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Geoscience Policy Monthly Review: January 2014

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  • Oil and gas regulators in Texas turn to seismology

The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), the state agency responsible for the regulation of the oil and gas industry in Texas, announced that it will hire an in-house seismologist in response to a series of earthquakes in the small town of Azle, Texas.

Azle sits atop the Barnett Shale, one of the largest and richest deposits of natural gas in the state, which has undergone extensive hydraulic fracturing, oftentimes referred to as “fracking.” Increased seismic activity associated with fracking has been attributed mainly to the reinjection of wastewater into the ground, rather than to hydraulic fracturing itself.

For more information, or to apply for the job visit the RRC website.

Sources: The Texas Railroad Commission

  • Groups demand US export crude oil

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee and a major proponent of oil and gas development, is calling for the government to reduce regulations on U.S. exports of crude oil. Aside from limited exports to Canada, industry within the U.S. is currently forbidden to sell the crude oil it produces to international buyers.

The ENR Committee held a hearing on January 30 investigating the possibility of exporting American produced oil and gas. An archived webcast of the hearing can be found here, and a summary of the hearing will be posted on the AGI website later this month.

Sources: U.S. Senate

  • Governor calls for drillers to follow now defunct water regulations

On December 20, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down Act 13, state drilling regulations that would have established a protected zone around the PA’s waterways, preventing any drilling within 300-feet them. This January, however, the PA Governor called on drillers to honor the law even though it was struck down.

Although the state Department of Environmental Protection has not received any new applications honoring the Governor’s request, those associated with PA oil and gas companies report that they will comply with the additional regulations.

The state supreme court ruled Act 13 unconstitutional because it attempted to supersede local zoning rules.

Sources: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

  • New developments in seismic exploration and OCS future

On January 10, the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing to discuss seismic exploration on the Mid- and South Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Companies are interested in exploring for hydrocarbon resources in the Mid- and South Atlantic OCS, and marine seismic surveying is a first step in deep-water resource exploration.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has been conducting a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) since 2009 in order to determine the impacts of seismic surveying on marine life in the Atlantic.  Oil and gas companies want to expedite publication of the PEIS. The last seismic surveys were conducted in 1988, however new 3D/4D surveying technology can better map the subsurface, allowing for new discovery of potential oil/gas/mineral resources.

Proponents, led by Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO), endorsed the approval of seismic surveying and advocated for expedience in producing the PEIS final report. They reasoned that this initial seismic surveying would not harm marine life, and that the potential benefits that could result from drilling, such as jobs and independence from foreign energy sources, far outweigh potential environmental impacts.  

Many Democrats were concerned about the impacts of seismic surveying on marine life and the environmental impacts of possible future drilling, mentioning that industry negligence caused the Deepwater Horizon Spill in 2010.

A summary of the hearing will be posted to the AGI website.

Source: House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

  • Southernmost leg of Keystone XL opens

The southernmost portion of the TransCanada Corporation owned Keystone XL pipeline began transporting crude oil from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Nederland, Texas, on January 22. The Gulf Coast Pipeline (GCP) currently has the capacity to move 700,000 barrels a day with the ability to expand up to 830,000 barrels per day.

According to TransCanada CEO Russ Girling, the GCP connects “probably the most important oil hub on this continent (in Cushing, OK) and the world’s most efficient refiners in the U.S. Gulf Coast.” TransCanada’s eventual goals are to continue the pipeline to Alberta in order to transport diluted bitumen and oil to Texas refineries.

Some environmental groups and climate activists consider the fight over the Keystone XL to be vital in protecting Earth’s climate. Although groups such as Tar Sands Blockade have failed in efforts to stop the construction of the GCP, several landowners (Public Citizen Report, p. 9) are in the midst of litigation. Some citizens will be monitoring sections of pipe that run through their property and documenting leaks if they occur.

The Obama Administration delayed a decision on the Keystone XL project as a whole in 2011, and has yet to give approval to the construction of its northern portion.

Source: EnergyWire, Public Citizen Report, Tarsands Blockade website











Monthly Review prepared by: Maeve Boland, Geoscience Policy Director; Abby Seadler, Geoscience Policy Associate; and Scott Miller, AGI/AAPG Spring Intern.



Compiled February 10, 2014