Keeping Track of Hydraulic Fracturing in California

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Environmental regulations in California are considered conservative by most state standards. To name a few practices, the state has developed an air quality review board that conducts independent toxicological assessments on a level competitive with the U.S. EPA, and the state instituted the U.S.’s first green house gas cap and trade program. But most recently the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has been criticized in the media for its lack of monitoring of hydraulic fracturing activity. DOGGR has been responsive to criticism and preemptive of legislative action and has begun a full review of all well-sites in California to identify which wells have been hydraulically fractured and plan to monitor future hydraulic fracturing. Additionally they have maintained historical records of all wells drilled, plugged, and abandoned in the state in web-accessible databases, which include data for oil and gas, geothermal, and injection wells, as well as other types of support wells such as pressure maintenance, steam flood etc.. The data is also viewable in map format on the DOGGR’s online mapping system (DOMS).

To understand what is missing from the DOGGR dataset, it was compared to the dataset extracted from FracFocus.org by SkyTruth. The map “Hydraulic Fracturing in California” compares these two datasets, which can be viewed individually or together as one dataset with duplicates removed. It is interesting to note the SkyTruth dataset categorizes 237 wells as hydraulically fractured that DOGGR does not, and identifies three wells (API #’s 11112215, 23727206, and 10120788) not identified in the DOGGR database. For the some of these 237 wells, DOGGR identifies them as new, which means they were recently drilled and hydraulically fractured and DOGGR will be updating their database. Many are identified as active oil and gas wells., while the rest are identified as well types other than oil and gas. Also the SkyTruth dataset from FracFocus data contains additional information about each well-site, which DOGGR does not provide. This includes volumes of water used for hydraulic fracturing and the fracture date, both of which are vital pieces of monitoring information.

The California State Legislature is currently reviewing California Senate Bill 4 (CA SB 4) written by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), which would put in place a regulatory structure for permitting and monitoring hydraulic fracturing and other activity.  A caveat for acidification is also included that would require companies to obtain a specific permit from the state before acidizing a well.  The bill has received criticism from both industry and environmentalists.  While it does not call for a moratorium or regulate what chemicals are used, it is the first legislation that requires a full disclosure of all hydraulic fracturing fluid additives, including those considered proprietary.  This is the last of at least seven bills on the issue, the majority of which have been turned down by lawmakers. The most conservative bills (Assemblywoman Mitchell; D-Culver City) proposed moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing in the state. Earlier this year lawmakers approved a bill (Sen. Pavley; D-Agoura Hills) that would direct the state to complete and independent scientific risk assessment of hydraulic fracturing. The bill directs permitters to deny permits if the study is not finished by January 1, 2015, and also requires public notice before drilling as well as disclosure of chemicals (besides those considered proprietary). In May, a bill (Sen. Wold; D-Davis) was passed requiring drillers to file a $100,000 indemnity bond for each well, with an optional blanket indemnity bond of $5 million for operators with over 20 wells. Another bill (Jackson; D-Santa Barbara) that would require monitoring of both transportation and disposal of wastewater was tabled until next year.

Although hydraulic fracturing has been conducted in California for over a decade, it was not monitored or regulated, and the majority of Californians were not aware of it. Industry groups have portrayed the lack of attention as a testament to its environmental neutrality, but Californians living smack dab in the middle of the drilling tend to tell a different story. The issue is now receiving attention because hydraulic fracturing is such a hotbed topic of contention, along with the potential future of the billions of barrels of oil in the Monterey Shale. The unconventional extraction technology necessary to recover the oil from these deep shale formations is state of the art, which means it is not tried and true. The methods include a combination of high tech approaches, such as horizontal drilling, high volume hydraulic fracturing, and acidification to name a few. Realize: if this technology existed for the last 60 years, the Monterey Shale would already have been developed long ago, along with the rest of the U.S. deep shale formations.

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