The Texas Railroad Commission today adopted new well construction rules that specify casing, cementing and other standards aimed at ensuring that hydraulic fracturing operations do not impact groundwater or injection wells. When cases of water contamination near oil and gas operations have been investigated, the cause is typically found to be poor casing or cementing that allowed drilling fluids, oil or natural gas to escape and migrate nearby. The new rules drew support from observers as varied as the Texas Oil & Gas Association and the Sierra Club. They go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.
One measure mandates a minimum thickness of the cement sheath around casing, the steel pipe lining a well bore. Cement used to set surface casing in place must be at least 0.75-inch thick, and cement on subsequent casing must be at least a half-inch thick. Cyrus Reed of the Texas Chapter of the Sierra Club said his group would have preferred more cement on lower strings, but said it's still good to set a specific standard. "We're generally pleased with the new rules," Reed said. "It was a pretty good effort."
Deb Hastings, executive vice president of the Texas Oil & Gas Association, in a prepared statement said "the new rule enhances transparency, reflects advances in technology and is technologically feasible for operators to implement."
Besides the cementing standards, other measures require:
- pressure testing and monitoring on wells that are hydraulically fractured;
- verification of casing integrity;
- additional testing when a well taps a formation less than 1,000 feet below useable groundwater;
- use of air or water-based drilling fluid until surface casing is set and cemented;
- updated requirements for well control measures and blowout preventers;
- additional cementing when an injection or disposal well is within a quarter-mile
Officially, the rules are amendments to the Commission's Statewide Rule 13 (Casing, Cementing, Drilling, Well Control and Completion Requirements). They also implement legislation from the 2011 Legislature that transferred to the Railroad Commission responsibility for setting the required depth of surface casing. That job, aimed at protecting drinking water aquifers, was previously handled by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
-- Jim Fuquay