Current featured articles for the home page

Texas Drought Conditions and Water Availability

By Thomas DiPaolo, GIS Intern, FracTracker Alliance –

For the last three years, Texas has been experiencing a drought so severe that it has gained media attention around the world; the recurring theme from each media report is that the water use of the oil and natural gas industry is sucking up so much water from the ground that towns like Barnhart are seeing their taps run dry.


To view the fullscreen version of this map, including details about each layer, click here.

Surface Water

Water data for Texas, owned and operated by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), defines “reservoir storage” as the total volume of water contained within a reservoir, while “conservation storage” is specifically the volume of water that can be accessed and moved out of the reservoir. For example, the Twin Buttes Reservoir currently has 2,095 acre-feet of water in its reservoir storage, but because it cannot be removed from the reservoir, in terms of conservation storage it is considered “empty.” Twin Buttes is not the only reservoir in this position; Electra Lake, Meredith Lake, and White River Lake are also empty, and Electra Lake has no water at all in its reservoir storage. The average conservation storage of reservoirs statewide is 168,704.64 acre-feet. Ninety-two reservoirs (including the aforementioned) have less than that amount, while six reservoirs have conservation storages in excess of 1 million acre-feet. For reference, a TWDB report from last year found that in 2011 statewide fracking operations used a combined total of 81,500 acre-feet of water, over 26.5 billion gallons. That is almost enough to consume the conservation storage of the ten smallest reservoirs in the state.

The other measure for comparing water quantity is “fullness percentage,” a ratio between a reservoir’s current conservation storage and the maximum volume of water it can hold without flooding, or maximum conservation storage. Any reservoir with no conservation storage, therefore, has a fullness of 0%, while overflowing reservoirs are only 100% full. This means that, in contrast to the four reservoirs with 0% fullness, four other reservoirs have complete fullness. Monticello Reservoir, Mountain Creek Lake, and Squaw Creek Reservoir are all in excess of their conservation storages, but Houston Lake is flooding by the greatest amount, with reservoir storage of 139,409 acre-feet and conservation storage of 128,054 acre-feet. The average reservoir is  56.01% full as of this writing, but 44 of 115 reservoirs have a lower proportion of fullness. The problem here isn’t that every reservoir is under threat: it’s that those reservoirs which are threatened are running on empty.

Water Restrictions

Fig1The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency, publishes a list of drought-affected public water systems and their restrictions, classifying them by “stage” and “priority” (Figure 1). Stage refers to the expected duration of the existing water supply, while priority reflects the degree to which residents’ water usage is being restricted. This means water systems with no immediate threat of their supplies expiring may be applying extreme restrictions to sustain that supply. Water systems in the highest stage of “Emergency” have at most 45 days before their water supplies are exhausted; a priority of “Severe” means the water system has forbidden all outdoor water usage and may limit individual residents’ usage if they believe it’s necessary. At the time of this writing, 442 water systems have instituted voluntary restrictions on water usage, but 44 systems have a Severe priority, and five of those are in a stage of Emergency.

Of those systems, only the White River Municipal Water District appears in the map above within the data layer of public water systems offered by the TCEQ, and it lies within 20 miles of eight different fracking wells1. According to FracFocus.org, these eight wells consumed a combined volume of almost 600,000 gallons of water, or 1.8 acre-feet, when they were first fractured. While that amount may sound low, FracFocus shows 1,557 fracking wells within the state of Texas, and White River is located about 100 miles from the major oil fields of west Texas, where individual wells commonly consumed millions of gallons of water. For eight wells combined, 600,000 gallons is at the bottom of the scale.

FracFocus also notes that these figures do not take into account the amount of fresh water used in drilling. As freshwater becomes scarcer, hydraulic fracturing operations are turning to brackish water, which contains salt or other minerals, and water recycled from previous gas wells: the TWDB estimated that 17,000 of the 81,500 acre-feet of water used in 2011 was either brackish or recycled, and water recycling specifically is on the rise ever since the Texas legislature removed the need to seek permits before recycling water on leased land. FTS International reports that some of its Texas wells have completely switched over to recycled water.

It remains to be seen how soon efforts like this will bring relief to towns like Barnhart.


Footnotes

1. The eight wells in question are Bryant B-1045, etal #4576; Bryant B-1045, etal #4578; Flores, etal #182; Rankin #etal 161; Rankin, etal #172; Wheeler-1046, #4666; Wheeler-1046, #4678; and Williams, etal #4570. Reports on all of them can be found on FracFocus by searching for Crosby County, Texas.

Chieftain Sands - Chetek WI Mine North

Sifting Through Sand Mining

Note

This post has been archived. It is provided here for informational purposes only.

By Brook Lenker and Ted Auch, FracTracker Alliance

Thirty miles northwest of Eau Claire, Wisconsin the land rolls gently. Wooded hills back orderly farms straight from the world of Norman Rockwell but painted red and gold by October’s cool brush.  It seems like agrarian perfection, but the harmony is interrupted by the pits and mounds of a newcomer to America’s Dairyland – sand extraction to support hydraulic fracturing for the oil and natural gas industry.

“Mine, Baby, Mine” reads a bumper sticker on a pickup outside the Baron drying plant of Superior Silica Sands – a frac sand company headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas but with significant activities located in Wisconsin. Ted Auch, Ohio Program Coordinator for FracTracker, and I are on a daylong sand mining tour organized by the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (WCWRPC). This, the second Superior drying plant we visited, processes up to 2.4 million tons of sand per year (enough sand to complete 800 typical horizontal gas or oil wells). This is among the largest facilities of its kind in the world.

What is frac sand?

Frac sands (99% silicon dioxide – SiO2) are meant to “prop” open the rock after fracturing is complete, termed “proppants.” Aside from water, these sands represent the second largest constituent pumped into a typical well to hydraulically fracture the shale.  Usage of frac sand as a proppant is increasing due to the rising costs associated with synthetic substitutes like ceramic and related resin-coated materials. Ideally, such sand must be uniformly fine and spherical, crush-resistant, acid soluble, mature, and clay/silt-free. The northern Great Lakes Basin represents the primary stock for high quality frac sand in the world – causing many industry analysts to label the region Sand Arabia.

And where does it come from?

Most of Superior’s total production (4.2 million tons per year) comes from mines in New Auburn and Clinton, Wisconsin – in the middle of the St. Peter (Ottawa) Sandstone. This formation underlies parts of Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri. Known for its uniform and rounded grains – the region has recently surpassed the Hickory (Brady) formation in Texas, which contains sands that are far more angular, blocky and coarse.

To get an idea of the landscape where these sand mining operations are occurring in Wisconsin, see Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Land cover types (%) and the location of the mines we visited during our recent frac sands tour of West Central Wisconsin (Note: 1.0 = 100%)

“Thank God for Superior Silica Sands,” said Jim Walker, Director of Operations. He wasn’t directly touting his employer’s virtues, but rather sharing a quote from a landowner pleased with the income derived from leasing their farm for the sand beneath. According to Walker, Superior has over 100,000 acres of mining leases in Wisconsin – enough to support their company’s anticipated needs for the next 30 years. Based on frac sand mine permitting data provided to us by the planning commission, this 100,000 acreage translates to 939,700,000 tons of frac sand (enough for 313,233 horizontal wells). Overall, Wisconsin’s frac sand mines are currently producing 185-211 million tons of frac sand from 128 facilities.

Superior is one of more than six sand companies working in the area. One state resident recently emailed me complaining that “we are being inundated with industrial sand mining.” Her perspective is one of concern, but we are told of farmers who are eager to lease their land for potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual payments. Superior prides itself on hiring from the community. The jobs pay well, nearly twice the regional average, according to the planning commission. Healthcare benefits and a 401k are included. At quick glance, it is an economic boom to a rural region, but will it last? Superior has a 10-year contract to supply sand to Schlumberger, a giant in hydraulic fracturing services. Sand prices – affected by competition and overproduction – are dropping, however.

Sand Mining Risks

Environmental impacts may be the biggest cause for worry. Some mining operations can cover more than 450 acres and often involve the destruction of forests. This may happen piecemeal, perhaps 20 acres at a time, but forest habitat and the associated functions (e.g. carbon storage and accrual) are nevertheless diminished. The land is remediated1, but the landowner makes the decisions as to how this occurs. They might choose to plant prairie grasses or trees, but a common preference is more cropland – the latter option enabled by a post-mining reduction in topography. Adaptable wildlife like deer may take the changes in stride, but forest-dependent species and vulnerable plant communities will likely suffer. Water quality and quantity issues have also been highlighted by Wisconsin Watch, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Minnesota Public Radio.

Public health impacts are perhaps less clear. Superior officials explain that only the finest sand sizes are a legitimate inhalation hazard, and those are atypical to the frac sand industry. A 2012 OSHA hazard alert, however, listed respirable crystalline silica as a significant workplace hazard on unconventional oil and gas well pads, just behind the risk for physical injuries and hydrogen sulfide exposure. At least at Superior, they rigorously monitor the air quality onsite and outside their boundaries. Employees are even monitored for what they breathe. Superior shows data underscoring its outstanding safety and regulatory compliance record. I observe no noticeable blowing of sand or dust on site. While I am on the ground touring, however, Ted enjoys a bird’s eye view courtesy of LightHawk. From the plane, he witnesses aerial movement of material off of other sand mines.

Emissions from increased truck traffic may also present an air quality concern. Dump trucks ply the back roads like worker ants delivering load after heavy load from the mines to the drying plants. The general increase in activity in these forgotten areas may be a lifesaver for some, and a worry for others. Trains with scores of covered, sand-packed cars rumble down the tracks bound for distant shale basins. Texas awaits the trains departing Superior’s Baron plant. Meanwhile, communities express concern about increasing speeds and the safety of crossings.

A Complicated Perspective

For me, the day’s enlightening dialogue and experiences underscore the rough, expanding tendrils of unconventional oil and gas development. They reach far and have complex, often abrasive effects. Here, in the land of Leopold, the father of the Land Ethic, I can’t help but wonder: What would Aldo say about the transformation of his beloved countryside?

View all photos from tour >


Footnotes

For additional resources and articles on sand mining issues, visit the Land Stewardship Project in Minnesota and Wisconsin Watch.

[1] Reclamation success, permitting, bond release, inspection and enforcement, and land restrictions were put into law by the Carter administration and introduced by Arizona Republican Morris Udall as defined by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, which also created the Office of Surface Mining.

Violations per Well Among PA Operators

Note

This post has been archived. It is provided here for informational purposes only.

People often want to know which operators perform the best (or worst) among their peers in terms of adhering to the laws set forth in a given state. In principle, the easiest metric for determining this is to look at the ratio of violations issued per well, or VpW.

However, in order to make that analysis, we would obviously need to have violations data. Unfortunately, out of the twenty states that we have shale viewers for on FracMapper, we only have violations data for Arkansas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, with the latter being far and away more robust and complete when compared to the other two. We have been told that the data is also available for North Dakota as well, if we are willing to pay for it, so we might be able to perform a VpW analysis for the Peace Garden State in the near future.

Then, of course, there is the realization that, “What is a violation?” is actually somewhat of a philosophical question in Pennsylvania.  In the past, I’ve determined that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) uses the number of unique violation ID numbers issued to calculate their totals. However, historically, the department would often lump several issues that showed up on the Compliance Report together under the same violation ID.  Others have taken to looking at Notices of Violations (NOV’s), which are more limited in number.  Still others exclude any violations marked as being administrative in nature, an idea that makes sense superficially, but a closer look at the data shows that the label is extremely misleading.  For example, “Pits and tanks not constructed with sufficient capacity to contain pollutional substances” is an administrative violation, as is, “Improper casing to protect fresh groundwater”.

In addition to all of that, the cast of operators is constantly shifting as new operators come on board, old ones get bought out by rivals, joint ventures are formed between them, and the like.  Sometimes a parent company will shift the active operator status to one of its subsidiaries, so wells that were originally Consol will then be listed under CNX, for example.

In terms of violations per well, there is a further complication, in that all of the drilled wells data reflect the current custodians of the wells, whereas the violations data reflect those that received the violations.  The result is that there are records issued for Turm Oil (really!) for wells where Chesapeake is now listed as the operator.  In some respects, this makes sense:  why should Chesapeake carry the burden of the legacy mistakes of Turm in their compliance record?

But it does make analysis somewhat tricky.  My approach has been to combine operators that are obviously the same parent company, and to do the analysis in several different ways, and over different time frames.  Who’s ready for some numbers?

Violations per Well (VpW) for operators of unconventional wells in Pennsylvania with 50 or more wells. Those operators with scores higher than the average of their peers are highlighted in pink.

Violations per Well (VpW) for operators of unconventional wells in Pennsylvania with 50 or more wells. Those operators with scores higher than the average of their peers are highlighted in pink.

Here, violations per well are based on the number of violation ID’s issued, where as NOVpW is based on the number of Notices of Violations.  The date range for this table is from January 1, 2000 through October 21, 2013, and please note that the totals represent those that are included on the chart, not statewide totals.  A lot of violations are lost of the shuffle when we look at only the largest current operators, but it also helps eliminate some of the noise that can be generated with small sample sizes, as well as with the inconsistencies described above.  Here’s a look at data from this year:

Violations per Well (VpW) for operators with unconventional wells in Pennsylvania in 2013, through October 21. Those operators with scores higher than the average of their peers are highlighted in pink.

Violations per Well (VpW) for operators with unconventional wells in Pennsylvania in 2013, through October 21. Those operators with scores higher than on violation per well or NOV per well are highlighted in pink.

Notice that the highest violations per well and notices of violations per well scores are much higher than the data aggregated since 2000, whereas the statewide averages of the two scores are actually much lower.  The former is almost certainly attributable to having a smaller sample size, but there is something else at play with the latter:

Violations per well of Pennsylvania's unconventional wells. 2013 data through 10/21/2013.

Violations per well of Pennsylvania’s unconventional wells. 2013 data through 10/21/2013.

The number of violations per well drilled has been steadily decreasing since 2009, and it is now down to an average of less than one violation issued per every two wells.  There is nothing in the data that indicates why this is the case, however.

Note:  This post was edited on 12/18/2013.  The table showing operators violations per well and NOV’s per well in 2013 originally stated that that values higher than the average of their peers are highlighted in pink.  In fact, only those with values of 1.00 or higher are highlighted in that fashion.

Loyalsock from the Sky

By Pete Stern, Aerial Photographer

When I met with John Dawes and Brook Lenker to discuss the possibilities of applying my aerial photography to environmental issues in Pennsylvania, I knew that my aerial photography career, which is really more a hobby, a passion and an avocation, was about to change. For years I’ve been taking aerial photographs, mainly focusing on the Pennsylvania Coal Region – purely as art – showing my work in galleries and universities, and self-publishing books. I refrained from expressing an opinion about PA coal mining, leaving it to the viewer to inform the images with their own knowledge of the environmental effects of mining.

As a guest speaker at the 2013 EPCAMR Conference at State College, I learned a great deal about the problem of mine water treatment, and soon had the opportunity to photograph a mine water treatment facility in the Panther Valley for Schuylkill County Headwaters. A friend had asked me for years why I don’t photograph the fracking activities in Pennsylvania, and my answer was that the fracking operations don’t lend themselves to the kind of artistic interpretation from the air as does the Coal Region. But when John mentioned photographing the Loyalsock State Forest fracking activity, I saw that I could use my aerial photography for a higher purpose.

I quickly began studying maps of the Clarence Moore Lands, in which Loyalsock is situated. I looked at images of Rock Run and many other places in the Forest, and then visited and hiked in the Forest. I saw that this was a place of great natural beauty and an ecological treasure. I learned that this precious forest is being threatened by fracking activity that is growing at an astounding rate throughout the forest. I knew I wanted to help document this environmental assault with my photography, and the question became how to most effectively and safely do this.

I have almost always taken my aerial photographs from my own small airplane, which is essentially an advanced ultralight. Flying and photographing at the same time has been the nexus of my art. Loyalsock is a large, rugged and remote area, however, with few airports or emergency landing fields nearby. After much consideration, I decided to hire a pilot to fly me to Loyalsock so that I could concentrate solely on taking photographs. I found a retired Air Force Colonel in Selinsgrove, now a flight instructor, who was eager to assist me in this project. He had been a B52 pilot in Vietnam and had participated in Operation Linebacker 2. It seemed to me that, perhaps, this mission was similar to what he may have done in his combat years, but now, for the good of saving the environment, rather than dropping bombs on it.

With the FracTracker Loyalsock map (below) and some coordinates in hand, we departed Selinsgrove in a Cessna 172 on October 9th. Starting with Bodine Mountain Northwest of Trout Run, we could see fracking operations covering nearly every hilltop. I opened the window of the 172 and started photographing, and as we flew Northeast over Loyalsock, we could see fracking operations everywhere. It was difficult to make out the exact boundaries of the Loyalsock State Forest from the air, and it appeared that the heart of the Forest is, for now, being spared from direct drilling. But I knew that it was just a matter of time before the Forest itself became the victim of unchecked exploitation, threatening the pristine native trout streams, polluting the air, and potentially driving endangered bird species from the area.


Drilled unconventional wells in Pennsylvania and control of mineral rights on state forest land. To access full controls, such as legends, layer controls, and layer descriptions, please click the expanding arrows in the top-right corner of the map.

Flying over the forest, I was very glad that I opted to hire a pilot for this work. It was tricky flying low over ridges and valleys trying to photograph every site. The gusty winds were knocking around the 172, which is much heavier than my aircraft. It was a very productive and successful flight, but also disheartening. Flying allows us views of the Earth that are unavailable from the ground. It has always seemed to me that, especially in Pennsylvania, if there is an unspoiled place of natural value, someone will find a way to destroy it. Loyalsock is a natural treasure which must be protected, but from the growing abundance of fracking operations that can be witnessed from the air, it appears that saving this Forest is an enormous challenge. Thanks to resources like groups like the Save the Loyalsock Coalition, at least the best effort is being made.


Pete Stern is an aerial photographer and artist. His work is featured on his website: www.psartwork.net.

USGS Stream Gages Helpful in Monitoring Risks in Shale-gas Extraction Regions

Weld County, CO - 9-14-13: A floating tank leaks an unknown fluid on flooded farm. (Photo By Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

Weld County, CO – 9-14-13: A floating tank leaks an unknown fluid on flooded farm (Photo By Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

By Karen Edelstein, NY Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

We’re now in the aftermath of September’s catastrophic floods in Colorado that hit Boulder and Weld counties notably hard, damaging or destroying 18,000 homes and killing at least 10 people. The gas industry has asserted that relatively little damage occurred; only 37,000 gallons of fluid escaped into the rural landscape, including over 5,200 gallons of crude oil that seeped directly into the South Platte River. According to Conoly Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, “In the context of hundreds of billions of gallons of rain, and millions of gallons of raw sewage, 37,000 gallons is pretty small.”

Environmentalists, however, say that the long-term impacts of the flooding cannot yet be determined. They also point out how the dangers of placing oil and gas rigs in flood-plain areas are a recipe for disaster. Amy Mall, policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, noted the sheer luck that most of the flooding occurred in areas where active fracking operations were not actually happening; most of these wells were already in production. About 1,900 wells were “shut in” in preparation for the predicted flooding, but storage tanks and other production-related equipment experienced the impacts of the flood waters.

FracTracker Alliance created the following map of United States Geological Survey (USGS) streamflow gage stations across the Lower 48, in areas of mapped shale plays. Each of the USGS points is interactive. Pop-up bubbles allow the user to link directly to the USGS websites for that particular stream gage. Note that not all of the stream gages are currently active; some show only historic USGS data. Many sites, however, show a wealth of real-time information on stream discharge and allow the user to customize time parameters. USGS also includes stream gage height and contributing drainage area. Zooming into an area, users will also see wetlands delineated as part of the National Wetlands Inventory. These wetlands may also be endangered by floods that pick up waste material from oil and gas extraction sites.

Click here to view the full-screen version of this map.

To view gas wells in a particular state, visit FracTracker’s state-by-state map gallery.

Links to more on the Colorado floods of September 2013:

 

 

Almost Heaven

By Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance

Touring Doddrige County, West Virginia

On September 26th, FracTracker staff and board member, Brian Segee, traveled to Doddridge County, West Virginia for an eye-popping tour. This endeavor was led by Diane Pitcock of West Virginia Host Farms and local activists who are deeply concerned about the fate of their region – an area overwhelmed by shale gas development.

Approaching West Union on route 50, a giant flare roars above the roadway and about every fourth vehicle, mostly pickups, tankers, and dump trucks, suggest association with the shale gas industry.  At the café in town, vehicles baring EQT logos fill the lot.  Nearby, Middle Island Creek flows thick and brown despite an absence of rain for the past five days. Diane says it’s frequently muddy from the constant pipeline construction upstream.

Mark West site

The first stop is a Mark West complex with a cryogenic plant burning off excess hydrocarbons, a yard for loading CNG on tanker trucks, one well pad, and another in the works (see photo right). To build the latter, a hillside is being disemboweled.  The heavy equipment and a train of idling trucks release diesel emissions. A stream once coursed through the field in the foreground, but the previous landowner had filled and relocated it without a permit. Watching and photographing from the adjoining rail trail, irony rules. The trail sign is topped by a company-placed “No Trespassing” sign. From the discussion and observations, it’s clear that the environment is being devalued and degraded in Doddridge County.

The tour continues on to a water withdrawal site. According to the permit numbers plastered beside the conduit, the site hosts approximately 50 unconventional gas wells – each requiring millions of gallons of water to crack the shale and hasten the flow of gas.

Right-of-Way?

Next, we traverse gravelly back roads widened by the industry.  The roadway expansion often requires the purchase of right-of-way from landowners.  Our guides tell us that if a landowner says no, sometimes they are told “if you don’t sell, we’ll take it by eminent domain.”  The threat is hollow if not deceitful, since in such circumstances the industry has no right to exercise eminent domain. The industry does have the right to access mineral rights they may own, however, even if they don’t own the property on the surface. In West Virginia, these “split estate” situations are as common as country music, only they project a much more somber note to the landowner, especially when the gas company comes knocking.

A Neighbor’s Perspective

Well pad visit

A freshly cut and clearcut road travels onward and upward across a half mile or more of former forest where a nice lady owns the land but not the natural gas being accessed more than a mile below.  Piles of logs line the roadside, a reminder of what was. The road ends at a fenced impoundment holding thousands of gallons of impaired water.  An odor, akin to antifreeze, hangs in the dry, dusty air. The lady tells the group about the wildlife she has seen, including the songbirds that rest on the high fence and likely drink from the poisonous reservoir.

Downhill lies an expansive well pad, big enough for a football game if there wasn’t the metallurgical din and sprawl of a towering drill rig and the pipes and machinery that accompany it. The landowner’s presence enables our group to enter the working well pad where workers, sleeping off a long shift, emerge from a trailer. While over 30 of her roughly 80 acres are affected by drilling-related activities, only a payment for timber is in negotiation. Meanwhile, she pays the taxes on the land – a parcel that will never quite be the same. Tom Bond, a local and well-informed activist, wistfully comments, “This is just the beginning.  Eventually there will be well pads everywhere.” He may be right.

Pipeline Construction

A golden afternoon closes crossing steel plates over an open trench and green pipeline.  The corridor is an undulating, exposed ribbon of ground spanning ridge to ridge in each direction. There are many more just like it snaking across the hills and hamlets of West Virginia from one compressor station to another.

From witnessing the industry’s heavy footprint to the stories we hear of problems emerging in home water wells, somehow a happy John Denver tune now seems melancholy.

Additional Resources

Severed rights and leased lands in PA state forests

Leases and Severed Rights in PA’s State Forests

A few years ago, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the agency responsible for state park and state forest lands throughout Pennsylvania, published maps on their website showing which state forest lands had been leased for the purpose of unconventional oil and gas exploration and development.  Not only has that page been taken down, but the data are also not among the hundreds of Pennsylvania-specific datasets available on the Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access (PASDA), to which DCNR is a key contributor.

This data does still exist though, and it was provided to the FracTracker Alliance from DCNR upon request, along with data showing areas of the state forest where unconventional oil and gas rights are owned by the state, which is not always the case.  However, this fulfillment of our data request came with some strings attached:

  1. I understand that the accuracy of this data set and its boundaries cannot be guaranteed and should not be considered precise.
  2. I will not distribute raw data to other entities outside the scope of this request.
  3. I will annually provide the Bureau of Forestry with a status update of the project activities and findings.  If the project is abandoned, I will provide the Bureau of Forestry copies of the available information from the project.
  4. I will provide the Bureau of Forestry with copies of draft reports, articles, publications and so forth that result from this analysis.
  5. If requested, I agree to supply the Bureau of Forestry with copies of data analysis.
  6. I understand that the Bureau of Forestry or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is not relinquishing any rights or interests with this agreement.

Obviously, this ties our hands with regards to making the data available for download, either through the download section of our site, or through ArcGIS Online, but we feel as if the scope of our request was worded in such a way as to allow us  to produce a map of these layers, and make that available for public viewing.  Readers interested in obtaining similar data will have to contact DCNR directly, until the agency decides to release the data regarding Pennsylvania’s public lands without conditions.

We have combined this data with drilling data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, so that we can finally take a closer look at drilling on public lands in Pennsylvania, including an approximation of which wells are drilled on lands have been leased by the state, and which by third parties.  So with all appropriate disclaimers, here is that map:


Drilled unconventional wells in Pennsylvania and control of mineral rights on state forest land. To access full controls, such as legends, layer controls, and layer descriptions, please click the expanding arrows in the top-right corner of the map.

West Virginia Map Updated

At FracTracker, we are constantly adding new content to our maps page. In recent weeks, we have added new content for Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas. Now, we have updated our West Virginia Shale Viewer as well.


West Virginia Shale Viewer. Please click the expanding arrows in the top right corner to access the legend and other map tools.

The map above shows some detail about Marcellus Shale operations in the Mountain State, including:

  • Permits issued (purple).  To date, there have been 3,079 permits issued statewide since 2000 where the Marcellus Shale is the target formation.
  • Completed wells (orange).  Of the permits that have been issued, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) has received a completion form for 1,840 wells, or just under 60 percent.
  • Wells in noncompliance (yellow).  196 Marcellus wells were given the noncompliance flag in the dataset.  There are no details on what might have led to this status, however.
  • Public comment wells (blue).  35 Marcellus Shale wells in West Virginia are flagged as having received a public comment of one sort or another.  As with the wells in noncompliance, this dataset offers no details on these wells.

Here’s a look at the number of completion reports received by WVDEP by month:

Marcellus Shale completions by month in West Virginia

Marcellus Shale completions by month in West Virginia

The largest number of completions per month for Marcellus Shale wells is 97 in April 2009.  The next highest total was the following month, with 81 completions.  From January through August of this year, there are an average of 40.5 completions per month in West Virginia.

The information that is distributed in this West Virginia data is typical, however, a good deal of data are being collected by WVDEP.  To see the kinds of things that the state knows about completed wells, take a look at what is required for submission on form WR-35.

Waste produced by Chesapeake Appalachia and the industry leader in each category from unconventional wells in PA between January and June 2013

PA Releases Unconventional Production and Waste Data

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) releases unconventional oil and gas production and waste data twice a year.  It is important to note that both datasets are self-reported from the industry, and there are usually a few operators who miss the reporting deadline.  For that reason, FracTracker usually waits a week or so to capture the results of the fashionably late.  However, after looking at the data, it is likely that there are still operators that have not yet reported.

Production

Production is perhaps the most important metric of the oil and gas industry.  After all, if there were no production, there would be no point in drilling in the first place.  Royalty payments for property owners are based on production values from the wells.  More than that though, it can be an indication of hot spots, and to some degree, which operators are better at getting the product out of the ground than the rest of the field.

Location

Unconventional formations–especially the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale–underlie about two-thirds of Pennsylvania.  However, that does not mean that if an operator drilling a hole in Clarion County can expect the same result as well in Sullivan County, for example.  Production is unevenly distributed throughout the state:

Unconventional gas production in Pennsylvania from January to June 2013.  All production values are in thousands of cubic feet (Mcf).  Counties with above average production per well are highlighted in orange.

Unconventional gas production in Pennsylvania from January to June 2013. All production values are in thousands of cubic feet (Mcf). Counties with above average production per well are highlighted in orange.

With 1.4 trillion cubic feet of gas production in half a year from unconventional wells, Pennsylvania has become a major leader in production.  For a quick comparison to other regions of the country, see the Energy Information Administration, (although the EIA has apparently not felt inspired to update their data in a while).

It should be noted that there is also oil and condensate production from unconventional wells in Pennsylvania, although that really amounts to a drop in the barrel, so to speak.  Unlike the Bakken, where gas is seen as a byproduct that is routinely flared because there is no infrastructure ready to accept it, the Marcellus and Utica in Pennsylvania are really all about the gas.  Some of the gas from the western part of the state is considered wet, with heavier hydrocarbons like ethane and propane mixed with the methane, but in terms of this report, there is no distinction between wet gas and dry gas, or pure methane.  Eight out of 17 wells producing oil and 430 out of 505 wells producing condensate are located in Washington County.

Operators

The reason that production values are more telling for geographies than for operators is that most operators in Pennsylvania are limited to select portions of the state, where their leasing strategies were focused.  Therefore, certain companies occupy the regions that yield higher production, while others are left trying to extract from less productive areas.  So looking at production by operator does not necessarily reflect their skill at extraction, but it does does give a general impression of how much one of their wells is likely to produce, which could be useful for people trying to negotiate leases, among other considerations.

Unconventional gas production by operator in Pennsylvania from January to June 2013.  All production values are in thousands of cubic feet (Mcf).  Operators with above average production are highlighted in orange.

Unconventional gas production by operator in Pennsylvania from January to June 2013. All production values are in thousands of cubic feet (Mcf). Operators with above average production are highlighted in orange.

Note that eight operators on the list have no data.  Presumably, there are the operators that have not yet reported their data to the DEP, although it is possible that some of them could be defunct.  Obviously, any missing data here would also be missing from the county totals.  Alpha Shale is the clear leader in terms of production per well, with about 1.2 million Mcf per well.  Citrus, Rice, and Chief occupy the next teir, with each exceeding an average of 700,000 Mcf.  All four are relatively minor operators, however, with fewer than 100 wells reporting production.  In terms of total production, Chesapeake blows the competition out of the water, with roughly the same production as the next two producers (Cabot and Range) combined.

Waste

Along with all of the profitable gas being produced in Pennsylvania comes all of the various waste products that are created in the process.  Before jumping into the numbers, I’d like to point out that it is likely that operators who have not reported production also have not reported their contribution to the waste.  In its current form, the waste report has 12,604 lines of data from 4,991 different unconventional wells.    Here is a summary of the waste produced by type from unconventional formations in Pennsylvania:

Waste reported from unconventional wells in Pennsylvania from January to June 2013.  Note that one barrel equals 42 US gallons.

Waste reported from unconventional wells in Pennsylvania from January to June 2013. Note that one barrel equals 42 US gallons.

Some interesting things are revealed when sorting the waste type data by operator, although the resulting table is a little unweildy, even for me.  But here are a few highlights:

  • Anadarko reported 99.5 percent of basic sediment production  
  • Southwestern Energy produced more than twice as much drill cuttings (128,000 tons) as the next highest operator (Cabot:  50,000 tons)
  • Range Resources led the pack with 172,000 barrels of drilling fluid, with Chevron Appalachia (168,000 barrels) close behind
  • PA Gen Energy had the most flowback fracturing sand reported, with over 8,600 tons, despite having fewer than 100 producing wells.
  • Chevron Appalachia produced the most fracing fluid waste (934,000 barrels), with Range Resources coming in at number two (773,000 barrels).  This is what Pennsylvania calls the flowback fluid; this is not the straight chemical additives that used in the hydraulic fracturing process, but those additives are included in this fluid
  • The most produced fluid, or formation brine, came from Range Resources wells (1.6 million barrels), followed by Chesapeake (1.4 million barrels)
  • 82 percent of the servicing fluid reported was from Cabot (1,741 barrels)
  • 100 percent of the spent lubricant was reported by SWEPI (19 barrels)

Amazingly, despite their overwhelming lead in gas production in the state, Chesapeake Appalachia did not have the most of any of the eight different waste types, and in some cases, were not even close:

Waste produced by Chesapeake Appalachia and the industry leader in each category from unconventional wells in PA between January and June 2013

Waste produced by Chesapeake Appalachia and the industry leader in each category from unconventional wells in PA between January and June 2013

The Pennsylvania waste data is also notable for including the disposal method of the waste:

Disposal method for unconventional waste from PA between January and June 2013

Disposal method for unconventional waste from PA between January and June 2013

And for those who can handle one last table, Pennsylvania also tells us where the waste is disposed:

Destination of unconventional oil and gas waste in PA between January and June 2013, by state

Destination of unconventional oil and gas waste in PA between January and June 2013, by state

 

 

Determination Letters Added to PADEP Groundwater Complaints Map

A couple of months ago, Laura Legere of the Scranton Times-Tribune published an article showing her research into determination letters sent by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) in response to people who claimed that their groundwater had been impacted by oil and gas activity in the state.  Of the 973 complaints represented on this dataset, the PADEP has determined a causality between the oil and gas activity and the water complaint in 162 instances.  Note that not all of these complaints are necessarily as a result of the hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) stage of operations.

The FracTracker Alliance assisted in the project by creating an interactive map of the instances throughout the state.  As the Scranton Times-Tribune has now made digital scans of each of the 973 records available on their servers, we have been able to link to them on the map.

In this screen capture, the popup box for the first of eleven complaints mapped at this location is shown.  In order to access the determination letter, the user must simply click on the PDF logo.

In this screen capture, the popup box for the first of eleven complaints mapped at this location is shown. In order to access the determination letter, the user must simply click on the PDF logo.

Names, addresses, and other personal information about the complainants have been removed from this dataset in order to protect their privacy.  And because the locations are drawn at the center-point of the municipality in which they live, we can get a general sense for the distribution of the events without being able to zoom in one the affected parties’ houses.

To get an idea of what the determination letters look like, here is one example in which the PADEP indicates that someone’s water supply has been impacted by gas drilling:

A portion of one of the determination letters sent by PADEP to a landowner in response to a complaint about groundwater.  Click the image to access the full PDF file.

A portion of one of the determination letters sent by PADEP to a landowner in response to a complaint about groundwater. Click the image to access the full PDF file.

Here is the dynamic version of the map of the complaints:


Please click on the Fullscreen icon to load our full suite of controls.

This updated data has also been added to the US Map of Suspected Well Water Impact project: