PASA Marcellus Shale Choices Workshop Series

Part 1 – Integrative Decision Making for Farmers & Land Owners

May 17: Jefferson County; May 18 McKean County; May 19 Allegheny County; May 20 Greene County – 10:00am – 3:30pm

Farmers and rural landowners are a key group impacted by the Marcellus Shale gas development, as they continue to steward their land in the complicated environment of Marcellus Shale gas play.

PASA, with funding from the Colcom Foundation, has developed a series of action-oriented trainings throughout western Pennsylvania to help farmers, rural land owners, and other citizens make informed, holistic decisions, understand legal issues, and engage in environmental monitoring and local organizing efforts related to Marcellus Shale Gas issues within their communities.

In the first workshop of this series, Byron Shelton, Holistic Management Educator, farmer, rancher and owner of Landmark Decisions in Buena Vista, Colorado, will guide participants in learning a reasoning process that will help them establish a unique farm/rural land steward goal and make decisions to move them toward that goal. This decision-making process integrates the needs of the people that are involved, the economics of the situation, and the environment.

Over the course of the day, participants will develop their own farm or land-based goal. They will then test potential choices and actions to measure how these decisions move them toward their intended goal. While participants may consider the impacts and potentials of Marcellus Shale development in light of their overall goals, these tools are applicable to a much broader scope of decisions and choices – all of which involve ultimate movement toward the unique goal of the farm, landowner, family, or business situation.


  • Registration Fee: $45 per farm/family
  • PASA Members: Free
For more information and to register online: Click Here

About Byron Shelton: Byron Shelton, a Holistic Management Certified Educator, and rancher in Buena Vista, Colorado, is the owner of Landmark Decisions which provides facilitation and decision-making training in Whole Farm Planning using Holistic Management™ Financial Planning, Ecosystem Processes Management, Grazing Planning and Monitoring, and Land Planning in family, business, agricultural, natural resource, and community settings.

Bradford County Blowout Frustrates Officials

Towanda Creek, Bradford County, PA
On April 19, a well being hydraulically fractured by Chesapeake Energy suffered a blowout, or a loss of control of the wellhead, releasing thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid onto the ground and into nearby Towanda Creek. Actions by officials at the county, state, and federal levels show some frustration with the drilling operator over this incident.

Chairman of the Bradford County Commissioners Mark W. Smith wrote an open letter to Governor Tom Corbett, in which he addresses the perfunctory well permitting process, well water spoilage and declining property values. He also points out the strains that the industry places on the local communities:
I continue to see our county, townships, and boroughs struggle with complex issues of development with no financial or logistical support from the Commonwealth. Emergency responders, volunteers, state and local police and dispatchers are working at a break neck pace to respond to immense traffic accident increases, well site accidents, and other related issues.
At the state level, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has already issued violations for the incident, as well as demanding explanations of certain aspects of the massive leak and spill. Chief among those is why Chesapeake elected to bring in well control specialists Boots and Coots, which took 12 hours to arrive on the scene, when there were other well control specialists available much closer. (For some dramatic well disaster footage, see Boots and Coots’ promotional video.)
The US Environmental Protection Agency is also getting involved, demanding complete information about the incident in this open letter to Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon. EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin explains the twofold nature of request:
We want a complete accounting of operations at the site to determine our next steps in this incident and to help prevent future releases of this kind.
Chesapeake Energy officials are also concerned, suspending all post-drilling activities in the Marcellus, including hydraulic fracturing, until the nature of the spill is fully undestood. The linked article gives no indication of a time frame for that review.
In 2010, Bradford County had 280 Marcellus Shale violations issued, with 386 Marcellus wells drilled in the same period. That works out to an average of three violations issued for every four wells drilled in the county.
Oil and gas violations in Bradford County, PA in 2010. Please click the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus.

PA Marcellus Shale Violations by Operator and County


This post has been archived.

Earlier this month, I examined 2010 oil and gas violation data for Pennsylvania on a summary level. Now I’m going to focus just on Marcellus Shale wells, and from the perspective of trying to determine the extent that drilling operators and location have on the likelihood of increased violations for any given well.

There are a number of ways in which this could be done. Although I am interested to see if the number of wells drilled in an area or by a drilling operator has a noticeable effect on violations, I have limited both investigations to 10 or more Marcellus Shale wells, both to avoid the erratic results of small sample sizes, and because the large number of results tends to make for crowded data displays.

Violations are only for 2010, both because it is current, and with 1,544 records, it is sufficiently large to make some generalizations about. As for wells, I decided to go for all drilled Marcellus Shale wells rather than just the 2010 wells, because wells that were spudded between 2006 and 2009 might well be included on the violations list. Also, the overall number of wells is a handy way to gauge the relative weight of a given operator or county on the industry as a whole.

2010 Marcellus Shale (MS) violations per total MS well, for counties with 10 or more MS wells.

2010 MS violations per total MS well, for operators with 10 or more MS wells.

There are, of course, a number of issues once we start looking at the data in detail. One of the biggest challenges is that many of these wells change hands, or else the companies that drill them change hands or are no longer active in the Marcellus Shale drilling industry in Pennsylvania. For example, in a previous analysis, I noted that Turm Oil had a large number of violations per well, and now they had none at all. I checked to see when their most recent well was drilled, and found my answer:

List of operators with 10 or more MS wells, with 2010 violations, frequencies per well, and the date of the most recent well drilled

Turm Oil hasn’t drilled a Marcellus well in almost two years. Looking at the chart above, Turm and Dominion don’t really belong in this analysis, and Eastern American and Fortuna may not for 2011. These four operators account for everyone with 10 or more total Marcellus Shale wells and no violations in 2010 except for Consol—kudos to Consol!

Does the number of wells impact violations?

Clearly, there is a tremendous range of violations per well, both in regards to who the operator is, as well as where the well is located. My hypothesis going into this analysis was that the more wells an operator drilled or the more wells drilled in a county, the fewer violations per well there would be.

I had several reasons for suspecting this to be the case. First of all, think of what must be done for a drilling operation without violations being issued. The site must be carefully placed, in accordance with all applicable regulations. The site must be prepared, taking into account all ground disturbing regulations. Then you have to drill through thousands of feet of rock, making sure that there is a structurally sound casing and cementing job to prevent gas migrations. Then there is the horizontal drilling, and the hydraulic fracturing. All along the way, not a drop of fracing fluid, diesel fuel, brine, or really anything else can touch the ground or enter Pennsylvania’s waters in any way. And when the drilling is done, the site must be restored in a timely fashion. And those are just a few of the regulations that the drilling operators agree to when they undertake drilling operations in Pennsylvania.

Let’s face it—that’s a lot to achieve. In order to consistently come in and out of a site with a clean record has got to take some practice. I’ve heard from industry sources that Marcellus Shale wells cost about $5 million to drill, so to do it right without cutting corners clearly takes significant resources as well.

In addition to all of that, a county level map of Marcellus Shale violations per well shows that the counties which produce the most Marcellus Shale gas wells are not the ones with the highest number of violations per well.

Map showing Marcellus Shale violations per county. Counties outlined in red have 100 or more Marcellus Shale wells. Click the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus.

So is there then any correlation between the number of wells drilled and the violations issued? Let’s take a look (1).

The equations for the trendlines were calculated by Excel, and I selected the ones with the highest R-squared values. I was surprised that the best fit for operators was a convex polynomial. In the graph above, there is indeed a cluster of operators with between 300 and 400 wells, and with about 0.5 violations per well or less, but on the other end of the spectrum, the violations per well are spread far apart. There are so many operators big and small with around 0.5 violations per well or less that it seems some other factors must be at play for all of the operators that exceed that value by a significant margin. Perhaps not everyone will achieve zero violations like Consol did in 2010, but it doesn’t seem reasonable that Williams Production Appalachia should have more than twice the amount of violations as Range Resources Appalachia, despite having only 8 percent of the number of wells as the gas extraction giant.

The correlation was a bit stronger for the counties than for the operators. I’m not entirely sure what factors are at play here, other than perhaps having a crew that is well familiar with the geology of the region and all the specific challenges associated with that. Again though, that doesn’t seem to explain why Wyoming County would have 3.44 violations for every Marcellus Shale well, while those in Washington county can only expect a violation for less than one well out of eight drilled.

[photo removed]

Again, I’m sure that the way this analysis was set up had an effect on some of these numbers, and Wyoming is certainly a smaller sample size than Washington. I also don’t want to infer that there aren’t problems when large operators drill in well established portions of the Marcellus Shale. What’s more, while over 1,500 Marcellus Shale violations in a year is a huge number, it likely doesn’t account for all of the actual incidents, just the ones that the DEP can demonstrate, apparently beyond a shadow of a doubt (2). And even in the best scenario, there are significant impacts upon the land and neighboring residents near the well site.

I am suggesting, however, that there are companies that need to do better in their efforts to comply with laws designed to protect Pennsylvanians from pollution and other deleterious effects of oil and gas drilling. Excuses that environmental regulations are too strict don’t hold water, as their competitors are closer to compliance, sometimes dramatically so.

  1. In order for Excel to be able to calculate all of the various regression lines, counties and operators with zero violations per well had to be excluded from this analysis.
  2. I have personally talked to numerous residents who feel that their well water was spoiled by gas operations on neighboring lands. A common theme in their complaints is that the DEP places the burden of proof on residents that their wells were not spoiled before drilling operations began–an almost impossible situation for the residents to predict and be proactive about.

DEP Calls on Natural Gas Drillers to Stop Giving Treatment Facilities Wastewater

Reposted from the Department of Environmental Protection website:

HARRISBURG — At the direction of Governor Tom Corbett, acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer today called on all Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling operators to cease by May 19 delivering wastewater from shale gas extraction to 15 facilities that currently accept it under special provisions of last year’s Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) regulations.

“While the prior administration allowed certain facilities to continue to take this wastewater, conditions have changed since the implementation of the TDS regulations,” Krancer said. “We now have more definitive scientific data, improved technology and increased voluntary wastewater recycling by industry. We used to have 27 grandfathered facilities; but over the last year, many have voluntarily decided to stop taking the wastewater and we are now down to only 15. More than half of those facilities are now up for permit renewal. Now is the time to take action to end this practice.”

Read the full article»

Below is a snapshot creating by John Detwiler using FracTracker’s DataTool. It shows the wastewater treatment facilities mentioned in DEP’s ‘voluntary’ advisory of April 19, 2011. The larger the star, the greater the facility’s permitted wastewater flow (mgd).

To close the legend on the left, click the compass.

The Future of FracTracker

Dr. Conrad Dan Volz. Photo credit: Brian Cohen

The Center for Healthy Environments and Communities has received a lot of inquiries regarding the various reports that CHEC’s director, Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH, is leaving the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. This is indeed true, but many of the reports are misleading as to why and what this means for FracTracker. Since Dan’s decision inevitably affects CHEC and FracTracker, we thought it best to post a blog discussion about it.

What’s next for Dan Volz?

PopCity, a fantastic and local e-magazine and website, recently interviewed Dan on the subject after hearing the news that he is not renewing his faculty contract at GSPH, and therefore can no longer serve as the director of CHEC. Here are some of the excerpts from their discussion:

Are you walking away from the concerns you’ve been raising about Marcellus Shale drilling and the dangers it poses to our health and the environment?

Not at all. My intention is to be more of an advocate for public health around the issue of Marcellus Shale.

I am leaving the university to work on these greater questions. It’s time that someone rose up and spoke out about environmental policy and how it’s not only playing out in Southwestern Pennsylvania, but the world…

Will you continue your work with FracTracker?

This has yet to be worked out. I’m leaving the university. FracTracker is a tool for citizens and environment organizations, as well as the industry and government, to look at the potential impacts of this process. It is managed by CHEC. The software license is owned by the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds… Certainly I will be participating as a citizen can on FracTracker. I may have a more formal arrangement in the future.

Project Partners:  CHEC  |  Foundation for PA Watersheds  |  Rhiza Labs  |  The Heinz Endowments

2011 Deans Day Awards


This article has been archived and is provided for reference purposes only.

April 7 and 8th marked the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s annual academic poster competition for students to highlight their research and public health practice.

This year, several Center for Healthy Environments and Communities members competed:

On the day of the Deans Day awards ceremony, April 15th, Samantha received the Rosenkranz Award for the project judged to be the most significant contribution to the public health field, as well as the overall Dean’s Day third place award in the doctoral category. Drew received the EOH Keleti Award for environmental excellence. Congratulations to Sam and Drew, as well as all of the Dean’s Day award winners.

How Long Between MS Permit Issuance and Drilling in PA?

2011 Marcellus Shale Permits and Drilled Wells in PA (large)
2011 Marcellus Shale drilled wells (green circles) and permits issued (red stars). For a larger, dynamic view, please click the image.
Marcellus Shale Permits and Drilled Wells (large)
All Marcellus Shale permits issued (red circles) and drilled wells (green circles). Please zoom in for a closer look in the denser portions of the map.

Sometimes it seems like the oil and gas industry is in an awfully big hurry. They are in a hurry to get the mineral leases, presumably because if they don’t, some other operator will. They are in a hurry to get their drilling permits from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)–already this year, the DEP has issued 979 permits from the Marcellus Shale formation alone. And sometimes they are in a hurry to get the drill in the ground.  Sometimes, however, they are not.

This does not mean that I think the 444 Marcellus Shale wells that have been spudded (time when the drill first hits the ground) so far this year is a small number. After all, today is just the 104th day of the year, which means that on average, almost 4.3 Marcellus Shale wells are started every single day. That’s a lot of industrial activity, and yet it reflects well under half of the 9.5 Marcellus Shale permits that DEP secretary Michael Krancer signs off on every day.

The longer term trends are similar: Of the 6,092 Marcellus Shale wells with active permits(1), 2,574 have been drilled. That represents about 42 percent, meaning that the 45 percent clip for 2011 is actually running a bit ahead of schedule. All of this brings a couple questions to mind:

  • Why does the oil and gas industry get more than twice as many permits as they are able to drill?
  • What’s the lag time for drilling once the permit is in hand?

I’m still scratching my head over the first one. I have been told that the siting and permitting processes are so involved and expensive that once the permit is in hand, the industry will drill the site, but the numbers don’t seem to reflect that as being fully true. Certainly, the 107 oil and gas drilling rigs available in Pennsylvania right now is a limiting factor in how many wells are drilled, but that doesn’t explain why the permitting process is years ahead of the drilling queue.

As for how long it takes to drill once a permit has been issued, there are means of answering that question. First, I matched the permits data to the spuds data using the wells’ unique API numbers, finding 2,804 matches for 2,574 distinct wells (2)(3). The second step was to subtract the number of days between the spud date and the permit date to determine the lag time for those permits which have been drilled, and where API numbers did match up. Let’s take a look at the results:

Number of days between permit issuance and spud (initial drilling) date.

Some of the 39 wells marked as “reworked” may not have originally been Marcellus Shale wells, so they were not included in the chart above. In addition, there were two negative values, for which it would appear that well was drilled before the permit was issued. I am assuming those are attributable to clerical error, and those wells were not included in the chart above (4).

Number of days from permit issuance to spud date for Marcellus Shale wells. Please click the “i” and then a map feature for more information. Please click the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus.

Overall, the value ranges from -86 to 2,274 days, with an average turnaround time of just over 100 days. If we omit the outliers discussed above, the values range from 1 to 566 days, with an average of just under 99 days.

After looking at these results, I am surprised by the vast range, and beyond the number of available rigs, I can only speculate as to what factors go into determining this. It also seems remarkable that there are wells that can get the equipment in place, the site prepared, and the drill in the ground the very next day after the permit was issued. And yet, for all of that celerity, sometimes it takes well over a year to start churning dirt.

  1. This data comes from the DEP’s Operators With Active Wells Inventory section of their Reports page. What I called “active permits” are actually “active wells” according to the DEP. These include all wells for which the permit has been issued but have not yet been plugged. This would include wells that hav not been drilled, thus my distinction.
  2. Both datasets had some duplication of well numbers. All records that were exact duplicates were removed, meaning that the remainder had at least slight variances in one or more columns.
  3. I should mention that the number of matches to the permits list means that there are 93 mismatches between the two datasets. In theory, all of the drilled wells should be on the permit report, but for now, let’s take the 97% match rate and move forward.
  4. All values are included in the posted dataset, and therefore the DataTool map.

Cornell study assessed climate change impact of natural gas drilling


This page has been archived. It is provided here for historical purposes.

We at the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities would like to congratulate and recognize the incredible efforts of our colleagues at Cornell University for their recent research study published in Climate Change Letters, entitled “Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations.” Led by Dr. Robert Howarth, the study sought to determine the effect that natural gas drilling in shale formations has on the atmosphere over a 20-year period.*

Methane gas, the major component of natural gas, has been promoted by some entities as a greener energy alternative than the use of coal because it burns cleaner. Results of this recent Cornell study, however, indicate that the methane emissions that result from the natural gas industry may result in a greater greenhouse gas footprint than other forms of energy extraction.  This is partially due to the fact that methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.

From a researcher’s perspective, accurate and up-to-date data regarding the amount of methane gas that escapes during the life cycle of natural gas drilling is difficult to access – if it exists at all. To better-understand how natural gas drilling in shale formations will affect public health and the environment, especially as this industry develops, we must continue to conduct peer-reviewed research like the most recent Cornell study. Full Report

* A criticism of this study has been the shorter, 20-year time span they used to analyze the data. This approach was taken because methane does not stay in the atmosphere as long as other greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. 

Proposed Tire Fire Plant in Greenwood Twp., Crawford County, PA

In the fall of 2010 Crawford Renewable Energy, LLC (CRE) announced plans to build a “tire-fired” power plant in Greenwood Township of Crawford County. The facility is designed to produce 100 MW of energy by burning used, recycled tires in two circulating fluidized bed (CFB) boiler systems. The design of the facility includes several pollutant emission control technologies. These types of equipment remove a portion of the pollutants from the exhaust. As nice as it is to think of tires simply “disappearing” rather than being land-filled, when any hydrocarbon fuel source is burned, such as a tire or coal, a multitude of toxic and carcinogenic compounds are released. And most of these pollutants cannot be captured using control technologies, so they are emitted into the air.

The facility is planned on an 80 acre industrial park land parcel. The control equipment includes a CFB scrubber, a fabric filter baghouse, and a regenerative catalytic reactor. The flue gasses will then be emitted through a 325 foot tall stack. A CFB scrubber uses limestone to decrease sulfur emissions. The regenerative catalytic reactor is used to reduce NOX. The fabric filter baghouse is a series of screens and filters that remove the majority of the mass of particulate matter. The majority of the mass of particulate emissions are removed by capturing the coarse fraction of particles, which are particles with larger diameters and mass, but do not pose a significant health threat. Baghouses and other particulate control devices (PCDs) are not as efficient at capturing the fine and ultrafine fraction of particulate emissions, which have smaller diameters. The fine and ultrafine modes of particulates are the most hazardous, and are directly related to asthma exacerbation, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and other forms of respiratory disease.

The emissions and deposition pattern from this facility were modeled by the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities to assess the impact on local air quality. Several pollutant species were modeled, including sulfur dioxide (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and both the course and the fine fractions of particulate matter, PM10 and PM2.5 respectively. Concentrations of these pollutants at ground level in ambient air were modeled using the CalPUFF non-steady state dispersion model. These will not be the only pollutants transported, rather these are efficient to model. Plumes of some of the other contaminants will most likely have similar patterns.

The mean, or average, levels of predicted ambient air concentrations are presented first for each pollutant (Figures 1, 3, 5, and 7). These maps show the average concentrations of the pollutant that are predicted to occur while the facility is operating. The concentrations are averaged over a one year period. Next, peak day concentrations of pollutants are presented (Figures 2, 4, 6, and 8). These concentrations are the highest predicted concentrations for a single day that would occur when the facility is operating normally, over the one year modeled cycle. The concentrations shown in all of the maps are only attributable to the proposed facility, and do not include any other sources of pollution or background concentrations of pollutants. These values essentially show the increases in ambient air pollutants that will occur when the proposed facility is operating.

For this 80 acre industrial park, a square “fence-line” with 570 meter sides could surround the park. Typically, exposures are expected to be very limited within the fence-line because the area is inaccessible to the public. Concern is focused on the exposures that may occur beyond the limit of the fence-line. If the smokestack is assumed to be located at the center of the park, it would be at a distance approximately 235 meters from the fence-line. Using the scales on the maps, it is evident that the even the highest concentration gradients shown in the maps would occur beyond the fence-line. When the facility is operating, it is reasonable for the surrounding communities to expect exposures to even the highest concentration gradients shown in the maps.

Figure 1.  Mean values of modeled SO2 ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 2.  Peak day values of modeled SO2 ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 3.  Mean values of modeled NOX ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 4.  Peak day values of modeled NOX ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 5.  Mean values of modeled PM10 ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 6.  Peak day values of modeled PM10 ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 7.  Mean values of modeled PM2.5 ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.
Figure 8.  Peak day values of modeled PM2.5 ambient air concentrations at ground level, attributable to emissions from the proposed CRE plant.

Volz Senate Hearing Committee Testimony and Presentation

Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH was asked by Senator Cardin to testify today before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and its Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, Joint Hearing on “Natural Gas Drilling, Public Health and Environmental Impacts.”

You can watch the proceedings on C-SPAN or view Dr. Volz’s Testimony and PowerPoint. Below is an excerpt from his testimony:

My testimony today will cover three critical public health and environmental policy areas related to unconventional natural gas production:

First is the unregulated siting of natural gas wells in areas of high population density,and near schools and critical infrastructure. Unconventional gas extraction wells arehighly industrialized operations that have public health preparedness risks of catastrophicblowout, explosion and fire. Any of these incidents can create an Immediately Dangerousto Life and Health (IDLH) condition for adults or children in close physical proximity.The unregulated siting of unconventional natural gas extraction wells and productionfacilities in residential neighborhoods and near critical infrastructure is unwisepreparedness policy, especially in light of federal and state efforts to reduce risk fromterror attacks on USA citizens and critical infrastructure.

Secondly, the higher rates and differential patterns of oil and gas act violations fromMarcellus Shale gas extraction operations, as compared to conventional oil and gas wells,suggests a much greater impact to drinking water and aquatic resources. Marcellus Shalegas extraction wells have between 1.5 to 4 times more violations than their conventionalwell counterparts per offending well, including more serious violations and violationsthat have a direct impact on water quality and aquatic resources. Marcellus Shale gasextraction wells are more likely to have violations for:

  • Failures to minimize accelerated erosion, implement erosion and sedimentation plans, and/or maintain erosion and sedimentation controls.
  • Discharge of pollution to waters of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
  • General violations of the Clean Streams Law.
  • Failure to properly store, transport, process or dispose of a residual waste and -Failures to adequately construct or maintain impoundments holding gas extractionflowback fluids containing toxic contaminants.

The third problem public health and environmental policy area to be addressed is thedisposal of gas extraction flowback fluids, carrying a plethora of toxic elements andchemicals, in inefficient “brine” treatment facilities and Publicly Owned TreatmentWorks (POTW’s) [commonly called sewage treatment plants], which dischargeeffluent into surface water sources. Studies of the effluent from a commercial facilityin Pennsylvania that treats fluids only from gas and oil operations shows discharge of 9pollutants in excess of nationally recognized human and/or aquatic health standards into anearby stream.

Full Testimony  |  PowerPoint