Conventional, Non-Vertical Wells in PA

Like most states, the data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection do not explicitly tell you which wells have been hydraulically fractured. They do, however, designate some wells as unconventional, a definition based largely on the depth of the target formation:

An unconventional gas well is a well that is drilled into an Unconventional formation, which is defined as a geologic shale formation below the base of the Elk Sandstone or its geologic equivalent where natural gas generally cannot be produced except by horizontal or vertical well bores stimulated by hydraulic fracturing.


Naturally occurring karst in Cumberland County, PA. Photo by Randy Conger, via USGS.

While Pennsylvania has been producing oil and gas since before the Civil War, the arrival of unconventional techniques has brought greater media scrutiny, and at length, tougher regulations for Marcellus Shale and other deep wells. We know, however, that some companies are increasingly looking at using the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in much shallower formations, which could be of greater concern to those reliant upon well water than wells drilled into deeper unconventional formations, such as the Marcellus Shale. The chance of methane or fluid migration through karst or other natural fissures in the underground rock formations increase as the distance between the hydraulic fracturing activity and groundwater sources decrease, but the new standards for unconventional wells in the state don’t apply.

The following chart summarizes data for wells through May 16, 2014 that are not drilled vertically, but that are considered to be conventional, based on depth:

These wells are listed as conventional, but are not drilled vertically.

These wells are listed as conventional, but are not drilled vertically.

Note that there have already been more horizontal wells in this group drilled in 2014 than any previous year, showing that the trend is increasing sharply.

Of the 26 horizontal wells, 12 are considered oil wells, five are gas wells, five are storage wells, three are combination oil and gas, and one is an injection well.  These 177 wells have been issued a total of 97 violations, which is a violation per well ratio of 62 percent.  429 permits in have been issued in Pennsylvania to date for non-vertical wells classified as conventional.  Greene county has the largest number of horizontal conventional wells, with eight, followed by Bradford (5) and Butler (4) counties.

We can also take a look at this data in a map view:


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.

Ancient Seas, Modern Ownership Concerns

By Karen Edelstein, NY Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

In the Finger Lakes Region of New York State, while the debate rages about underground storage of gas in abandoned salt solution mines near Seneca Lake, the story is quite different to the east at Cayuga Lake. Cayuga has a history of not just solution brine mining, but also extensive mining of solid rock salt. The map below shows the footprint of underground salt mining – room-and-pillar style 2300 feet below Cayuga Lake – by the multinational corporation, Cargill. Mineral rights beneath the lake are owned by New York State, but note that some of the mine also extends underneath privately owned land in the Town of Lansing.


Map of Lansing, NY Cargill Salt Mine. For a full-screen version of this map (including map legend), click here.

About this Map

The interactive map (above) shows the location and extent of the Cargill Salt mine in Lansing, NY. The boundaries of the mine were digitized from a map, Figure 2.3-2, entitled “Plan View of the Cayuga Mine Showing East and West Shoreline Benchmark Locations” from the Spectra Environmental Group, Latham, NY, circa 2004, and another planning document acquired. Here is one of the original maps, and a planning map showing expansion through 2003. An additional map from a Cargill mine expansion permit request, viewed at the DEC headquarters in Cortland, NY, shows additional requested development under residential areas in Lansing. This layer is shaded green.

Questions Abound

The dynamics around salt extraction, and other uses such as gas extraction, raise several questions.

Consider the stratigraphic column of rocks in New York State. The salt layer that is being mined by Cargill is the Salina Group, approximately 2300 feet below the surface. Salt is dug out mechanically, broken up by machinery and explosives to break up the solid layer. The Marcellus Shale (in Lansing) is above that salt layer–in the expanse of Middle Devonian Rocks, while the Utica Shale is below it–part of the Ordovician rock strata. In order to drill into the Marcellus Shale, one would not need to enter the salt layer, although the boundary of rock between the two strata might only be a few hundred feet thick. Reaching the Utica Shale would require piercing the salt layer. The Central New York region is crisscrossed by an abundance of vertical cracks and joints in the bedrock, some of which are thought to be hundreds to thousands of feet long, and may extend to “basement rock”, the ancient rock below the hundreds-of-millions year-old sedimentary layers such as the shale, sandstone, and salt.

Numerous plugged and abandoned salt wells from the days of solution mining–mid 1800s to mid 1900s– are located on and near Salt Point, the delta where Salmon Creek meets Cayuga Lake. As the map shows, the rock salt mining extent is near to, but not in contact with, these old brine wells. The underground shape of the solution wells is not entirely understood, and may be variable due to different rates of dissolution of halite during the extraction process. The rock salt is mined out as a solid, not a a saturated salt liquid that would have then gone through an evaporation process in a giant kiln. Were rock salt extraction to occur too close to the old solution wells and a wall breached, flooding in the current Cargill mine could result.

This would obviously not be good.

(Nor, for that matter, would have been the prospect of storing spent nuclear fuel in the abandoned brine wells, something that was being considered in the mid-1970s. In a 3-volume study of the geology of the Salina Basin (spanning a d-state area), the conclusion made by the Stone and Webster Engineering Corporation1,  consultant to the US Department of Energy, was that no salt mining sites in the Finger Lakes region were appropriate  for nuclear fuel storage without further study of the area’s extensive, but under-studied, faulting patterns.)

What are the implications of other sorts of mineral extraction, in this part of the Finger Lakes Region?

Yours or Mine?

The extent of Cargill’s mining under residential portions of the Town of Lansing provokes several questions. For example, if Cargill has long-term access to these subsurface mineral rights, property owners do not control the land beneath their homes. This is not altogether uncommon in areas of mineral – or oil and gas – extraction. Can that land be leased for gas drilling?

It was revealing to look more closely at records of expired oil and gas leases in the area. During this process, we discovered that within the area that is “claimed” by Cargill for subsurface mineral extraction, numerous surface owners had also leased the gas rights beneath their property (see blue starburst markers on the map)2, even if the property deeds explicitly, for example,  indicated that the property owner “will not cause any damage to the said salt or mining operations [of the party of the second part] by permitting or consenting to any other drilling 1000 feet below the the surface of said premises, for oil, gas, water or any other substance or mineral..” (Tompkins County Clerk, Liber 463, p.284-5).  Here are links to page 2 and 3 of the deed, and the very comprehensive leasing clause of one of these oil and gas leases that permits a wide variety of gas-extraction related activity–both on the surface, and below ground.

Four of the ten leases were on property held by the Town of Lansing itself, and one other was on property owned by a local elected official. While all of these leases expired in 2012, and were never, in fact, drilled (due to the de facto moratorium on HVHF gas extraction in New York), the mash-up of these datasets raises important questions about our permitting structure. The implications of two separate entities claiming overlapping subsurface rights spotlights many questions regarding the oversight and regulation of potentially conflicting uses. Of particular concern are the risks posed by migration of gas through joints and fissures in the bedrock that are further weakened by hydraulic fracturing – and the potential for methane explosions3 in salt mines, whether or not a well shaft penetrates the salt gallery.

For more details on operations at Cargill’s Lansing mine, see this article from The Lansing Star, September 2012: Lansing Down Under: A Look at the Cargill Salt Mine.

References

  1. Regional Geology of the Salina Basin, Report of the Geologic Project Manager
    Volumes 1 and 2, Phase I, August 1977-January 1978, and Volume 3 Update, October 1979. Prepared by Stone and Webster Engineering Corporation for the Office of Nuclear Waste Isolation, Battelle Memorial Institute, Project Management Division, US Department of Energy.
  2. Map of Gas Leases in Tompkins County
  3. Cargill Incorporated Belle Isle Salt Mine Explosion (1979)
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.

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.

FracTracker Alliance’s *NEW* California Shale Viewer

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

The FracTracker Alliance has just recently opened a new office based out of Berkeley, California. As a first step in addressing the unique issues of oil and gas extraction in the Golden State, FracTracker has queried the data that is published by the state’s regulatory agencies, and has translated those datasets into various maps that highlight specific issues. As a first step in this process, FracTracker transcribed the well-site data that is publicly available from the California Department of Conservation’s (DOC) Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).

This first phase of analysis is presented in FracMapper on the California page, here. FracTracker has translated the entire DOGGR database into a map layer that can be viewed on the California Shale Viewer map, here. The California Shale Viewer will be continuously updated to map the expanding oil and gas development as it occurs. Featured map layers on the California Shale Viewer focus on hydraulic fracturing in the state of California. The hydraulic fracturing well-site data comes from two sources. First, the layer “CA Hydraulically Fractured Wells Identified by DOGGR” portrays the maps identified by regulatory agency as having been hydraulically fractured. The DOGGR is aware that their dataset is not complete in terms of identifying all wells that have been hydraulically fractured. The second source of data is from our friends at SkyTruth, and provided in the layer “CA Hydraulically Fractured Wells Identified by SkyTruth”. Using a crowd-source platform, SkyTruth has generated a dataset based on the information reported to FracFocus.org. FracFocus.org refuses to provide aggregated datasets of their well-site data. These hydraulically fractured well-sites can be viewed as a individual datasets in the California Shale Viewer, or as a combined layer in the map “California Hydraulically Fractured and Conventional Oil and Gas Wells” map, where you are also able to view the dataset of wells FracFocus identifies as hydraulically fractured, but DOGGR does not.

More information concerning the many different types of wells drilled in California and the status of these wells (whether they are planned, active, idle or plugged) can be found in the “Well Type” map and “Well Status” map, also available on the FracTracker California page.

New Maps for Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wyoming

The FracTracker Alliance got its start by monitoring the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania in the summer of 2010.  Since then, many things have changed, including increased interest in shale deposits in a variety of formations throughout the country.  We have been attempting to keep current in a variety of states, as requests come in for us to do so.  To that end, we have recently added shale viewers for Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wyoming:

Oklahoma Shale Viewer


Oklahoma shale viewer, including layers depicting shale wells and Class II injection wells. To access full controls, click the “Fullscreen” button.

Virginia Shale Viewer


Virginia shale viewer, including layers depicting horizontal permits and drilled wells.

Wyoming Shale Viewer


Wyoming shale viewer, including layers depicting horizontal wells and Class II disposal wells.

As always, be sure to click on the “About” tool to learn more about the data. And keep an eye out for data related to these three states to be added to our data page in the coming days.

PA Unconventional Drilling Activity Trends

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) publishes data on unconventional oil and gas permits, drilled wells, and violations. The FracTracker Alliance has taken this data, and summarized it by month:

Permits issued, wells drilled, and violations issued for unconventional oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania from January 2005 through May 2013.

Permits issued, wells drilled, and violations issued for unconventional oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania from January 2005 through May 2013.

There are numerous ways to interpret the raw data, to the point where it is easy to get bogged down in the specifics. Still, a certain amount of discussion is merited to understand that answers to questions like, “How many unconventional oil and gas violations are there in Pennsylvania?” are fundamentally interpretive in nature, based on the available data. For example, there are often multiple actions for a single well API number that appear in the permits report, and likewise multiple actions for a single violation ID number that has been issued. In this analysis, we have counted only the first action for each of these.

Here are some more summary details about the data:

This table shows a summary of unconventional oil and gas data in PA by month.

This table shows a summary of unconventional oil and gas data in PA by month.

The top section shows summaries of monthly counts of permits, drilled wells, and violations, while the second section shows the frequency of the monthly totals reaching specified targets, and the third section shows the total numbers that were used for the analysis.  For example, we can see in the top section that the maximum number of violations issued in a month is 160, so there are zero instances where the monthly total of violations reached the target of being greater than 200.  And while there have been four months since January 2005 where there have been no unconventional permits issued in the state (the most recent being in September 2005, incidentally), this has happened 21 times on the violations report.


Pennsylvania Shale Viewer on FracMapper. Please click the “Fullscreen” icon to learn more about the map, and access additional tools.