Environmental Groups Seek Injunction to Block BLM Permits in New Mexico. A coalition of national and local groups has asked a federal court in New Mexico to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from approving oil and gas drilling permits near Native American tribal artifacts in the Chaco Canyon region of New Mexico. The request is part of a broader lawsuit challenging BLM permits, alleging drilling in this area will harm Pueblo ruins and public health. To date, BLM has approved approximately 200 permits in the region, but none will involve drilling directly within the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The coalition argues that ancillary activities such as increased traffic and surface disturbances have the potential to impact historical artifacts.
Oklahoma Regulators Require Reduced Activity at Disposal Wells in Response to Earthquakes. Under directives from state regulators, a number of wastewater disposal wells in Oklahoma have reduced their volume and depth in response to the state’s increased seismic activity. In March, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission requested that 350 operators prove their disposal injections were not too deep, or, if they could not, reduce their depths and cut down on volume. The majority of wells have reduced volume, while approximately 50 wells have shut down temporarily until depths can be reduced. Oklahoma experienced almost 600 earthquakes in 2014, and in 2015 has been averaging 2.5 earthquakes a day. Environmental groups petitioned this week for a moratorium on injection wells in the regions most affected by the increase in seismic activity; however, industry officials caution that a ban could greatly impact the industry—a major employer in the state.
New York Releases Final EIS That Led to Statewide Ban on Use of Hydraulic Fracturing. Last week, New York officials released their final environmental impact statement (Final EIS) evaluating hydraulic fracturing. In progress for nearly seven years, the Final EIS evaluates the health and environmental issues associated with hydraulic fracturing. Governor Andrew Cuomo cited the anticipated release of the study last year when he acted to continue New York’s ban on hydraulic fracturing within the state. The Final EIS also discusses the detailed regulations that would be required to effectively and safely manage the use of hydraulic fracturing in New York. Even with regulation, the study finds that over half of New York’s Marcellus shale acreage would need to be protected from drilling altogether. Now that the Final EIS is public, after 10 days pass, the Department of Environmental Commissioner may issue a findings statement formalizing the state’s ban on hydraulic fracturing. Once the findings statement is published, stakeholders may move forward with legal challenges.
Virginia AG Opines on Local Control. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an official advisory opinion last week concluding that the Gas and Oil Act preserves a local government’s ability to ban hydraulic fracturing through land-use laws and zoning authority. Herring found that local governments have the authority to regulate, restrict, determine and prohibit local land uses, including the “excavation or mining of other natural resources.” The opinion does not carry the legal authority of a statute or court decision, and may be reinterpreted by subsequent attorney generals.
USGS Studies Note Variation in Wastewater Composition. A new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study of 13 gas wells in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale found that even in close geographic proximity, the organic chemistry and microbiology of wastewater has variations. Scientists found that some wells contained hotspots for microbial activity, but that it was not necessarily related to well location or depth. Instead, the activity appears to be linked to concentrations of particular organic compounds and the duration of gas production at the well. Notably, the study found that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are not uniformly present in wells.