Data driven discussions about gas extraction and related topics.

Comparing Unconventional Drilling in Southwestern PA

By Matt Unger, GIS Intern, FracTracker Alliance

We recently received a request  for unconventional (fracking) drilling data in Southwestern Pennsylvania counties and municipalities. Specifically, the resident wanted to know the following information:

  1. Number of drilled wells in Southwestern PA counties, and in each municipality,
  2. How many wells are producing natural gas in each municipality, and
  3. The number of well violations reported there.

The following counties in Southwestern PA were studied (based on available electronic data): Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington, and Westmoreland.

The well production data was compiled from a production report found on the Pennsylvania DEP Office of Oil and Gas website. This report detailed production values from unconventional gas wells statewide from January 2014 – June 2014. The well violation data was compiled using the Pennsylvania DEP Office of Oil and Gas’s interactive Oil and Gas Compliance report. From here, a compliance report was created using the following criteria: All PA regions, counties, and municipalities, all well operators, unconventional wells only, and wells inspected from 1/1/2000 – 9/9/2014.

Drilling Data Trends

Once all of the data was compiled, we created a spreadsheet that included a ratio of violations/wells for each municipality and county. Below are a few observations that stood out to us, followed by possible explanations for what has been reported.

  • Slightly less than 1/3 of all wells drilled in the 11 counties selected for this analysis have committed some sort of violation (.31).
  • The ratio of violations to wells drilled in Somerset County is 1.38, by far the largest ratio discovered. This means than more than one violation has been cited for every well drilled in that area, but that does not mean that every well carries with it a violation. The second largest ratio would be Cambria County at 1.00.
  • If you break down the numbers and look at municipality trends, the largest violation/wells ratio by municipality is found in Stewart Township, Fayette County (9.00). There have been 18 reported violations in association with the 2 wells drilled in the area.
  • Of the 60 municipalities that recorded no violations, South Buffalo Township in Armstrong County has the most wells drilled with 20.
  • Across the 11 counties studied, Allegheny County has the lowest ratio of violation/wells (.007).
  • Violations were reported in Somerset Township, Somerset County. No wells were drilled in this area, however.
  • Violations were reported in Wayne Township, Greene County, yet no wells were reported to be drilled in the municipality.

Explaining Some Data Caveats

Why is Allegheny County seeing such a low violation/well ratio?

Across the 11 counties studied, Allegheny County has the lowest ratio of violation/wells (.007).

Allegheny is the most populated county studied in Southwestern PA. Oil and gas drillers in the county, therefore, have the largest audience watching them. This may be encouraging the drillers to be more cautious or follow rules and regulations more strictly. Another possible explanation is that inspectors may be more lenient when reporting violations in in Allegheny County. Additionally, drillers operating primarily in Allegheny County may be are more likely to or are more capable of drilling according to the regulations. A final possibility is that Allegheny County is one of the last counties in this region to be heavily drilled, perhaps allowing for more best practices to be implemented on site compared to well pads established early on.

Violations With No Wells?

Violations were reported in Somerset Township, Somerset County. No wells were drilled in this area, however. These violations could have occurred when constructing the well pad. If construction has stopped at this site since the violation, there would not have been any wells drilled. Additionally, there may be an error in the dataset as to the actual location (e.g. county) of the well pad.

Violations were reported in Wayne Township, Greene County, yet no wells were reported to be drilled in the municipality. The PA DEP has informed FracTracker that these violations were actually reported for a well pad located in Center Township, Greene County. The entry for Wayne Township was a recording error on their part. Our data has been updated to reflect the proper number of violations reported in Center Township, as well as the removal of any activity in Wayne Township.

Download the Spreadsheet

The spreadsheet we supplied to this resident can be downloaded as a compliance report.

Updated PA Map

Explore our map of PA unconventional wells and violations by clicking on the map below:

Last updated: September 19, 2014

 

Lac Mégantic Derailment, Québec in July 2013. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lac-M%C3%A9gantic_derailment

Off the Rails: Risks of Crude Oil Transportation by Freight in NY State and Beyond

By Karen Edelstein, NY Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Since 2011, North Dakota crude oil from the Bakken Shale Play has made its way to refineries on the east coast via freight trains. This means of oil transportation is becoming increasingly common, as plans for pipeline development have been falling short, but demand for more energy development continues to climb (see New York Times, April 12 , 2014). In addition to the Bakken crude, there are also currently proposals under consideration to ship crude by rail  from Alberta’s tar sands region, along these same routes through New York State.

Alarm about the danger of these “bomb trains” came sharply into public focus after the disaster in Lac Mégantic, Québec in July 2013 when a train carrying 72 carloads of the highly volatile Bakken oil derailed, setting off a massive series of explosions that leveled several blocks of the small town, killing 47 people (photo above). The crude from the Bakken is considerably lighter than that of other oil and gas deposits, making it more volatile than the crude that has been traditionally transported by rail.

Quantifying the Risk

As estimated by the National Transportation Safety Board, with deliveries at about 400,000 barrels a day headed to the Atlantic coast, about a 20-25% of this volume passes through the Port of Albany, NY. There were recent approvals for 3 billion gallons to be processed through Albany. The remainder of the crude is delivered to other ports in the US and Canada. Any oil travelling by rail through the Port of Albany would also pass through significant population centers, including Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, NY. Binghamton, NY is also bisected by commercial rail lines.

In the past year, the New York Times, as well as other media, have reported on the threat of disasters similar to what occurred in Québec last summer, as the freight cars pass through Albany. Not only is the oil itself volatile, safety oversight is extremely spotty. According to The Innovation Trail, “… a 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office noted that the Federal Railroad Administration only examines 1-percent of the countries rail road infrastructure.”

RiverKeeper, in their recent report on the topic, notes:

Nationwide, shipping crude oil by rail has jumped six-fold since 2011, according to American Association of Railroads data, and rail shipments from the Bakken region have jumped exponentially since 2009.

This ad-hoc transportation system has repeatedly failed — and spectacularly.

The fires resulting from derailments of Bakken crude oil trains have caused fireballs and have burned so hot that emergency responders often can do nothing but wait—for days—to let the fires burn themselves out.

The Guardian has reported that a legacy of poor regulation and safety failures led to the disaster in Québec, leading to bankruptcy of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railways (MMA), and numerous class action suits. Records show that MMA was particularly lax in maintaining their rail cars and providing training for their employees. Meanwhile,  in the US, critics of rail transport of volatile crude oil point to inadequate monitoring systems, training, and, importantly, prepared and available emergency response teams that would be able to respond to explosions or disasters anywhere along the route. The size of a explosion that could occur would easily overwhelm volunteer fire and EMT services in many small towns.

These same trains pass through other major cities in Western and Central New York, including Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Utica. Not only are the railroads in proximity to significant population centers, they are also close to scores of K-12 schools, endangering the wellbeing of thousands of children (Table 1). In fact, across New York State, 495 K-12 public schools, or 12% of the total in the state, are within a half-mile of major railways–the standard evacuation distance for accidents involving railcars filled with flammable liquids and gases, as recommended by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) in their Emergency Response Guidebook. The US DOT also recommends an isolation zone of 1600 meters (1.0 miles) around any railcars filled with those materials if they are on fire.

Map of NYS Rail Lines and K-12 Schools


Click on this interactive map or pan through the state to explore regions outside of Rochester, NY. For a full-screen view of this map, with a legend, click here.

Buffalo Rail Lines and Proximity to Schools

Fig. 1. Buffalo Rail Lines & Proximity to Schools

For example, on their way through the City of Buffalo crude-carrying freight trains pass within a half-mile of residences of more than 86,000 people, as well as 20 public schools and 4 private schools, and within a half-mile of homes of nearly 60,000 people, 15 public schools, and 5 private schools, on the way through Rochester. See Figures 1-5.

Our work stands in support of and extends the excellent analyses already focusing on the Port of Albany done this past summer by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Healthy Schools Network. (See their report, which looked at the north-south rail corridor in New York State that passes along the Hudson River, within close proximity to 75 K-12 schools).

Table 1. Summary of population statistics in proximity to railways for five New York State cities

City Population
(2010 US Census)

Within ½ Mile of  Freight Rail Way

% Population # K-12 public schools in city # K-12 private schools in city
Buffalo 261,310 33% 28 8
Rochester 214,989 27.4% 15 5
Syracuse 145,168 16% 4 1
Utica 62,230 28.5% 2 0
Binghamton 47,376 63.5% 6 0

Figures 2-5. Proximity maps for Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Binghamton, NY

Rochester, NY

Rochester, NY

Syracuse, NY

Syracuse, NY

Utica, NY

Utica, NY

Binghamton, NY

Binghamton, NY

Learn more about Oil Transportation and Accidents by Rail

Here They Come Again! The Impacts of Oil and Gas Truck Traffic

Part of the FracTracker Truck Counts Project
By Mary Ellen Cassidy, Community Outreach Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

I was recently invited by a community member to visit his home. It sits in a valley that is surrounded by drilling pads, as well as compressors and processing stations. While walking down the road that passes directly in front of his home, several caravans of gas trucks roared past and continued far into the evening. Our discussion about the unexpected barrage of this new invasion of intense truck traffic was frequently interrupted by the noise of the diesel engines passing nearby. Along with the noise, truck headlights pierced through the windows of the home, and dust flew up from the nearby road onto his garden.

There are many stories like this about homes and families impacted by the increased truck traffic associated with fracking-related activities. FracTracker is currently working with some of these communities to document the intensity of gas and oil trucks travelling their roads. In response to these concerns we have a launched a pilot Truck Counts project to provide support, resources, and networking opportunities to communities struggling with high volume gas truck traffic.

Preliminary Results

Volunteers in PA, WV, OH and WI have already started to participate in the project, with some interesting results, photos, observations, and suggestions.

TruckCountsChart

To-date, truck counts have varied significantly, as to be expected. Some of the sites where we chose to count passing trucks were very close to drilling activity, and some were more remote. While developing the counting protocol, we often included large equipment and tanker trucks, as well as gas company personnel vehicles (as indicated by white pickup trucks and company logos on the side). While the data vary, the spikes in truck counts do tell the story of a bigger and broader issue – the influx of heavy equipment during certain stages of drilling can be a significant burden on the local community. In total, we counted 676 trucks over 13 sites The average number of trucks that passed by per hour was 44, with a high of 116 an hour, and a low of 5.

About the Project

FracTracker Truck Counts partners with communities to: help identify issues of concern related to high volume gas truck traffic; collect data, photos, videos and narratives related to gas truck traffic; and analyze and share results through shared database and mapping options.

What motivates volunteers to join us in our Truck Counts program? Community concerns include dust, diesel exhaust, spills, accidents, along with other health and safety issues, as well as the cost and inconvenience of deteriorating road conditions resulting from the increased weights and numbers of vehicles. So, what do we already know about the extent of the damages caused by heavy truck traffic?

Public Safety

Several studies have found that shale gas development is strongly linked to increased traffic accidents and that the increases cannot be attributed only to more trucks and people on the road.

Unlike gas truck traffic issues from past oil and gas booms, this recent shale gas boom impacts traffic and public safety in many different ways. The hydraulic fracturing process requires 2,300 to 4,000 truck trips per well, where older drilling techniques needed one-third to one-half as many trips. Another difference is the speed of development that often far outpaces the capacity of communities to build better roads, bridges, install more traffic signals or hire extra traffic officers. Some experts explain increased truck traffic related accidents by pointing to regulatory loopholes such as federal rules that govern how long truckers can stay on the road being less stringent for drivers in the oil and gas industry. Others note that out of state drivers in charge of large heavy duty loads are not always accustomed to the regional weather patterns or the winding, narrow and hilly country roads that they travel.

An Associated Press analysis of traffic deaths in six drilling states shows that in some counties, fatalities have more than quadrupled since 2004 when most other American roads have become much safer in that period (even with growing populations). Marvin Odum, who runs Royal Dutch Shell’s exploration operations in the Americas, said that deadly crashes are “recognized as one of the key risk areas of the business”. Along with the community, gas truck drivers themselves are at risk. According to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, vehicle crashes are the single biggest cause of fatalities to oil and gas workers. The AP study finds that:

  •  In North Dakota drilling counties, the population has soared 43% over the last decade, while traffic fatalities increased 350%. Roads in those counties were nearly twice as deadly per mile driven than the rest of the state
  • From 2009-2013-
    • Traffic fatalities in West Virginia’s most heavily drilled counties…rose 42%. Traffic deaths in the rest of the state declined 8%.
    • In 21 Texas counties where drilling has recently expanded, deaths/100,000 people are up an average of 18 % while for the rest of Texas, they are down by 20%.
    • Traffic fatalities in Pennsylvania drilling counties rose 4%, while in the rest of the state they fell 19 %.
    • New Mexico’s traffic fatalities fell 29%, except in drilling counties, where they only fell 5%.

A separate analysis by Environment America using data from the Upper Great Plans Institute finds that – “While the expanding oil industry in North Dakota has produced many benefits, the expansion has also resulted in an increase in traffic, especially heavy truck traffic. This traffic has contributed to a number of crashes, some of which have resulted in serious injuries and fatalities.” In the Bakken Shale oil region of North Dakota, the number of highway crashes increased by 68% between 2006 and 2010, with the share of crashes involving heavy trucks also increasing over that period.”1

Truck accident and spill in WV. Wetzel County Action Group photo, copyright of Ed Wade, Jr.

Truck accident and spill in WV. Wetzel County Action Group photo, copyright of Ed Wade, Jr.

Public health concerns do not end with traffic accidents and fatalities. An additional cost of heavy gas truck traffic is the strain it places on emergency service personnel. A 2011 survey by State Impact Pennsylvania in eight counties found that:

Emergency services in heavily drilled counties face a troubling paradox: Even though their population has fallen in recent years, 911 call activity has spiked — by as high as 46 percent, in one case.” Along with the demands placed on emergency responders from the number of increased calls, it also takes extra time to locate the accidents since many calls are coming from transient drivers who “don’t know which road or township they are in.

In Bradford County, a heavily drilled area, increased traffic has delayed the response times of emergency vehicles. According to an article in The Daily Review, firefighters and emergency response teams are delayed due to the increased number of accidents, gas trucks breaking down, and gas trucks running out of fuel (some companies only allow refueling once a night).

Road Deterioration and Regional Costs

Roadway degradation from truck traffic. Wetzel County Action Group photo, copyright of Ed Wade, Jr.

Roadway degradation from truck traffic. Wetzel County Action Group photo, copyright of Ed Wade, Jr.

An additional cost often passed on to the impacted communities is infrastructure maintenance. In an article from Business Week, Lynne Irwin, director of Cornell University’s local roads program in Ithaca, New York, states, “Measures to ensure that roads are repaired don’t capture the full cost of damage, potentially leaving taxpayers with the bill.”

This Food and Water Watch Report calculated the financial burden imposed on rural counties by traffic accidents alone, estimating that if the heavy truck accident rate in fracked counties had matched those untouched by the boom, $28 million would have been saved.2

Garrett County is currently struggling with anticipating potential gas traffic and road costs. The Garrett County Shale Gas Advisory Committee uses recent studies from RESI ‘s New York and Pennsylvania data to project gas truck traffic for 6 wells/pad at 22,848 trips/pad and 91,392 total truck trips the first year with increasing numbers for the next 10 years. Like many counties, Garrett County also faces the issue that weights and road use are covered by State, not County code.  There is a possibility, however, that the County could determine best “routes” for the trucks. (This is a prime example of the need and benefit for truck counts.)

Although truck companies and contractors pay permit fees, often they are either insufficient to cover costs or are not accessible to impacted counties. The Texas Tribune reports, “The Senate unanimously passed a joint resolution which would ask voters to approve spending $5.7 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, including $2.9 billion for transportation debt. But little, if any, of that money is likely to go toward repairing roads in areas hit hardest by the drilling boom.”

Commenting on the argument that gas companies already pay their fair share for road damages they cause, George Neal posts calculations on the Damascus Citizens for Sustainability website that lead him to conclude that, although “the average truck pays around 27 times the fuel taxes an average car pays… according to the Texas Department of Transportation, they do 8,000 times the damage per mile driven and drive 8 times as far each year.”

The funds needed to fill the gap between the costs of road repairs and the amount actually paid by the oil and gas companies must come from somewhere. According to a draft report from the New York Department of Transportation looking at potential Marcellus Shale development costs, “The annual costs to undertake these transportation projects are estimated to range from $90 to $156 million for State roads and from $121-$222 million for local roads. There is no mechanism in place allowing State and local governments to absorb these additional transportation costs without major impacts to other programs and other municipalities in the State.”

Poor Air Quality

Caravan of trucks. Photo by Savanna Lenker, 2014.

Caravan of trucks. Photo by Savanna Lenker, 2014.

Along with public safety and infrastructure costs, increased truck traffic associated with unconventional oil and gas extraction is found to be a major contributor to public health costs due to elevated ozone and particulate matter levels from increased emissions of heavy truck traffic and the refining and processing activities required.

In addition to ozone and particulate matter in the air, chemicals used for extraction and development also pose a serious risk. A recent study in the journal of Human and Ecological Health Assessment found that 37% of the chemicals used in drilling operations are volatile and could become airborne. Of those chemicals, more than 89% can cause damage to the eyes, skin, sensory, organs, respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, or the liver, and 81% can cause harm to the brain and nervous system. Because these chemicals can vaporize, they can enter the body not only through inhalation, but also absorption through the skin.

The Union of Concerned Scientists note that air pollution from traffic may be worsened in North Dakota by the use of unpaved roads that incorporate gravel containing a fibrous mineral called erionite, which has properties similar to asbestos. Trucks driving over such gravel roads can release harmful dust plumes into the air, which could present health risks for workers and area residents

To address and solve these problems associated with heavy truck traffic, information is needed to assess both qualitatively and quantitatively the scope of the increased truck traffic and its impacts on communities. Collection and analysis of data, as well as community input, are needed to both understand the scope of the problem and to inform effective solutions.

Joining FracTracker’s Truck Counts

In response to community concerns about the impacts of increased truck traffic in their community, FracTracker has developed the Truck Count project to document the intensity of oil and gas traffic in your region, map heavy traffic locations, and offer networking opportunities for impacted communities.

Participation in FracTracker’s Truck Counts can provide grassroots organizations with a valuable opportunity to collect local data, engage volunteers, and educate stakeholders and the public. The data, pictures and narratives collected can be used to support concerned citizens’ efforts to reroute traffic from schools, playgrounds and other sensitive areas; to inform decision makers, public health researchers, and transportation agencies; to serve as a potential launching point for more detailed, targeted studies on public health and safety along with economic development analyses; to compare costs and benefits of oil and gas energy sources to the cost and benefits of energy conservation, efficiency and renewable energy.

Also, by sharing your community’s counts and stories on FracTracker.org, you serve other communities by increasing the awareness of the impacts of oil and gas truck traffic nationwide.

FracTracker’s Truck Counts provides the following resources to conduct the counts:

  • information and education on gas and oil truck identification,
  • data sheets for easy counting, and
  • tips for selecting safe and accessible counting locations in your community.

We look forward to working with you and supporting your community. If you are interested in working on this important crowdsourcing project with us, please contact:

Mary Ellen Cassidy
Community Outreach Coordinator
Cassidy@Fractracker.org
304-312-2063


Endnotes and References

  1. In addition, a 2013 study from Resources for the Future found that shale gas development is linked to traffic accidents in Pennsylvania with a significant increase in the number of total accidents and accidents involving a heavy truck in counties with a relatively large degree of shale gas development as compared to counties with less (or no) development.
    The 2013 Food and Water Watch Report finds similar correlations. Shale gas drilling was associated with higher incidents of traffic accidents in Pennsylvania. This trend was strongest in counties with the highest density of fracking wells. The decrease in the average annual number of total vehicle crashes was 39% larger in unfracked rural counties than in heavily fracked counties. (analysis based on data from US Census Bureau, PA DEP and PennDOT).
    In a recent Karnes County, Texas analysis “Traffic accidents and fatalities have skyrocketed in the shale boom areas….with an increases of 1,000% in commercial motor vehicle accidents from 2008-2011.
    According to a 2013 Texas Public Threat Safety Report, “In the three Eagle Ford Shale counties where drilling is most active, the number of crashes involving commercial vehicles rose 470 percent between 2009 and 2011. In the 17 counties that make up the Permian Basin, fatal car crashes involving commercial vehicles have nearly tripled from 14 in 2010 to 41 in 2012.
    As a result of heavily using of publicly available infrastructure and services, fracking imposes both immediate and long-term costs on taxpayers. An Environment Texas study reveals that, “Trucks required to deliver water to a single fracking well cause as much damage to roads as 3.5 million car journeys, putting massive stress on roadways and bridges not constructed to handle such volumes of heavy traffic. Pennsylvania estimates that repairing roads affected by Marcellus Shale drilling would cost $265 million”.
  2. Researchers from the RAND Corporation and Carnegie Mellon University looked at the design life and reconstruction cost of roadways in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania. Their findings in Estimating the Consumptive Use Costs of Shale Natural Gas Extraction on Pennsylvania Roadways, note that local roads are generally designed to support passenger vehicles, not heavy trucks, and that “the useful life of a roadway is directly related to the frequency and weight of truck traffic using the roadway.” The study’s findings include:
    1. “The estimated road-reconstruction costs associated with a single horizontal well range from $13,000 to $23,000. However, Pennsylvania often negotiates with drilling companies to rebuild smaller roads that are visibly damaged, so the researchers’ conservative estimate of uncompensated roadway damage is $5,000 and $10,000 per well.
    2. While the per-well figure of $5,000-$10,000 appears small, the increasingly large number of wells being drilled means that substantial costs fall on the state: “Because there were more than 1,700 horizontal wells drilled [in Pennsylvania] in 2011, the statewide range of consumptive road costs for that year was between $8.5 and $39 million,” costs paid by state transportation authorities, and thus taxpayers.”
  3. The feature photo at the top of the page was taken by Savanna Lenker, 2014.

Statoil Eisenbarth Well Pad Fire – An Introduction

By Bill Hughes, Community Liaison, FracTracker Alliance

Monroe County on the eastern border of the State of Ohio and Wetzel County in West Virginia are very much neighbors. They literally share a very deep connection, at least geologically and physically, as they are separated by a very long, deep, 1000-foot wide valley, filled by the Ohio River. A bridge connects the surface land and its residents.

But if you literally dig a little deeper, actually a lot deeper (as in 7,000 feet down), we are seamlessly joined by the Marcellus shale layer. Below this layer, we are joined by other black shale formations where the natural gas and some of its unwelcome neighbors live.

I live in Wetzel County. From where I am sitting I am surrounded by multiple shale gas operations – and have been for over seven years. I have Chesapeake to the north; EQT to the southeast; Stone Energy to the west; Statoil to the east; and HG Energy to the south. They all are primarily extracting gas from the Marcellus formation, but just a few miles to the north of here is a Utica formation well pad (situated below the Marcellus Shale layer). It is being fracked as I write this article.

Externalizing Business Costs

Setting aside the different political and regulatory differences that might exist when comparing WV & OH, the terrain, topography, and cultural history are very similar. The impact of shale gas extraction in a rural community seems to be the same everywhere it is happening, as well. We have all had traffic congestion, road accidents, problems with air and water quality, and waste disposal challenges. All of the drilling companies use fresh water from the Ohio River or its tributaries. WV gas producers take much of their brine and flowback fluids to injections wells in OH for disposal. The grateful OH drillers truck their waste products to our landfills here in Wetzel County and the operators seem pleased with the arrangement. Externalizing costs to our communities seems to be an accepted and tolerated business model.

About Statoil

Statoil is a large natural gas producer from Norway. They have wells both here in Wetzel, WV and in Monroe County, OH. On June 28 and 29 of 2014, a massive fire burned out of control on a Statoil well pad called Eisenbarth in Monroe County (map below), during a routine hydraulic fracturing operation. The size, impact, and cause of the Statoil Eisenbarth fire deserve a lot of attention. Since I have Statoil well pads near me, I am somewhat concerned. Therefore, I will be writing about this specific fire and some of the implications for all of us.

A Series of Incident Articles

This photo essay will be presented in two sections. The first will describe the fire along with some of the details and published reports. The second part will use the photos and information to help us all better understand what is meant when we simply make comments on “fracking.” Additionally, I will show which components are commonly present during the hydraulic fracturing process. Explore the in-depth look at this incident.

Location of the Eisenbarth Pad where the June 2014 Statoil Fire occurred

Location of the Statoil Eisenbarth fire that occurred in June 2014. Click to explore our Ohio Shale Viewer.

Oil Transportation and Accidents by Rail

Lac-Mégantic train explosion on July 6, 2013.  Photo by TSB of Canada.

Lac-Mégantic train explosion on July 6, 2013. Photo by Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

On July 5, 2013, the lone engineer of a Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic (MMA) train arrived in Nantes, Quebec, set both the hand and air brakes, finished up his paperwork. He then left the train parked on the main line for the night, unattended atop a long grade. Five locomotives were pulling 72 tanker cars of oil, each containing 30,000 gallons of volatile crude from North Dakota’s Bakken Formation. During the night, the lead locomotive caught fire, so the emergency responders cut off the engine, as per protocol.  However, that action led to a loss of pressure of the air brakes.  The hand brakes (which were supposed to have been sufficient by themselves) failed, and the train began to run away. By the time it reached Lac-Mégantic early the next morning, the unattended cars were traveling 65 mph.  When the train reached the center of town, 63 tank cars derailed and many of those exploded, tragically killing 47 people in a blaze that took over two days to extinguish.

With that event came a heightened awareness of the risks of transporting volatile petroleum products by rail.  A derailment happened on a BNSF line near Casselton, North Dakota on December 30, 2013. This train was then struck by a train on an adjacent track, igniting another huge fireball, although this one was luckily just outside of town.  On April 30, 2014, a CSX train derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia, setting the James River on fire, narrowly avoiding the dense downtown area of the city of 75,000 people.


North American petroleum transportation by rail. Click on the expanding arrows icon in the top-right corner to access the full screen map with additional tools and description.

Regulators in the US and Canada are scrambling to keep up.  DOT-111 tank cars were involved in all of these incidents, and regulators seek to phase them out over the next two years. These cars account for 69% of the fleet of tank cars in the US, however, and up to 80% in Canada.  Replacing these cars will be a tough task in the midst of the oil booms in the Bakken and Eagle Ford plays, which have seen crude by rail shipments increase from less than 5,000 cars in 2006 to over 400,000 cars in 2013.

This article is the first of several reports by the FracTracker Alliance highlighting safety and environmental concerns about shipping petroleum and related products by rail. The impacts of the oil and gas extraction industry do not end at the wellhead, but are a part of a larger system of refineries, power plants, and terminals that span the continent.

Fracking vs. Ohio’s Renewable Energy Portfolio – A False Distinction

Changes to OH Wind Power

Part I of a Multi-part Series – By Ted Auch, OH Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Governor Kasich recently signed SB 310 “Ohio’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard” and HB 483.1 This action by all accounts will freeze energy efficiency efforts (such as obtaining 25% of the state’s power from renewables by 20252) and impose a tremendous degree of uncertainty on $2.5 billion worth of wind farm proposals in Ohio.

Active & Proposed Wind Projects in the U.S.


The above map describes active and proposed renewable energy projects, as well as energy related political funders and think tanks. We will be relying heavily on this map throughout our Ohio renewable energy series. Click the arrows in the upper right hand corner of the map to view the legend, metadata, and more.

Opposing Views

Sides of the SB 310 and HB 483 Debate

Opposition to SB 310 and HB 483 is coming from the business community3 and activists, while powerful political forces provide support for the bill (see figure right). Opponents feel that renewables and a more diversified energy portfolio are the true “bridge fuel,” and unlike hydrocarbons, renewables provide a less volatile or globally priced source of energy.

HB 483 will change new commercial wind farms setbacks to 1,300 ft. from the base of the turbine to the closest property line – rather than the closest structure. The bill will also change the setback for permitted and existing wind projects to 550 feet from a property line in the name of noise reduction, potential snow damage (Kowalski, 2014; Pelzer, 2014). This imposed distance is curious given that setbacks for Utica oil and gas wells are only 100-200 feet.

OH’s turbine setback requirements instantly went from “middle of the pack” to the strictest in the nation. OH is now in the dubious position of being the first of 29 states with Renewable Energy Standards (RESs) to freeze renewable energy before it even got off the ground. Is the road being intentionally cleared for an even greater reliance on shale gas production and waste disposal in OH?

An Environment of Concerns

As Mary Kuhlman at the Public News Service pointed out, the concern with both bills from the renewable energy industry – including wind giant, Iberdrola – is that the bills will “create a start-stop effect that will confuse the marketplace, disrupt investment, and reduce energy savings for customers.” These last minute efforts to roll back the state’s renewable energy path were apparently inserted with no public testimony; the OH Senate spent no more than 10 minutes on them, and there was overwhelming support in both the House and the Senate.

Ohioans, unlike their elected officials, support the renewable energy standards according to a recent poll (Gearino, 2014). Voters are in favor of such measures to the tune of 72-86%, with the concern being the potential for organic job growth4, reduced pollution, and R&D innovation in OH rather than marginal cost increases.

The elephant in the room is that fossil fuel extraction may not improve residents’ quality of life. Many of the most impoverished counties in this country are the same ones that relied on coal mining in the past and hydrocarbon production presently. The best examples of this “resource curse” are the six Appalachian Mountain and Texas Eagle Ford Shale counties chronicled by The New York Times (Fernandez and Krauss, 2014; Flippen, 2014; Lowrey, 2014).

Ohio Wind Potential

Ohio Wind Speed, Utica Shale Play, and Permitted Utica Wells

Figure 1. OH Wind Speed, Utica Shale Play, & Permitted Utica Wells. Click to enlarge.

According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), OH currently has 425-500 megawatts (MW) worth of operating wind power, which ranks it ahead of only Kentucky in the Appalachian shale gas corridor and #26 nationally.6 Using factors provided by Kleinhenz & Associates, a 428 MW capacity equates to 856-1,284 jobs, $628 million in wages (i.e., $49-73K average), $1.85 billion in sales, and $48.9 million in public revenues.

Seventy-one percent of OH’s capacity is accounted for by the $600 million Iberdrola owned and operated Blue Creek Wind Farm in northwestern OH. The terrestrial wind speeds are highest there – in the range of 14.3-16.8 mph as compared to the slow winds of the OH Utica Shale basin (Figure 1).6 It is worth noting that the recent OH renewable energy legislation would have diminished the Blue Creek project by 279 MW if built under new standards, given that only 12 of the turbines would fall within the new setback criteria.

Ohio Wind Capacity (MW) Added Between 2011 and 2014

Figure 2. OH Wind Capacity (MW) Added Between 2011 and 2014. Click to enlarge.

If OH were to pursue the additional 900 MW public-private partnership wind proposals currently under review by the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), an additional 900,000-1.2 million jobs, $1.3 billion in wages, $3.9 billion in sales, and $102.9 million in revenue would result. These figures are conservative estimates for wind power but would result in markedly more jobs for Ohioans with the component manufacturing and installation capacity already in OH (Figure 2). The shale gas industry, in comparison, relies overwhelmingly on the import of goods, services, capital, and labor for their operations. Additionally, lease agreements with firms like Iberdrola compare favorably with the current going rate for Utica leases in OH; landowners with turbines on their properties receive $8K. Nearby neighbors receive somewhat smaller amounts depending on distance from turbines, noise, and visibility.

OH’s current inventory of wind projects alleviate the equivalent of 45 Utica wells worth of water consumption.7 Considering current wind energy capacity and the proposed 900 MWs, OH will have only tapped into 2.4% of the potential onshore capacity in the Buckeye State. If the state were to exploit 10% more of the remaining wind capacity, the numbers would skyrocket into an additional 5.5-7.1 million jobs, $8.1 million in wages, $23.8 billion in sales, and $627.9 million in public revenues.

Taking the Wind out of the Sails

However, SB 310 and HB 483 took the wind out of Iberdrola and the rest of the AWEA’s membership’s proverbial sails. Their spokesperson noted that “The people (who will be hurt) most are the ones who have spent a couple of million dollars to go through the OPSB process expecting those (renewable-energy) standards to be there.” OH’s increased capacity historically has accounted for approximately 2.3% of increases nationwide.

Equally, hydrocarbon production dependent states like Texas have found time, resources, and regulatory room for wind even as they continue to explore shale gas development. Texas alone – home to 26% of the nation’s active oil and gas wells according to work by our Matt Kelso – accounted for 14% of wind-power installation capacity coming online (Gearino, 2013). This figure stands in contrast to the claims of those that supported SB 310 and HB 483 that increase in renewable energy equate to declines in jobs, tax revenue, and countless other metrics of success. The politics of Texas and the state’s higher reliance on hydrocarbon generation should demonstrate that support for renewables is not a zero-sum game for traditional energy sources.

The average US wind farm has a potential of 300 MWs, with approximately 88 turbines or 3.4 MW per turbine spread across an average footprint of 7,338 acres. The actual footprint of these turbines, however, is in the range of 147-367 acres. Tower and turbine heights are generally 366 and 241 feet, respectively. These projects generate 0.89 jobs per MW and nearly 175,000 labor hours.

Thus, the potential of wind power from a tax revenue, employment, and energy independence standpoint is substantial but will only be realized if OH strengthens and diversifies renewable energy standards in Columbus.

Next in the Series

In the next part of this series we will look at the potential of woody biomass as an energy feedstock in OH.


References

Footnotes

  1. Most of HB 483 focuses on taxation and social programs with the one hydrocarbon provision doubling maximum penalties for gas pipeline violations removed by the Ohio House Finance Committee.
  2. According to Ohio’s Public Utilities Commission “At least 12.5 percent must be generated from renewable energy resources, including wind, hydro, biomass and at least 0.5 percent solar. The remainder can be generated from advanced energy resources, including nuclear, clean coal and certain types of fuel cells…at least one half of the renewable energy used must be generated…in Ohio.”
  3. Supporters include Honda, Whirlpool, Owens-Corning, Campbell Soup Co., and most of the big players in the alternative-energy sector.
  4. Ohio is at the vanguard of wind turbine component manufacturing with its thriving steel industry and more than 60 supply chain companies that would assuredly mushroom with a more robust RES. Ohio is home to 11% of the nations’ wind-related manufacturing facilities making it #1 in the nation.
  5. This is equivalent to 305,278 Ohioans, 18.07 million tons of CO2 or 950,012 Ohioans annual emissions.
  6. Note that the wind speed map includes measurements made at 50 meters in height, while OH turbines are typically installed at 80-100 m hub height, which “is the distance from the turbine platform to the rotor of an installed wind turbine and indicates how high your turbine stands above the ground, not including the length of the turbine blades. Commercial scale turbines (greater than 1MW) are typically installed at 80 m (262 ft.) or higher, while small-scale wind turbines (approximately 10kW) are installed on shorter towers.”
  7. Assuming the following claim from the American Wind Energy Association is true: “The water consumption savings from wind projects in Ohio total more than 248,000,000 gallons of water a year.”
Photo by Lara Marie Rauschert-Mcfarland

Florida’s Geographic and Geologic Challenges

By Maria Rose, Communications Intern, FracTracker Alliance

FracTracker has received numerous emails and phones calls wondering about unconventional drilling activity in Florida. Part of the concern related to fracking in the Sunshine State stems from Florida’s unique geographic and geologic characteristics, including a variety of environmental, geologic, and social issues that make drilling a very different challenge from other states. This article provides a brief compilation and explanation of those issues.

Everglades & Big Cypress National Preserve

Everglades

FL Everglades. Photo: Lara Marie Rauschert-Mcfarland, 2013.

Florida is home to the Everglades and the Big Cypress National Preserve, two locations that have a unique climate, assortment of wildlife, and diversity of fauna. Drilling has occurred in Southwest Florida since the 1940s,2 but it has been contained to traditional vertical drilling, until recently. The transition to more extreme methods of extraction, such as acid or hydraulic fracturing, may have more severe consequences on the fragile environment. The current rules and regulations in place are specific to vertical drilling, not focused on the distinct risks of fracking.2

Citizens have expressed concern that more drilling, and more extreme drilling, may contaminate regional groundwater and disrupt the habitat of the animals in the area. The endangered Florida panther is one species of particular concern; there are plans to drill close to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge on the western edge of the Everglades. Drilling requires a host of preparation and set up, including clearing out areas, building roads, and seismic testing for underground reserves. Both animals and the environment can be disturbed or destroyed by these processes, whether it is from accidental spills from drilling, clearing out forested areas, or road traffic.3

Currently, there are 350,000 acres in southwest Florida leased for seismic testing to determine what areas underground have the most promising oil reserves: 115,00 acres in the greater Everglades by the company Tocala for dynamite blasting, and 234,510 acres in the Big Cypress National Park by Burnett Oil Co., for testing with “thumper trucks”.3 Thumper trucks drop heavy weights on the ground and use the vibrations to estimate oil reserves there. These weights have the potential to fracture the crust over porous limestone formations that hold aquifers, where people get their drinking water.4

 References and Resources

  1. Senator Nelson on Drilling 
  2. Florida Halts Fracking Near Everglades 
  3. Concern Over Plans to Drill for Oil in the Everglades 
  4. Senator Nelson Prevents Oil Drilling in Southwest Florida 

Water

The natural gas drilling industry requires large amounts of water to frack wells, using approximately four million gallons of fresh water per well.4 The water becomes extremely saline from the elements that mix with the water and earth underground. This fluid will also contain frac fluid chemicals added by the industry – some of which are toxic.3 After the drilling process is complete, the resulting waste must then be treated and disposed of properly either via deep well injection sites, limited reuse, recycling, and/or landfills. The potential for contamination of underground aquifers or aboveground mixing with freshwater sources is an important risk to consider.2

Florida has an already sensitive relationship with water. Being so close to the ocean, Florida often bears the brunt of natural disasters such as hurricanes and heavy storms, which all pose threats to freshwater sources above ground. There is also a high water table in Florida that lies directly under and very close to the Sunniland Basin, a layer of fossil fuel rich rock that is of interest to drillers. Drilling in the area, if done hastily, could contaminate a very important fresh water source.1

References and Resources

  1. Legislators Prepare for Potential Fracking in Florida 
  2. Drilling for Natural Gas Jeopardizes Clean Water 
  3. Environment America-Fracking By the Numbers
  4. Oil and Gas Extraction and Hydraulic Fracturing
  5. EPA Oil and Gas Production Wastes

Tourism

For Dr. Karen Dwyer, a concerned citizen of Collier County, the issue of parks and water also ties in to one of Florida’s most important industries: tourism. As Dwyer sees it, if what draws crowds to the state is diminished — the natural beauty of the Everglades and beaches and water — then tourism will falter. The communities impacted by the 2010 BP Gulf Oil Spill can attest to this fact. Small Florida towns near drilling activity  that rely on the income generated by tourism could fall into obscurity.

“People rely on touristy things here,” Dwyer said. “If people aren’t going to come here, we’re going to be a ghost town. If we have a huge accident, we’re not going to have [tourism anymore].”1

Reference:

  1. Interview with Dr. Karen Dwyer, Wednesday June 11th.

Karst Formations

Karst geologic formations visible near a spring. Photo: Richard Gant

Karst geologic formations visible near spring. Photo: Richard Gant

In addition to the unique environmental landscape, need for water, and dependence on tourism, Florida also has a vulnerable geology. The majority of the rock formation underground is made up of sand and limestone, which erodes and dissolves easily both above and below ground from exposure to rainwater. This feature causes karst formations in the rock, leading to sinkholes and fractures in the ground. There is some concern that the drilling processes required to access the gas might disturb the already sensitive environment and cause more stress or damage in areas already affected by sinkholes. Karst geology also has potential for increased aquifer contamination; if the ground is extremely porous, then water — and therefore, other chemicals and radioactive materials — may move through the ground more easily than in other geologies and contaminate water sources.

 References and Resources:

  1. Florida Development and Legislation
  2. USGS – The Science of Sinkholes
  3. Florida Hydraulic Fracturing

Demographics

Environmental justice can be a challenge that accompanies oil and gas drilling at times, defined as the inequitable distributions of environmental burdens. In Florida, we see a potential example of environmental justice, as the drilling completed thus far has dominantly affected low-income communities such as Collier County. Collier County has a large proportion of older, retired families, as well as younger families that may hold multiple jobs and relatively low incomes. In these communities, people are less resistant to the introduction of large, new industries that promise economic growth, since opportunities for such economic stimulation are rare. Similarly, people are less resistant to these issues simply because they may not have enough influence or understanding to reject such risky industries. It is clear then, that impoverished or under-stimulated communities often have to deal with the repercussions – environmentally, economically, and socially – of industry presence more than in places where people can afford and know how to repel industries that may pose environmental risks.

 References and Resources

  1. Florida Census 
  2. Florida County Profile
  3. Environmental Racism

Demographics content originated from interview with Pamela Duran, Monday June 30th.

Offshore oil and gas exploration federally approved

By Karen Edelstein, NY Program Coordinator

Right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) with calf

Background

Drilling in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the United States has been off-limits for nearly four decades. However, last Friday, the Obama administration’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) opened the Atlantic outer continental shelf for oil and gas exploration starting in 2018, with oil production commencing in 2026. In a December 2013 report by the American Petroleum Institute (API) , API estimated that offshore exploration and federal lease sales could generate $195 billion between 2017 and 2035.

Problems for marine mammals, sea turtles, fish

Aside from the inherent risks of catastrophic drilling accidents similar to BP’s Deepwater Horizon in April 2010, open ocean oil and gas exploration can pose severe problems for marine life. Environmentalists have voiced alarm over the techniques used to explore for hydrocarbons deep below the ocean floor. Using “sonic cannons” or “‘seismic airguns,” pulses of sound are directed at the sea bottom to detect hydrocarbon deposits.

Underwater communication by marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins, relies on sound transmission over long distances — sometimes thousands of miles. These animals use sound to navigate, find mates and food, and communicate with each other. Noise pollution by common ships and supertankers is known to disrupt and displace marine mammals, but naval sonar has been documented as a cause of inner ear bleeding, hearing loss, tissue rupture, and beach strandings. According to the Ocean Mammal Institute:

These sonars – both low -frequency (LFAS) and mid -frequency can have a source level of 240 dB, which is one trillion times louder than the sounds whales have been shown to avoid. One scientist analyzing underwater acoustic data reported that a single low frequency sonar signal deployed off the coast of California could be heard over the entire North Pacific Ocean.

Natural Resources Defense Council also expressed concern over naval sonar: “By the Navy’s own estimates, even 300 miles from the source, these sonic waves can retain an intensity of 140 decibels – a hundred times more intense than the level known to alter the behavior of large whales.”

As destructive as naval sonar may be, oil and gas exploration sonic cannons–also known as seismic airguns– (at 216 – 230 dB) create disruptions to marine life many orders of magnitude greater. Fish and sea turtles are also affected, with catch rates of fish decreasing up to 70% when airguns were used in a commercial fishing area, according to a study by the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research.

The intensity and duration of the sonic cannon pulses during oil and gas exploration are an important factor in this equation. According to the Huffington Post, “The sonic cannons are often fired continually for weeks or months, and multiple mapping projects are expected to be operating simultaneously as companies gather competitive, secret data.” Collateral damage for the exploration is far from insignificant, the article continues:

The bureau’s environmental impact study estimates that more than 138,000 sea creatures could be harmed, including nine of the 500 north Atlantic right whales remaining in the world. Of foremost concern are endangered species like these whales, which give birth off the shores of northern Florida and southern Georgia before migrating north each year. Since the cetaceans are so scarce, any impact from this intense noise pollution on feeding or communications could have long-term effects, Scott Kraus, a right whale expert at the John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory in Boston, said.

‘No one has been allowed to test anything like this on right whales,” Kraus said of the seismic cannons. “(The Obama administration) has authorized a giant experiment on right whales that this country would never allow researchers to do.’

North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered species of cetaceans in the world.

Map of ranges of marine mammals potentially affected and towns opposing sonic cannon exploration for oil and gas

Although currently, the waters off New Jersey and New England are off-limits for exploration, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia encouraged the federal government to open their off-shore waters for oil and gas surveys. Nevertheless,  many ocean-front communities have come out strongly against the use of sonic cannons and their impacts on marine life. To date, 15 communities from New Jersey to Florida have passed resolutions opposing this form of oil and gas exploration.

FracTracker has mapped the locations of these communities, with pop-up links to the resolutions that were passed, as well as the ranges of 17 marine mammals found along the Atlantic seaboard of the US.  These data come from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 2014 Red List of Threatened Species. You can toggle ranges on and off by going to the “Layers” drop-down menu at the top of the map. The default presentation for this map currently shows only the range of North Atlantic right whales. For a full-screen version of this map, with access to the other marine mammal ranges, click here.

What’s in PA Senate Bill 1378?

State Senator Joseph Scarnati III, from north-central Pennsylvania, has introduced a bill that would redefine the distinction between conventional and unconventional oil and gas wells throughout the state.  In Section 1 of the bill, the sponsors try to establish the purpose of the legislation,  making the case that:

  1. Conventional oil and gas development has a benign impact on the Commonwealth
  2. Many of the wells currently classified as conventional are developed by small businesses
  3. Oil and gas regulations, “must permit the optimal development of oil and gas resources,” as well as protect the citizens and environment.
  4. Previous legislation already does, and should, treat conventional and unconventional wells differently
This diagram shows geologic stata in Pennsylvania.  The Elk Sandstone is between the Huron and Rhinestreet shale deposits from the Upper Devonian period.

This diagram shows geologic stata in Pennsylvania. The Elk Group is between the Huron and Rhinestreet shale deposits from the Upper Devonian period. Click on the image to see the full version. Source: DCNR

Certainly, robust debate surrounds each of these points, but they are introductory in nature, not the meat and potatoes of Senate Bill 1378.  What this bill does is re-categorize some of the state’s unconventional wells to the less restrictive conventional category, including:

  1. All oil wells
  2. All natural gas wells not drilled in shale formations
  3. All shale wells above (shallower than) the base of the Elk Group or equivalent
  4. All shale wells below the Elk Group from a formation that can be economically drilled without the use of hydraulic fracturing or multi-lateral bore holes
  5. All wells drilled into any formation where the purpose is not production, including waste disposal and other injection wells

The current distinction is in fact muddled, with one DEP source indicating that the difference is entirely due to whether or not the formation being drilled into is above or below the Elk Group, and another DEP source indicates that the difference is much more nuanced, and really depends on whether the volumes of hydraulic fracturing fluid required to profitably drill into a given formation are generally high or low.

This table shows the number of wells in each formation in Pennsylvania that has both conventional and unconventional wells drilled into it.  Data source:  DEP, downloaded 7/9/2014.

This table shows the number of distinct wells in each producing formation in Pennsylvania that has both conventional and unconventional wells drilled into it. Data source: DEP, downloaded 7/9/2014.

As one might expect, this ambiguity is represented in the data. The chart at the left shows the number of distinct number of wells by formation, for each producing formation that has both conventional and unconventional wells in the dataset.  Certainly, there could be some data entry errors involved, as the vast majority of Bradford wells are conventional, and almost all of the Marcellus wells are unconventional.  But there seems to be some real confusion with regards to the Oriskany, for example, which is not only deeper than the Elk Group, but the Marcellus formation as well.

While an adjustment to the distinction of conventional and unconventional wells in Pennsylvania is called for, one wonders if the definitions proposed in SB 1378 is the right way to handle it.  If the idea of separating the two is based on the relative impact of the drilling operation, then a much more straightforward metric might be useful, such as providing a cutoff in the amount of hydraulic fracturing fluid used to drill a well.  Further, each of the five parts of the proposed definition serve to make the definition of unconventional wells less inclusive, meaning that additional wells would be subject to the less stringent regulations, and that the state would collect less money from the impact fees that were a part of Act 13 of 2012.

Instead, it is worth checking to see whether the definition of unconventional is inclusive enough.  In May of this year, FracTracker posted a blog about conventional wells that were drilled horizontally in Pennsylvania.


Conventional, non-vertical wells in Pennsylvania. Please click the expanding arrows icon at the top-right corner to access the legend and other map controls. Please zoom in to access data for each location.

These wells require large amounts of hydraulic fracturing fluids, and are already being drilled at depths of only 3,000 feet, and could go as shallow as 1,000 feet.  It’s pretty easy to argue that due to the shallow nature of the wells, and the close proximity to drinking water aquifers, these wells are deserving of even more rigorous scrutiny than those drilled into the Marcellus Shale, which generally ranges from 5,000 to 9,000 feet deep throughout the state.

A summary of the different regulations regarding conventional and unconventional wells can be found from PennFuture.  In general, unconventional wells must be further away from water sources and structures than their conventional counterparts, and the radius of presumptive liability for the contamination of water supplies is 2,500 feet instead of 1,000.

SB 1378 has been re-referred to the Appropriations Committee.

 

OH and WV Shale Gas Water Usage and Waste Injection

By Ted Auch, OH Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Both Ohio and West Virginia citizens are concerned about the increasing shale exploration in their area and how it affects water quality. Those concerned about the drilling tend to focus on the large quantities of water required to hydraulically fracture – or “frack” – Utica and Marcellus wells. Meanwhile those concerned with water quality cite increases in truck traffic and related spills. Concerns also exist regarding the large volumes of fracking waste injected into Class II Salt Water Disposal (SWD) wells primarily located in/adjacent to Ohio’s Muskingum River Watershed.

Injection Wells & Water Usage

While Pennsylvania and WV have drilled heavily into their various shale plays, OH has seen a dramatic increase in Class II Injection wells. In 2010 OH hosted 151 injection wells, which received 50.1 Million Gallons (MGs) per quarter in total – or 331,982 gallons per well. Now, this area has 1941 injection wells accepting 937.5 MGs in total and an average of 4.3 MGs per well.

In the second quarter of 2010 the Top 10 Class II wells by volume accounted for 45.87% of total fracking waste injected in the state. Fast forward to today, the Top 10 wells account for 38.87% of the waste injected. This means that the industry and OH Department of Natural Resources Underground Injection Control (ODNR UIC) are relying on 128% more wells to handle the 1,671% increase in the fracking waste stream coming from inside OH, WV, and PA. During the same time period, freshwater usage by the directional drilling industry has increased by 261% in WV and 162% in OH.

Quantity of Disposed Waste

With respect to OH’s injection waste story there appear to be a couple of distinct trends with the following injection wells:

— Long Run Disposal #8 in Washington and Myers in Portage counties. The changes reflect a nearly exponential increase in the amount of oil and gas waste being injected, with projected quarterly increases of 6.78 and 5.64 MGs. This trend is followed by slightly less dramatic increases at several other sites: the Devco Unit #11 is up 4.81 MGs per quarter (MGPQ).

— Groselle #2 is increasing at 4.21 MGPQ, and Ohio Oil Gathering Corp II #6 is the same with an increase of 4.03 MGPQ.

— Another group of wells with similar waste statistics is the trio of the Newell Run Disposal #10 (↑2.81 MGPQ), Pander R & P #15 (↑3.23 MGPQ), and Dietrich PH (↑2.53 MGPQ).

— The final grouping are of wells that came online between the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2013 and have rapidly begun to constitute a sizeable share of the fracking waste stream. The two wells that fall within this category and rank in the Top 10 are the Adams #10 and Warren Drilling Co. #6 wells, which are experiencing quarterly increases of 3.49 and 2.41 MGs (Figure 2).

Disposal of Out-of-State Waste

These Top 10 wells also break down into groups based on the degree to which they have, are, and plan to rely on out-of-state fracking waste (Figure 3). Five wells that have continuously received more than 70% of their wastestream from out-of-state are the Newell Run Disposal (94.4), Long Run Disposal (94.7%), Ohio Oil Gathering Corp (94.2%), Groselle (94.3%), and Myers (77.2%). This group is followed by a set of three wells that reflect those that relied on out-of-state waste for 17-30% of their inputs during the early stages of Utica Shale development in OH but shifted significantly to out-of-state shale waste for ≥40% of their inputs. (More than 80% of Pander R & P’s waste stream was from out-of-state waste streams, up from ≈20% during the Fall/Winter of 2010-11). Finally, there are the Adams and Warren Drilling Co. wells, which – in addition to coming online only recently – initially heavily received out-of-state fracking waste to the tune of ≥75% but this reliance declined significantly by 51% and 26% in the case of the Adams and Warren Drilling Co. wells, respectively. This indicates that demand-side pressures are growing in Ohio and for individual Class II owners – or – the expanding Stallion Oilfield Services (which is rapidly buying up Class II wells) is responding to an exponential increase in fracking brine waste internally.

Waste Sources

We know anecdotally that much of the waste coming into OH is coming from neighboring WV and PA, which is why we are now looking into directional well water usage in these two states. WV and PA have far fewer Class II wells relative to OH and well permitting has not increased significantly there. Here in Ohio we are experiencing not just an increase in injection waste volumes but also a steady increase in water usage.  The average Utica well currently utilizes 6.5-8.1 million gallons of fresh water, up from 4.6-5.3 MGs during the Fall/Winter of 2010-11 (Figure 4). Put another way, water usage is increasing on a quarterly basis by 221-333K gallons per well2. Unfortunately, this increase coincides with an increase in the reliance on freshwater (+00.42% PQ) and parallel decline in recycled water (-00.54% PQ). In addition to declining in nominal terms, recycling rates are also declining in real terms given that the rate is a percentage of an ever-increasing volume. Currently the use of freshwater and recycled water account for 6.1 MGs and 0.33 MGs per well, respectively. Given the difference in freshwater and recycled water it appears there is an average 8,319 gallon unknown fluid void per well. The quality of the water used to fill the void is important from a watershed (or drinking water) perspective.  The chemicals used in the process tend to be resistant to bio-degradation and can negatively influence the chemistry of freshwater.

WV Data

WV is experiencing similar increases in water usage for their directionally drilled wells; the average well currently utilizes 7.0-9.6 MGs of fresh water – up from 2.9-5.0 MGs during the Fall/Winter of 2010-11 (↑208%). This change translates into a quarterly increase in the range of 189-353K gallons per well3. The increase coincides with an increase in the reliance on freshwater (+00.34% PQ) and related decline in recycled water (-00.67% PQ). Currently, freshwater and recycled water account for 7.7 MGs and 0.61 MGs per well, respectively. Given the difference in freshwater and recycled water, there is an average of 22,750 gallons of unaccounted for fluids being filled by unknown or proprietary fluids (Figure 5).

The Bigger Picture

This analysis coincides with our ongoing Muskingum River Watershed resilience analysis on behalf of Freshwater Accountability Project’s Leatra Harper and Terry Lodge. Their group represents a set of concerned citizens disputing the “short-term water sale” of freshwater by the increasingly abstruse and proprietary Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) to industry players such as Antero, Gulfport, and American Energy Utica. Pending or approved sales total 120 MGs averaging 1.8 MGs per day at around $4.25 per thousand gallons4. The proximity of this watershed – and location of many Utica wells within its boundaries – to most of the current and proposed WV and OH wells makes it susceptible to excess, irresponsible, or dangerous water withdrawals and waste transport (Figure 6). We will continue to update this analysis in an effort to infuse the MWCD conversation about industry water sales with more holistic watershed resilience and susceptibility mapping with an eye toward getting the state of OH to address issues associated with freshwater valuation which is lacking at the present time.

Figures

Ohio Class II Number and Volumes in 2010 and 2014

Figure 1. Ohio Class II Number and Volumes in 2010 and 2014

Ohio's Top 10 Fracking Waste Class II Injection Wells by Volume

Figure 2. Quarterly volumes accepted by Ohio’s Top Ten Class II Injection Wells with respect to hydraulic fracturing brine waste.

Ohio's Top 10 Fracking Waste Class II Injection Wells by % Out-Of-State

Figure 3. Ohio’s Top Ten Class II Injection Wells w/respect to hydraulic fracturing brine waste.

Average Water Usage by Ohio's Utica Wells By Quarter (Fall 2010 to Spring 2014)

Figure 4. Total water usage per Utica well and recycled Vs freshwater percentage change across Ohio’s Utica Shale wells on a quarterly basis. Data are presented quarterly (Ave. Q3-2010 to Q2-2014)

Average Water Usage by West Virginia's Directional Drilling Wells By Quarter (Summer 2010 to Winter 2014)

Figure 5. Changes in WV water usage for horizontally/hydraulically fractured wells w/respect to recycled water (volume & percentages) & freshwater. Data are presented quarterly (Ave. Q3-2010 to Q2-2014)

OH_WV_Water

Figure 6. Unconventional drilling well water usage in OH (n = 516) and WV (n = 581) (Note: blue borders describe primary Hydrological Units w/the green outline depicting the Muskingum River watershed in OH).


References & Resources

  1. Of a possible 239 Class II Salt Water Disposal (SWD) wells.
  2. The large range depends on whether you start your analysis at Q3-2010 or the aforementioned statistically robust Q3-2011.
  3. The large range depends on whether you start your analysis at Q3-2010 or the more statistically robust Q3-2011.
  4. MWCD water sales approved to date: 1) Seneca Lake for Antero: 15 million gallons at 1.5mm per day, 2) Piedmont Lake for Gulfport: 45 million gallons at 2 million per day, 3) Clendening for American Energy Utica: 60 million gallons at 2 million per day.