Hydraulic Fracturing News Roundup

According to the Wall Street Journal, Baker Hughes Inc (BHI) has warned it is facing a difficult adjustment as companies such as Chesapeake Energy Corp (CHK) retreat from natural gas drilling amid a 10-year low in the commodity’s price. Are the issues unique to Baker Hughes, or will the problems spread to other oil services companies such as Halliburton and Schlumberger?

In Pennsylvania, Judge Keith Quigley of the Commonwealth Court ordered a 120-day halt to provisions of Act 13 of 2012 set to take effect on Monday related to land use and local zoning regulations. The lawsuit, filed by seven Pennsylvania municipalities, accuses the state’s General Assembly of enacting an “unconstitutional” statewide zoning ordinance “by way of an improper use of its police powers and by enacting zoning regulations without consideration of zoning districts, comprehensive plans or how the zoning enactments would serve to protect the health, safety, morals or welfare of local communities.”

Act 13 of 2012 has also the focus of national attention because of concerns it imposes a “gag order” on doctors. Some medical professionals are concerned because they will have to sign a confidentiality agreement in return for access to proprietary information on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. The president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society has said the provision could have a chilling effect on research and on doctors’ ability to diagnose and treat patients who have been exposed.

According to Bloomberg, at a conference yesterday U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu indicated that the federal government needs to play a larger role in overseeing new technologies for developing oil and natural gas so as to prevent damage to natural resources. “The technology for recovering oil and gas through hydraulic fracturing has really raced ahead,” Chu said. “That’s something I believe that can be developed very responsibly. There has to be a regulatory role because there may be some people who want to cut corners.”

On the heels of Secretary Chu’s statement, President Obama released an executive order that will coordinate the administration’s activities on natural gas. The order creates a working group that includes various White House offices such as the Council on Environmental Quality and National Economic Council, as well as relevant cabinet departments and agencies like Interior, EPA and Department of Homeland Security.

Developed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, FracFocus.org turned one year old this week. About 130 companies have logged the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing of more than 15,000 wells over the past year. The site has been visited by about nearly 150,000 unique visitors. Officials for the website estimate that 75 percent of all wells drilled in the United States are logged on FracFocus, based on scrutiny of a recent Baker Hughes‘ monthly rig report.

In New York, Ulster County executive Mike Hein issued an executive order today to prevent the spreading of brine from hydraulic fracturing on any county-maintained roads, including “the purchase of any liquid waste product from hydraulic fracturing operations (fracking waste brine) or the use of such fracking brine by any part of Ulster County government.”