Earthquakes rattle Permian shale cost discipline

  • Market: Crude oil, Natural gas
  • 23/01/23

A recent spike in earthquakes in the US Permian basin of west Texas and southeast New Mexico is drawing renewed scrutiny to wastewater disposal methods from shale operations, adding another potential layer of costs for producers.

Back-to-back 5.4 magnitude earthquakes that struck the heart of the Permian basin in late 2022 have lent a new urgency to calls to restrict the use of wastewater injection wells, which have been linked to increased seismic activity. Oil regulator the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) has responded by expanding the boundaries of areas identified as most at risk and has asked producers that operate within theses areas to limit the amount of wastewater they pump underground, as well as to curb the use of deep wells.

As a result, the industry is facing higher costs, as drilling waste will have to be trucked and disposed of elsewhere. "If we continue to see the scale of the kind of five or greater magnitude events that we saw at the end of last year, you'll start to see a larger impact from a cost and a logistical standpoint for disposal," Rystad Energy senior analyst Ryan Hassler says. This threatens to impose an additional burden on operators that are already grappling with record inflation, a tight labour market and equipment shortages in the Permian basin, where production is growing at a record pace. Disposal of wastewater costs around 40-70¢/bl, while hauling it is up to four times as expensive, according to industry estimates.

Even as the RRC has stepped up efforts to tackle the increase in injection-induced earthquakes, critics have accused it of being too slow to act. "The fact that we're having such high magnitude earthquakes would indicate they are not doing enough," watchdog Commission Shift's executive director, Virginia Palacios, says. And the risk of aftershocks can extend to more than a year after the initial earthquake, making it more difficult to assess whether enough is being done now.

Familiar problem

Earthquakes linked to wastewater disposal from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are not new for US shale producers. Drillers in Oklahoma experienced similar problems in the past decade and clamped down on injection wells, although dwindling investment in the oil and gas sector in that state also helped to stem the spike in earthquakes.

For every barrel of crude produced during the fracking process, 3-6 bl of wastewater are produced. The most cost-effective solution to date has been to drill new wells and bury the polluted water deep underground. This has been found to trigger earthquakes in some instances, by placing stress on geological faults. "These faults are sort of critically stressed — they're primed and ready to go," US Geological Survey research geophysicist Rob Skoumal explains. "And then these operations come along and push them over the edge."

Pilot programmes are under way to figure out how to reuse the billions of barrels of wastewater produced from shale operations every year. Their potential use for agriculture and lithium mining are just two ideas under consideration. And water management and midstream companies are working on ways to recycle the polluted water for drilling operations elsewhere.

At the moment, smaller operators without the resources of their larger peers have little means of gaining access to recycled wastewater because of an absence of pipeline infrastructure and the exorbitant cost of trucking it to them, but that may change over time. "Being able to build out that infrastructure would allow more operators to participate in a water-sharing type of agreement," Rystad's Hassler says. "That's kind of the trend that would help alleviate some of this induced seismicity."


Sharelinkedin-sharetwitter-sharefacebook-shareemail-share

Related news posts

Argus illuminates the markets by putting a lens on the areas that matter most to you. The market news and commentary we publish reveals vital insights that enable you to make stronger, well-informed decisions. Explore a selection of news stories related to this one.

News
22/04/24

Oman’s PDO to hit 700,000 b/d crude before 2030 target

Oman’s PDO to hit 700,000 b/d crude before 2030 target

Muscat, 22 April (Argus) — Oman's state-controlled PDO has several new greenfield projects that it is looking to bring on stream that should see it reach, and blow past, its target for 700,000 b/d of crude before the end of the decade. Speaking at the Oman Petroleum and Energy show in Muscat today, PDO's managing director Steve Phimister said the company has a portfolio of new "sizeable" projects in the pipeline and expects to reach 700,000 b/d by the "middle of the decade". "But what we would not be going to see in the next couple of years are multibillion dollar projects like Yibal Khuff or Rabab Harweel," he added. PDO's Yibal Khuff — one of Oman's most technically complex upstream projects — came online in 2021 and production was 20,000 b/d in 2022, according to the latest available data for production. Rabab Harweel , Oman's largest enhanced oil recovery (EOR) project, came onstream in 2018 and is producing more than 70,000 b/d. PDO adds around 10,000-15,000 b/d to its production on an average every year, according to Phimister. "Our strategy is to go above 700,000 b/d," he said. "We could, in principle, go quite way above 700,000 b/d of black oil, depending on oil price, shareholder's desire on where they want to invest". But he said PDO wants to grow in "a sustainable way" while "balancing out emission targets." The company in 2021 pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions from its operations by 2050 . The company is likely to hold onto its previous capital expenditure plans, although this is subject to final approval, Phimister said. "We have invested roughly the same amount of capital in the last few years and continue to do so," he said, adding that PDO now has a dual challenge of growing old business while reducing carbon emissions. PDO's planned capital expenditure for last year was $5bn and operating expenditure was at $2bn, in line with 2022 levels. The Omani state owns 60pc of PDO, Shell holds 34pc and TotalEnergies has 4pc. By Rithika Krishna Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

Read more
News

Balticconnector gas pipe recommissioned after rupture


22/04/24
News
22/04/24

Balticconnector gas pipe recommissioned after rupture

London, 22 April (Argus) — The Finland-Estonia Balticconnector gas pipeline has been re-commissioned, with commercial flows starting at the beginning of today's gas day. There were renominations for 12.5GWh of flows towards Finland and 78.2GWh in the opposite direction for today as of early afternoon, suggesting net flows towards Estonia of around 66GWh. Finnish demand remains relatively low, while stocks at Finland's Inkoo LNG terminal need to be mostly depleted before the upcoming arrival of a new cargo on 26 April. The Balticconnector was taken off line on 8 October following a rupture caused by a dragging anchor . The system operators of Finland and Estonia said at the time that the pipeline could return in April at the earliest, meaning the initial timeline set out for repairs has been met. The recommissioning of the Balticconnector could allow Finnish prices to realign with those in the Baltic markets now that the two areas are connected again. During the Balticconnector's absence, Finland was entirely reliant on LNG deliveries to Inkoo, meaning prices were highly volatile and frequently held significantly above prices further south. Price differentials reached a peak of nearly €58/MWh ($62/MWh) in mid-January as a cold snap caused Finnish power-sector gas demand to soar while stocks at Inkoo were relatively low. That said, the basis between the two markets has narrowed significantly since mid-March, and the Finnish price has on several days held lower than in the Baltics ( see graph ). By Brendan A'Hearn Finnish vs Estonian-Latvian prices Oct 2023-present €/MWh Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

News

ExxonMobil turns up heat on climate activists


22/04/24
News
22/04/24

ExxonMobil turns up heat on climate activists

New York, 22 April (Argus) — In the run-up to the annual proxy voting season, ExxonMobil is tightening the screws on climate activists it accuses of wasting the company's resources by repeatedly submitting the same shareholder proposals that have been resoundingly defeated in the past. In its 2024 proxy statement released this month, the top US oil major lays out the case against what it describes as "serial proponents" of ballot measures that abuse the shareholder proposal process by pushing their own narrow agenda at the expense of long-term shareholders. The campaign builds on a lawsuit filed against two investors at the start of the year that were leading the clamour for ExxonMobil to accelerate its climate goals and target emissions from customers. Dutch activist group Follow This and sustainable investment firm Arjuna Capital withdrew their motion in light of the lawsuit, but the oil major has continued with its legal action, arguing that "important issues remain for the court to decide". ExxonMobil is also calling for a stricter interpretation of rules governing the proxy process on the part of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The lawsuit follows a growing backlash against environmental, social and governance investing by Republican-led states that has taken aim at large asset managers including BlackRock. The pushback has seen the SEC water down new climate risk disclosure rules following an intense lobbying effort by big business. And US bank JP Morgan chief executive Jamie Dimon recently slammed the White House's LNG export pause as "not only wrong but also enormously naive". The high watermark of the shareholder climate push came in 2021 when a tiny hedge fund overthrew a quarter of ExxonMobil's board with help from institutional investors concerned with the company's lagging financial performance. The difference between then and now is that oil industry profits have bounced back in the intervening years as the debate has shifted in favour of energy security following the war in Ukraine, sending ExxonMobil's share price to new highs. As a result, support for climate motions at oil companies has declined. ExxonMobil has four shareholder measures on the ballot for this year, down from 13 a year ago. Over at Chevron, the second-biggest US oil major, investors will vote on four shareholder proposals, down from eight in 2023. ExxonMobil is encouraging shareholders to vote against the proposals calling on it to cut executive pay incentives for emissions reductions, as well as carry out reports into pay in relation to gender and racial bias, the impact on workers and communities of the energy transition, and plastics. Ballot measures at Chevron include calls to implement reports on tax transparency and human rights practices. Early warning system? Only 3.55pc of the 140 resolutions filed at ExxonMobil annual meetings between 2014 and 2023 passed, the company says. The cost of considering each proposal is as much as $150,000. But proposals that initially attract only a small amount of shareholder support can sometimes act as an early warning system that spurs changes in company strategy further out, climate activists argue. ExxonMobil's lawsuit is an "aggressive effort to chill consideration among its shareholders about how the company is adapting its business model in light of the need for a fair and fast transition away from fossil fuels", advocacy group the Union of Concerned Scientists campaign director Kathy Mulvey says. Shareholder advocate As You Sow, criticised in ExxonMobil's proxy statement, accuses the major of attacking shareholder democracy. The board "should consider proposals on their merits, rather than assaulting the long-standing rights of company owners or their representatives", the group's president, Danielle Fugere, says. By Stephen Cunningham Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

News

Japan's Jera shuts Chiba gas-fired power unit


22/04/24
News
22/04/24

Japan's Jera shuts Chiba gas-fired power unit

Tokyo, 22 April (Argus) — Japan's largest electricity producer by capacity Jera has shut the 360MW No.1-4 combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) units at its Chiba power complex because of a technical problem. Jera closed on 22 April the CCGT units at the 4.38GW Chiba complex in east Japan's Chiba prefecture, according to a notice by Japan Electric Power Exchange (Jepx). It is unclear when the units will be brought back on line. The unexpected shutdown is likely to have limited impact on Japan's power market as the country has experienced mild weather lately that has capped power consumption. Jera consumed 16.7mn t of LNG in April-December 2023, lower by 4.8pc compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the firm's latest financial results. Japan's total power demand averaged 83GW during 15-21 April, down by 3pc from the previous week, data show from nationwide transmission system operator the Organisation for Cross-regional Co-ordination of Transmission Operators. Japan plans to add 1.1GW of thermal capacity during the week to 28 April, with the addition of 11.5GW outstripping the closure of 10.4GW, according to Argus' survey based on a Jepx notice. The difference incorporates the net increase this week in gas-fired capacity of 2GW and the net drop in coal-fired capacity of 887MW. By Reina Maeda Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

News

Australia's QPM to focus on gas, cut Tech battery spend


22/04/24
News
22/04/24

Australia's QPM to focus on gas, cut Tech battery spend

Sydney, 22 April (Argus) — Australian battery metals refiner Queensland Pacific Metals (QPM) will focus on energy markets via its Moranbah gas project (MGP) and limit further expenditure on its Townsville Energy Chemicals Hub (Tech) project. The firm will switch its prioritisation to its wholly-owned QPM Energy (QPME) business, with QPME's chief executive David Wrench to be appointed as QPM chief executive, the company said on 22 April. MGP's coal mine waste gas output from nearby the coal mining hub of Moranbah in Queensland's Bowen basin will be increased to 35 TJ/d (935,000 m³/d) by late 2024, up from October-December 2023's 28 TJ/d, with QPME to accelerate production and reserves to provide required peaking power for the national electricity market (NEM) via Thai-controlled energy firm Ratch Australia's 242MW Townsville Power Station. QPME aims to drill a further seven wells by the year's end, increase workovers and increase production from third-party supply of waste mine gas from regional coal mines. The company is also seeking to develop a portfolio of plants to supply up to 300MW of gas-fired power to the NEM, while compressed natural gas and micro-LNG facilities will also be developed in Townsville and Moranbah, QPME said. A surge in government support for renewable power generation in order to meet Australia's 2030 emissions target by retiring coal-fired power means more gas-peaking plants will likely be needed in the coming years to support variable generators. But Australia's domestic gas supply is forecast to experience shortfalls this decade, with predictions of a 76 PJ/yr gap in 2028. The Tech project which aims to produce 16,000 t/yr of nickel and 1,750 t/yr of cobalt sulphates from imported laterite ore saw its funding significantly reduced in February because of what QPM described as a "challenging investment environment" resulting from depressed nickel prices. By Tom Major Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

Business intelligence reports

Get concise, trustworthy and unbiased analysis of the latest trends and developments in oil and energy markets. These reports are specially created for decision makers who don’t have time to track markets day-by-day, minute-by-minute.

Learn more