Texas: EnerVest Cleared of Seismic Activity. Hearing examiners for the Texas Railroad Commission found that an EnerVest Operating LLC wastewater disposal well likely did not contribute to a series of minor earthquakes in late 2013 and early 2014 near Azle, Texas, a town on top of the Barnett Shale play. The hearing examiners released a proposed order rescinding the Railroad Commission’s show cause order demanding that EnerVest explain why its disposal permit should not be revoked. The quakes had previously been attributed to several EnerVest oil and gas wastewater disposal wells. An examination of seismic data from the company and a Southern Methodist University study of seismic activity in the area, however, found the correlation between injection well activity and area seismicity too weak to justify shutting down the wells without further evidence. The proposed decision will be considered at a future public meeting held after the parties file additional briefing.
Pennsylvania: Cabot Appeals Claims of Water Supply Contamination. Cabot Oil & Gas filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, denying charges by the Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) that its natural gas operations had impacted the water supply of a neighboring retreat center. PADEP issued a notice claiming the retreat’s water supply turned orange from iron concentrations the same month that Cabot began drilling and asserts that, under Pennsylvania law, drillers are presumed responsible for water contamination within 2,500 feet of their operations. Cabot, however, responded that the presumption of liability only applies where pre-drilling sampling shows an absence of contamination. In this case, pre-drilling samples had been collected which showed iron and turbidity concentrations above drinking water standards in the area water supply, and thus Cabot argued the burden should be on PADEP to prove the drill operations caused any well contamination.
Wastewater Spills an Increasing Concern. The Associated Press (AP) published a report concluding the oil and gas industry spilled 180 million gallons of wastewater between 2009 and 2014. In the course of normal oil and gas operations, wastewater can spill from different sources, including wastewater storage tanks. Wastewater needs to be managed properly, as it typically has high salinity and can contain metals and other potential contaminants. Industry measures to prevent and respond to spills have improved and, according to the AP, states agencies reported they have prioritized efforts to ensure companies respond promptly rather than assessing fines, reserving fines for intentional actions or gross negligence.