considers an overreach in chemical disclosure requirements. As California and Alaska consider hydraulic fracturing rules, fracking fluid suppliers Halliburton Co. and Schlumberger Ltd. have come out ahead of their industry associations with objections to the proposals.

The industry has plenty of practice in this debate, having been active in disclosure considerations in other states, which include drilling heavyweights like Texas, North Dakota and Oklahoma, along with nouveau gas-riche states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

California’s proposed rules, floated in December, are a bit stricter than those in other states. Though they conform with drillers’ preference by calling for the use of the industry-supported website FracFocus.org for disclosure, they take a new approach to the conflict of emergency need-to-know and trade secret protection. Companies would have to designate someone as the holder of the proprietary information; that person would be required to give the information to state officials or health professionals in an emergency. …

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Revised Interior fracking rule loops in industry-favored FracFocus

With a leaked draft of Interior’s highly anticipated fracking rule, a colleague and I delved into the changes.

This story appeared in EnergyWire in February 2013.

Revised Interior fracking rule loops in industry-favored FracFocus
Companies that drill for oil or gas on federal land would be able to report the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing through an industry-backed database under a new draft of the Interior Department’s fracking rule.

According to an unpublished draft of the rule obtained by EnergyWire, operators would be allowed to report the chemicals through Fracfocus.org, a privately run site used by industry to satisfy disclosure requirements in several states.

That would mark a win for the oil and gas industry over environmental groups in the ongoing battle over how to manage the shale drilling boom taking place across the country.

“It’s progress,” said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas developers.

It is also a shift in policy by the Interior Department. Before the rule was released, Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes said that the department wanted to gather more data than Fracfocus is designed for (Greenwire, Oct. 31, 2011).

But it is an idea that has support at the White House. Obama’s top climate and energy adviser, Heather Zichal, last summer publicly endorsed FracFocus as the most effective and efficient way to satisfy calls for disclosure. …

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After dismissing earthquake concerns, N.Y. orders analysis

New York regulators easily dismissed concerns about earthquakes related to hydraulic fracturing and wastewater injection before. Now, they’ve hired an expert to weigh in.

This story appeared in EnergyWire in February 2013.

After dismissing earthquake concerns, N.Y. orders analysis
New York officials are studying the relationship between shale drilling and earthquakes, despite past assurances that natural gas production poses no seismic risk.

Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) chief Joe Martens told legislators earlier this week that the state had hired a university geologist to study whether drilling in New York’s piece of the Marcellus Shale could trigger quakes.

It is unclear when the expert was hired, but the state’s effort on the study seems to have been prompted by comments from New York City officials worried about the possible effect of drilling-related seismic vibrations on the upstate tunnels that deliver water to the city.

There has been little research linking the specific process of hydraulic fracturing to earthquakes; however, scientists have pointed to the injection of fracking wastewater into deep disposal wells as a culprit for man-made tremors. …

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