Non Marcellus Shale Horizontal Wells in PA


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

Did you know that there have been sixty horizontal oil and gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania since 2008 that are not Marcellus Shale wells? Since they are bunched together, I have split them into two separate maps, one for Southwestern Pennsylvania, and another for the northern portions of the state.

Click on the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus. For more information on any well, click the “i” button in the blue circle, then any map feature.

[maps removed]

Ethylene Cracker Would Contribute Jobs, Air Pollution

Last year, Shell Chemicals announced its intentions to build a multi-billion dollar ethylene cracker “in Appalachia”, effectively setting the stage for a bidding war between Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. There have been numerous other plans for such plants in the area, including a recent partnership trying to get Aither Chemicals catalytic cracking process up in running, once again, “in Appalachia.”  The interest in the region is mostly due to the Marcellus and Utica shale gas produced in the region, which contains mostly methane (so-called natural gas used for heating, cooking, etc.), as well as other hydrocarbons that must be removed from the methane before the gas is put into pipelines.  These other hydrocarbons are mostly ethane, propane, and butane, which are converted into ethylene, propylene, and butadiene, respectively, through a process called cracking, and are then used for the creation of plastics, synthetic rubber, and other petrochemicals.

Whichever state lands these massive facilities stands to gain several thousand temporary construction jobs and several hundred permanent positions at the facility.  It seems reasonable to take a look at other similar facilities in the country, not only to get a reasonable idea of the economic contribution, but also to gain insight on the facility’s contribution to air pollution in the region.

I have chosen to look at the cracker in Norco, Loisiana, also run by Shell Chemicals. Norco is the ultimate company town, named for the now defunct New Orleans Refining Company, it contains not only the Shell plant, but also major petrochemical facilities owned by Dow, Hexion, and Valero. There is also a presence by Motiva, but all indications are that this is functionally part of the Shell plant that is simply owned by a different company.

Norco, LA as seen from Google Earth

According to the Shell page linked above, the facility employs 600 full time workers and 160 contractors for an annual payroll of $50 million. It also contributes $22 million in state, local, and property taxes to the community. That’s all very significant, albeit a far cry from the 17,000 jobs, $1 billion in wages, and $169 million in tax revenues that the good people of Ohio are being promised–perhaps those figures are over the estimated life of the facility, who knows? I’m guessing the proposed facility in Appalachia won’t be 22 times larger than the one in Norco, Louisiana though.

In terms of air emissions, it is hard to know what to expect. Emissions may wind up being quite different from Norco’s due to a different chemical composition of the feedstock, for example.  However, to get the conversation started, I have compiled the EPA’s 2008 National Emissions Inventory (NEI) estimated emissions for Norco, as well as a well known polluter that’s already in the area, Clairton Coke Works. I should mention that based on my experience, I don’t have a lot of faith of the validity of NEI data, especially for data in Pennsylvania (see this discussion about Clairton, for example), but it is what’s available.  Also, I need to mention that the data for Shell is aggregated between the Norco East, Norco West, and Motiva facilities, because from looking at the the websites for Shell and Motiva, the whole operation seems to be focused around cracking.  Let’s take a look:

2008 USEPA National Emissions Inventory for the Coke Works in Clairton, PA and the Shell ethylene cracker in Norco, LA

Now before you go to the EPA site to research these 84 pollutants, I didn’t put these up for direct comparison, since the facilities are obviously quite different. The point is that in an area that still largely in nonattainment for fine particulate matter and just recently re-entering attainment for ozone, the prospect of adding another major emitter of particulates and ozone and particulate precursors (as well as a whole host of other junk) isn’t going to help.

PA Oil and Gas Inspection Data Available

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has updated their delivery mechanism of violation data, and it is now possible to search all inspections, including those that do not result in violations. To test it out, I downloaded all oil and gas inspection data from January 1, 2011 to January 16, 2012. Here is a summary of the results from that query:

While the vast majority of instances where no violations were issued were recorded in Column F, it seemed likely to me that no violations would have been issued for any category in rows D through I, so I aggregated those columns and divided by the total number of inspections.

According to the report instructions, the report was intended to include only those violations that resulted in a violation, but the final compliance report does allow for seeing all results. This is a very good thing, a it provides us with another way to evaluate the various operators within industry.

Before I present that data for the Marcellus Shale operators, I should point out a source of skew: When an inspection yields more than one violation, there are multiple entries for the actual inspection. For example, if one inspection yielded ten violations, this analysis would look at it as ten inspections, each of which yielded one violation. Clearly, that would distort the actual number of inspections with violations downward, resulting in more favorable scores for any operator with multiple violations on any one inspection. That in mind, let’s consider the following results to be preliminary.  Still, it is useful in combination with the violations per well and violations per million cubic feet of production metrics to triangulate in on the operators’ culture of compliance.

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PA DEP Oil and Gas Site Updated

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has at long last updated their webpage for the Office of Oil and Gas Management.

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Screenshot of newly updated Office of Oil and Gas Management website at the Pennsylvania DEP

The changes are more than cosmetic; the entire data delivery system has been updated as well, where the use now fills out querry boxes and searches for items of interest rather than downloading flat datasets of the DEP’s choosing. In the next couple of days, I be uploading the relevant data onto FracTracker’s DataTool with a hopeful expectation that it will go a long way towards addressing the data problems that the site has historically been plagued with.

Where is public health at the Marcellus table?

Missing from the Table: Role of the Environmental Public Health Community in Governmental Advisory Commissions Related to Marcellus Shale Drilling

Below is the abstract for an article submitted by Goldstein, Kriesky, and Pavliakova to Environmental Health Perspectives, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal about today’s most pressing environmental health issues. Or, download the entire article (PDF).  Note: As of 6-25-12, the EHP link above is not working because their website is down. The link to the full PDF will be provided as soon as possible.

This is Public Health stickerThe Marcellus Shale is a vast natural gas field underlying parts of Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland. Rapid development of this field has been enabled by advances in hydrofracking techniques that include injection of chemical and physical agents deep underground. Response to public concern about potential adverse environmental and health impacts has led to the formation of state and national advisory committees.

We review the extent to which advisory committees formed in 2011 by the US Department of Energy and the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania contain individuals with expertise pertinent to human environmental public health. We also analyze the extent to which human health issues are of concern to the public by reviewing the presentations to the public meeting of the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board Natural Gas Subcommittee.

At a public hearing held by the President’s Natural Gas Subcommittee 62.7% of those not in favor of drilling mentioned health issues. Although public health is specified to be a concern in the executive orders forming these three advisory committees, we could identify no individuals with health expertise among the 52 members of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission; the Maryland Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission; or the Secretary of Energy’s Natural Gas Subcommittee.

Despite recognition of the environmental public health concerns related to drilling in the Marcellus Shale, neither state nor national advisory committees selected to respond to these concerns contained recognizable environmental public health expertise.

Read more»

Full Citation: Goldstein BD, Kriesky J, Pavliakova B. 2012. Missing from the Table: Role of the Environmental Public Health Community in Governmental Advisory Commissions Related to Marcellus Shale Drilling. Environ Health Perspect :-.  Received: 07 October 2011; Accepted: 10 January 2012; Online: 10 January 2012

DataTool MS Permit Updates Throughout the Marcellus Shale Region

Marcellus Shale permit data has been updated in recent days for the following states:

Permits throughout the Marcellus Shale Region. Please click the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus.

In addition to the above updates, I have verified that there are currently no Marcellus Shale permits in Maryland and Virginia, although there is interest for such activity in each state. Also, while the Marcellus Shale is not typically thought to extend into Kentucky, the West Virginia wells extended sufficiently close to the border to make searching in neighboring counties worthwhile. While there are wells drilled into other Devonian shales, the Marcellus Shale is not represented in Boyd, Greenup, Lawrence, Martin, or Pike Counties in Kentucky.

TOXMAP: Learn about toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing

The National Library of Medicine’s TOXMAP now provides information on the toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Companies involved in hydraulic fracturing are not currently required to report to the US EPA Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program and so are not represented in TOXMAP. However, TOXMAP provides information on many of the most toxic chemicals used.

TOXMAP is a Geographic Information System (GIS) – like FracTracker’s DataTool – from the Division of Specialized Information Services of the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) that uses maps of the United States to help users visually explore data from the US Environmental Protection Agency TRI and Superfund Programs.

Youngstown Earthquake Related to Gas Extraction Industry?

Youngstown, Ohio rang out the old year in style, with a magnitude 4.0 earthquake that apparently felt as far away as Buffalo, but received attention nationally (See the LA Times blog titled 4.0 quake hits Youngstown Ohio. Yes, Ohio.) There is a widespread notion that the temblor was related to Class II injection wells in the area–see for example this Akron Beacon Journal article where Ohio state geologist Michael Hansen is quoted as saying there is “little doubt” that this latest in a series of 11 quakes is the result of activities at injection wells in the immediate area. The article goes on to say that his boss, Ohio Department of Natural Resources director James Zehringer, closed several injection wells in the area as the issue is being examined.

But wait a second…if you go to this NPR link, you see an AP story titled “Earthquake Strikes Near Ohio Fracking Site”, where the same James Zehringer is quoted as saying, “The seismic events are not a direct result of fracking.”

What gives? Actually, there is no discrepancy at all, except that the AP writer lumped injection wells together with hydraulic fracturing, which have some similarities in that they highly pressurized oil injections of oil and gas related fluids, but the two are in fact different. Therefore, saying that the seismic events are not a direct result of fracking is completely true.

But it does make one wonder…most of Pennsylvania has been deemed unsuitable for brine injection wells, which is why much of our waste water has gone to Ohio in the first place. But if these supposedly safe activities can result in a disturbance equivalent to 15 metrics tons of TNT, maybe we don’t really understand what we’re doing down there.

Here are maps showing earthquakes near the Ohio river basin since 1973. For more information on any event, hit the blue “i” button, followed by any map feature. Clicking the gray compass rose and double carat (^) will hide those menus.