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The Growing Web of Oil and Gas Pipelines

Although the vast majority of scientists agree that we must rapidly move away from fossil fuels to avoid a human-caused climate catastrophe by the end of this century, pipeline construction remains a big business.

Pipelines are the backbone of domestic fossil fuel use and for delivering fuels to terminals for international export. Yet aside from a few high-profile pipeline controversies that show up in the media, few Americans are aware of the vast network of pipelines that transport oil and gas products from sources of extraction to industry and end-use consumers.

The United States is crisscrossed by over 1.63 million miles of fossil fuel pipelines. This includes:

Many of the country’s pipelines have been built within the last few decades, and in recent years, construction of more has been spurred on by the fracking boom. The total mile count of crude oil pipelines (currently 79,000) has increased over 60% between 2004 and 2017.  Natural gas distribution and estimated service pipeline miles increased 72% between 1984 and 2017 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Miles of natural gas distribution (1,296,157 miles) and estimated service (
927,052 miles) pipelines in the U.S., 1984-2017

Although total mileage for transmission pipelines slightly dropped between 2004 and 2017 (according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration), total mileage for Hazardous Liquids pipelines jumped 33% during that same period (Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 2 (above). Total miles of Hazardous Liquid pipelines in the U.S., 2004-2017
Figure 3 (below). Break down of Hazardous Liquid pipeline miles in the U.S by what they’re transporting, 2004-2017

Exporting natural gas

When natural gas is imported or exported, it’s transported in a liquefied form. The product occupies much less space as a liquefied natural gas (LNG) than it does in its gaseous form, making it easier to transport.

For many years, the United States was an importer of natural gas, until 2007, when this trend quickly reversed, coinciding with the “fracking boom” in the Marcellus Shale, as well as several other shale plays in Texas, Wyoming, and elsewhere.

Figure 4. U.S. imports of natural gas, which is transported as liquefied natural gas (LNG)

LNG facilities store and process natural gas to help move it between markets. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of LNG facilities increased from 122 to 152 (includes LNG storage facilities). This nearly 25% increase reflects the surplus of natural gas in the lower 48 states.

The U.S. began exporting LNG in 2016, especially to Europe and China, where demand is high. According to the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), LNG exports doubled between 2016 and 2017 (Figure 5).

Figure 5. U.S. LNG exports between January, 2016 and October, 2017, are shown in the blue bars

Exports are again expected to double over 2018 levels by the end of 2019, reaching a storage capacity of 9.6 billion cubic feet per day. The US is now the third largest exporter of LNG, after Australia and Qatar.

The breakdown of LNG terminals —existing and future— according to FERC is shown below. These terminals receive LNG imports or ship out LNG for export. The shift from LNG import to export activity over time is quite striking. No new import facilities are currently in the planning phase, yet there are 19 export facilities proposed and another 10 already approved.  

Table 1. Import and Export LNG Terminals in the US: Current, Approved, and Proposed.

  Import Export
Current 12: Everett, MA; Cove Point, MD; Elba Island, GA; Lake Charles, LA; offshore Boston, MA (2); Freeport, TX; Sabine, LA; Hackberry, LA; Sabine Pass, LA; Pascagoula, MS; Peñuelas, PR) 3: (Cove Point, MD; Sabine, LA; Kenai, AK)
Approved 3: Corpus Christi, TX; Gulf of Mexico (2) 10: Hackberry, LA (2); Freeport, TX; Corpus Christi, TX; Sabine Pass, LA (2); Elba Island, GA; Lake Charles, LA (2); Gulf of Mexico
Proposed None 19: Pascagoula, MS;  Cameron Parish, LA (2); Brownsville, TX (3); Port Arthur, TX; Jacksonville, FL; Plaquemines Parish, LA (2); Calcasieu Parish, LA; Nikiski, AK; Freeport, TX; Coos Bay, OR; Corpus Christi, TX; La Fourche Parish, LA; Sabine Pass, LA; Galveston Bay, TX

The challenge of keeping up

One of the challenges in working on oil and gas-related environmental advocacy is that from week to week, there are always changes in pipeline status. New pipelines are announced, others are delayed, others are postponed, and in some cases, projects are cancelled or defeated. Pipelines that have been under construction for years go on line. Listings are piece-meal, sometimes very vague, and sometimes reported by third and fourth party sources.

FracTracker is committed to sorting through this information, and providing a window into the expansion of oil and gas infrastructure. We have mapped and assembled information on over 60,000 miles of new and proposed oil and gas transmission pipelines and mapped over 250 projects since 2017.

Of these 60,000 pipeline miles, almost 9,800 have been completed and/or are operating. Close to 7,500 miles were cancelled or defeated. This leaves another 42,700 miles of pipeline that are currently in the replacement, reversal, planning or construction stages. 

In the interactive map below, against a background of existing pipelines, we show the newest pipelines that have come “on the radar” since 2017. In addition we show LNG terminals, one of the main destinations for the gas that flows through the pipelines to the export market.

Updated U.S. pipeline and LNG terminal map

View Map Full Screen | How Our Maps Work

Our mapping process

FracTracker is dedicated to bringing transparency to the landscape of oil and gas development. We use mapping tools such as GIS (geographic information systems) to illuminate developments in oil and gas infrastructure expansion.

Where do we get our data?

We draw our information from new listings by the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) and Sierra Club for natural gas projects. In addition, we find announcements about new crude oil and gas pipeline projects on RBN Energy’s website. 

After we create a composite list of pipelines, the research begins. We search the internet for references to each pipeline, looking for industry announcements, descriptions, news articles, and, most importantly, the docket listings of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

FERC may release detailed maps of pipeline routes from the company’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), filed after operators have progressed past the initial phases of planning. On occasion, we’ll stumble across links to Google Earth files that grassroots groups have ground-truthed. We can convert these .kml files into our ArcGIS mapping software directly.

Digital cartography

How do we go from online pictures of maps to data that we can use in our interactive maps? For the most part, we use a process called georeferencing, also known in some circles as “rubber-sheeting”. One of the beauties of digital cartography and GIS is that through the magic of computing, we can add information about location to mapped information. This allows us to add different features to a map, such as roads or rivers, and ensure that they line up correctly.

Let’s say I have a .jpg (image) file of a pipeline map that crosses four counties in Indiana. The .jpg shows both the pipeline and the county boundaries. I can open my GIS program and add a reference basemap of the United States, which is similar to what you see when you open Google Maps. I can zoom in to Indiana and add a second GIS layer of Indiana’s counties (already built with coordinates in the digital information), and voila! It drops right into where Indiana is on my base map. Can I do this with the pipeline .jpg? Not yet!

I have to use the clues on the pipeline image to place it in the correct location on the GIS map. Luckily, my pipeline map has county boundaries on it, so I can line up the corners (or other shapes) on the pipeline image to where they are on my map that is “smart” about location using ground control points.

Once I’m satisfied that the map I’ve added is in the correct location, I carefully trace the path of the pipeline, saving it as a GIS layer. Because it’s drawn with its own location data included, it will always appear in future maps in the same place relative to the rest of Indiana.

That’s our process in a nutshell.

Want to see this done as a demo? Here’s a nice 10-minute YouTube video:


By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator

Internship Opportunities Button

Two positions available in FracTracker’s paid spring 2019 internship program

Spring 2019 Internships | FracTracker Alliance

Job Title: Data and GIS Intern
Internship Period: January 2019 – June 2019, 6 months
Application Deadline – Extended: November 16, 2018
Compensation: $11/hour, 15 hours per week
Locations: Oakland, CA and Pittsburgh, PA

FracTracker internships are dedicated to current college and graduate students, as well as recent grads. Each of our available 6-month internships runs from January through June 2019. Paid, temporary interns work 15 hours per week and are compensated $11/hour. This position is not eligible for health benefits, but travel expenses may be reimbursed. Please note this position is at will and subject to available funding.

This upcoming spring we are in need of interns in two of FracTracker’s offices, although some remote work is permissible if arranged in advance with their supervisor. Please select which of the two offices you are interested in working out of when applying online:

  • California: 1440 Broadway, Ste. 205, Oakland, CA 94612
  • Pennsylvania: 112 Sherman St, Pittsburgh, PA 15209

Interns will utilize GIS technologies to perform geo-spatial data collection, processing, and analysis. Tasks are typically associated with routine technical work in GIS, involving heavy amounts of database entry and management, generation of maps, and various types of research under the supervision of FracTracker staff.

Responsibilities

The responsibilities of paid GIS interns revolve around the daily work of the other FracTracker staff, as well as time-sensitive projects. Responsibilities will vary, but may include:

  • Data mining, cleaning, management, and GIS mapping
  • Limited spatial analyses using GIS software
  • Translation of data into information and stories for the blog
  • Administrative support when needed
  • Field research
  • Participation in software development, integration, and system testing when needed

Qualifications

Working knowledge of: Geographic information systems (GIS) and Microsoft Office products (especially Word and Excel).

Ability to: Assist with researching spatial data availability from internal and external sources; collect, assimilate, analyze, and interpret data and draw sound conclusions; prepare oral and written reports.

Enrollment in or recent graduation from an accredited college or university is required. Majors can include geography, computer science, environmental science, public health, planning or a related field.

Application Process

To apply for one of our spring 2019 internships, please submit the following materials by Friday, November 16, 2018 (deadline extended) through our online application form: cover letter, resume, and 3 references. Applications are not accepted via email, but you may address questions to Sam Rubright at malone@fractracker.org.

[Applications are no longer being accepted]

Deadline to apply: November 16, 2018

After November 16th, applicants will be contacted regardless of whether or not an interview is sought by us. Interviews will be conducted over the next two weeks, and a decision made by December 7th.

About FracTracker Alliance

FracTracker Alliance studies, maps, and communicates the risks of oil and gas development to protect our planet and support the renewable energy transformation. Learn more about FracTracker Alliance at www.fractracker.org.

The Falcon: Methods, Mapping, & Analysis

Part of the Falcon Public EIA Project

FracTracker began monitoring Falcon’s construction plans in December 2016, when we discovered a significant cache of publicly visible GIS data related to the pipeline. At that time, FracTracker was looking at ways to get involved in the public discussion about Shell’s ethane cracker and felt we could contribute our expertise with mapping pipelines. Below we describe the methods we used to access and worked with this project’s data.

Finding the Data

Finding GIS data for pipeline projects is notoriously difficult but, as most research goes these days, we started with a simple Google search to see what was out there, using basic keywords, such as “Falcon” (the name of the pipeline), “ethane” (the substance being transported), “pipeline” (the topic under discussion), and “ArcGIS” (a commonly used mapping software).

In addition to news stories on the pipeline’s development, Google returned search results that included links to GIS data that included “Shell” and “Falcon” in their names. The data was located in folders labeled “HOUGEO,” presumably the project code name, as seen in the screenshot below. All of these links were accessed via Google and did not require a password or any other authentication to view their contents.

Shell’s data on the Falcon remained publicly available at this link up to the time of the Falcon Public EIA Project‘s release. However, this data is now password protected by AECOM.

Google search results related to Falcon pipeline data

Viewing the Data

The HOUGEO folder is part of a larger database maintained by AECOM, an engineering firm presumably contracted to prepare the Falcon pipeline construction plan. Data on a few other projects were also visible, such as maps of the Honolulu highway system and a sewer works in Greenville, NC. While these projects were not of interest to us, our assessment is that this publicly accessible server is used to share GIS projects with entities outside the company.

Within the HOUGEO folder is a set of 28 ArcGIS map folders, under which are hundreds of different GIS data layers pertaining to the Falcon pipeline. These maps could all be opened simply by clicking on the “ArcGIS Online map viewer” link at the top of each page. Alternatively, one can click on the “View in: Google Earth” link to view the data in Google Earth or click on the “View in: ArcMap” link to view the data in the desktop version of the ArcGIS software application. No passwords or credentials are required to access any of these folders or files.

As seen in the screenshot below, the maps were organized topically, roughly corresponding to the various components that would need to be addressed in an EIA. The “Pipeline” folder showed the route of the Falcon, its pumping stations, and work areas. “Environmental” contained data on things like water crossings and species of concern. “ClassLocations” maps the locations of building structures in proximity to the Falcon.

The HOUGEO GIS folders organized by topic

 

Archiving the Data

After viewing the Falcon GIS files and assessing them for relevancy, FracTracker went about archiving the data we felt was most useful for our assessing the project. The HOUGEO maps are hosted on a web server meant for viewing GIS maps and their data, either on ArcOnline, Google Earth, or ArcMap. The GIS data could not be edited in these formats. However, viewing the data allowed us to manually recreate most of the data.

For lines (e.g. the pipeline route and access roads), points (e.g. shutoff valves and shut-off valves), and certain polygons (e.g. areas of landslide risk and construction workspaces), we archived the data by manually recreating new maps. Using ArcGIS Desktop software, we created a new blank layer and manually inputted the relevant data points from the Falcon maps. This new layer was then saved locally so we could do more analysis and make our own independent maps incorporating the Falcon data. In some cases, we also archived layers by manually extracting data from data tables underlying the map features. These tables are made visible on the HOUGEO maps simply by clicking the “data table” link provided with each map layer.

Other layers were archived using screen captures of the data tables visible in the HOEGEO ArcOnline maps. For instance, the table below shows which parcels along the route had executed easements. We filtered the table in ArcGIS Online to only show the parcel ID, survey status, and easement status. Screen captures of these tables were saved as PDFs on our desktop, then converted to text using optical character recognition (OCR), and the data brought into Microsoft Excel. We then recreated the map layer by matching the parcel IDs in our newly archived spreadsheet to parcel IDs obtained from property GIS shapefiles that FracTracker purchased from county deeds offices.

Transparency & Caveats

FracTracker strives to maintain transparency in all of its work so the public understands how we obtain, analyze, and map data. A good deal of the data found in the HOUGEO folders are available through other sources, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Census, as well as numerous state and county level agencies. When possible, we opted to go to these original sources in order to minimize our reliance on the HOUGEO data. We also felt it was important to ensure that the data we used was as accurate and up-to-date as possible.

For instance, instead of manually retracing all the boundaries for properties with executed easements for the Falcon’s right-of-way, we simply purchased parcel shapefiles from county deeds and records offices and manually identified properties of interest. To read more on how each data layer was made, open any of our Falcon maps in full-screen mode and click the “Details” tab in the top left corner of the page.

Finally, some caveats. While we attempted to be as accurate as possible in our methods, there are aspects of our maps where a line, point, or polygon may deviate slightly in shape or location from the HOUGEO maps. This is the inherent downside of having to manually recreate GIS data. In other cases, we spent many hours correcting errors found in the HOUGEO datasets (such as incorrect parcel IDs) in order to get different datasets to properly match up.

FracTracker also obtained copies of Shell’s permit applications in January by conducting a file review at the PA DEP offices. While these applications — consisting of thousands of pages — only pertain to the areas in Pennsylvania where the Falcon will be built, we were surprised by the accuracy of our analysis when compared with these documents. However, it is important to note that the maps and analysis presented in the Falcon Public EIA Project should be viewed with potential errors in mind.

* * *

Related Articles

Internship Opportunities Button

FracTracker is in search of a few great Data and GIS interns this spring!

Nov 17 Update

THE ONLINE APPLICATION PROCESS FOR OUR SPRING 2018 INTERNSHIPS HAS CLOSED AND INTERNS SELECTED.

Paid Internships | Spring 2018

Title: FracTracker Alliance Data and GIS Intern
Internship Period: January 2018 – June 2018, 6 months
Application Deadline: October 27, 2017
Compensation: $11/hour, 15 hours per week
Locations: Oakland, CA and Pittsburgh, PA

Are you a college or graduate student in the U.S.? Do you enjoy working with datasets, visualizations, maps, and researching oil and gas issues? If so, please consider applying to be one of our Data and GIS interns this spring in Oakland, California and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Nature of Work

FracTracker internships are dedicated to current college and graduate students, as well as recent grads. Each of our available 6-month internships runs from January through June. Paid, temporary interns work 15 hours per week and are compensated $11/hour. This position is not eligible for health benefits, but travel expenses may be reimbursed. Please note this position is at will and subject to available funding.

This spring we have needs for interns in two of FracTracker’s offices, although some remote work is permissible if arranged in advance with their supervisor. Please select which of the two offices you are interested in working out of when applying:

  • California: 1440 Broadway, Ste. 205, Oakland, CA 94612
  • Pennsylvania: 112 Sherman St, Pittsburgh, PA 15209

Interns will utilize GIS technologies to perform geo-spatial data collection, processing, and analysis. Tasks are typically associated with routine technical work in GIS involving heavy amounts of database entry and management, generation of maps, and various types of research under the supervision of FracTracker staff.

Responsibilities

The responsibilities of paid GIS interns revolve around the daily work of the other FracTracker staff, as well as time-sensitive projects. Responsibilities will vary, but may include:

  • Data mining, cleaning, management, and GIS mapping
  • Limited spatial analyses using GIS software
  • Translation of data into information and stories for the blog
  • Administrative support when needed (including data entry, schedule coordination, taking and preparing meeting notes, etc.)
  • Field research
  • Participation in software development, integration, and system testing when needed

Qualifications

Working knowledge of: Geographic information systems (GIS) and Microsoft Office products (especially Word and Excel).

Ability to: Assist with researching spatial data availability from internal and external sources; collect, assimilate, analyze, and interpret data and draw sound conclusions; prepare oral and written reports.

Enrollment in or recent graduation from an accredited college or university is required. Majors can include geography, computer science, environmental science, public health, planning or a related field.

Internship Application Process

To apply, please submit the following materials by October 27th through our online application form: cover letter, resume, and 3 references. Applications are not accepted via email, but you may address questions to Sam Rubright at malone@fractracker.org.

Apply Online: [form closed]

Deadline to apply: October 27, 2017

After October 27, 2017, applicants will be contacted regardless of whether or not an interview is sought. Interviews will be conducted during the week of October 30th and a decision made by Friday, November 3rd.

About FracTracker Alliance

FracTracker Alliance studies, maps, and communicates the risks of oil and gas development to protect our planet and support the renewable energy transformation. Learn more about FracTracker Alliance at www.fractracker.org.

Internship Opportunities Button

Seeking Three Unpaid Interns this Fall to Assist with Data Collection, Crunching, and Mapping

Digging into energy data is a tough job, and there is always more work to do than FracTracker has staff. For fall 2017, we’re seeking three unpaid interns to assist with our data and GIS work, one for each of the following offices:

  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Cleveland Heights, OH
  • Oakland, CA

Applicants should be currently attending or have recently attended an academic institution, preferably in the US for logistical purposes.

The Fall 2017 Data & GIS internships will begin on September 5, 2017 and end after November 30, 2017. These dates are somewhat flexible, however.

When applying online, please indicate out of which office you would like to work. While not ideal, we will accept highly-skilled remote applicants on occasion.

Internship Details

FracTracker’s Data & GIS interns are current college or graduate students who aid in conducting energy research, gathering and analyzing data, mapping geo-located data, and writing articles about this work.

Fall internships are unpaid positions, as our paid internships only run in the spring. Because the fall internships are unpaid, however, students can choose to seek receipt of academic credits through their academic institution. These positions are not eligible for health benefits.

Responsibilities

The responsibilities of unpaid interns revolve around the daily work of the other FracTracker staff, as well as time-sensitive projects. Due to FracTracker’s web and mapping focus, the primary skills we seek out of internship applicants are those that would allow them to do oil and gas data collection and mapping. Responsibilities will vary, but may include:

  • Field research
  • Data mining, cleaning, management, and GIS mapping
  • Translation of data into information and stories for the blog
  • Administrative support when needed (including data entry, schedule coordination, taking and preparing meeting notes, etc.)
  • Participation in software development, integration, and system testing where needed

Application Process

Internship applications will be accepted through our online form below until July 14, 2017.

Upon receipt of your application and the closing of the application process, our Manager of Communications and Partnerships (MCP) will screen and select applicants for interviews that fit the skills being sought by FracTracker for projects at the time.

Interviews will then be conducted by the MCP and the position’s direct supervisor.

Questions about our current and upcoming internship opportunities should be directed to Sam Rubright at malone@fractracker.org.

If you are interested in this exciting opportunity to support FracTracker’s mission this fall, please apply for a Data & GIS internship with us using the form below. Deadline: July 14, 2017 – 5:00 PM Eastern.


Update: The online application process has closed. Check here for updates.