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JOSHUA DOUBEK / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Groundwater risks in Colorado due to Safe Drinking Water Act exemptions

Oil and gas operators are polluting groundwater in Colorado, and the state and U.S. EPA are granting them permission with exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

FracTracker Alliance’s newest analysis attempts to identify groundwater risks in Colorado groundwater from the injection of oil and gas waste. Specifically, we look at groundwater monitoring data near Class II underground injection control (UIC) disposal wells and in areas that have been granted aquifer exemptions from the underground source of drinking water rules of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Momentum to remove amend the SDWA and remove these exemption.

Learn more about Class II injection wells.

Aquifer exemptions are granted to allow corporations to inject hazardous wastewater into groundwater aquifers. The majority, two-thirds, of these injection wells are Class II, specifically for oil and gas wastes.

What exactly are aquifer exemptions?

The results of this assessment provide insight into high-risk issues with aquifer exemptions and Class II UIC well permitting standards in Colorado. We identify areas where aquifer exemptions have been granted in high quality groundwater formations, and where deep underground aquifers are at risk or have become contaminated from Class II disposal wells that may have failed.

Of note: On March 23, 2016, NRDC submitted a formal petition urging the EPA to repeal or amend the aquifer exemption rules to protect drinking water sources and uphold the Safe Drinking Water Act. Learn more

Research shows injection wells do fail

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Class II injection well in Colorado explodes and catches fire. Photo by Kelsey Brunner for the Greeley Tribune.

Disposal of oil and gas wastewater by underground injection has not yet been specifically researched as a source of systemic groundwater contamination nationally or on a state level. Regardless, this issue is particularly pertinent to Colorado, since there are about 3,300 aquifer exemptions in the US (view map), and the majority of these are located in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. There is both a physical risk of danger as well as the risk of groundwater contamination. The picture to the right shows an explosion of a Class II injection well in Greeley, CO, for example.

Applicable and existing research on injection wells shows that a risk of groundwater contamination of – not wastewater – but migrated methane due to a leak from an injection well was estimated to be between 0.12 percent of all the water wells in the Colorado region, and was measured at 4.5 percent of the water wells that were tested in the study.

A recent article by ProPublica quoted Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA’s underground injection program in Washington:

In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted … A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.

Also in the ProPublic article was a study by Abrahm Lustgarten, wherein he reviewed well records and data from more than 220,000 oil and gas well inspections, and found:

  1. Structural failures inside injection wells are routine.
  2. Between 2007-2010, one in six injection wells received a well integrity violation.
  3. More than 7,000 production and injection wells showed signs of well casing failures and leakage.

This means disposal wells can and do fail regularly, putting groundwater at risk. According to Chester Rail, noted groundwater contamination textbook author:

…groundwater contamination problems related to the subsurface disposal of liquid wastes by deep-well injection have been reviewed in the literature since 1950 (Morganwalp, 1993) and groundwater contamination accordingly is a serious problem.

According to his textbook, a 1974 U.S. EPA report specifically warns of the risk of corrosion by oil and gas waste brines on handling equipment and within the wells. The potential effects of injection wells on groundwater can even be reviewed in the U.S. EPA publications (1976, 1996, 1997).

As early as 1969, researchers Evans and Bradford, who reported on the dangers that could occur from earthquakes on injection wells near Denver in 1966, had warned that deep well injection techniques offered temporary and not long-term safety from the permanent toxic wastes injected.

Will existing Class II wells fail?

For those that might consider data and literature on wells from the 1960’s as being unrepresentative of activities occurring today, of the 587 wells reported by the Colorado’s oil and gas regulatory body, COGCC, as “injecting,” 161 of those wells were drilled prior to 1980. And 104 were drilled prior to 1960!

Wells drilled prior to 1980 are most likely to use engineering standards that result in “single-point-of-failure” well casings. As outlined in the recent report from researchers at Harvard on underground natural gas storage wells, these single-point-of-failure wells are at a higher risk of leaking.

It is also important to note that the U.S. EPA reports only 569 injection wells for Colorado, 373 of which may be disposal wells. This is a discrepancy from the number of injection wells reported by the COGCC.

Aquifer Exemptions in Colorado

According to COGCC, prior to granting a permit for a Class II injection well, an aquifer exemption is required if the aquifer’s groundwater test shows total dissolved solids (TDS) is between 3,000 and 10,000 milligrams per liter (mg/l). For those aquifer exemptions that are simply deeper than the majority of current groundwater wells, the right conditions, such as drought, or the needs of the future may require drilling deeper or treating high TDS waters for drinking and irrigation. How the state of Colorado or the U.S. EPA accounts for economic viability is therefore ill-conceived.

Data Note: The data for the following analysis came by way of FOIA request by Clean Water Action focused on the aquifer exemption permitting process. The FOIA returned additional data not reported by the US EPA in the public dataset. That dataset contained target formation sampling data that included TDS values. The FOIA documents were attached to the EPA dataset using GIS techniques. These GIS files can be found for download in the link at the bottom of this page.

Map 1. Aquifer exemptions in Colorado


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Map 1 above shows the locations of aquifer exemptions in Colorado, as well as the locations of Class II injection wells. These sites are overlaid on a spatial assessment of groundwater quality (a map of the groundwater’s quality), which was generated for the entire state. The changing colors on the map’s background show spatial trends of TDS values, a general indicator of overall groundwater quality.

In Map 1 above, we see that the majority of Class II injection wells and aquifer exemptions are located in regions with higher quality water. This is a common trend across the state, and needs to be addressed.

Our review of aquifer exemption data in Colorado shows that aquifer exemption applications were granted for areas reporting TDS values less than 3,000 mg/l, which contradicts the information reported by the COGCC as permitting guidelines. Additionally, of the 175 granted aquifer exemptions for which the FOIA returned data, 141 were formations with groundwater samples reported at less than 10,000 mg/l TDS. This is half of the total number (283) of aquifer exemptions in the state of Colorado.

When we mapped where class II injection wells are permitted, a total of 587 class II wells were identified in Colorado, outside of an aquifer exemption area. Of the UIC-approved injection wells identified specifically as disposal wells, at least 21 were permitted outside aquifer exemptions and were drilled into formations that were not hydrocarbon producing. Why these injection wells are allowed to operate outside of an aquifer exemption is unknown – a question for regulators.

You can see in the map that most of the aquifer exemptions and injection wells in Colorado are located in areas with lower TDS values. We then used GIS to conduct a spatial analysis that selected groundwater wells within five miles of the 21 that were permitted outside aquifer exemptions. Results show that groundwater wells near these sites had consistently low-TDS values, meaning good water quality. In Colorado, where groundwater is an important commodity for a booming agricultural industry and growing cities that need to prioritize municipal sources, permitting a Class II disposal well in areas with high quality groundwater is irresponsible.

Groundwater Monitoring Data Maps

Map 2. Water quality and depths of groundwater wells in Colorado
Groundwater risks in Colorado - Map 2
View live map | How FracTracker maps work

In Map 2, above, the locations of groundwater wells in Colorado are shown. The colors of the dots represent the concentration of TDS on the right and well depth on the left side of the screen. By sliding the bar on the map, users can visualize both. This feature allows people to explore where deep wells also are characterized by high levels of TDS. Users can also see that areas with high quality low TDS groundwater are the same areas that are the most developed with oil and gas production wells and Class II injection wells, shown in gradients of purple.

Statistical analysis of this spatial data gives a clearer picture of which regions are of particular concern; see below in Map 3.

Map 3. Spatial “hot-spot” analysis of groundwater quality and depth of groundwater wells in Colorado
Groundwater risks in Colorado - Map 3
View live map | How FracTracker maps work

In Map 3, above, the data visualized in Map 2 were input into a hot-spots analysis, highlighting where high and low values of TDS and depth differ significantly from the rest of the data. The region of the Front Range near Denver has significantly deeper wells, as a result of population density and the need to drill municipal groundwater wells.

The Front Range is, therefore, a high-risk region for the development of oil and gas, particularly from Class II injection wells that are necessary to support development.

Methods Notes: The COGCC publishes groundwater monitoring data for the state of Colorado, and groundwater data is also compiled nationally by the Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI). (Data from the National Groundwater Monitoring Network is sponsored by the ACWI Subcommittee on Ground Water.) These datasets were cleaned, combined, revised, and queried to develop FracTracker’s dataset of Colorado groundwater wells. We cleaned the data by removing sites without coordinates. Duplicates in the data set were removed by selecting for the deepest well sample. Our dataset of water wells consisted of 5,620 wells. Depth data was reported for 3,925 wells. We combined this dataset with groundwater data exported from ACWI. Final count for total wells with TDS data was 11,754 wells. Depth data was reported for 7,984 wells. The GIS files can be downloaded in the compressed folder at the bottom of this page.

Site Assessments – Exploring Specific Regions

Particular regions were further investigated for impacts to groundwater, and to identify areas that may be at a high risk of contamination. There are numerous ways that groundwater wells can be contaminated from other underground activity, such as hydrocarbon exploration and production or waste injection and disposal. Contamination could be from hydraulic fracturing fluids, methane, other hydrocarbons, or from formation brines.

From the literature, brines and methane are the most common contaminants. This analysis focuses on potential contamination events from brines, which can be detected by measuring TDS, a general measure for the mixture of minerals, salts, metals and other ions dissolved in waters. Brines from hydrocarbon-producing formations may include heavy metals, radionuclides, and small amounts of organic matter.

Wells with high or increasing levels of TDS are a red flag for potential contamination events.

Methods

Groundwater wells at deep depths with high TDS readings are, therefore, the focus of this assessment. Using GIS methods we screened our dataset of groundwater wells to only identify those located within a buffer zone of five miles from Class II injection wells. This distance was chosen based on a conservative model for groundwater contamination events, as well as the number of returned sample groundwater wells and the time and resources necessary for analysis. We then filtered the groundwater wells dataset for high TDS values and deep well depths to assess for potential impacts that already exist. We, of course, explored the data as we explored the spatial relationships. We prioritized areas that suggested trends in high TDS readings, and then identified individual wells in these areas. The data initially visualized were the most recent sampling events. For the wells prioritized, prior sampling events were pulled from the data. The results were graphed to see how the groundwater quality has changed over time.

Case of Increasing TDS Readings

If you zoom to the southwest section of Colorado in Map 2, you can see that groundwater wells located near the injection well 1 Fasset SWD (EPA) (05-067-08397) by Operator Elm Ridge Exploration Company LLC were disproportionately high (common). Groundwater wells located near this injection well were selected for, and longitudinal TDS readings were plotted to look for trends in time. (Figure 1.)

The graphs in Figure 1, below, show a consistent increase of TDS values in wells near the injection activity. While the trends are apparent, the data is limited by low numbers of repeated samples at each well, and the majority of these groundwater wells have not been sampled in the last 10 years. With the increased use of well stimulation and enhanced oil recovery techniques over the course of the last 10 years, the volumes of injected wastewater has also increased. The impacts may, therefore, be greater than documented here.

This area deserves additional sampling and monitoring to assess whether contamination has occurred.


Figures 1a and 1b. The graphs above show increasing TDS values in samples from groundwater wells in close proximity to the 1 Fassett SWD wellsite, between the years 2004-2015. Each well is labeled with a different color. The data for the USGS well in the graph on the right was not included with the other groundwater wells due to the difference in magnitude of TDS values (it would have been off the chart).

Groundwater Contamination Case in 2007

We also uncovered a situation where a disposal well caused groundwater contamination. Well records for Class II injection wells in the southeast corner of Colorado were reviewed in response to significantly high readings of TDS values in groundwater wells surrounding the Mckinley #1-20-WD disposal well.

When the disposal well was first permitted, farmers and ranchers neighboring the well site petitioned to block the permit. Language in the grant application is shown below in Figure 2. The petitioners identified the target formation as their source of water for drinking, watering livestock, and irrigation. Regardless of this petition, the injection well was approved. Figure 3 shows the language used by the operator Energy Alliance Company (EAC) for the permit approval, which directly contradicts the information provided by the community surrounding the wellsite. Nevertheless, the Class II disposal well was approved, and failed and leaked in 2007, leading to the high TDS readings in the groundwater in this region.

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Figure 2. Petition by local landowners opposing the use of their drinking water source formation for the site of a Class II injection disposal well.

 

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Figure 3. The oil and gas operation EAC claims the Glorietta formation is not a viable fresh water source, directly contradicting the neighboring farmers and ranchers who rely on it.

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Figure 4. The COGCC well log report shows a casing failure, and as a result a leak that contaminated groundwater in the region.

Areas where lack of data restricted analyses

In other areas of Colorado, the lack of recent sampling data and longitudinal sampling schemes made it even more difficult to track potential contamination events. For these regions, FracTracker recommends more thorough sampling by the regulatory agencies COGCC and USGS. This includes much of the state, as described below.

Southeastern Colorado

Our review of the groundwater data in southeastern Colorado showed a risk of contamination considering the overlap of injection well depths with the depths of drinking water wells. Oil and gas extraction and Class II injections are permitted where the aquifers include the Raton formation, Vermejo Formation, Poison Canyon Formation and Trinidad Sandstone. Groundwater samples were taken at depths up to 2,200 ft with a TDS value of 385 mg/l. At shallower depths, TDS values in these formations reached as high as 6,000 mg/l, and 15 disposal wells are permitted in aquifer exemptions in this region. Injections in this area start at around 4,200 ft.

In Southwestern Colorado, groundwater wells in the San Jose Formation are drilled to documented depths of up to 6,000 feet with TDS values near 2,000 mg/l. Injection wells in this region begin at 565 feet, and those used specifically for disposal begin at below 5,000 feet in areas with aquifer exemptions. There are also four disposal wells outside of aquifer exemptions injecting at 5,844 feet, two of which are not injecting into active production zones at depths of 7,600 and 9,100 feet.

Western Colorado

In western Colorado well Number 1-32D VANETA (05-057-06467) by Operator Sandridge Exploration and Production LLC’s North Park Horizontal Niobara Field in the Dakota-Lokota Formation has an aquifer exemption. The sampling data from two groundwater wells to the southeast, near Coalmont, CO, were reviewed, but we can’t get a good picture due to the lack of repeat sampling.

Northwestern Colorado

http://digital.denverlibrary.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16079coll32/id/346073

A crew from Bonanza Creek repairs an existing well in the McCallum oil field. Photo by Ken Papaleo / Rocky Mountain News

In Northwestern Colorado near Walden, CO and the McCallum oil field, two groundwater wells with TDS above 10,000 ppm were selected for review. There are 21 injection wells in the McCallum field to the northwest. Beyond the McCallum field is the Battleship field with two wastewater disposal wells with an aquifer exemption. West of Grover, Colorado, there are several wells with high TDS values reported for shallow wells. Similar trends can be seen near Vernon. The data on these wells and wells from along the northern section of the Front Range, which includes the communities of Fort Collins, Greeley, and Longmont, suffered from the same issue. Lack of deep groundwater well data coupled with the lack of repeat samples, as well as recent sampling inhibited the ability to thoroughly investigate the threat of contamination.

Trends and Future Development

Current trends in exploration and development of unconventional resources show the industry branching southwest of Weld County towards Fort Collins, Longmont, Broomfield and Boulder, CO.

These regions are more densely populated than the Front Range county of Weld, and as can be seen in the maps, the drinking water wells that access groundwaters in these regions are some of the deepest in the state.

This analysis shows where Class II injection has already contaminated groundwater resources in Colorado. The region where the contamination has occurred is not unique; the drinking water wells are not particularly deep, and the density of Class II wells is far from the highest in the state.

Well casing failures and other injection issues are not exactly predictable due to the variety of conditions that can lead to a well casing failure or blow-out scenario, but they are systemic. The result is a hazardous scenario where it is currently difficult to mitigate risk after the injection wells are drilled.

Allowing Class II wells to expand into Front Range communities that rely on deep wells for municipal supplies is irresponsible and dangerous.

The encroachment of extraction into these regions, coupled with the support of Class II injection wells to handle the wastewater, would put these groundwater wells at particular risk of contamination. Based on this analysis, we recommend that regulators take extra care to avoid permitting Class II wells in these regions as the oil and gas industry expands into new areas of the Front Range, particularly in areas with dense populations.


Feature Image: Joshua Doubek / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Article by: Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

 

October 31, 2017 Edit: This post originally cited the Clean Water Act instead of the Safe Drinking Water Act as the source that EPA uses to grant aquifer exemptions.

SCOTT STOCKDILL/NORTH DAKOTA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH VIA AP - for oil spills in North Dakota piece

Oil Spills in North Dakota: What does DAPL mean for North Dakota’s future?

By Kate van Munster, Data & GIS Intern, and
Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Pipelines are hailed as the “safest” way to transport crude oil and other refinery products, but federal and state data show that pipeline incidents are common and present major environmental and human health hazards. In light of current events that have green-lighted multiple new pipeline projects, including several that had been previously denied because of the environmental risk they pose, FracTracker Alliance is continuing to focus on pipeline issues.

In this article we look at the record of oil spills, particularly those resulting from pipeline incidents that have occurred in North Dakota, in order to determine the risk presented by the soon-to-be completed Dakota Access Pipeline.

Standing Rock & the DAPL Protest

To give readers a little history on this pipeline, demonstrators in North Dakota, as well as across the country, have been protesting a section of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lands since April 2016. The tribe’s momentum has shifted the focus from protests at the build site to legal battles and a march on Washington DC. The pipeline section they are protesting has at this point been largely finished, and is slated to begin pumping oil by April 2017. This final section of pipe crosses under Lake Oahe, a large reservoir created on the Missouri River, just 1.5 miles north of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Lands. The tribe has condemned the pipeline because it cuts through sacred land and threatens their environmental and economic well-being by putting their only source for drinking water in jeopardy.

Pipelines

… supposedly safest form of transporting fossil fuels, but …

Pipeline proponents claim that pipelines are the safest method of transporting oil over long distances, whereas transporting oil with trucks has a higher accident and spill rate, and transporting with trains presents a major explosive hazards.

However, what makes one form of land transport safer than the others is dependent on which factor is being taken into account. When considering the costs of human death and property destruction, pipelines are indeed the safest form of land transportation. However, for the amount of oil spilled, pipelines are second-worst, beaten only by trucks. Now, when it comes to environmental impact, pipelines are the worst.

What is not debatable is the fact that pipelines are dangerous, regardless of factor. Between 2010 and October 2016 there was an average of 1.7 pipeline incidents per day across the U.S. according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). These incidents have resulted in 100 reported fatalities, 470 injuries, and over $3.4 billion in property damage. More than half of these incidents were caused by equipment failure and corrosion (See Figures 1 and 2).

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Figure 1. Impacts of pipeline incidents in the US. Data collected from PHMSA on November 4th, 2016 (data through September 2016). Original Analysis

pipeline incidents causes

Figure 2. Cause of pipeline incidents for all reports received from January 1, 2010 through November 4, 2016. Original Analysis

Recent Spills in North Dakota

To dig into the risks posed in North Dakota more specifically, let’s take a look at some spill data in the state.

Map 1. Locations of Spills in North Dakota, with volume represented by size of markers


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In North Dakota alone there have been 774 oil spill incidents between 2010 and September 2016, spilling an average of 5,131 gallons of oil per incident. The largest spill in North Dakota in recent history, and one of the largest onshore oil spills in the U.S., took place in September 2013. Over 865,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into a wheat field and contaminated about 13 acres. The spill was discovered several days later by the farmer who owns the field, and was not detected by remote monitors. The state claims that no water sources were contaminated and no wildlife were hurt. However, over three years of constant work later, only about one third of the spill has been recovered.

This spill in 2013 may never be fully cleaned up. Cleanup attempts have even included burning away the oil where the spill contaminated wetlands.

More recently, a pipeline spilled 176,000 gallons of crude oil into a North Dakota stream about 150 miles away from the DAPL protest camps. Electronic monitoring equipment, which is part of a pipeline’s safety precautions, did not detect the leak. Luckily, a landowner discovered the leak on December 5, 2016 before it got worse, and it was quickly contained. However, the spill migrated nearly 6 miles down the Ash Coulee Creek and fouled a number of private and U.S. Forest lands. It has also been difficult to clean up due to snow and sub-zero temperatures.

Even if a spill isn’t as large, it can still have a major effect. In July 2016, 66,000 gallons of heavy oil, mixed with some natural gas, spilled into the North Saskatchewan River in Canada. North Battleford and the city of Prince Albert had to shut off their drinking water intake from the river and were forced to get water from alternate sources. In September, 2 months later, the affected communities were finally able to draw water from the river again.

Toxicology of Oil

Hydrocarbons and other hazardous chemicals

Crude oil is a mixture of various hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons are compounds that are made primarily of carbon and hydrogen. The most common forms of hydrocarbons in crude oil are paraffins. Crude oil also contains naphthenes and aromatics such as benzene, and many other less common molecules. Crude oil can also contain naturally occurring radioactive materials and trace metals. Many of these compounds are toxic and carcinogenic.

hydrocarbons

Figure 3. Four common hydrocarbon molecules containing hydrogen (H) and carbon (C). Image from Britannica

Crude oil spills can contaminate surface and groundwater, air, and soil. When a spill is fresh, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as benzene, quickly evaporate into the air. Other components of crude oil, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) can remain in the environment for years and leach into water.

Plants, animals, and people can sustain serious negative physical and biochemical effects when they come in contact with oil spills. People can be exposed to crude oil through skin contact, ingestion, or inhalation. Expsure can irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory system, and could cause “dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, confusion, and anemia.” VOCs can be inhaled and are highly toxic and carcinogenic. PAHs can also be carcinogenic and have been shown to damage fish embryos. When animals are exposed to crude oil, it can damage their liver, blood, and other tissue cells. It can also cause infertility and cancer. Crops exposed to crude oil become less nutritious and are contaminated with carcinogens, radioactive materials, and trace metals. Physically, crude oil can completely cover plants and animals, smothering them and making it hard for animals to stay warm, swim, or fly.

An Analysis of Spills in ND

Below we have analyzed available spill data for North Dakota, including the location and quantity of such incidents.

North Dakota saw an average of 111 crude oil spills per year, or a total of 774 spills from 2010 to October 2016. The greatest number of spills occurred in 2014 with a total of 163. But 2013 had the largest spill with 865,200 gallons and also the highest total volume of oil spilled in one year of 1.3 million gallons. (Table 1)

Table 1. Data on all spills from 2010 through October 2016. Data taken from PHMSA and North Dakota.

  2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Jan-Oct 2016
Number of Spills 55 80 77 126 163 117 156
Total Volume (gallons) 332,443 467,544 424,168 1,316,910 642,521 615,695 171,888
Ave. Volume/Spill (gallons) 6,044 5,844 5,509 10,452 3,942 5,262 1,102
Largest Spill (gallons) 158,928 106,050 58,758 865,200 33,600 105,000 64,863

The total volume of oil spilled from 2010 to October 2016 was nearly 4 million gallons, about 2.4 million of which was not contained. Most spills took place at wellheads, but the largest spills occurred along pipelines. (Table 2)

Table 2. Spills by Source. Data taken from PHMSA and North Dakota.

  Wellhead Vehicle Accident Storage Pipeline Equipment Uncontained All Spills
Number of Spills 694 1 12 54 13 364 774
Total Volume (gallons) 2,603,652 84 17,010 1,281,798 68,623 2,394,591 3,971,169
Ave. Volume/Spill (gallons) 3,752 84 1,418 23,737 5,279 6,579 5,131
Largest Spill (gallons) 106,050 84 10,416 865,200 64,863 865,200 865,200

A. Sensitive Areas Impacted

Spills that were not contained could potentially affect sensitive lands and waterways in North Dakota. Sensitive areas include Native American Reservations, waterways, drinking water aquifers, parks and wildlife habitat, and cities. Uncontained spill areas overlapped, and potentially contaminated, 5,875 square miles of land and water, and 408 miles of streams.

Drinking Water Aquifers – 2,482.3 total square miles:

  • Non-Community Aquifer – 0.3 square miles
  • Community Aquifer – 36 square miles of hydrologically connected aquifer
  • Surficial Aquifer – 2,446 square miles of hydrologically connected aquifer

A large area of potential drinking water (surficial aquifers) are at risk of contamination. Of the aquifers that are in use, aquifers for community use have larger areas that are potentially contaminated than those for non-community use.

Native American Tribal Reservation

  • Fort Berthold, an area of 1,569 square miles

Cities – 67 total square miles

  • Berthold
  • Dickinson
  • Flaxton
  • Harwood
  • Minot
  • Petersburg
  • Spring Brook
  • Stanley
  • West Fargo

Map 2. Areas where Oil Spills Present Public Health Threats


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B. Waterways Where Spills Have Occurred

  • Floodplains – 73 square miles of interconnected floodplains
  • Streams – 408 miles of interconnected streams
  • Of the 364 oil spills that have occurred since 2010, 229 (63%) were within 1/4 mile of a waterway
  • Of the 61 Uncontained Brine Spills that have occurred since 2001, 38 (63%) were within 1/4 mile of a waterway.

If a spill occurs in a floodplain during or before a flood and is uncontained, the flood waters could disperse the oil over a much larger area. Similarly, contaminated streams can carry oil into larger rivers and lakes. Explore Map 3 for more detail.

Map 3. Oil Spills in North Dakota Waterways


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C. Parks & Wildlife Habitat Impacts

1,684 total square miles

Habitat affected

  • National Grasslands – on 1,010 square miles of interconnected areas
  • United States Wildlife Refuges – 84 square miles of interconnected areas
  • North Dakota Wildlife Management Areas – 24 square miles of interconnected areas
  • Critical Habitat for Endangered Species – 566 square miles of interconnected areas

The endangered species most affected by spills in North Dakota is the Piping Plover. Explore Map 4 for more detail.

Map 4. Wildlife Areas Impacted by Oil Spills


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Methods

Using ArcGIS software, uncontained spill locations were overlaid on spatial datasets of floodplains, stream beds, groundwater regions, sensitive habitats, and other sensitive regions.

The average extent (distance) spilled oil traveled from uncontained spill sites was calculated to 400 meters. This distance was used as a buffer to approximate contact of waterways, floodplains, drinking water resources, habitat, etc. with uncontained oil spills.

Oil Spills in North Dakota Analysis References:


Cover Photo: The site of a December 2016 pipeline spill in North Dakota. Credit: Scott Stockdill/North Dakota Department of Health via AP

Public Herald’s #fileroom Update

Crowdsourcing Digital PA Oil & Gas Data

FracTracker Alliance worked with Public Herald this spring to update and map oil and gas complaints filed by citizens to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) as of March 2015. The result is the largest release of oil and gas records on water contamination due to fracking in PA. Additionally, Public Herald’s investigation revealed evidence of Pennsylvania state officials keeping water contamination related to fracking “off the books.”

Project Background

The mission of Public Herald, an investigative news non-profit formed in 2011, is two-fold: truth + creativity. Their work uses investigative journalism and art to empower readers and hold accountable those who put the public at risk. For this project, Public Herald aims to improve the public’s access to oil and gas information in PA by way of file reviews and data digitization. Public Herald maintains an open source website called #fileroom, where people can access a variety of digital information originally housed on paper within the PA DEP. This information is collected and synthesized with the help of donors, journalists and researchers in a collective effort with the community. To date, these generous volunteers have already donated more than 2,000 hours of their time collecting records.

The site includes complaints, permits, waste, legal cases, and gas migration investigations (GMI) conducted by the PA DEP. Additionally, there is a guide on how to conduct file reviews and how to access information through the “Right-to-Know” law at the PA DEP. They have broken down complaints and permits by county; wastes and GMI categories by cases, all of which include test results from inspections; and correspondence and weekly reports.

Some partners and contributors to the file team include Joshua Pribanic as the co-founder and Editor-in Chief, Melissa Troutman as co-founder and Executive Director, John Nicholson, who collects and researches for several databases, Nadia Steinzor as a contributor through Earthworks, and many more. Members of FracTracker working on this project include Matt Kelso, Samantha Rubright, and Kirk Jalbert.

#fileroom’s update expands the number of complaint data records collected to 18 counties – and counting!


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Map of pipelines, platforms, and active oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico

Latest Oil and Gas Incident in the Gulf of Mexico

By Karen Edelstein, NY Program Coordinator

The extent of offshore drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico is nothing short of staggering. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there are more than 3,000 active wells in the federally-regulated waters of the western and central Gulf. Additionally,  there are over 25,000 miles of active oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing the Gulf of Mexico sea floor, and more than 18,000 miles of “out of service” pipeline there. To wit, NOAA’s 2012 State of the Coast website boasts, “If placed end to end, the oil and gas pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico could wrap around the Earth’s equator.”

Oil and Gas Infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico

With such a level of activity, it is difficult to envision how all of this intricate infrastructure fits together, especially in the event of a disaster. There is a dire need to access and visualize such data as more and more wells are drilled unconventionally – both onshore and off. Below is a map of oil and gas drilling platforms both historical and active, pipelines, and active leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

For a full-screen view of this map, with a legend, click here.

The Worst Environmental Incident in US History

Deepwater Horizon drilling platform explosion (April 2010)

Deepwater Horizon drilling explosion (April 2010)

The April 2010 BP “Deepwater Horizon” blow-out disaster stands out as one of the icons of environmental risks that such intensive oil and gas production can pose to our oceans. The rig was set in over 4,000 feet of water, and close to 6 miles into the sea floor. A blowout occurs when pressurized oil or gas, mud, and water cannot be contained by the well’s blowout preventer. These materials blast through the drill pipe to the surface. There, no longer under pressure, they expand and ignite. Human or mechanical and design errors are at fault the majority of the time. Such was the case with the Macondo Deepwater Horizon disaster, now the worst offshore environmental disaster in US history.

Heavily oiled brown pelicans wait to be cleaned of Gulf spill crude

Heavily oiled brown pelicans wait to be cleaned

In all, more than 200 million gallons of oil flowed into the ocean before the Deepwater Horizon well could be plugged. Eleven workers died, and 17 were injured. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that 82,000 birds, 6000 sea turtles, and nearly 26,000 marine mammals were impacted as a result of this spill.

Penn State University reported actual animal deaths as 6,104 birds, 609 sea turtles, and 100 marine mammals. More than 1,000 miles of shoreline were fouled. Furthermore, as part of the process of breaking up the spill with chemical dispersants, more than 2 million gallons of toxic chemicals were sprayed into the Gulf. The long-term impacts of these dispersants on marine wildlife have yet to be determined.

Other Oil & Gas Exploration Accidents of Note

Natural gas spills also happen with some frequency in the Gulf, but they are considerably different from oil rig blow-outs. Unlike the persistence of oil in the marine environment, gas leaks are dissolved readily into the sea water, and once on the surface, quickly evaporate. Methane-eating bacteria in the water also help in the process. In July 2013, a rig 55 miles offshore, in 154 feet of water in the Gulf off the Louisiana coast, exploded and caught fire. The blaze went out of control and partially destroyed the rig. There was a thin sheen of hydrocarbons on the ocean surface initially, but it dissipated rapidly. A relief well was drilled, and the leak contained. While the effects on marine life may not be tremendous, the release of this amount of carbon to the seawater and atmosphere is yet another stress to global warming, moving us closer by the day to the tipping point of climate disaster.

Unfortunately, these types of leaks and explosions happen with regularity. A maintenance-related explosion happened in September 2011 in the Gulf, 100 miles off the Louisiana coast. All 13 crew on the platform were forced to jump for safety into the water, where they were later rescued. Fortunately, there were no deaths in this case. In September 2014, however, during maintenance at a Chevron natural gas pipeline off the Louisiana coast, one contractor was killed and two injured in another incident.

And Most Recently…

And just last week, on November 20, 2014, there was another report of yet one more Gulf of Mexico oil platform explosion, 12 miles off the coast. This time, one worker was killed and three injured at an explosion at Fieldwood Energy’s Echo Platform. The employees were cleaning a piece of equipment when the blast occurred.

According to news reports, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement related, “The Echo Platform was not in production at the time of the incident,” BSEE said in a statement Thursday. “The facility damage was limited to the explosion area and there was no pollution reported.”

Both the September and November incidents are under investigation.

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GIS datasets for this post originated from the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Learn more

For information on offshore oil and gas exploration in California and the associated danger and regulations, read the October 20, 2013 Fractracker blog entry Hydraulic Fracturing Offshore Wells on the California Coast, by FracTracker’s California staffer Kyle Ferrar.

Photo by Evan Collins and Rachel Wadell

These Fish Weren’t Playing Opossum (Creek)

A First-hand Look at the Recent Statoil Well Pad Fire

By Evan Collins and Rachel Wadell, Summer Research Interns, Wheeling Jesuit University

Statoil well pad fire 2205-crop

Monroe Co. Ohio – Site of June 2014 Statoil well pad fire

After sitting in the non-air-conditioned lab on a muggy Monday afternoon (June 30, 2014), we were more than ready to go for a ride to Opossum Creek after our professor at Wheeling Jesuit University mentioned a field work opportunity. As a researcher concerned about drilling’s impacts, our professor has given many talks on the damaging effects that unconventional drilling can have on the local ecosystem. During the trip down route 7, he explained that there had been a serious incident on a well pad in Monroe County, Ohio (along the OH-WV border) on Saturday morning.

About the Incident

Hydraulic tubing had caught fire at Statoil’s Eisenbarth well pad, resulting in the evacuation of 20-25 nearby residents.1 Statoil North America is a relatively large Norwegian-based company, employing roughly 23,000 workers, that operates all of its OH shale wells in Monroe County.2 The Eisenbarth pad has 8 wells, 2 of which are active.1 However, the fire did not result from operations underground. All burning occurred at the surface from faulty hydraulic lines.

Resulting Fish Kill?

Photo by Evan Collins and Rachel Wadell

Several fish from the reported fish kill of Opossum Creek in the wake of the recent well pad fire in Monroe County, OH.

When we arrived at Opossum Creek, which flows into the Ohio River north of New Martinsville, WV, it smelled like the fresh scent of lemon pine-sol. A quick look revealed that there was definitely something wrong with the water. The water had an orange tint, aquatic plants were wilting, and dozens of fish were belly-up. In several shallow pools along the creek, a few small mouth bass were still alive, but they appeared to be disoriented.  As we drove down the rocky path towards the upstream contamination site, we passed other water samplers. One group was from the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH). The consulting firm was sampling for volatile organic compounds, while we were looking for the presence of halogens such as Bromide and Chloride. These are the precursors to trihalomethanes, a known environmental toxicant.

Visiting the Site

After collecting water samples, we decided to visit the site of the fire. As we drove up the ridge, we passed another active well site. Pausing for a break and a peek at the well, we gazed upon the scenic Appalachian hillsides and enjoyed the peaceful drone of the well site. Further up the road, we came to the skeletal frame of the previous Statoil site. Workers and members of consulting agencies, such as CTEH, surrounded the still smoking debris. After taking a few pictures, we ran into a woman who lived just a half-mile from the well site.  We asked her about the fire and she stated that she did not appreciate having to evacuate her home. Surrounding plants and animals were not able to be evacuated, however.

Somehow the fish living in Opossum Creek, just downhill from the well, ended up dead after the fire. The topography of the area suggests that runoff from the well would likely flow in a different direction, so the direct cause of the fish kill is still obscure. While it is possible that chemicals used on the well pad ran into the creek while the fire was being extinguished, the OH Department of Natural Resources “can’t confirm if it (the fish kill) is related to the gas-well fire.”3  In reference to the fire, a local resident said “It’s one of those things that happens. My God, they’re 20,000 feet down in the ground. Fracking isn’t going to hurt anything around here. The real danger is this kind of thing — fire or accidents like that.”4

Lacking Transparency

WV 2014 Photo by Evan Collins and Rachel Wadell

Run by Statoil North America, Eisenbarth well pad in Monroe County, Ohio is still smoking after the fire.

Unfortunately, this sentiment is just another example of the general public being ill-informed about all of the aspects involved in unconventional drilling. This knowledge gap is largely due to the fact that oil and gas extraction companies are not always transparent about their operations or the risks of drilling. In addition to the potential for water pollution, earthquakes, and illness due to chemicals, air pollution from active unconventional well sites is increasing annually.

CO2 Emissions

Using prior years’ data, from 2010 to 2013, we determined that the average CO2 output from unconventional gas wells in 2013 was equal to that of an average coal-fired plant. If growth continued at this rate, the total emissions of all unconventional wells in West Virginia will approximate 10 coal-fired power plants in the year 2030. Coincidentally, this is the same year which the EPA has mandated a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by all current forms of energy production. However, recent reports suggest that the amount of exported gas will quadruple by 2030, meaning that the growth will actually be larger than originally predicted.5 Yet, this number only includes the CO2 produced during extraction. It does not include the CO2 released when the natural gas is burned, or the gas that escapes from leaks in the wells.

Long-Term Impacts

Fires and explosions are just some of the dangers involved in unconventional drilling. While they can be immediately damaging, it is important to look at the long-term impacts that this industry has on the environment. Over time, seepage into drinking water wells and aquifers from underground injection sites will contaminate these potable sources of water. Constant drilling has also led to the occurrence of unnatural earthquakes. CO2 emissions, if left unchecked, could easily eclipse the output from coal-fired power plants – meaning that modern natural gas drilling isn’t necessarily the “clean alternative” as it has been advertised.

References

  1. Willis, Jim ed. (2014). Statoil Frack Trucks Catch Fire in Monroe County, OH. Marcellus Drilling News.
  2. Forbes. (2014). Statoil.
  3. Woods, Jim. (2014). Fish Kill in Eastern Ohio Might be Linked to Fire at Fracking Well. The Columbus Dispatch.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Cushman, John H., Jr. (2014). US Natural Gas Exports No Better for Climate than China’s Coal, Experts Say.

2013 American Industrial Hygiene Association Fall Conference

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

FracTracker was recently in attendance at the American Industrial Hygiene Association annual conference, held in Miami, FL, September 28-October 1st.  The FracTracker Alliance’s Kyle Ferrar participated in the workshop “Natural GAS EXTRACTION – Rising Energy Demands Mandate a Multi-Perspective Approach.”  The workshop was moderated by Dr. Mark Roberts, and in addition to the FracTracker Alliance, there was a presentation by NIOSH Senior Industrial Hygienist Eric Esswein and the well-versed chemist, engineer, and industry associate/consultant  John Ely.  The workshop was well-attended (sold out).

In case you missed it, FracTracker’s annotated presentation is posted here:  Ferrar_AIHA Presentation_9.29.13.

European Drilling Perspectives

By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – Manager of Science and Communications

In August I spent a little over two weeks in Europe, the first of which was for work in Berlin, Germany and Basel, Switzerland. Now that I have had some time to process my travels and am back on a proper sleep schedule, I thought I’d provide a little wrap up of my impressions of Europe and the issue of unconventional drilling.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

In Berlin, I was hosted by two innovative organizations: JF&C and Agora Energiewende. JF&C is a consulting company that advises on international markets and sustainable growth. The roundtable held by JF&C was intended to bring together a diverse group of decision-makers in Germany to discuss potential challenges of heavy drilling in Europe — and they did not disappoint. Participants included representatives from the:

The diverse backgrounds of the group led to a heated yet balanced debate on the topic of whether unconventional gas extraction should occur in Germany, as well as the rest of Europe. I was quite impressed by the transparent and matter-of-fact perspectives held by attendees, which as you can see above included governmental, NGO, and industry reps.

My next presentation in Berlin was coordinated by Agora Energiewende. Energiewende refers to Germany’s dedication to transitioning from non-renewable to more sustainable fuels. You can read more about the movement here. This forum was set up in a more traditional format – a talk by me followed by a series of questions from the audience. Many of the attendees at this event were extremely well informed about the field of unconventional drilling, climate change, and economics, so the questions were challenging in many respects. Attendees ranged from renewable energy developers to US Embassy personnel. As a reflection of such diversity, we discussed a variety of topics at this session, including US production trends and ways to manage and prepare databases in the event that heavy drilling commences in Germany and other parts of Europe.

Interestingly, one of the major opponents of this form of gas extraction in Germany, I learned, has been the beer brewers. (They were not able to be at the table that day, sadly enough.) German breweries that adhere to a 4-ingredient purity law referred to as Reinheitsgebot are very concerned and also very politically active. You can read more about beer vs. fracking here, just scroll down that page a bit.

Over decadent cappuccinos the next morning, I met with Green Parliament representatives who wanted to hear firsthand about FracTracker’s experience of drilling in the U.S. Overall, my Berlin tour showed me that many individuals seemed skeptical that unconventional drilling could safely fulfill their energy needs, while also possessing a hearty intellectual craving to learn as much about it as they could.

Basel, Switzerland

Basel, Switzerland

Basel, Switzerland

The second part of the week was dedicated to attending and presenting at the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology conference in Basel, Switzerland. I participated in a panel that discussed the potential environmental and public health impacts of unconventional gas and oil drilling, as well as methods for prevention and remediation. The audience was concerned about a lack of regulatory and data transparency and the likelihood that such operations could contaminate ground/drinking water supplies. Based on the number of oil and gas wells impacted by the recent Colorado flooding tragedy, I cannot blame them. Most of these attendees were from academia or non-profits, although not entirely; check out coverage from this Polish radio station. (As mentioned in a previous post, Poland is one of the countries in Europe that has the potential for heavy drilling.)

The amount of knowledge I gained – and shared – from this one week alone is more than could have been possible in a year through phone calls and email exchanges. I am incredibly thankful for our funders’ and FracTracker’s support of this endeavor. Being able to discuss complex issues such as unconventional drilling with stakeholders in person is an invaluable key for dynamic knowledge sharing on an international level.

Links to My Presentations (PDFs):  JF&C  |  Agora  |  ISEE

A few non-work pictures from the second week of my trip…

Dornbirn, Austria

Dornbirn, Austria

Lake Lugano, Switzerland

Lake Lugano, Switzerland

The Alps, Switzerland

The Alps, Switzerland

Milan, Italy

Milan, Italy

OH Shale Viewer

OH National Response Center Data on Shale Gas Viewer

By Ted Auch, PhD – Ohio Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), we as US citizens have real-time access to “all oil, chemical, radiological, biological, and etiological discharges into the environment anywhere in the United States and its territories” data via the National Response Center (NRC). The NRC is an:

initial report taking agency…[that] does not participate in the investigation or incident response. The NRC receives initial reporting information only and notifies Federal and State On-Scene Coordinators for response…Verification of data and incident response is the sole responsibility of Federal/State On-Scene Coordinators.[1]

We decided that NRC incident data would make for a useful layer in our Ohio Shale Gas Viewer. As of September 1, 2013 it is included and will be updated bi-monthly. Thanks go out to SkyTruth’s generous researchers Paul Woods and Craig Winters. We have converted an inventory of Ohio reports provided by SkyTruth into a GIS layer on our map, consisting of 1,191 events, including date and type, back to January 2012.


The layer is not visible until you zoom in twice from the default view on the map above. It appears as the silhouette of a person lying on the ground with Skull and crossbones next to it. View fullscreen>

Currently, the layer includes 28 hydraulic fracturing-related events, 61 “Big [Oil and Chemical] Spills,” and 1,102 additional events – most of which are concentrated in the urban centers of Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus, and Toledo OH.

From a Utica Shale corporation perspective, 21 of the 28 reports are attributed to Chesapeake Operating, Inc. (aka, Chesapeake Energy Corporation (CHK)) or 75% of the hydraulic fracturing (HF) events, while CHK only accounts for 48% of all HF drilled, drilling, or producing wells in OH. Anadarko, Devon, Halcon, and Rex are responsible for the remaining 7 reports. They collectively account for 2.7% of the state’s current inventory of unconventional drilled, drilling, or producing wells.


[1] To contact the NRC for legal purposes, email efoia@uscg.mil. The NRC makes this data available back to 1982, but we decided to focus on the period beginning with the first year of Utica permits here in Ohio to the present (i.e., 2010-2013).

Florida Gas Drilling Developments and Legislation

By Samir Lakhani, GIS Intern, FracTracker Alliance

Florida Aquifers - Source data and map based off of Alan Baker at Florida Department of Environmental Protection.  Acquired Data from: USGS, USDA, FDEP   Source Link: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/geology/programs/hydrogeology/geographic_info_sys.htm

The Floridian Aquifer: Connectivity, Permeability, and Vulnerability

There have been a significant number of enquiries regarding the status of hydraulic fracturing activity in Florida, enough of which garner a FracTracker post. The short answer is that there is minimal drilling activity occurring in Florida—but not for long. It was only a matter of time until gas companies set their gaze on Florida, and her abundance of energy resources. Preparations to drill are already underway. Permits have been filed, equipment is being shipped, and exploratory drilling will begin any minute now. What makes Florida drilling ominous is the real risk for chemical leakage and groundwater contamination.

Imagine this:

It is just another sunny day in sunny Florida, but on this quiet day, two men ring your doorbell. You answer, of course, and find out that these men are from Total Safety, Inc., a company contracted by the independent oil company Dan A. Hughes Company, from Beeville, Texas. They ask you to provide your contact information and any other emergency contact info, just in case disaster strikes at the drill site operating barely 1000 feet from your house. For most of the citizens of Naples, Florida, this is the first they have ever heard of drilling, in their neighborhood. The citizens of Naples, Florida received quite a scare that day. The outrage in the community was so abundant and uniform that these families decided to act out against this development to preserve their piece of paradise. Read More

What makes drilling in Florida so precarious is that porous limestone shelves make up the majority of rock underlying permitted well sites. If any accident were to happen, the leakage of waste and chemicals would be virtually impossible to contain. It then would seep directly into the Florida aquifer which lies beneath the entirety of the state and large sections of Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Maintaining water quality for the Floridan Aquifer is non-negotiable, since it is the primary water source for Savannah, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Orlando, Gainesville, Tampa, and others. An attempt to clean the aquifer thoroughly would be impossible, and not to mention, prohibitively expensive. Another troubling thought is possible contamination and degradation of the beloved Florida Everglades.

Florida is an interesting case right now; the gas game is still very young. Florida lawmakers have an opportunity to draft real preventative measures, rather than legislation after the fact. Hydraulic fracturing is no new phenomenon, and Florida politicians have the prospect of learning from other states, incorporating relevant ideas and taking their own stance on this issue. Currently, a couple of bills are slowly trudging through the state legislature. The idea is to require a list of chemical disclosures from all active gas drilling companies. Environmentalists claim this bill is a sham, for the companies need to list the chemicals used in drilling, but not the quantities of each. It may be just another half-hearted attempt to show real political action, while retaining a good business relationship with drilling companies. It is unlikely more stringent policies will be successful, however, given that some powers currently in office believe climate change to be a fairy tale.

US Map of Suspected Well Water Impacts

Launch of National Mapping Project Designed to Show Possible Impacts of Oil and Gas Drilling on Well Water

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
US Map of Suspected Well Water Impacts
Contacts: Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance, (717) 303-0403; and
Samantha Malone, Manager of Science and Communications, FracTracker Alliance, (412) 802-0273

May 1, 2013 – The US Map of Suspected Well Water Impacts is a project that will attempt to piece together recent complaints of well water quality impacts that people believe are attributed to unconventional gas and oil operations. Research has demonstrated potential risks to ground and drinking water posed by faulty well casings, surface spills, and hydraulic fracturing. From across the country, in areas where gas and oil development is occurring, accounts of possible well water contamination have been reported but not been collected all in one place – yet. The FracTracker Alliance and cooperating organizations are providing that opportunity.

Inspired by other “crowd-sourced” data and mapping projects, this project aims to collect ongoing stories, narratives, and data from individual homeowners living on well water near drilling operations and map the general location of these reports online.  The first version of the dynamic map (shown below) is available at www.fractracker.org/usmap.

US Map of Suspected Well Water Impacts - V1

US Map of Suspected Well Water Impacts
Read more about Version 1 of the map

Once received, submissions will be reviewed to the extent possible by cooperating researchers and organizations. Not all reported cases of water contamination, however, have been or will be able to be substantiated. According to Brook Lenker, Executive Director of FracTracker Alliance:

The reports we are collecting are not necessarily indisputable evidence that drilling has contaminated drinking water sources. Some accounts are irrefutable. Others remain unsubstantiated, but that doesn’t mean the well owner isn’t experiencing serious problems. Even where proof may be elusive, perception of risk can tell us much about an issue and the level of concern by the community.  This information will likely help to identify pre-existing problems or conditions that were not previously well known.  Such outreach is needed to permit citizens, local agencies, and others to work together to address pre-existing concerns, improve local regulations or standards, conduct proper baseline testing and monitoring, and make informed decisions.

As unconventional natural gas and oil extraction expands internationally, an Internet-based project like the US Map of Suspected Well Water Impacts can help to share on a global scale how people in the U.S. view – and may be impacted by – unconventional drilling. If everyone contributed their stories, the public’s understanding of gas and oil extraction’s impacts on well water could expand dramatically.

Anyone wishing to submit their story should visit www.fractracker.org/usmap or call (202) 639-6426. A complete list of current project partners is available on the website.

# # #

Downloadable Press Release (PDF)
Read more about Version 1 of the map

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