Shale Health Office Available for Southwest PA Residents

It isn’t often that you personally know the personnel responsible for a project prior to its launch, but those of us at FracTracker had that benefit with regard to the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, or SWPA-EHP for short. (Oh how we love our complex acronyms.) Raina Rippel, the project’s director, spoke at the second annual Health Effects of Shale Gas Extraction conference hosted by the Graduate School of Public Health about this very topic. Raina and her team are fantastic resources, enabling us to better understand localized concerns and impacts and providing an outlet through which we can share the information we gather during our data analyses.

SWPA-EHP is being funded by The Heinz Endowments, the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Claneil Foundation because people were concerned about shale gas drilling affecting their health and the lack of data available to address those concerns. Interestingly, that is also why CHEC initially became involved with shale gas drilling several years ago – of which FracTracker is a primary result. Recently, SWPA-EHP announced that they are the opening the first-recorded shale health office where area residents can schedule medical evaluations, get help understanding their health problems and learn how to limit their exposure to hazardous substances associated with the industry. In response to the critical, unmet need for access to accurate, timely and trusted public health information, as well as the need for appropriate health care in the communities of southwestern Pennsylvania, the Project has committed itself to the following:

  • Purpose: The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) is a nonprofit environmental health organization created to assist and support Washington County residents who believe their health has been, or could be, impacted by natural gas drilling activities.
  • Resources: The office also serves as a resource center for information on the potential routes of exposure to hazardous substances, as well as strategies for limiting the risk of health effects. Our staff will be available by appointment in the office and by phone to address concerns residents have about their environmental conditions. We will answer questions, provide guidance and steer people toward other resources when possible.
  • Features: SWPA-EHP has an on-site nurse practitioner who is available by appointment for home or office visits, exams and consultations with people who think their health may be compromised by nearby gas drilling activities. She will also provide referrals, help clients navigate the health care system and consult with environmental health specialists about residents’ medical conditions.
  • Project Goals:
    • Establish a community environmental health center in SWPA to identify, document and respond to residents’ health concerns related to natural gas extraction;
    • Conduct a community health needs assessments of Washington County communities to evaluate public health risks and resources and determine the actions necessary to address immediate public health problems;
    • Provide the services of a nurse practitioner who can offer support, assist residents in understanding their health problems, and help them navigate the health care system as needed;
    • Establish clinical resource networks to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of individual patients;
    • Establish technical resource networks to obtain, analyze, develop and disseminate timely and accurate information to community members with respect to their health and environmental risks; and
    • Initiate a planning process for comprehensive actions.

The SWPA-EHP office is located at 4198 Washington Road, Suite 5, in McMurray. The office is open Tuesday-Friday. Nurse Practitioner services are available by appointment only.

Find SWPA-EHP’s new office or add additional community resources to this editable dataset on by clicking on the map below:

Oil and Gas Production and Waste Reports Available

Oil and gas production and waste reports for 2011 are now available for download at the PADEP Office of Oil and Gas Management website, and the Marcellus shale portion of that is now available on FracTracker’s DataTool as well:

Marcellus Shale production from July to December 2011. Click the gray compass rose and double carat to hide those fields.

The third dataset contains the production and waste data aggregated by county, as in the following chart:

Keep in mind that these totals are self-reported by drilling operators to the DEP.  Marcellus Shale waste and production data are released every six months, while non-Marcellus Shale data is released annually.  The following non Marcellus shale datasets are also available:

Statewide Production Totals

The following chart includes statewide production totals for 2011:

So Pennsylvania joins the trillion cubic foot (Tcf) club with 1.2 Tcf of natural gas produced, more than doubling the 2010 dry production value, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).  The EIA does not yet have state values for 2011 posted, but Pennsylvania’s 2011 total would have ranked eighth in 2010 behind  Texas (6.3 Tcf); Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico (2.2 Tcf); Wyoming (2.2 Tcf); Louisiana (2.1 Tcf); Oklahoma (1.7 Tcf); Colorado (1.5 Tcf) and New Mexico (1.2 Tcf) for dry gas production.

Here is the reported waste for 2011:

Stay tuned to FracTracker for more analyses of these reports in the coming days and weeks.

A New Day for FracTracker

By Brook Lenker, FracTracker Director

Like the public’s comprehension of the impacts of the shale gas industry, FracTracker is growing and evolving. We’re becoming better suited to expand that comprehension and nurture more inquiry into this game-changing period in energy development.

Our innovative website was launched by the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities who passionately and skillfully managed its maturation.  Like a college student setting out on his or her own, the time has come for FracTracker to seek its independence and more fully develop its own identity.   In December 2011, I was hired as director of the FracTracker Fund at the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies to shepherd this transition and to foster partnerships that will help FracTracker blossom, benefit public awareness, and synergistically energize our partners.  We’re doing this one deliberate step at a time.

Another critical task is to improve the functionality of the data tool – to make it easier to use and navigate and offer other features that attract users to it. We are working with Rhiza Labs and taking additional measures to reach those objectives. We’ll keep you posted about all our enhancements.

My past 15 years – at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and then PA DCNR – were spent in professional roles where I facilitated dialogue, interpreted natural and scientific phenomena, encouraged stewardship practices, and tapped communication tools of many kinds. I intend to judiciously and vigorously apply these skills in my new position.  I believe deeply in conservation and environmental justice and am weighted by worries about many facets of the shale gas boom. I’m equally buoyed by the power of people and the transparency of science, however. Truth conquers deception.

The dedication and acumen of my FracTracker colleagues – Samantha and Matt based in Pittsburgh and Karen based near Ithaca, NY – inflate my outlook. We’re a strong team. The league we cavort with is collectively even more impressive. From accomplished grassroots warriors to cutting-edge scientists, connecting and collaborating, sharing data and information, we’re an unequaled force for good.

Gas companies aren’t inherently evil, and the jury is divided on the pros and cons of their primary product, but the stakes are big, enormous, titanic.  If drilling occurs, it must be done in a manner that is truly sustainable – for everyone and everything. Sustainability only prevails through thorough, comprehensive, ongoing research and an absolute commitment – by government and industry – to the public interest.

FracTracker resolves, with the help of other teams in our league, to be a broker of reality – to what’s really happening on the ground, in the air, to our water, to our health, to public policy – wherever and whenever gas extraction occurs. Ideally, this service will eventually become unnecessary, unjustified. In the meantime, we’re glad to be “in” the field defending our common future and, as they say, a good defense always wins.

Contact Information:
Brook Lenker
Director, FracTracker

“Administrative” Violations Should not be Dismissed

Last night, I queried the Oil and Gas Compliance Report wizard the PADEP website for Marcellus Shale violations from 2005 through February 15, 2012. The resulting document contained 4,072 rows of data, which as tallied by the DEP includes 3,497 violations, and 976 enforcement actions.

For an industry that would like to convince us that it is producing safe and clean energy, these numbers are pretty big. When presented with numbers like this, I hear the following refutation with surprising frequency:  “Most of those are administrative violations.  It’s just paperwork.”

Administrative and Environmental Health and Safety Violations for MS Wells in PA by Year(1)

So about 58 percent of the total number of violations are indeed categorized as administrative, which is a significant majority of all the Marcellus Shale violations in Pennsylvania (1).  And yet, this is merely an observation, not an effective counterpoint to the  argument that there sure are a lot of violations associated with this industry.  This is doubly true when trying to address the fact that some operators have a better culture of compliance than others.  If we were to take the leap that many have that administrative violations amount to paperwork, shouldn’t they be easy to avoid?  If a drilling operator in this multi-billion dollar industry wanted to convey respect for Pennsylvania’s laws, wouldn’t adequate paperwork be a good place to start?

But if you take a closer look at the administrative data, the paperwork argument itself begins to fall into disarray. To date, there have been 59 violation codes used under the administrative category.  Let’s take a closer look at the 15 of those which have been cited most frequently:

15 most frequent administrative violations for Marcellus Shale wells in PA

And here is the color key for the chart above:

The two most frequent administrative violations cited are so vague that they are practically meaningless for our purposes.  With many of the rest of the categories, it is possible to argue that they are fundamentally administrative or fundamentally environmental, health and safety in nature.  Obviously, these are my interpretations, but I think that in general, categories in green seem to be matters of procedure while categories in red reflect actual problems in the field.

Not only are there more administrative violations in the red category than the green, but the truly administrative violations are also important.  If something goes wrong at the well site and the operator cannot be contacted because they didn’t post the required signage, that is a problem.  If there are insufficient plans for dealing with erosion and sedimentation, that’s a problem.  If such plans exist, but they aren’t on site where the workers can access them, that’s a problem too.

Before laying the “it’s just paperwork” argument to rest, let’s take a look at the exchange of paper with pictures of presidents’ faces on them:

PADEP fines for Marcellus Shale wells, sorted by violation type

Yikes! Once we recover from the fact that the aggregate fine totals are trending sharply downward (3), the question that we were trying to address is pretty obvious: more fines are assessed for violations categorized as administrative than for environmental health and safety ones.  All together, almost 63 percent of the $22 million in DEP fines for Marcellus Shale wells have been for “administrative” violations.

So can we please dispense with the notion that “it’s just paperwork”?

  1. Astute readers will note:
    A) There is a value for 2001, when data was queried from 2005 onward. Clearly, this reflects an input error in the violation issue date.
    B) There are 4,080 records being accounted for, which doesn’t equal any of the three numbers above. Here then is the story of this data….There are indeed 3,497 unique violation ID numbers, but some of these are used to address more than one concern, which explains the 4,072 rows. The original data did not contain location information, so I merged that data with permit data, using the API number for a match. This resulted in 4,732 records, as there are often more than one entry for a single API in the permit data. Therefore, I took the results and removed duplicate lines, the result of which was 4,080 records.
  2. However, if we look at data from 2011 on, we see that there are more Environmental Health and Safety violations than Administrative ones.
  3. There is often a considerable latency period between the incident and when the fine is issued, especially for high profile cases. But still, given the media attention given to oil and gas fines recently, this downward trend is surprising, to say the least.
Public Health - Prevent. Promote. Protect.

Barriers to Public Health in HB 1950

By Jerome A. Paulson, MD, FAAP – Professor of Pediatrics & Public Health, George Washington University; Medical Director, National & Global Affairs, Child Health Advocacy Institute; and Director, Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health & the Environment, Children’s National Medical Center

Public Health - Prevent. Promote. Protect.I feel very strongly that the language of Pennsylvania’s HB 1950 (found below this commentary) is detrimental to the delivery of personal health care services and contradictory to the ethical principles of medicine and public health.

This legislation blocks health care professionals and public health professionals from collecting information in a timely fashion to treat workers or others who may have been exposed to hazardous chemicals and from gathering information about public health hazards. There is no medical or public health rational for imposing these cumbersome and time consuming restrictions; and, conversely, there is every medical and public health reason for making this information available to medical personnel and the general public.

This legislation will also likely block any attempt at gathering information for research purposes, although, I’m certainly not a lawyer and would defer to the expertise of someone with a background in public health law.

Irrespective of one’s personal or organizational perspective on unconventional natural gas extraction, access to this information will protect individuals who have been exposed, health care workers called upon to treat these individuals, and the general public. I hope that the Pennsylvania Medical Society, the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the state family medicine and public health associations, with appropriate support from their national bodies, take notice of this legislation and follow up appropriately.

(This commentary was written prior to the passing of HB 1950 and has been slightly revised to reflect the current status of the bill. Learn about additional concerns related to this bill in a previous FracTracker post.)

Dr. Marilyn J. Heine, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, recently wrote an op-ed regarding this issue, as well.

Snippet of HB 1950:

18 (10) A vendor, service company or operator shall
19 identify the specific identity and amount of any chemicals
20 claimed to be a trade secret or confidential proprietary
21 information to any health professional who requests the
22 information in writing if the health professional executes a
23 confidentiality agreement and provides a written statement of
24 need for the information indicating all of the following:
25 (i) The information is needed for the purpose of
26 diagnosis or treatment of an individual.
27 (ii) The individual being diagnosed or treated may
28 have been exposed to a hazardous chemical.
29 (iii) Knowledge of information will assist in the
30 diagnosis or treatment of an individual.

1 (11) If a health professional determines that a medical
2 emergency exists and the specific identity and amount of any
3 chemicals claimed to be a trade secret or confidential
4 proprietary information are necessary for emergency
5 treatment, the vendor, service provider or operator shall
6 immediately disclose the information to the health
7 professional upon a verbal acknowledgment by the health
8 professional that the information may not be used for
9 purposes other than the health needs asserted and that the
10 health professional shall maintain the information as
11 confidential. The vendor, service provider or operator may
12 request, and the health professional shall provide upon
13 request, a written statement of need and a confidentiality
14 agreement from the health professional as soon as
15 circumstances permit, in conformance with regulations
16 promulgated under this chapter.
17 (c) Disclosures not required.–Notwithstanding any other
18 provision of this chapter, a vendor, service provider or
19 operator shall not be required to do any of the following:
20 (1) Disclose chemicals that are not disclosed to it by
21 the manufacturer, vendor or service provider.
22 (2) Disclose chemicals that were not intentionally added
23 to the stimulation fluid.
24 (3) Disclose chemicals that occur incidentally or are
25 otherwise unintentionally present in trace amounts, may be
26 the incidental result of a chemical reaction or chemical
27 process or may be constituents of naturally occurring
28 materials that become part of a stimulation fluid.
29 (d) Trade secrets and confidential proprietary
30 information.–

1 (1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter,
2 a vendor, service company or operator shall not be required
3 to disclose trade secrets or confidential proprietary
4 information to the chemical disclosure registry.
5 (2) The following shall apply:
6 (i) If the specific identity of a chemical, the
7 concentration of a chemical or both the specific identity
8 and concentration of a chemical are claimed to be a trade
9 secret or confidential proprietary information, the
10 vendor, service provider or operator may withhold the
11 specific identity, the concentration, or both the
12 specific identity and concentration, of the chemical from
13 the information provided to the chemical disclosure
14 registry.
15 (ii) Nothing under this paragraph shall prohibit any
16 of the following from obtaining from a vendor, service
17 provider or operator information that may be needed to
18 respond to a spill or release:
19 (A) The department.
20 (B) A public health official.
21 (C) An emergency manager.
22 (D) A responder to a spill, release or a
23 complaint from a person who may have been directly
24 and adversely affected or aggrieved by the spill or
25 release.
26 (iii) Upon receipt of a written statement of need
27 for the information under subparagraph (ii), the
28 information shall be disclosed by the vendor, service
29 provider or operator to the requesting official or entity
30 authorized under subparagraph (ii) and shall not be a

1 public record.
2 (e) Disclosure prevented.–The department shall prevent
3 disclosure of trade secrets or confidential proprietary
4 information under this section pursuant to the requirements of
5 the Right-to-Know Law or other applicable State law.

Author Contact Information:
Jerome A. Paulson, MD, FAAP

  • Professor of Pediatrics & Public Health, George Washington University
  • Medical Director, National & Global Affairs, Child Health Advocacy Institute
  • Director, Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health & the Environment, Children’s National Medical Center

2233 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite #317
Washington, DC 20007

HB 1950 votes and numbers of wells

Covert Affairs in the Commonwealth

trans·par·ent  [trans-pair-uhnt, -par-]


    1. admitting the passage of light through interstices.
    2. easily seen through, recognized, or detected: transparent excuses.

antonyms:  opaque  |  secretive  |  HB 1950

While House Bill 1950 is not actually listed as an antonym to “transparent” in the dictionary, its passing certainly acted that way. On February 8, 2012, PA’s HB 1950 was quickly bullied through the Senate and House with very little public transparency on what it contained. The lack of transparency during the move to pass the bill is similar to that of a drilled wells map for PA (yes, that’s a corny GIS joke). It now awaits the signature of Gov. Corbett – who has thanked the General Assembly for passing it. While HB 1950 institutes a sort-of impact tax that counties can decide whether or not to implement, the fee is the lowest in the country and is dependent partly on the [low] commercial price of gas. The bill also reduces the ability of local municipalities from individually zoning drilling (including pipelines). Tack onto all of that the fact that the data on these wells is just not up to speed with the pace of drilling. In one of Matt’s recent post about how many permits there are in PA right now, he notes that not even the PA DEP numbers can give you a straight answer. These numerical discrepancies make you wonder how thoroughly any permitting site assessments can be conducted when not all of the well locations can be accounted for. That issue makes the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center’s recent report looking at drilling data even more frightening. Their analysis revealed that the gas drilling industry was responsible for 3,355 Marcellus Violations  between 2008 and 2011, many of which were not simply paperwork violations. At least the money set aside in the proposed state budget for improving emergency response on drills sites will be well worth it.

Ah yes, the proposed state budget… This intriguing reading was introduced by the Governor on the 8th, as well. According to John Quigley there is much to love and even more to hate in the 2012-13 budget proposal. To start off, this version of the budget WOULD NOT reopen the state forests to more leasing, something that many environmental groups were concerned could happen to help alleviate the state’s budget deficit. However, the Keystone Fund monies ($46 million) WOULD be reallocated into the general fund. This would be a major setback to conservation work because normally the money would be granted out to land trusts and conservation groups. That means less conservation work all around – at a time when it’s is needed more than ever.

There is much more to all of these issues, but instead of reinventing the wheel, here is a nice summary about the lack of transparency related to HB 1950. If you are interested in seeing how your representative voted on HB 1950, click on these links: PA House Roll Call Votes | PA Senate Roll Call Votes or check out the map below showing two layers of data on the:

  1. Number of wells per PA Senate district on a light to dark purple spectrum (darker indicates more wells)
  2. Vote on HB 1950, with green hatching indicating “yes” votes and red hatching indicating “no” votes.
To get the most out of this map: zoom in to your area of interest, click on the identify “i” button, and then click on a place on the map that you would like to learn more about.


PA Marcellus Drilled Wells Data Updated

A few days ago, I talked about the nebulous situation in trying to determine just how many Marcellus Shale permits there are in Pennsylvania. Many of the same concerns with permits can lead to multiple occurrences on the spud report which is the source of the drilled well data in Pennsylvania.

Without going into all the monotonous details once again, as of February 1, 2012, there were 4,534 records on the spud report, representing 4,274 distinct wells.  The following are depictions of the larger number, both spatially and temporally.

Drilled Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania. To hide the menus, please click on the gray compass rose and double carat (^) icons.

Approaching 10K Unconventional Wells in PA

How Many MS Permits Are There in PA?

People interested in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale data frequently ask me what they think is a relatively straightforward question: how many drilling permits are there for Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania? As it happens, this is actually a somewhat complicated question, as there are numerous paths to finding the answer, all of which will lead to a different result. Consider, for example:

  • If you go to the Well Permit Workload Report for the week ending 1/20/12, the answer is provided for you: 9,883. But…
  • …if you search the Permits Issued Detail Report using the same end date, you will be given the result since the year 2000 as 9,868.
  • The above item is particularly confusing when you realize that it consists of 11,209 rows of data. No problem, you say, I’ll just use my Excel skills to pivot the data by it’s unique API number, and as of today’s data we’re down to a mere 9,880 (plus two items with the wrong numerical formatting altogether).

So which number is right? In my opinion, none of them. If you follow the API link above, you will see that there are serveral components to the API number, which generally is in the format AB-CDE-FGHIJ-KL-MN, where each letter is represented by a digit ranging from 0 to 9. Here’s what they mean:

  • “AB” represents the state code. In Pennsylvania, the code is “37”, but it is not included on the DEP dataset.
  • “CDE” is the county code, which is alphabetical, and starts at 001. So for example, Allegheny County has a code of 003, since it is near the start of the alphabet, while Washington County is 125, which is near the end.
  • “FGHIJ” is the unique well indicator. In theory, this allows for 100,000 wells per county to each have their own number. If you count the distinct combination of county codes and unique well indicators, there were 8,942 well permits as of 1-20.
  • “KL” indicates the directional sidetrack code. This could represent multiple horizontal components of a well, so there is some wiggle room for argument if you want to consider each horizontal segment to be its own well. I argue against it, as the language talks about there being numerous horizontal components to a well, but for the record if you include it, then the number is 9,638.
  • “MN” represents the event sequence code, which includes modifications to existing wells that also require permit actions. The number of distinct Marcellus Shale permits if you were to include the directional sidetrack and event sequence code would be 9,878 as of the 20th of January.

So…which number is right?  My interpretation of what the code means is that to count the number of wells in any given state, you should include all of the three digit county codes and all of the five digit unique well indicators (or “CDE-FGHIJ”, as described above.)  As of January 20th, that number was 8,942 for Marcellus Shale well permits in Pennsylvania, and as of today, that number is 9,005.

Sometime this year, I expect that the number of total Marcellus Shale permits in Pennsylvania to top the 10,000 mark.  But if that claim comes within the next week or two, my opinion is that it isn’t an accurate representation of the data–even if the claim comes from the DEP itself.

The following charts contain data through the end of January 2012.  The first is based on 11,297 permit actions (or records on the permit report), while the second is classified by unique 8 digit well API numbers.