Introducing: FracTracker’s comprehensive new Pennsylvania map!
FracTracker Alliance has developed a new comprehensive map for Pennsylvania that includes 208,778 oil and gas wells along with 57,132 violations assessed to both conventional and unconventional well sites since 2008.
Nuts & Bolts
Although we’ve made many different maps to show the spread of the oil and gas industry across the Commonwealth over the years, this one is set up a little differently from the others.
The fundamental difference is that conventional and unconventional wells are shown on the same map, with plugged wells also included. Previously, putting over a quarter-million points on a map resulted in very sluggish map performance, but we are taking advantage of improved data delivery capabilities from ArcGIS Online, which we’ve been using for our online mapping system since 2012.
Serving data is only a portion of the bottleneck with map performance when using large datasets – as all of this has to be funneled through the end user’s computer system, internet connection, and browser software. Because these factors can vary tremendously from person to person, it still makes sense to do everything that we can to minimize the effect of loading datasets as enormous as the full inventory of Pennsylvania wells.
For that reason, we continue to use “generalized” layers, which are formed by creating a buffer zone point facilities that display when users are zoomed out. This allows for a visual representation of the industry’s extent, while significantly reducing load times – by not drawing dot, on top of dot, on top of dot – until the user zooms in to a scale of 1:500,000, which is about the size of a county.
Figure 1. Part of a dense cluster of wells in Armstrong County and Indiana County.
But there is still good news for those who enjoy looking at maps with thousands of dots on it, as the screenshot of the border between Armstrong County and Indiana County demonstrates.
In fact, I’m a bit concerned that this density may still be too much data for some computer systems to efficiently handle. To that end, please let me know if you are having difficulty loading the maps. There are some additional adjustments that could be made if this seems to be a widespread issue.
The foundation for this map is a data layer called “Oil and Gas Locations – Conventional Unconventional,” which is published by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and made available on the Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access, also known as PASDA.
PASDA has another dataset of wells that has even more locations, 220,015 in total as of January 11, 2022. Despite having five percent more wells in that inventory than the one we used, it is much less comprehensive in terms of associated data fields. We don’t know whether these wells are conventional or unconventional, for one example, or whether the well is for production or waste injection, for another. Such differences serve a good reminder that available data and realities in the field are not always the same thing.
Oil & Gas Wells in Pennsylvania
This map shows conventional and unconventional oil and gas activity in Pennsylvania through 1/12/2022. View the map “Details” tab below in the top left corner to learn more and access the data, or click on the map to explore the dynamic version of this data. Data sources are also listed at the end of this article. In order to turn layers on and off in the map, use the Layers dropdown menu on the left. This tool is only available in Full Screen view. Items will activate in this map dependent on the level of zoom in or out.
FracTracker, along with DEP, typically separate conventional and unconventional wells when mapping them. We’ve done that here as well, although we have modified the dataset by separating three different well statuses and one group of well types that we think are of interest to our users.
The well categories shown in this map are as follows:
- Conventional (n=97,844), shown in orange pentagons. This includes wells with an “N” (meaning “No”) indicator in the “Unconventional” field in the dataset, with well statuses of Active, Plugged Unverified, Regulatory Inactive Status, and Uncharted Mined Through.
- Unconventional (n=12,795), shown in purple pentagons. This includes wells with a “Y” (meaning “Yes”) indicator in the “Unconventional” field in the dataset, with the same well statuses as Conventional, above.
- Plugged (n=48,925), shown in grey pentagons. Either conventional or unconventional wells that have a status of DEP Plugged, Plugged Mined Through, or Plugged OG well. Note that there are additional wells that have a plug date in the dataset, but with some other status, and are not included here. As we are unable to evaluate the contradictory data in the field, we had no choice but to pick a methodology for determining plugged wells and stick with it. In all, there are 2,629 wells with one of the plugged statuses above that do not have a plug date entered. For the reverse scenario, there are 301 wells that do have a plug date while having a status that does not suggest the well is plugged.
- Never Drilled (n=33,488), shown in green pentagons. Either conventional or unconventional wells with the status of Operator Reported Not Drilled or Proposed but Never Materialized. Note that new wells that have been proposed but not yet drilled have an Active status, and are not included here.
- Orphaned and Abandoned (n=12,691), shown with red pentagons. These are either conventional or unconventional wells with a status of Abandoned, DEP Abandoned List, or DEP Orphan List. Note that the actual number of orphaned and abandoned wells is much higher, with estimates up to 750,000 such wells having been drilled since before the Civil War, according to research by Mary Kang, et al, which has been cited by DEP, as well. Most of these wells have not been relocated in the field, however, so haven’t been added to the official inventory.
Injection / Service / Storage (n=3,035), shown with black pentagons. These are wells that are not currently intended for oil and gas production, and include the well types of Injection, Observation, Storage Well, Test Well, and Waste Disposal. Well status supersedes this category, so that a plugged waste disposal well will be shown as a plugged well on this map, for example.
In addition to all the wells, this map shows violations, including for conventional wells. Altogether, DEP has cited 78,153 code violations since 2008, according to its compliance report. Unfortunately, the report does not include location data for any of these incidents. However, FracTracker was able to determine the location of 51,023 violations by matching the offending wells’ API numbers to the oil and gas location data discussed above.
Still, there remains a major subset of violations where the API number, along with county and municipality data, for that matter, are not available. Many of these are not assessed to any individual well, per se, but rather to the well pad itself. We were able to match an additional 6,109 violations by matching the Site ID number to the same well dataset above. In such cases, the violations were given the coordinates of the first well on the site that the spreadsheet came across, which could be any of the wells on the pad.
Unfortunately, there are a large number of violations that we were not able to match through either method – 21,021 of them, to be exact.
Some of these are certainly midstream and are associated with pipelines instead of well sites. Either way, about 27 percent of the violations are missing because DEP does not include enough location data – or for that matter – enough other data for us to figure out where they are located.
Despite the dataset’s shortcomings, it really does contain a wealth of information, including the specific Pennsylvania legal code that was violated and the field notes of the on-site inspector. As an example, I’ll share the notes for one of the six violations for one of my least favorite wells, the Sedat 3A waste disposal injection well in my community of Plum Borough, on the western edge of Allegheny County.
On July 21, 2021, a violation of 78.51(h), which requires the protection of water supplies, was issued:
Admin inspection in response to a water supply complaint and a phone call with Marc Jacobs of Penneco.
On 7/11/21, a water supply complaint was reported to the Department. In this complaint, the complainant mentions that a member of Penneco had already conducted sampling of the complainant’s water supply.
On 7/22/21, the Department spoke to Marc Jacobs (Penneco) via phone. Jacobs stated that he notified the EPA of the complaint, but did not notify the DEP.
Per current regulations, a well operator who receives notice from a landowner, water purveyor, or affected person that a water supply has been affected by pollution or diminution, shall report receipt of notice from an affected person to the Department within 24 hours of receiving the notice.
Violation is being issued under 25 PA CODE 78.51(h) for failure to report receipt of notice from an affected person of a potentially polluted water supply to the Department within 24 hours of receiving the notice.
As an aside, I feel as if DEP deserves a violation here as well, as it took 11 days between learning of the contaminated residential water supply and contacting the offending company. If the data is to be believed, they somehow issued the citation a day before the conversation listed above actually happened, so maybe the agency deserves another violation for that inconsistency, as well.
I won’t let the federal Environmental Protection Agency off the hook here, either.
I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for this communication that was apparently sent to that agency instead of DEP, and while they did find relevant documents, they refused to release them after stalling for three months, arguing that, as the records were sent there erroneously, that “EPA has no records, as defined under the FOIA, that are responsive to your request,” according to their official reply.
The Take Away
This is the story of just one of the 57,132 violations shown on the map. Obviously, some of these stories will be more compelling than others. While it isn’t possible to sit and read them all, it is worth spending some time browsing the map and reading the stories of some of the 73 percent of violations that we were able to map, either in your neighborhood or at random throughout the state. This will convey a sense of the damage that the industry has caused to the land, water, and residents of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania since 2008. Chronicling these events is a great first step. Here’s hoping that one day the Department will use this data to develop policies that actually protect the environment, as their name and mission suggests they ought to do.
References & Where to Learn More
The data used to construct this map can be downloaded here. As always, please be sure to check the map’s Details tab on the toolbar for more information.
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