Our thoughts and opinions about gas extraction and related topics

Do the natural gas industry’s surface water withdrawals pose a health risk?

By Kyle Ferrar, MPH – EOH Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh GSPH


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

Wastewater discharges are regulated through national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permits, and are based on the concept “the solution to pollution is dilution.” However, what happens when the diluting capacity of a river diminishes? If the natural gas industry will be producing 20 million gallons per day (MGD) of wastewater in 2011, but only retrieves 20% to 70% of the water used to drill and hydrofracture a well, over 28.5 to 100 MGD must be withdrawn from water resources1.
Water withdrawals for the natural gas industry are permitted through the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) with the approval of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). As water is withdrawn, the volumes of stream flow decrease. Water withdrawals must be conducted responsibly, so that the volumes of stream flow are not impacted. Decreasing flow decreases the assimilative capacity of waterways to dilute pollution, such as TDS. In the late summer and fall, lack of precipitation causes drought conditions, and accounts for the lowest flow periods each year. But in 2008 through 2010, flow in parts of the Monongahela River have been less than half than what they are typically, at this time of the year, according to the Army Corps of Engineers2.

[image removed]
Figure 1. Permitted surface water withdrawals in Pennsylvania are shown on the map, active as of April 2, 2010.

Figure 1 shows the permitted water withdrawals in Pennsylvania for commercial, industrial, and agricultural use, as well as the permitted water withdrawals for the oil and natural gas industry. There is a multitude of groups that rely on water withdrawals for their livelihood, including the oil and gas industry, labeled as red stars. The capacity of river flow to dilute pollutants to safe levels also depends on river flow, and has precise limits. The current assimilative capacity for pollution and TDS in the Monongahela River is showing signs of saturation, and is characteristically oversaturated during the dry season. Monongahela River communities are already urged to rely on bottled water rather than their own municipal tap water, for certain periods of the year. Therefore, at the current rate of natural gas industry water withdrawals, there is no longer any room left for further economic development of water resources in other sectors of industry within the Monongahela River basin, if public health is to be conserved.

The current water management practices of the natural gas industry during the regional dry season are likely to have contributed to higher TDS concentration in the Monongahela River. New regulations for treatment and discharge of wastewater are designed so that the wastewater does not result in a severe impact, but the issue of mediating sustainable withdrawals has not been addressed. The majority of the pollution in the Monongahela River is still suspected to be caused by issues of legacy pollution, such as extensive acid mine drainage within the watershed3. On the other hand, the water withdrawals in the Monongahela River watershed are potentially causing a cumulative impact on flow volume in the river that magnifies all forms of pollution by increasing the pollutant concentrations. Much more research needs to be conducted on this issue, to ensure safe and sustainable permitting practices for water withdrawals.


  1. Penn State University, College of Agricultural Sciences, Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension. 2010. Shaping proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s total dissolved solids standard, a guide to the proposal and the commenting process.
  2. Puko, Tim. Silty Salty Monongahela River at risk from pollutants. Tuesday August 24, 2010. Pittsburgh Tribune Review.
  3. Anderson, Robert M. Beer, Kevin M. Buckwalter, Theodore F. Clark, Mary E. McAuley Steven D. Sams, James I. Williams, Donald R. 2000. Water Quality in the Allegheny and Monongahela River Basins. USGS circular 1202.

What will happen to our farms?

Natural gas drilling site in Susquehanna County taken by Garth Lenz.
View other RAVE photos in the online gallery.

By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

As Dr. Volz and I presented as part of Geneva College’s Colloquia Series today – right in the heart of PA’s Marcellus Shale play – I found myself brainstorming on what issues FracTracker’s DataTool can be used to help address, and what future research questions might result from its use. The next few blog posts of mine will follow that theme.

So the first question I would like to propose is what will happen to our region’s farms and their products if an industry can offer $5,000 an acre and 18% royalties (an approximation based on recent verbal reports from owners of mineral rights) to farmers, many of whom are feeling the squeeze financially?

This is a close up map of southwestern PA to take a closer look at how land is being used in Washington County, PA and comparing that with where gas wells are being drilled. The coral area of land, where more than 50% of it is cultivated as you can see, has several wells located within it.

Since many farmers are experiencing financial hardships, it is understandable that the monetary assistance that can at times be provided by leasing out their mineral rights would be a very beneficial (and attractive) option for the farmers. But what does this new temptation mean for the quality of our nation’s agriculture down the road? How will public health be affected, e.g. will access to local and fresh foods improve or decline? Will certain land owners be less motivated to farm? Will they use their signing bonuses and royalty checks to purchase new and better farming equipment, which hypothetically would improve the quality and quantity of the agricultural system? Or even, will more events like this one occur, when cattle had to be quarantined because they came in contact with waste water that leaked from an impoundment?

I would like to personally add… The consideration should be made that this is quite a rural / socio-economic environmental justice issue. On a related note, in this link you can read about an economic study published through the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development. Below is the summary of the project’s purpose and goals.

The purpose of this project was to assess the current social and economic conditions relating to gas well development in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania, with the goal of obtaining baseline data for future longitudinal assessment of subsequent community changes that occur in Appalachian counties. The study includes:

  1. A Survey of Residents living in the Marcellus Region. A mail survey of a sample of households within selected Appalachian counties in the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania was carried out to ascertain current views of residents concerning gas industry development in their areas and to obtain information about their perceptions of their communities.
  2. Interviews with Key Informants. Interviews of approximately 60 stakeholders from public, private, nonprofit, and institutions were conducted in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Arkansas to ascertain their perceptions of current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts associated with large scale natural gas development.

This is an invitation to hear your opinions about any or all of the topics discussed above.

FracTracker Blog and Data Tool for Use in Shale Gas and Oil Plays throughout the Country

Piloting FracTracker in the Marcellus Shale Region


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

By Conrad (Dan) Volz, DrPH, MPH – Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH); Director, Center for Healthy Environments and Communities; Director, Environmental Health Risk Assessment Certificate Program, GSPH

This document explains the fractracker.org web-platform for tracking shale gas environmental and environmental health, social and behavioral health, emergency preparedness, community, general, and public health, and associated land use impacts. Over time, we envision it to be able to track economic, demographic, and other important variables that any organization or individual is interested in exploring. This is being written in part because we at CHEC have been actually overwhelmed in the past few weeks by requests from other shale gas plays to use the platform.

So to start, FracTracker is funded by the Heinz Endowments, managed by the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) [a center within the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health], and hosted by the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds. The platform architecture was built by Rhiza Laboratories [a division of Maya designs].

If you notice at the top of this blog that it says it is dedicated to tracking Marcellus Shale gas extraction impacts—please do not be put-off if you are interested in other shale gas plays or even in other oil and gas extraction and hybrid activities. This site can help you — and also you can help it!

FracTracker’s Data Tool is being piloted in the Marcellus Shale, but any citizen, organization, activist, even government organizations and industries themselves can use this tool to help visualize oil and gas extraction impacts in any region of the country or even throughout the world. It is mainly being developed though to help in tracking impacts of unconventional gas and oil and other byproduct extraction by stimulation technology commonly referred to as hydrofracturing within the United States. Although a better term might be ‘high pressure chemical fluid fracturing’; industry words don’t characterize well many of the processes, as we often hear about flowback and produced water, which are best labeled contaminated fluids. Flowback water bears as much resemblance to water as waste effluent from steel or chemical plants do.

So our focus right now is to pilot this web-platform in the Marcellus Shale and general Appalachian Devonian shale formations that are primarily in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia but also cover portions of Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky and even across Lake Erie. The site was launched in the last week of June 2010 at a meeting in Bedford, PA that included data providers and users from community groups, environmental organizations, regulatory agencies, academia, and foundations-primarily from the state of Pennsylvania. Following this ‘kickoff’ meeting, others have been held in Pittsburgh, PA (SW PA – epicenter of gas extraction), Danville, PA (NE PA – an epicenter of gas extraction activity), and Ithaca NY. The purpose of these meetings has been to inform groups and institutions about this tool and get buy-in for data gathering and sharing and most importantly forming a network of groups interested in visualizing impacts of gas extraction operations and predicting environmental and social impacts, and health effects under multiple scenarios of the development of the industry. Certainly we know from past shale gas and oil plays that this is unlike industrial process such as coal burning for power production in that the oil and gas industry develops over a wide geographical area with many sources for both air and water pollution. Many gas extraction processes are small enough to not need permitting under existing regulations, but taken as a whole will contribute widely to air pollution effects such as ozone formation and surface water quality deficits from disposal of contaminated fluids into sewage treatment plants.

Our funding for this project is thus limited right now to Marcellus Shale, but it has always been envisioned that the platform would be used across the country. The design of this tool is therefore an ongoing project. Although CHEC does not have funds to actively manage data from other shale plays currently, we certainly encourage groups-individuals-regulatory agencies-environmental organizations to use the tool in areas of the country that you are interested in and to populate the data tool with databases that would be useful in showing locations of wells, population density, income, natural resources, landforms, endangered species, air and water quality, health outcomes, watersheds and rivers etc. All data must be geolocated (with a latitude and longitude), as that is what allows visualization of the dataset on the Google earth maps.

The tool is really pretty easy to use once data is stored on it (getting data on it is not so simple at the present time, as there are only a few types of file formats it accepts, and knowledge of how to transform some databases is necessary; we are working on that also). It is quite easy to overlay databases on each other to visualize and tell stories about extraction activities and for academics it is an interesting hypothesis generating device. Two stories highlighted on the blog that were easily produced were:

  1. Overlay of sewage treatment plants (STP) accepting contaminated fluids in PA with watersheds and rivers; and
  2. Marcellus Shale gas extraction permits in PA with existing ozone monitors operated by regulatory authorities
The overlay of STP accepting contaminated fluids from drillers and watershed and rivers was important to be able to see the proliferation of disposal into the Monongahela River and calculate the total poundage of dissolved solids, strontium, barium and chlorides going into that watershed; as a result we are launching a study of the major cations and anions and organic compounds that are being put directly into this critical drinking water source. Overlaying Marcellus Shale drilling permits and drilled wells onto a map showing the location of ozone monitors helped us visualize the many areas in PA where there are no ozone monitors but will or are undergoing extraction activity-given the present monitoring scheme—ground level ozone formation due to organic vapor release from fracing ponds-evaporation centers-condensers-cryo plants and compressors cannot be determined; so as a result we are launching an ultraviolet spectroscopy study (UV-DOAS) of volatile organic compounds being released in a heavily developed area south of Pittsburgh.
I also encourage environmental organizations, community groups, and regulatory authorities to contact CHEC if you would like to use FracTracker or if you would like to discuss ways in which we can all work together. We can certainly help users of the web-platform work through technical issues associated with its use – but again and most importantly, since we are public health scientists, getting data on health effects even perceived health effects, is a way to document effects from this industry for use in more detailed epidemiological studies. Having reports from other shale gas plays is important to do good population-based science. We feel that the networking aspect of this across the country is maybe its most important outcome. We are interested in talking with organizations that want to pursue funding to work on this in other areas. To these end please contact Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH -CHEC Communications Specialist (contact information below) to discuss using FracTracker’s blog and data tool. If you would like to talk about networking opportunities ask for me when you call 412-624-9379.

Gesundheit – Dan Volz

FracTracker General Contact Information:
Samantha L. Malone, MPH, CPH
Communications Specialist, CHEC
Phone: (412) 624-9379
Email: malone@fractracker.org

Potential Shale Gas Extraction Air Pollution Impacts


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

How Organic Compounds Contained in the Shale Layer Can Volatilize Into Air, Become Hazardous Air Pollutants and Cause Ozone Formation

By: Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH; Drew Michanowicz, MPH, CPH; Charles Christen, DrPH, MEd; Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH; Kyle Ferrer, MPH – Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC), University of Pittsburgh, GSPH, EOH department

The Center for Healthy Environments and Communities has received numerous requests for information on how Marcellus shale gas extraction operations might contribute to air quality problems throughout the PA-NY-WV region, how air quality problems might develop in other shale plays around the country, and the potential human exposure to specific air contaminants generated in these processes. We are addressing this question in a very thorough academic fashion now by looking at the industrial processes involved from site clearance, to well drilling and hydrofracturing, to gas processing and methane and byproduct transport; we are developing conceptual site models of human exposure to contaminants generated by this very complicated industry with many sub-operations.
A conceptual site model is a written and/or pictorial representation of an environmental system and the biological, physical and chemical processes that determine the transport and fate of contaminants from a source, through environmental media (air, groundwater, surface water, sediment, soils, and food) to environmental receptors (humans, aquatic and terrestrial organisms can all be environmental receptors) and their most likely exposure modes (ASTM, 2008). Again, because there are many sources and types of contaminants to understand and uncover within each gas extraction process, it will take until mid-fall to complete this study. In the meantime, here is basic information on potential air quality impacts from shale gas extraction activities.
Part I of this series explains how organic compounds in the shale layer itself can be mobilized during the hydrofracturing and gas extraction process and volatilized into the air from frac ponds, impoundments, and pits, as well as from condenser tanks, cryo plants and compressor stations – and become Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP’s).

Part II explains how volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), which are HAP’s, form ozone in the lower atmosphere (otherwise known as ground level ozone) and uses maps generated for other regional studies of other precursor contaminants to lay a basis for formation ozone over the Marcellus area.

Part I: How organic compounds in the shale layer enter air and become Hazardous Air Pollutants

Since this article is on potential human exposure to airborne volatile organic compounds from shale gas operations, we will limit the following narrative conceptual model to how organic compounds in the shale gas layer itself can be mobilized by the hydraulic fracturing and above ground operations to become airborne and present an inhalation hazard.

An exhaustive search of the literature was done to obtain peer reviewed articles on Marcellus or other shale play flowback and produced water and concentrations of organic compounds in this water; no scientific articles were found that look specifically at organic compounds when well stimulation technology is used. Additionally, no papers were found that characterize organic compounds in flowback or produced water from Marcellus Shale wells over the region, which may vary significantly; anecdotal information suggests that wet gas containing organic compounds is an important byproduct in SW PA, whereas dry gas is more common in NE PA.

However, we can piece together good evidence that flowback and produced water from shale layers themselves contain organic compounds that could offgas into the environment when brought to the surface. First, gas-productive shale formations occur in Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks in the continental United States and are characterized as fine-grained, clay- and organic carbon–rich rocks that are both gas source and reservoir rock components of the petroleum system (Martini et al., 1998). Gas is of thermogenic or biogenic origin and stored as sorbed hydrocarbons, as free gas in fracture and intergranular porosity, and as gas dissolved in kerogen and bitumen (Schettler and Parmely, 1990; Martini et al., 1998). Kerogen and bitumen are extremely large molecular weight and a diverse group of organic compounds that could also be broken into many smaller organic compounds during the hydrofracturing process given the high pressures used, the temperatures at depth and the chemical additives added to make the water slick. The USGS factsheet 2009–3032 states clearly that hydrofrac water “in close contact with the rock during the course of the stimulation treatment, and when recovered may contain a variety of formation materials, including brines, heavy metals, radionuclides, and organics that can make wastewater treatment difficult and expensive” to dispose of, although no supporting documentation is provided (Soeder and Kappel, 2008).

Certainly gas shales contain numerous organic hydrocarbons; we know, for example, that the Marcellus contains from 3-12% organic carbon (OC), the Barnett: 4.5% OC, and the Fayetteville: 4-9.8% OC (Arthur et al, 2008 ). A whitepaper describing produced water from production of crude oil, natural gas and coal bed methane and prepared by researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory, reports that volatile hydrocarbons occur naturally in produced water and that produced water from gas-condensate-producing platforms contains higher concentrations of organic compounds then from oil-producing platforms (see below a description of organics from oil and gas producing platforms in the Gulf of Mexico) (Veil et al., 2004). Organic components of this produced water consist of C2-C5 carboxylic acids, ketones, alcohols, propionic acid, acetone and methanol. The concentration of these organics in some produced waters can be as high as 5,000 parts per million (ppm). This study further states that

Produced waters from gas production have higher contents of low molecular-weight aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene than those from oil operations; hence they are relatively more toxic than produced waters from oil production. (Veil et al., 2004)

The authors conclude in this section that produced water contains:

… aliphatic and aromatic carboxylic acids, phenols, and aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons. Partially soluble components include medium to higher molecular weight hydrocarbons (C6 to C15). They are soluble in water at low concentrations, but are not as soluble as lower molecular weight hydrocarbons. They are not easily removed from produced water and are generally discharged directly. (Veil et al., 2004)

A dated but very informative paper on the contaminants in produced water in the Gulf of Mexico is “Petroleum drilling and production operations in the Gulf of Mexico” by C.S. Fang (1990). Here, “produced water” is referring to formation water or water condensed from the flowing gas mixture in the production tubing string only since these wells are not stimulated. The paper states that the largest discharge by volume from an offshore platform is from produced water. The organic compounds in the produced water come from three sources:

  1. Organic compounds extracted from the crude oil,
  2. Chemicals added to produced water or put into a producing well – such as corrosion and scale inhibitors, scale solvents, biocides, antifreeze, and oil and grease, and
  3. Impurities in the chemicals used.
Further, some paraffin’s and aromatics have moderate solubility in water; as long as oil-gas and water flow upward together these can become dissolved in water. The longer the transit time (as in deep Marcellus wells) the more hydrocarbon can dissolve into water. This paper reports finding toluene, ethylbenzene, phenol, naphthalene and 2,4-dimethylphenol in produced water and states that bis(2-ethyl-hexyl) phthalate, di-n-butyl phthalate, fluorine and diethyl phthalate have been found in produced water by the EPA. Estimated pollutant concentrations and discharges of organic and non-organic chemicals from produced water are shown in a Table 3 (below) from this paper.

The authors of this paper also found significant organic compounds in ocean floor sediments near oil and gas platforms. This of course has important ramifications for what organics are contained in frac pond sludge from on shore shale gas extraction and hint that this material should be tested using TCLP methods to see if it is hazardous waste. Certainly buried pits containing sludge could continue to offgas organic vapors from this sludge material. The table below extracted from this paper shows the organic contaminants in the ocean floor sediments.

So now that we have established the mobilization of organic chemicals in flowback and produced water, how do they get into the air which we breathe? If you remember back to your chemistry class in high school or college you may remember something known as the Henry’s Law constant. The Henry’s Law constant (H) of an organic compound determines its ability to enter the air. Compounds that have high H’s can enter the air from water easily, whereas compounds with low relative H’s enter the air less well- and they enter the air from the water phase dependant on their concentration in water, their concentration in air and the prevailing temperature and pressure. Again, remember PV=nRT (pressure times volume equals the mole fraction times the gas constant times temperature in degrees Kelvin) Hang in there, I know it is coming back to all of you. They enter the air then when the concentration of the compound in air is lower than that in water, which is generally the situation unless you live on some planet that has toxic organic vapor levels in air or next to a petrochemical plant during some crisis! And they can be envisioned as entering the air by either of two models: 1) the stagnant air-water model or 2) the circulating packet model.Using either model, the flowback or produced water that returns to the surface and goes into a frac pond-pit or impoundment will offgas (become a vapor in air) its organic compounds into the air. This becomes an air pollution problem, and the organic compounds are now termed Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP’s). Additionally, separators, condensers, cryo plants and compressors can leak causing these volatile organic compounds to enter air. Incomplete combustion in flaring also adds VOC’s to air.

Part II: How volatile organic compounds act as precursor chemicals for the formation of ozone when combined with nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide

Exposure to ground level ozone has been linked in many scientific studies to:

  • airway irritation, coughing, and pain when taking a deep breath,
  • wheezing and breathing difficulties during exercise or outdoor activities,
  • inflammation, aggravation of asthma and increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis, and
  • permanent lung damage with repeated high exposures.

Ground level ozone also interferes with the ability of sensitive plants to produce and store food, making them more susceptible to certain diseases, insects, other pollutants, competition and harsh weather. It damages the leaves of trees and other plants, and reduces forest growth and crop yields, potentially impacting species diversity in ecosystems (EPA, 2008).

The best explanation for formation of ozone that I know of is contained in the 2008 EPA Air Quality Criteria for Ozone and Related Photochemical Oxidants (The entire 3 part EPA document is attached after this article). Ozone is a secondary pollutant that is formed in polluted areas by atmospheric reactions involving two main types of precursor pollutants volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Carbon monoxide (CO) from incomplete combustion of fuels is also an important precursor for ozone formation. The formation of ozone and other oxidation products (like peroxyacyl nitrates and hydrogen peroxide), including oxidation products of the precursor chemicals, is a an extremely complex reaction that depends on the intensity and wavelength of sunlight, atmospheric mixing and interactions with cloud and other aerosol particulates, the concentrations of the VOC’s and NOx in the air, and the rates of all the chemical reactions. The EPA figure below shows all the possible reaction pathways and products that might be formed in both the troposphere (the lowest major layer, extending from the earth’s surface to about 8 km above polar regions and about 16 km above tropical regions) and the stratosphere (that is from the top of the troposphere to about 50 km above the earth’s surface). What happens in the lowest sublayer of the troposphere known as the planetary boundary layer (PBL) is most important for formation of ground level ozone and other reactive species that can cause health effects and is most strongly affected by surface conditions.
VOC refers to all carbon-containing gas-phase compounds in the atmosphere, both biogenic and anthropogenic” (biological and manmade) “in origin, excluding CO and CO2. Classes of organic compounds important for the photochemical formation of O3 include alkanes, alkenes, aromatic hydrocarbons, carbonyl compounds (e.g., aldehydes and ketones), alcohols, organic peroxides, and halogenated organic compounds (e.g., alkyl halides) Remember these are given off into air from produced water and flowback water at shale gas sites. This array of compounds encompasses a wide range of chemical properties and lifetimes; isoprene has an atmospheric lifetime of approximately an hour, whereas methane has an atmospheric lifetime of about a decade” (EPA, 2008). So the majority of ground level ozone is formed when ozone precursors NOx, CO, and VOC’s react in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight. We have established that these VOC’s can come from volatilization of organic compounds from frac ponds-condensers and other gas processing equipment and compressor-transmission operation. Motor vehicle exhaust, emissions from coal powered electrical generation stations, industrial emissions and release of chemical solvents all put these precursor ozone producing chemicals into the air.

These precursors chemicals most often originate in urban areas, but winds can carry NOx hundreds of kilometers, causing ozone formation to occur in less populated regions as well. Methane, a VOC whose atmospheric concentration has increased tremendously during the last century, contributes to ozone formation but on a global scale rather than in local or regional photochemical smog episodes. In situations where this exclusion of methane from the VOC group of substances is not obvious, the term Non-Methane VOC (NMVOC) is often used. (EPA, 2008)

Now let’s examine the specific case of ozone and precursor chemicals for ozone as they exist over the Marcellus shale area without the addition of VOC’s from shale gas operations and the addition of diesel exhaust that also accompanies this process (from the thousands of truck trips to deliver water, chemicals, equipment, and sand and remove equipment and contaminated fluids – conservatively 1000 trips per well – thus over a year when 2000 wells are drilled there would be 2,000,000 truck trips). The maps that we are going to show were developed for the Pittsburgh Regional Environmental Threat Analysis (PRETA), in progress now (check back to fractracker.com in mid-September 2010 to visualize data on VOC’s, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates [PM 10 and PM 2,5], carbon monoxide and other air contaminants across the four state region of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia- these data and the maps presented below represent air contaminant means of the second highest 8-hour daily maximum values from 1998 -2008).

Map 1, 8 Hour Ozone Designation Areas shows that ozone levels in a 7 county area of Southwest PA are in ozone non-attainment right now—before the addition of new Marcellus Shale gas extraction sources. This area is one of the epicenters in PA of Marcellus Shale gas extraction.
Map 2, NO2 Levels 1998-2008 over 4 state region shows existing NO2 levels when monitoring station data are averaged and smoothed.

Map 3, NO2 Emissions in Tons for 2002 presents facilities releasing NO2 over the 4 state study area and an estimate of their NO2 emissions per tonnage category. Remember NO2 is a precursor gas for formation of ozone; areas downwind of these sites will thus have increased reactant for the formation of ozone. VOC’s from shale gas extraction activities may react with NO2 from these sources.


Methane and Other Types of Pipelines Being Proposed as a Result of Shale Gas Expansions

Environmental and Environmental Health Considerations and Sources of Data on Pipeline Incidents

By Conrad (Dan) Volz, DrPH, MPH


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

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Two recent articles highlight this activity. The first, published by Greater Binghamton NY pressconnects.com, describes a pipeline that would run through Forest Lake, Susquehanna County, PA and Great Bend PA into Broome County, NY connecting to the Millennium Pipeline in Windsor, NY. The proposed pipeline would require construction of three compressor stations in Windsor NY (see the article’s correction). The second story published in the Wayne Independent announces that Penn State Cooperative Extension will host a workshop titled “Understanding Natural Gas Pipelines and Rights of Way” in Honesdale, PA on Wednesday, September 8 at the Wayne County Park Street Complex. This meeting will start at 6:30 pm and will include representatives from the Cooperative Extension, Tennessee Gas Pipeline, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Wayne Conservation District and the law firm of Tressler-Saunders LLC, Scranton. Topics of discussion of this meeting will be the Tennessee Gas Pipeline looping project, federal pipeline regulations and understanding right of way agreements.As the shale gas industry continues to develop and expand, and in some areas to expand to produce byproduct gases and organic compounds, pipelines are needed to connect these new producing areas with major supply lines. Byproduct gases and other useful organic chemicals will also need to be more efficiently transported to petrochemical facilities, and/or new petrochemical facilities will need to be built. This also means that new compressor plants will need to be established.

Installing pipeline – Photo from DownSteamToday.com

Methane gas pipelines and pipelines carrying other organic gases and vapors, their site requirements, and proximity to population centers have important public health implications for both occupational and environmental health and community and behavioral health and have been the subject of public health research in the past (Binder S, 1989). Also, gas pipelines can have significant impacts on forests, fragmentation of habitat and endangered and threatened species and severe ramifications for wildlife systems in the event of catastrophic releases (Dey PK, 2002). Pipeline explosions and fires and acute inhalation of gases, which can have immediately dangerous to life and health consequences, occur at varying frequencies throughout the United States and in fact around the world. A branch of public health termed “emergency preparedness” is dedicated to the prevention of accidental or intentional incidents resulting in infrastructure failures and includes nuclear power plants, water treatment systems as well as oil and gas pipelines. More info: see Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Preparedness for All Hazards and the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Public Health Preparedness (UPCPHP) that trains public health professionals, including professionals in related organizations, to respond to public health threats and emergencies. This project is funded through the Center for Public Health Practice by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cooperative agreement number U90/CCU324238-05.

In the United States the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), acting through the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), administers a regulatory program to assure the safe transportation of natural gas, petroleum, and other hazardous materials by pipeline. OPS develops regulations and other approaches to risk management to assure safety in design, construction, testing, operation, maintenance, and emergency response of pipeline facilities. PHMSA is committed to a data-driven approach to developing and refining pipeline safety programs.

On PHMSA’s stakeholder communication website, there are extensive pipeline incident and mileage reports. These reports present information and trend analyses for pipeline incidents over the past 20 years. Categories of important data and reports are grouped by:

In the last category of all reported incidents, the reports provided are generated from numerous data sources maintained by PHMSA and span decades of collection, evolving methods of oversight and multiple reporting formats. To generate these reports, PHMSA has standardized the data over various file formats, normalized incident costs over time to a common basis year- 2009 dollars, and standardized incident cause categories – all with the goal of producing a coherent and meaningful picture of National and State-specific trends in pipeline incidents. If you prefer to produce your own analysis, the raw data used in these reports are available to the public.

On this site PHMSA offers access to significant incident data. This is a treasure trove of important data that are all available to the public. In addition to 2010 data to present, there are data on flagged and significant incidents from 2006 to 2/17/2010. Below is the gateway to each year’s incident reports:

These files are a flagged version of all operator reported incident files that can be accessed from the PHMSA FOIA On-Line Library (a Freedom of Information Act library). The above flagged version of files differs from the FOIA on line library in they have been flagged to indicate incident significance, flagged to indicate fire-first Gas Distribution incidents, and include indexed costs in addition to raw (nominal) costs.

The 2010-present PHMSA flagged dataset reports 38 total incidents across the country. Thirty Three (33) or about 87% of these incidents were reported as significant incidents. Reported in this dataset is an explosion and fire at a major natural gas pipeline; it occurred June 7, 2010 in Johnson County, Texas near Cleburne. The blast and fire killed one worker and injured seven others. It was caused by utility workers digging holes for utility poles. There was only one home within ½ mile of the explosion and fire, and it was not affected. CHEC recently converted some of this data from excel spreadsheets to comma separated values so that it could be displayed and visualized on FracTracker’s data tool:

[image removed]
A whitepaper produced by principle investigator Mark Stephens of C-FER Technologies under contract with the Gas Research Institute presents an approach to sizing ground area potentially affected by the failure of high pressure natural gas pipelines (Stephens M, 2000). It states that rupture of a high pressure natural gas pipeline can produce threats to both people and property in the area where the failure occurs. In this whitepaper an equation was developed relating both the diameter and operating pressure of a pipeline to the area that is affected in the event of a real world worst case failure incident. The model on which the hazard area equation is based depends on three factors:

  1. “A fire-based model that relates the gas release rate from the pipe to the heat intensity of the resultant fire,
  2. An effective release rate model that provides a representative steady-state approximation to the actual transient release rate, and
  3. A heat intensity threshold that establishes the sustained heat intensity level above which the effects on people and property are consistent with the adopted definition of a High Consequence Area.”
The equation given in the manuscript is as follows:

This whitepaper used actual explosions and fires to demonstrate the usefulness of their model. These incidents are excerpted from the manuscript to show the types of incidents possible and the damage and fatalities that can result.

Table - Pipeline Incident Reports


  • Understanding Natural Gas Pipelines and Rights of Way
  • Public hearing to be conducted for proposed natural gas pipeline and the article’s correction [links removed]
  • Natural gas pipelines – understanding the infrastructure development [link removed]
  • BINDER, S, 1989, Deaths, Injuries, and Evacuations from Acute Hazardous Materials Releases, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 79, No. 8.
  • Dey, Prasanta Kumar, 2002, An integrated assessment model for cross-country pipelines. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Volume 22, Issue 6, November 2002, Pages 703-721.
  • Stephens, MJ, 2000, A model for sizing high consequence areas associated with natural gas pipelines. C-FER Technologies, 200 Karl Clark Road, Edmonton, Alberta, T6N 1H2 Canada, C-FER Report 99086; GRI 8600 West Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60631-3362, GRI document number 00/0189.

For More Information

Mike Benard has written a blog post on some of the unanswered questions surrounding pipelines, as well as lessons learned from other shale regions. Read more.

Fractracker Must Thrive and Survive by Your Comments


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

There has been some very good comments from Fractracker contributors, and I would like to share and help to facilitate further commenting…

1) Many of the data sets currently uploaded to Fractracker are from the PADEP’s “2010 Permit and RIG Activity,” under “Reports” from the Bureau or Oil and Gas Management Home Page. These are open to the public.
2) The PADEP provides permit information prior to the January 1, 2007 date, but NOT in the form of “RIG” reports. The RIG report includes an explicit location such as latitude and longitude that is necessary for visualization in Fractracker. The PADEP did not start transferring hard-copy forms into digital data sets of permits and drilled locations until 2007. Therefore, any Marcellus Shale drilled prior to the January 1, 2007 digitizing date is not included in the permit or SPUD data on Fractracker.
3) We have received comments that the Permits and Drilling locations data sets are missing data, incomplete, and or the locations can be off by as much as 15 miles. These are great comments and are integral to sharing and regulating good vs. bad information. It is certainly possible that these data sets are incomplete, missing data, and are not as precise as we hope.
4) Possibilities of seemingly incomplete data sets and maps; drilled wells and permit locations may not exist in Fractracker because they are wells that predate the January 1, 2007 digitizing date (see above), human error in transferring data to digital version, uploading to the host, data sets simply are incomplete, and location accuracy of drilled wells may be generalized.
5) The power of crowdsourcing programs such as Wikipedia, Netflix and Amazon ratings, Facebook, OpenStreetMap, and of course Fractracker allows the “crowd” or many people to assist by contributing their knowledge or experience to refine tasks, regulate information, and develop highly quality controlled outputs.
6) Comments and collaboration on the blog as well as within individual data sets, snapshots, etc., is not only encouraged, it is crucial to the principle of Fractracker.

Components of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid

Frac fluid containers - Image from: www.donnan.com


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

On June 30th, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection made public the fluids used to hydraulically fracture the ground in PA. You can find that list on the DEP’s site here. However, some controversy ensued due to a mix up between the DEP & the material safety data sheets. Diesel fuel, which is listed in the linked document above for example, is only stored on site for other purposes – not injected into the ground.

“The original list was a compilation of the chemicals identified on safety documents called material safety data sheets that hydraulic fracturing contractors must submit to the department, but he [Scott Perry, the director of DEP’s Bureau of Oil and Gas Management] did not realize that it included substances the contractors use both above and below ground on a well site, he said. The second list was winnowed by a DEP chemist, who recognized that some of the chemicals on the initial list are not among those injected underground during the fracturing process.” …

CHEC’s director, Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH, said he understands that the department is trying to respond to an “absolute clamor out there to get this information,” but he said the list posted Wednesday is more an attempt to “mollify people’s complaints that they are not releasing information” than to provide data that citizens can use if they want to test their drinking water before & after drilling. “What to me is valuable is to get information on not only what goes down but also what comes up” from the wells in the form of salt & metals-laden waste fluids, he said. (The Times-Tribune)

The map below shows all of the public & private water wells in PA in blue & the Marcellus Shale wells drilled to date in black (as well as vividly demonstrates why we need to be vigilant of the potential impact that this industry can have on our quality of life). [image removed] 
In response to growing frustration over the lack of industry disclosure of these chemicals, Range and Chief plan to disclose the chemicals it uses to hydraulically fracture methane gas wells in the Marcellus Shale region.

September 9, 2010 Update: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it has issued voluntary information requests to nine natural gas service companies regarding the process known as hydraulic fracturing. Read more.

Marcellus Shale Drilling – Citizen Experiences

Photo Left: Fire that erupted on a drill pad in Hopewell Township PA. Photo courtesy of local resident. Atlas Energy drilling site. 3-31-10

CHEC’s Marcellus Shale Documentary Project


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

One of the exciting tasks that we are working on right now is a documentary project surrounding gas extraction activities in the Marcellus Shale region. This project aims to collect & share citizens’ experiences that they have had with the industry. As an environmental public health entity, we are of course interested in the potential health & environmental impacts that this type of drilling may cause. However, CHEC researchers are documenting all types of stories from people living near gas extraction activities, including: road degradation, privacy concerns, social or cultural changes in nearby towns, environmental threats, water contamination, & even positive leasing experiences. Learn more about the process of drilling for methane gas in this region.

The project’s scope focuses on the stories of people living in Western PA, but we have started to make contacts in Central & Northeastern PA lately, as well. Soon there will even be a dataset in the data tool that lists all of the documentaries we have done so far & shows geographically where they have taken place (along with key words & dates). We will be following the project’s progress on this blog, so check back often. If you have an experience with drilling that you would like to share with CHEC, please contact us at 412-624-9379 or malone@fractracker.org.

Check out one of the audio/visual recordings we have done:
[media removed]

Field Researchers

The fantastic researchers currently working on this endeavor are:

  • Kyle Ferrar, MPH
  • David Higginbotham
  • Shannon Kearney, MPH
  • Dolores Kirschner
  • Marah Kvaltine

Now for the technical part: The Methodology

Working through local key informants in Washington, Greene, Bedford, & Fayette Counties, who are trusted contacts in the affected community, the Center for Healthy Environments & Communities will recruit residents, local authorities, law enforcement officials, business owners, & farmers in regions impacted by the Marcellus shale gas extraction industry. The recruiter will inform the potential project participant of the purpose of the project, the process of the documentation procedure, the voluntary nature of their participation, & that their responses may be anonymous if they desire. Once the potential participant agrees to be interviewed, the interviewer will obtain written informed consent, which includes an agreement to have the interview videotaped or digitally recorded, along with consent for the ability to publish the interview on the Center’s website & publications. Once the interviewer has obtained written informed consent, a date, time & place will be established for the formal interview. The interview will take place then in a mutually agreeable manner with the participant agreeing to either be videotaped or digitally recorded. If there is documentation the participant has already obtained, the interview will request copies.

CHEC Philosophy & Practice

By Charles Christen, DrPH, MEd – CHEC’s Director of Operations

The philosophy of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) is to conduct environmental public health research utilizing both a bottom-up & top-down approach. This approach is rooted in the philosophy of public health practice, which emphasizes prevention. The bottom-up approach identifies the concerns & problems affecting the health & quality of life of a community. A community can be a group of people with a shared interest or shared geography. A conceptual model, the first step in exposure assessment, is created to determine the most significant pathways of exposure to the contaminants related to these problems & concerns. The purpose of this bottom-up approach is to generate hypotheses for more advanced research. The top-down approach utilizes the hypotheses generated through community involvement. Research design & methodology are developed in order to test these hypotheses potentially providing insight into the potential risks to health from exposure to the identified contaminants. This philosophy provides the foundation for the mission of CHEC, which is to advance a community-based participatory environmental agenda comprised of exploratory, applied & translational research for the purpose of developing outreach & environmental health programming, as well as policy guidance to improve the environmental public health of the diverse populations in the region of Southwestern PA.

Currently CHEC is involved in a bottom-up approach to environmental public health research by conducting a project to document the perceived impacts of people who live in proximity to industrial operations related to gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale. The purpose of this project is to create a database of these impacts & ultimately a map associating these impacts with active well sites connected with Marcellus Shale gas extraction in order to better comprehend the big picture of how this industry is affecting people throughout the state of PA & in fact across the entire Marcellus Shale region. Examples of impacts that have been reported by individual citizens & groups include well water contamination, air quality problems & odors related to off gassing of volatile organic compounds from fracking ponds & condenser units, & road degradation related to increased truck traffic.

This bottom-up approach informs the top-down work that CHEC is launching to scientifically evaluate if perceived impacts are due to Marcellus Shale gas extraction operations. For example, one of the most reported problems of people living in the vicinity of Marcellus Shale drilling operations is private well water contamination. CHEC’s initial conceptual work certainly indicates that there is potential for exposure through ingestion of water to elements like strontium & barium, organic compounds such as benzene, inappropriate disposal of flowback & produced fluids, & even radionuclide’s of uranium & radium from faulty drill casings, spills & leaks, To scientifically evaluate the connection between gas drilling & extraction operations & private well water contaminants, CHEC must state a null hypothesis that there is no effect on any of the potential contaminants in well water versus a research hypothesis that there is an effect. Testing this set of questions then involves sampling enough wells for the contaminants of concern to rule out any contaminant specific results that could be due to chance (we will use a probability of .05 or 1/20 to reject the null hypothesis & accept the research hypothesis).

CHEC is working on a novel spatial statistical design to carry out this research. Please check back in the near future for information on the study design. If you would like to volunteer to have your private well water sampled as part of this study please write us at or email us to enlist. Since this is a scientific study, please be aware that you may or may not be asked to participate in the study dependant on the study design. However, CHEC will let all volunteers know if they are selected for the study, & all study participants will be notified of the concentrations of contaminants of concern in their well water.

Today is a good day in PA


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

The Independent Regulatory Review Commission just passed two revisions to Chapter 102 & one to Chapter 95 that help to protect our waterways from natural gas drilling. The new rules will require that drillers treat the wastewater produced from hydraulic fracturing to drinking water standards if they want to dispose of it in PA’s waterways. Why is this important? The other rules will require some developers to maintain or create a 150-foot natural vegetative buffer beside PA’s best rivers & streams. The regulations now go to the Pennsylvania Senate & House environment committees & then to the Attorney General’s office.

Frequently Asked Questions on Marcellus Shale Drilling


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

Here is an additional resource from the PA DEP if you have been approached about signing over your mineral rights or if you don’t have the oil and mineral rights for your surface property: Landowners & Oil & Gas Leases in PA
Have more questions? Feel free to email us.