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The awkward “k” in “fracking”

Note

This post has been archived.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

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

 

We are often asked why there is no “k” after “frac” in our name, FracTracker. This makes for lively conversations at parties, I assure you. Quite frankly, the etymology of the term “fracking” would make for its own interesting study, especially if you include fans of Battlestar Galactica in your research.

Truth-be-told, our name stemmed from an intense academic vs communications debate. FracTracker originally started as a project within the University of Pittsburgh. As many people in the field of know, academics are not known for brevity in the naming of projects or publications. We wanted a name that embodied both the research and community aspects of our work but was short enough to say all in one breadth. Calling such a new initiative “The Mapping of Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction Data at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities,” while accurate, just doesn’t flow off the tongue nicely.

At the time “fracking” was a term used in some circles to refer to the entire process of extracting natural gas and oil using non-traditional methods – even though it technically only refers to the hydraulic fracturing of a well to stimulate hydrocarbon retrieval. A project partner of ours suggested the name “FrackTracker,” since we planned to track all activity related to unconventional oil and gas drilling. According to people who work in industry, however, including a “k” in the word fracking just doesn’t make sense… And rightly so; there is no “k” in the phrase hydraulic fracturing, so why should there be one in fracking? Even though fracking is now a term commonly used to discuss the industry as a whole, we still decided to omit the awkward “k” just in case.

#didntneedtoknow but #thanks


FracTracker became an independent non-profit in 2012 called FracTracker Alliance. Learn more about us >

Loyalsock from the Sky

By Pete Stern, Aerial Photographer

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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.

Local Actions and Local Regulations in California

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

The potential for large scale oil development in the Monterey and other shale basins has raised concern in California communities over the use of hydraulic fracturing and other unconventional well stimulation techniques, such as acidizing.  The fact that DOGGR was not tracking the use of these techniques, much less regulating them, has led to a variety of actions being taken by local governments.  Several groups including county directors, city councils, and neighborhood and community councils have passed resolutions supporting state-wide bans on hydraulic fracturing and other controversial stimulation techniques.  As can be seen in the following map, several of them are located within the greater LA metropolitan area, which is currently considering a local moratorium.

This map shows the local civic groups in the LA metropolitan area that have passed resolutions supporting statewide bans/moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing and other controversial stimulation activities.

This map shows the local civic groups [green check marks] in the LA metropolitan area that have passed resolutions supporting statewide bans/moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing and other controversial stimulation activities. Click on the map to view larger image.

Two local jurisdictions, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the County of Santa Barbara, have enacted their own measures to regulate oil and gas development.  Both require notification of drilling techniques, and Santa Barbara County requires operators to file for a unique permit when using hydraulic fracturing. Data from the county of Santa Barbara’s permitting program was not readily accessible – although it may well be that they have not issued any permits.  The South Coast Air Quality Management District is charged with managing the air quality for Orange County, the city of Los Angeles and the surrounding urban centers of Riverside and San Bernardino.  In the spring of 2013, the SCAQMD passed Southern California rule 1148.2.  The rule requires oil operators to submit specific reports of well activity documenting drilling, chemical use and the well stimulation techniques employed, directly to the SCAQMD.  Reportable methods include acidification, gravel packing, and hydraulic fracturing.  The rule was implemented June 2, 2013. The database of well-site data is readily accessible via the web.  Web users can obtain individual well summaries of drilling activity and chemical-use reports, or download the full data sets.  The site is user-friendly and the data is easily accessible. Unfortunately, the currently available data set is missing some of the most important information, specifically well API numbers – the unique identifier for all wells drilled in the United States.  This data gap makes it impossible to compare or cross-reference this data set with others.

AQMD Wellsites

FracTracker has mapped the well-sites reported on the SCAQMD in the new map on the California page titled California Local Actions, Monitoring and Regulations.  This map outlines the boundaries of SCAQMD and other sub-state regulatory agencies that have elected to manage the drilling activity.  Details on the programs are provided in the map layers.  The data published by the SCAQMD has been included in the map.  In the map above, if you compare the SCAQMD data layer to the Hydraulically Fractured dataset derived by combining DOGGR and FracFocus data, you can see that the two data sets do not look to include the same well sites.  Unfortunately, it cannot be known whether this is merely an issue of slightly dissimilar coordinates or legitimate data gaps; the SCAQMD data set lacks the API identifier for the majority of well sites reported.  Because the regulatory landscape tends to follow the political leadership that reflects the interests of the constituency, legislative districts have also been included as a viewable map layer.   Be active in your democracy.

Keeping Track of Hydraulic Fracturing in California

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

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

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

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

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

FracTracker Alliance’s *NEW* California Shale Viewer

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

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

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

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