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Production and Location Trends in PA: A Moving Target

The FracTracker Alliance tends to look mostly at the impacts of drilling, from violations affecting surface and ground water to forest fragmentation to neighbors breathing diesel exhaust near disposal wells.  We also try to give residents tools to help predict where future activity will occur, but as this article details, such predictive tools can do little more than trail moving targets. To that end, we have taken a look into areas where gas production is high for unconventional wells in the state, which are likely sites of future development.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Production Report is self-reported by the various operators active in the state. Unconventional wells generate a large quantity of natural gas, measured in thousands of cubic feet (Mcf), as well as limited amounts of oil and condensate, both of which are measured in 42 gallon barrels. In this analysis, we are only considering the gas production.


Click here for full screen map. 

In the map above, you can click on any well to learn more about the production values, along with a variety of other information including the well’s formation and age.  The age was calculated by counting days from the spud date to the end of the report cycle, March 31, 2019.

 

Top Average Gas Production by County – April 2018 to March 2019

CountyProducing Wells Avg. Production (Mcf) Production Rank Avg. Age of Producing WellsAge Rank
Wyoming 2511,269,15615 Yr / 10 Mo / 4 Days12
Sullivan1281,087,86825 Yr / 2 Mo/ 24 Days8
Allegheny1171,075,01834 yr/ 2 Mo / 7 Days2
Susquehanna1,4291,066,73445 Yr / 6 Mo / 22 Days10
Greene1,131796,75555 yr / 10 Mo / 28 Days13
Figure 1 – This table shows the top five counties in Pennsylvania for per-well unconventional gas production. The final column shows the county ranking for the average age of wells, from youngest to oldest

We can also see this data summarized by county, where average production and age values are available on a county by county basis (see Figure 1). Hydrocarbon wells are known to decrease production steeply over time, a phenomenon known as the decline curve, so it is not surprising to see a relatively young inventory of wells represented in the list of top five counties with per-well gas production. Age is not the only factor in production values, however, as certain geographies simply contain more accessible gas resources than others.

 

Figure 2 – 12 month gas production and age of well. Production is usually much higher during the earliest phases of the well’s production life.  This does not include wells that have been plugged or taken out of production.  Click on image for full-sized view.

In Figure 2, we look at the production of all unconventional wells in the state, expecting to see the highest production in younger wells. This mostly appears to be the case, but as mentioned above, there are also hot and cold spots with respect to production. A notable variable in this consideration is producing formation.

Since 93% (8,730 out of 9,404) of unconventional wells reporting gas production are in the Marcellus Shale Formation, the traditional hot spots in the northeastern and southwestern portions of the state heavily skew the overall totals in terms of both production and number of wells.  Other formations of note include the Onodaga Limestone (137 wells, 1.5% of total), Burket Member (117 wells, 1.2%), Genesee Formation (104 wells, 1.1%), and the Utica Shale (99 wells, 1.1%) (Figure 3).

Figure 3 – Unconventional gas production over 12 months, showing formation. Click on image for full-sized view.

Drillers have been exploring some of these formations for decades. In fact, the oldest producing well that is currently classified as unconventional was 13,435 days old as of March 31, which works out to 36 years, 9 months, and 12 days.

However, this is fairly rare – only 384 (4%) of the 9,404 producing wells were more than 10 years old. 5,981 wells (64%) are between 5 and 10 years old, with the remaining 3,039 wells (32%) younger than 5 years old.

This does not take into account wells of any age that have been plugged or otherwise taken out of production.

Age of Pennsylvania’s active wells

< 5 years old
5-10 years old
> 10 years old

 

Utica Shale

The Utica Shale is worth a special mention here for a couple of reasons.  First, we must acknowledge its prominence in neighboring Ohio, which has 2,160 permitted Utica wells to go with just 40 permitted Marcellus wells, the prevalence of the two plays seems to invert just as one passes over the state line. And yet, the most productive Utica wells are near the border with New York, not Ohio.

In fact, each of the top 11 producing Utica wells during the 12 month period were located in Tioga County.  It’s worth noting that these are all between one and two years old, which would have given the wells time to be drilled, fracked, and brought into production, while still being in the prime of their production life. Compared to the Marcellus, sample size quickly becomes an issue when analyzing the Utica in Pennsylvania (Figure 4).

Figure 4 – Producing Utica wells in Pennsylvania. Note that the cluster of heavily producing wells in Tioga and Potter Counties near the New York border are mostly young wells where higher production would be expected.  Click on image for full sized view.

Second, portions of the Utica are known for their wet gas content, meaning that the gas has significant quantities of natural gas liquids (NGLs) including ethane, propane, and butane, which are gaseous at ambient temperatures but typically condensed into liquid form by oil and gas companies.  These are used for specialized fuels and petrochemical feedstocks, and are therefore more valuable than the methane in natural gas.

The production report does not capture the amount of NGLs in the gas, but a map from the Energy Information Administration shows the entire play, noting that the composition is dryer on the eastern portions of the play. In fact, a wet gas composition along the Ohio border might help to explain continued interest in what are otherwise well below average gas production results for Pennsylvania.

A Moving Target

It is difficult to predict where the industry will focus its attention in the coming months and years, but taking a look at production and formation data can give us a few clues.  Obviously, operators who found a particularly productive pocket of hydrocarbons are likely to keep drilling more holes in the ground in those areas until production is no longer profitable. Therefore, impacts to water, air, and nearby residents can be expected to continue in heavily drilled areas largely because the production level makes it attractive for drillers.

On the other hand, we should not assume that areas that are currently not productive are off the table for future consideration, either. Different formations are productive in different geographies, so a sweet spot for the Marcellus might be a dud in the Utica, or vice versa.

Finally, when comparing production, we must always take the age of the well into consideration, as all oil and gas wells can be expected to start off with a short period of very high production, followed by years of ever-diminishing returns throughout the expected 10 to 11 year lifecycle of the well. Because of this, what seems like a hotspot now may look below average in a similar analysis in three to four years, particularly in formations with relatively light drilling activity. This means that the top list of production by well could change over time, so be sure to check back in with FracTracker to see how events unfold.

By Matt Kelso, Manager of Data and Technology, FracTracker Alliance

 

Pennsylvania Drilling Trends in 2018

With the new year underway, it’s an opportune moment to reflect on the state of unconventional oil and gas extraction in Pennsylvania and examine a few of the drilling trends. A logical place to start is looking at the new wells drilled in 2018.

As always, but perhaps even more so than in previous years, unconventional drilling in Pennsylvania is a tale of two shale plays, with hotspots in the southwestern and northeastern corners of the state. The northeastern hotspot seems to be extending westward, including 25 new wells in Jones Township in Elk County (an area shown in dark red near the “St Marys” label on the map). In the southwestern hotspot, the industry continues to encircle Allegheny County, closing in on the City of Pittsburgh like a constrictor.

Screen shot showing spud report for Indiana Township, Allegheny County from 1/1/2017 through 1/4/2019. We suspect these spud dates of 11/29/17 and 11/30/17 are incorrect.

Screen shot showing spud report for Indiana Township, Allegheny County from 1/1/2017 through 1/4/2019. We suspect these spud dates of 11/29/17 and 11/30/17 are incorrect.

Data error? As Pittsburgh-area residents reflect on the past year, some of them must be wondering why a new well pad in Indiana Township, just northeast of the city isn’t shown on the map above. The answer is that the data the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has for these wells indicate they were drilled November 29-3o, 2017, although we believe this to be incorrect. FracTracker obtained the data from the Spud Report on January 2, 2019, which indicates seven wells spudded in that two day span on the “Miller Jr. 10602” well pad. This activity drew considerable opposition from families in the Fox Chapel School district in May of 2018, and was therefore widely reported on by the media. An article published on WESA indicates an expected drill date of July 2018, for example.

It turns out the new year is also a good time to remember that our understanding of the oil and gas industry around us is shaped, molded, and limited by the availability and quality of the data. We brought the Indiana Township data error to the attention of DEP, which only confirmed that the operator (Range Resources) entered the spud dates into the DEP’s online system. Perhaps these well were drilled in November of 2018 not 2017? There is even a possibility these wells have yet to be drilled.

Here are a few more dissections of the data, such as it is:

Graph of unconventional (fracking) wells drilled in PA, YTD - Drilling trends

Figure 1: Unconventional wells drilled in PA by year: 2005 to 2018

Wells Drilled Over Time

Barring more widespread data issues, the status of a handful of wells in Indiana Township does not have much of an impact on the overall trend of drilling in the state. There were 779 wells on the report, representing just under 40% of the total from the peak year of 2011, when industry drilled 1,958 wells. The year 2019 was the fourth year in a row where the industry failed to drill 1,000 wells, averaging 719 per year over that span. In contrast, the five years between 2010 and 2014 saw an average of 1,497 wells per year, more than twice the more recent average. As mentioned in our Hazy Future report, projections based on very aggressive drilling patterns are already proving to be out of phase with reality, although petrochemical commodity markets might change drastically in the coming decades.

How long before wells are plugged?

We also like to periodically check to see how long these wells stay in service. In Pennsylvania, there are two relevant well statuses worth following: plugged and regulatory inactive. While there are a number of conditions that characterize regulatory inactive wells, they are essentially drilled wells that are not currently in production, but may have “future utility.” Therefore, the wells are not required to be permanently plugged at this time.

Unconventional wells drilled since 2005 in PA - Drilling trends

Figure 2: This chart shows the percentage of unconventional wells drilled since 2005 with a plugged or regulatory inactive status as of December 31, 2018.

In order to understand some of the finer points, it’s best to use Figure 1 (above) in conjunction with Figure 2. We can see that most of the wells drilled in the initial years of the Marcellus boom have already been plugged, although Figure 1 shows us that the sample size is fairly low for these years. In 2005, for example, 7 of the 9 (78%) unconventional wells drilled in the state that year are already plugged. The following year, 24 of the 37 (65%) wells drilled are now plugged, and an additional 4 (11%) wells have a regulatory inactive status as of the end of 2018. The following year, the combined plugged and inactive wells account for just over 50% of the 113 wells drilled that year, and this trend continues along a fairly predictable curve. An exception is the noticeable bump around the most active drilling years of 2010 and 2011, where there are slightly more wells with a plugged or inactive status than might be expected. It is interesting to note that even the most recent wells are not immune to being plugged, including 8 plugged wells and 4 inactive wells drilled in 2018 that were not able to get past their very first year in production.

Overall, of the 11,675 drilled wells accounted for on this graphic, 851 (7%) are plugged already, with an additional 572 (5%) of wells with an inactive status.  Unconventional wells that are 11 years old have a roughly 50% chance of being plugged or inactive, and we would therefore expect to see the number of these wells skyrocket in the coming years before leveling off, roughly mirroring the drilling boom and subsequent slowdown of Marcellus Shale extraction in Pennsylvania.

Conclusions

Many factors contribute to fluctuations in drilling trends for the Marcellus Shale and other unconventional wells in Pennsylvania. Very cold winters result in high consumption by residential and commercial users. New gas-fired power plants can increase the demand for additional drilling. Recessions and economic conditions are known to reduce the demand for energy as well, and drillers’ heavy debt burdens can slow down operations appreciably. Additionally, other fossil fuel and renewable energy sources compete with one another, altering the market conditions even further. And finally, every oil and gas play eventually reaches a point where the expected results from new wells are not worth the money required to get the hydrocarbons to the surface, and unconventional wells are much more expensive to develop than more traditional operations.

Because of all of these variables, month to month or even year to year fluctuations are not necessarily that telling.  On the other hand, a four-year period where drilling is roughly half of previous extraction is significant, and can’t be easily dismissed as a blip in the data.


By Matt Kelso, Manager of Data and Technology, FracTracker Alliance

A Hazy Future Report Cover

A Hazy Future: Pennsylvania’s Energy Landscape in 2045

Report Calculates Impacts from PA’s Planned Natural Gas Infrastructure

FracTracker Alliance released the report: A Hazy Future: Pennsylvania’s Energy Landscape in 2045 today, which details the potential future impacts of a massive buildout of Marcellus Shale wells and associated natural gas infrastructure.

Industry analysts forecast 47,600 new unconventional oil and gas wells may be drilled in Pennsylvania by 2045, fueling new natural gas power plants and petrochemical facilities in PA and beyond. Based on industry projections and current rates of consumption, FracTracker – a national data-driven non-profit – estimates the buildout would require 583 billion gallons of fresh water, 386 million tons of sand, 798,000 acres of land, 131 billion gallons of liquid waste, 45 million tons of solid waste, and more than 323 million truck trips to drilling sites.

A Hazy Future - Impact Summary

“Only 1,801 of the 10,851 unconventional wells already drilled count as a part of this projection, meaning we could see an additional 45,799 such wells in the coming decades,” commented Matt Kelso, Manager of Data and Technology for FracTracker and lead author on the report.

Why the push for so much more drilling? Out of state – and out of country – transport is the outlet for surplus production.

“The oil and gas industry overstates the need for more hydrocarbons,” asserted FracTracker Alliance’s Executive Director, Brook Lenker. “While other countries and states are focusing more on renewables, PA seems resolute to increase its fossil fuel portfolio.”

The report determined that the projected cleared land for well pads and pipelines into the year 2045 could support solar power generation for 285 million homes, more than double the number that exist in the U.S.

A Hazy Future shows that a fossil fuel-based future for Pennsylvania would come at the expense of its communities’ health, clean air, water and land. It makes clear that a dirty energy future is unnecessary,” said Earthworks’ Pennsylvania Field Advocate, Leann Leiter. Earthworks endorsed FracTracker’s report. She continued, “I hope Governor Wolf reads this and makes the right choices for all Pennsylvanians present and future.”

A Hazy Future reviews the current state of energy demand and use in Pennsylvania, calculates the footprint of industry projections of the proposed buildout, and assesses what that would look like for residents of the Commonwealth.

About FracTracker Alliance

Started in 2010 as a southwestern Pennsylvania area website, FracTracker Alliance is a national organization with regional offices across the United States in Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, New York, Ohio, and California. The organization’s mission is to study, map, and communicate the risks of oil and gas development to protect our planet and support the renewable energy transformation. Its goal is to support advocacy groups at the local, regional, and national level, informing their actions to positively shape our nation’s energy future.

Questions? Email us: info@fractracker.org.

Life expectancy of the Marcellus Shale - Map of PA basins and plays

What is the Life Expectancy of the Marcellus Shale?

How long will unconventional oil and gas production from PA’s Marcellus Shale continue? The number of active wells may give us a clue.

 

We have recently updated the PA Shale Viewer, our map of unconventional wells in Pennsylvania. As I updated the statistics to reflect the updated data, I noticed that the number of wells with an active status ticked downward, just as it had for the previous update.

Pennsylvania Shale Viewer


View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work | Data Sources Listed Below

Wells on this map are shown in purple when zoomed out, but are organized by status as you continue to zoom in. The various statuses are shown below, as defined by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

  • Active – permit has been issued and well may or may not have been drilled or producing, but has not been plugged.
  • Proposed but Never Materialized – permit was issued, but expired prior to the commencement of drilling.
  • Plugged OG Well – permit issued and well has been plugged by well operator.
  • Operator Reported Not Drilled – permit issued, but operator reported to DEP that they never drilled the well.
  • DEP Abandoned List – an abandoned well that has been inspected by DEP.
  • DEP Orphan List – A well abandoned prior to April 18, 1985, that has not been affected or operated by the present owner or operator and from which the present owner, operator or lessee has received no economic benefit other than as a land.
  • DEP Plugged – a DEP Abandoned or DEP Orphan well that has been plugged by DEP,
  • Regulatory Inactive Status – a well status that is requested by well operator and has been granted by DEP. Well is capable of producing, but is temporarily shut in. Granted for initial 5 years and must be renewed yearly after first 5 years.
  • Abandoned – a well that has not been used to produce, extract or inject any gas, petroleum or other liquid within the preceding 12 months; for which equipment necessary for production, extraction or injection has been removed; or considered dry and not equipped for production.

Life Expectancy Stats

Summary of PA unconventional wells by status.

Table 1: Unconventional well locations in Pennsylvania by status. The determination of drilled locations was made by the presence of a spud date in the DEP dataset.

Currently, there are 10,586 well locations with an active status, 9,218 of which have been drilled. There 19,617 unconventional well locations in Pennsylvania when considering all status types, 10,652 of which have been drilled. The drill status was determined by whether or not there was an associated spud date in the dataset. The 13 plugged wells that lack spud dates likely represent some minor data entry errors of one sort or another, as a well would logically need to be drilled prior to being plugged.

Using the available data, we can see that 6.5% of drilled unconventional wells have been plugged, and an additional 6.9% have a regulatory inactive status, more commonly known as “shut-in” wells, leaving 86.5% of the drilled wells with an active status. Three wells are classified as abandoned, including two in Washington County attributed to Atlas Resources, LLC, and one operated by EQT Production Co. in Jefferson County. EQT submitted a request to convert the status of this latter well to inactive status in February 2016, but DEP has not made a decision on the application as of yet.

This chart shows the current status of unconventional wells in Pennsylvania, arranged by the year the well was drilled. Note that there are two abandoned wells in 2009 and one more in 2014, although those totals are not visible at this scale.

Chart 1: This chart shows the current status of unconventional wells in Pennsylvania, arranged by the year the well was drilled. Note that there are two abandoned wells in 2009 and one more in 2014, although those totals are not visible at this scale.

The top, solid blue line in Chart 1 shows the total number of unconventional wells drilled in Pennsylvania, which is based on the available spud date in the dataset. Focusing on this line for a moment, we can see a huge spike in the number of wells drilled in the early part of this decade. In fact, over 46% of the unconventional wells in the state were drilled between 2010 and 2012, and over 70% were drilled between 2010 and 2014. The 504 unconventional wells drilled in 2016 represents just over one quarter the total from 2011, when 1,959 wells were drilled. The 2017 totals are already slightly higher than 2016, with two months left to go in the year, but will not approach the totals from 2010 to 2014.

This drop-off in drilling since the 2011 peak is usually attributed to the glut of natural gas that these wells produced, and the Marcellus remains a highly productive formation, despite the considerable decline in new wells. Eventually, however, the entire formation will go into decline, which is already happening to the Barnett Shale in Texas and Haynesville Shale, among others, where peak production was several years ago in each case.

While all of three of these formations still produce significant quantities of gas, it is worth remembering that production is only half of the equation. In the Marcellus region, average costs were $6.6 million in 2014, which was projected to decrease to $6.1 million per well in 2015 according to a 2016 EIA document.

With the supply in the northeast outpacing demand, the gas prices stay low, and therefore production per well needs to be considerable to make a given well worthwhile.

Plugging Trends

Chart 2: Average days between spud date and plug date for unconventional wells in PA. Regulatory Inactive wells also include a plug date, and are included here.

Chart 2: Average days between spud date and plug date for unconventional wells in PA. Regulatory Inactive wells also include a plug date, and are included here.

Chart 2 shows the average number of days between the spud date and the plug date for wells that currently have either a plugged (n=694) or regulatory inactive (n=737) status. The regulatory inactive wells are relatively consistent in the days between when the well is drilled and temporarily plugged, which makes sense, as the operators of these wells typically intend for these wells to be shut-in upon completion.

However, it is interesting to note that wells are being plugged much more rapidly than they had been in the early part of the Marcellus boom.

Plugged unconventional wells that were drilled in 2005 (n=6) had an average of 3,081 days between these dates, while those drilled in 2016 (n=2) had and average span of 213 days.

The left (orange) axis represents the percentage of wells drilled in each year that are currently drilled. The right (blue) axis marks the total number of wells drilled in each year that are currently drilled.

The left (orange) axis represents the percentage of wells drilled in each year that are currently drilled. The right (blue) axis marks the total number of wells drilled in each year that are currently drilled.

Obviously there would be no way for a well drilled in 2016 to have been online for 3,081 days before being plugged. However, each of the six plugged wells drilled in 2005 were active for at least 1,899 days before being sealed, which is over five years of activity. In contrast, 99 of the 4,966 unconventional wells drilled in the previous 1,899 days have already been plugged, representing 5.2% of the total wells drilled during that time. This means that we are seeing more “misses” at this point in the formation’s history, where the amount of gas being produced doesn’t justify keeping the well open and offsetting the $6 million or more that it cost to drill the well.

We can also see that the rate of plugged wells increases dramatically after about ten years in operation. Forty-four out of 114 (39%) of unconventional wells that were drilled in 2007 are now plugged. That ratio grows two thirds of the nine wells drilled in 2005. In the industry’s boom period of 2010 to 2010, the raw number of plugged wells are elevated, peaking at 206 in 2011, but the percentage of plugged wells during those years remains proportional to the rest of the trend. The overall trend shows that an unconventional well in Pennsylvania that lasts 11 or more years is unusual.

The data show that older Marcellus wells in Pennsylvania are certainly in a state of decline, and are rapidly being plugged. While the overall production of the field remains high, it remains to be seen what will happen as the boom cycle wells drilled from 2010 to 2012 start to go offline in considerable numbers. Given that more and more wells are being drilled with very short production lives, will it continue to make sense for the industry to drill expensive wells in a formation where a return on investment is increasingly questionable? This course is difficult to predict, but economic models that take plentiful natural gas supplies for granted should consider taking a second look.


PA Shale Viewer Data Sources

Unconventional Violations
Source: PADEP
Date Range: 1-1-2000 through 10-2-2017
Notes: For the original data, follow link above to “Oil and Gas Compliance Report”. Latitude and longitude data obtained by matching with permits data (see below). There are 7,655 rows of violations data, including 6,576 distinct Violation IDs issued to 2,253 distinct unconventional wells. Due to the large number of records, this layer isn’t visible until users zoom in to 1:500,000, or about the size of a small county.

Unconventional Wells and Permits
Source: PADEP Open Data Portal
Date Range: 1-1-2000 through 10-2-2017
Notes: This data layer contains unconventional well data in Pennsylvania. However, not all of these wells have been drilled yet. This layer is categorized by well status, which includes Abandoned, Active, Operator Reported Not Drilled, Plugged OG Well, Proposed but Never Materialized, and Regulatory Inactive Status. To determine whether the well has been permitted, drilled, or plugged, look for the presence of an entry in the Permit Date, Spud Date, and Plug Date field, respectively. Altogether, there are 19,617 wells in this inventory, of which 10,586 currently have an active status. Due to the large number of records, this layer isn’t visible until users zoom in to 1:500,000, or about the size of a small county.

SkyTruth Pits (2013)
Source: SkyTruth
Date Range: 2013
Notes: Prior to December 2014, this map contained a layer of pits that were contained in Oil and Gas Locations file available on PASDA. However, that layer was far from complete – for example, it included only one pit in Washington County at a time which news reports mentioned that seven pits in the county were scheduled to be closed. Therefore, we have opted to include this crowdsourced layer developed by SkyTruth, where volunteers analyzed state aerial imagery data from 2013. SkyTruth’s methodology for developing the dataset is detailed in the link above. 529 pits have been identified through this effort.

Compressors and Processors (2016)
Source: EDF, CATF, Earthworks, FracTracker Alliance, EPA, PADEP, EIA
Date: 2016
Notes: This layer is based off of publicly available data, but is not published by any agency as a dataset. It is the result of a collaborative effort, and the data first appeared in map format on the Oil and Gas Threat Map (oilandgasthreatmap.com). Original sources include PADEP, US EPA, and US EIA. Compiling, processing, and geocoding by Environmental Defense Fund, Clean Air Task Force, Earthworks, and FracTracker Alliance. Contact Matt Kelso for more information: kelso [at] fractracker.org.

Environmental Justice Areas
Source: PADEP, via PASDA
Date: 2015
Notes: Environmental Justice (EJ) areas are Census Tracts where over 20 percent of the population is in poverty, or over 30 percent of the population is non-white. The program is designed to monitor whether there is a fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens. In Pennsylvania, EJ areas tend to be clustered in urbanized areas, particularly near Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Counties
Source: US Census Bureau, FracTracker Alliance
Date Range: 2011
Notes: This file was created by dissolving the Municipalities layer (below) to the county level. This method allows for greater detail than selecting the Pennsylvania counties from a national file.

Municipalities
Source: US Census Bureau
Date Published: 2011
Notes: Viewer must be zoomed into scales of 1:1,500,000 (several counties) or larger to access.

Watersheds – Large
Source: USDA/USGS
Date Published: 2008
Notes: Clipped to outline of Pennsylvania.

Watersheds – Small
Source: USDA/USGS
Date Published: 2008
Notes: Clipped to outline of Pennsylvania. Viewer must be zoomed into scales of 1:1,500,000 (several counties) or larger to access.


By Matt Kelso, Manager of Data and Technology, FracTracker Alliance

Gas-Fired Power Plant Buildout in PA

Wanted: More Places to Burn Natural Gas

By Alison Grass, Senior Researcher at Food & Water Watch

Over the past decade, the natural gas industry has experienced a renaissance that has been a boon to energy company profits. But it has altered the quality of life for the rural communities where most new gas wells have been drilled. Now, fracking is fueling a gas-fired power plant boom in Pennsylvania, with 47 new facilities. Most have already been approved, with a handful in commercial operation (see map below).

New research by Pennsylvanians Against Fracking shows, in vivid detail, the scale of this buildout, and the impacts it will have on Pennsylvania communities.

Current & Potential PA Gas-Fired Power Plants & their Emissions

View Map Fullscreen

Approximately half of the new gas power plants are located in northeastern region of Pennsylvania, a part of the state already overburdened by the lingering environmental maladies of coal mining and the more recent dangers associated with fracking. These rural communities may see increased drilling, fracking and pipeline construction to support the power plants — and the siting could be strategic. In a StateImpact Pennsylvania article about the first Marcellus shale gas power plant, for example, a company representative admitted that the location was chosen specifically due to its convenient access to shale gas. “This plant was sited precisely where it is because of its access to the abundant, high-quality natural gas that’s found a mile to two miles beneath our feet.”

Drilling Trends

The first modern Marcellus well was drilled in Pennsylvania by Range Resources in 2003, and commercial production began in 2005. Although fracking expanded rapidly in several areas across the country, Pennsylvania has been ground zero of the fracking boom, with just over 10,000 shale gas wells drilled between 2005 and 2016. Since then, however, there has been a rapid downturn in new wells drilled. After the early and dramatic increase in drilling – from 9 shale wells in 2005 to 1,957 shale wells in 2011 – the number dropped to 504 in 2016.

According to Natural Gas Intelligence, natural gas from the Appalachian Basin “…hit a roadblock in 2016, as pipeline projects struggled to move forward and a storage glut slowed the region’s previously rapid production growth.” Thus, it appears that in order to maintain fracking’s profitability, the gas industry is relying on new gas-fired power plants to alleviate the storage glut, while potentially increasing demand for shale gas (which could propagate more drilling and fracking).

Gas-Fired Power Plant Siting

The siting of these power plants also enables companies to use Pennsylvanian fracked gas to generate power for larger regional markets. This is because northeastern Pennsylvania is close to dense populations, including New York City. In Luzerne County, for instance, the new Caithness Moxie Freedom Generating Station gas-fired power plant will supply electricity to not just Pennsylvania residents, but also to New Jersey and New York State. And in the more central region of the state in Snyder County, the Panda Hummel Station will send “much of its power to the New York City market.”

Siting gas-fired power plants in the northeast may also increase drilling and fracking in the region, where gas is predominantly “dry”  and less profitable than the “wet” gas found in southwest PA. This trend is largely due to a resurgence in North American petrochemical markets and increased ethane exports that rely on wet gas. (Dry natural gas contains primarily methane and smaller amounts of other hydrocarbons, while wet natural gas has higher concentrations of natural gas liquids. Natural gas liquids — predominantly ethane but also propane, butane, isobutane and pentanes — are the raw materials for manufacturing petrochemicals.)

Well Integrity and Other Risks

However, increased drilling and fracking mean more pollution for the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania, where shale gas wells have proven to be more prone to well construction “impairments” and well integrity problems, compared to conventional wells. This risk is especially true in the northeastern part of the state, where over nine percent of shale gas wells have indications of compromised well integrity.

Overall, fracking causes many public health and environmental problems. Methane, fracking fluids, and wastewater can pollute water supplies and imperil the livelihoods of farmers, who rely on clean water. Increased truck traffic and drilling emissions reduce air quality, and methane leaks contribute to global warming. Meanwhile, the proliferation of natural gas derricks and associated infrastructure destroys pristine landscapes (and related tourism and recreation industries).

The last thing that Pennsylvanians need is another way for the oil and gas industry to capitalize on shale at the expense of residents’ health and well-being.

Ohio Production and Injection Well Firms Map

Our latest Ohio-focused map shows the many companies involved in directional drilling in the state and the contact information for these firms.

Layer Descriptions

1. UNIVERSAL WELL SERVICES

Universal Well Services Inc. is a major firm involved in all manner of directional drilling services with an office in Wooster, OH, one in Allen, KY, six in Pennsylvania, six in Texas, and one in West Virginia

2. LLC & MLP’s

This is an inventory of 410 Ohio directional drilling affiliated LLC and MLP firms and contact information. Seventy-eight percent of these firms are domiciled in Ohio. The other primary states that house these firms are Pennsylvania (22), Texas (23), and West Virginia (9). The Economist wrote of these types of firms:

The move away from the C corporation began in earnest in 1975. Wyoming, that vibrant business hub, adopted a new entity structure, the limited-liability company (LLC). Imported from Panama, it provided the tax treatment of a partnership while preserving the corporate protection from individual liability for company debts and litigation. Other states followed in adopting the model. Businesses were quick to see the advantages. The various new types of firm that have risen in the wake of the LLC… make similar use of partnership structures. They have tended to be industry- or sector-specific, at least to begin with. The energy business has a lot of MLPs not only because it needs capital but because it is an easy place to set them up: since 1987, tax law has allowed “mineral or natural resource” companies to operate as listed partnerships, while withholding that privilege from others. But as with other pass-through structures, the constraints are being lowered and circumvented.

3. DRILLING FIRMS

This is an inventory of 393 Ohio Department of Natural Resources permitted directional and injection drilling firms with single locations and their contact information. Seventy-six percent of these firms are domiciled in Ohio with the other primary states of incorporation being Pennsylvania (15), Texas (14), Michigan (11), and West Virginia (9). Only 3 of these firms listed in the Ohio RBDMS Microsoft Access Database contained correct contact information or addresses. According to ODNR staff – and primary FOIA contact:

… it looks like the [active drillers] list [doesn’t contain] much information on the companies in general…We have mailing information for the operating companies, but a lot of the time they subcontract out to get their drillers. We do not require the information of the drillers they contract.

4. ADDITIONAL DRILLERS

This is an inventory of the 40 known locations for six firms permitted to drill in Ohio. The same lack of contact and address data for these firms were true for this data. The primary firms are Butch’s Rathole and Nomac Drilling Corporation. Given that the ODNR RBDMS does not indicate the actual location from which these companies migrated into the Ohio shale industry we decided to include all known locations for these firms.

5. CANADIAN FIRMS

This is an inventory of the 14 known locations for the 5 Canadian drilling firms permitted in Ohio. The primary firm is Savannah Drilling, which is composed of 10 locations across Alberta and Saskatchewan.

6. AMERICAN SUPPORTING CO.

This is an inventory of 1,837 Ohio energy firms operating in the Utica and Marcellus shale or servicing it in a secondary or tertiary fashion. Seventy-five percent (1,386) of these firms are domiciled in Ohio with secondary hotspots in Texas (76), West Virginia (65), Pennsylvania (49), Michigan (34), Colorado (27), Illinois (22), Oklahoma (21), California (16), New York and New Jersey (27), Kentucky (14).

7. ADDITIONAL SUPPORTING CO.

This shows an inventory of 10 Ohio energy firms operating in the Utica and Marcellus shale or servicing it in a secondary or tertiary fashion extracted from the ODNR RBDMS that did not contain locational or contact information.

8. CANADIAN SUPPORTING CO.

This is an inventory of 5 (1 company Mar Oil Company was not found) Canadian energy firms operating in the Utica and Marcellus shale or servicing it in a secondary or tertiary fashion.

9. BRINE HAULERS

This is an inventory of 505 ODNR permitted brine haulers active in the transport and disposal of hydraulic fracturing waste either via injection or waste landfill disposal. Seventy-six percent of these firms are domiciled in Ohio with the primary cities being Zanesville (18), Cambridge, Wooster, and Millersburg (12 each), Canton and Marietta (11 each), Columbus (9), Jefferson (9), Logan (8), and North Canton and Newark (7 each). Pennsylvania and West Virginia are home to 84 and 32 brine haulers, respectively.

Violations per Well Among PA Operators

Note

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

People often want to know which operators perform the best (or worst) among their peers in terms of adhering to the laws set forth in a given state. In principle, the easiest metric for determining this is to look at the ratio of violations issued per well, or VpW.

However, in order to make that analysis, we would obviously need to have violations data. Unfortunately, out of the twenty states that we have shale viewers for on FracMapper, we only have violations data for Arkansas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, with the latter being far and away more robust and complete when compared to the other two. We have been told that the data is also available for North Dakota as well, if we are willing to pay for it, so we might be able to perform a VpW analysis for the Peace Garden State in the near future.

Then, of course, there is the realization that, “What is a violation?” is actually somewhat of a philosophical question in Pennsylvania.  In the past, I’ve determined that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) uses the number of unique violation ID numbers issued to calculate their totals. However, historically, the department would often lump several issues that showed up on the Compliance Report together under the same violation ID.  Others have taken to looking at Notices of Violations (NOV’s), which are more limited in number.  Still others exclude any violations marked as being administrative in nature, an idea that makes sense superficially, but a closer look at the data shows that the label is extremely misleading.  For example, “Pits and tanks not constructed with sufficient capacity to contain pollutional substances” is an administrative violation, as is, “Improper casing to protect fresh groundwater”.

In addition to all of that, the cast of operators is constantly shifting as new operators come on board, old ones get bought out by rivals, joint ventures are formed between them, and the like.  Sometimes a parent company will shift the active operator status to one of its subsidiaries, so wells that were originally Consol will then be listed under CNX, for example.

In terms of violations per well, there is a further complication, in that all of the drilled wells data reflect the current custodians of the wells, whereas the violations data reflect those that received the violations.  The result is that there are records issued for Turm Oil (really!) for wells where Chesapeake is now listed as the operator.  In some respects, this makes sense:  why should Chesapeake carry the burden of the legacy mistakes of Turm in their compliance record?

But it does make analysis somewhat tricky.  My approach has been to combine operators that are obviously the same parent company, and to do the analysis in several different ways, and over different time frames.  Who’s ready for some numbers?

Violations per Well (VpW) for operators of unconventional wells in Pennsylvania with 50 or more wells. Those operators with scores higher than the average of their peers are highlighted in pink.

Violations per Well (VpW) for operators of unconventional wells in Pennsylvania with 50 or more wells. Those operators with scores higher than the average of their peers are highlighted in pink.

Here, violations per well are based on the number of violation ID’s issued, where as NOVpW is based on the number of Notices of Violations.  The date range for this table is from January 1, 2000 through October 21, 2013, and please note that the totals represent those that are included on the chart, not statewide totals.  A lot of violations are lost of the shuffle when we look at only the largest current operators, but it also helps eliminate some of the noise that can be generated with small sample sizes, as well as with the inconsistencies described above.  Here’s a look at data from this year:

Violations per Well (VpW) for operators with unconventional wells in Pennsylvania in 2013, through October 21. Those operators with scores higher than the average of their peers are highlighted in pink.

Violations per Well (VpW) for operators with unconventional wells in Pennsylvania in 2013, through October 21. Those operators with scores higher than on violation per well or NOV per well are highlighted in pink.

Notice that the highest violations per well and notices of violations per well scores are much higher than the data aggregated since 2000, whereas the statewide averages of the two scores are actually much lower.  The former is almost certainly attributable to having a smaller sample size, but there is something else at play with the latter:

Violations per well of Pennsylvania's unconventional wells. 2013 data through 10/21/2013.

Violations per well of Pennsylvania’s unconventional wells. 2013 data through 10/21/2013.

The number of violations per well drilled has been steadily decreasing since 2009, and it is now down to an average of less than one violation issued per every two wells.  There is nothing in the data that indicates why this is the case, however.

Note:  This post was edited on 12/18/2013.  The table showing operators violations per well and NOV’s per well in 2013 originally stated that that values higher than the average of their peers are highlighted in pink.  In fact, only those with values of 1.00 or higher are highlighted in that fashion.

West Virginia Map Updated

At FracTracker, we are constantly adding new content to our maps page. In recent weeks, we have added new content for Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas. Now, we have updated our West Virginia Shale Viewer as well.


West Virginia Shale Viewer. Please click the expanding arrows in the top right corner to access the legend and other map tools.

The map above shows some detail about Marcellus Shale operations in the Mountain State, including:

  • Permits issued (purple).  To date, there have been 3,079 permits issued statewide since 2000 where the Marcellus Shale is the target formation.
  • Completed wells (orange).  Of the permits that have been issued, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) has received a completion form for 1,840 wells, or just under 60 percent.
  • Wells in noncompliance (yellow).  196 Marcellus wells were given the noncompliance flag in the dataset.  There are no details on what might have led to this status, however.
  • Public comment wells (blue).  35 Marcellus Shale wells in West Virginia are flagged as having received a public comment of one sort or another.  As with the wells in noncompliance, this dataset offers no details on these wells.

Here’s a look at the number of completion reports received by WVDEP by month:

Marcellus Shale completions by month in West Virginia

Marcellus Shale completions by month in West Virginia

The largest number of completions per month for Marcellus Shale wells is 97 in April 2009.  The next highest total was the following month, with 81 completions.  From January through August of this year, there are an average of 40.5 completions per month in West Virginia.

The information that is distributed in this West Virginia data is typical, however, a good deal of data are being collected by WVDEP.  To see the kinds of things that the state knows about completed wells, take a look at what is required for submission on form WR-35.

Negative Health Impacts & Stressors Perceived to Result from Marcellus Shale Activity

Identified by Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

By Kyle Ferrar, MPH – DrPH Candidate, Environmental and Occupational Health Department, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh

The potential for negative health impacts to result from unconventional natural gas development activities, such as hydraulic fracturing (deemed “frac’ing”) occurring in the Marcellus Shale basin, is a highly debated and contentious issue.  To resolve this issue public health and medical professionals will need to conduct a large-scale epidemiological study – one that monitors the lives and health of a large sample of people for an extended period of time.  Such a study should test to see if proximity, or closeness to unconventional natural gas development, such as frac’ing, causes negative health impacts.  Such a study has not yet been officially proposed in Pennsylvania, much less funded, but researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) believe such a study will be conducted in the future.

New peer-reviewed research released by the CHEC provides background data for that kind of study.  The research documented 59 unique health impacts, or “symptoms,” and 13 “stressors” perceived to result from Marcellus Shale development.  Over time, symptoms and perceived health impacts increased for the sample population (p<0.05), while stressors resulting from Marcellus Shale activity remained consistent (p=0.60).  The study group was a biased sample population, meaning the participants were not randomly selected.  Rather, the participants were already concerned by or interested in issues associated with this industrial activity.

Using community based participatory research methods, researchers from CHEC, along with researchers from FracTracker while it was still a project at CHEC, engaged community members with in-depth interviews.  Mail surveys have been conducted by other researchers in Colorado and Wyoming, but this is the first research to use an ethnographical, in-person approach.  Furthermore, this is the first peer-reviewed and published research that describes symptoms in those who believe their health has been affected.  The six most reported symptoms are reported in Table 1, with stress being the most commonly reported health effect.

The article contributes several new findings to this field of research, including evidence about what people report as stressors.  Contributions of stress to negative health effects are well documented in the literature, known as allostatic loads.  The six most commonly reported “stressors,” or sources of stress, are reported in Table 2.  Particularly notable is the very high percentage of the group that report issues such as being lied to that presumably would be corrected if the industry became more transparent and responsive.  The article also reports on the longitudinal nature of the perceived health impacts and stressors. Longitudinal refers to the fact that the data were collected over time, not just once. Follow-up interviews conducted 19-22 months after the initial interviews showed that the number of perceived health impacts reported by participants actually increased over time, while the number of stressors reported remained consistent.  This contradicts industry’s argument that the problems are mainly caused by seeing and hearing drilling activity, and that as the intensity of activity diminishes over time so will the symptoms and stressors. While this research does not answer the larger question of whether negative health effects are associated with Marcellus Shale development, it demonstrates a need for future studies to be conducted within these particular communities and supports the more difficult task of embarking on a broader epidemiological study.

Table 1. Most reported symptoms with the percentage of participants reporting said symptom.

Symptoms Session 1 (n=33)
Stress 76%
Rashes 27%
Loss of sleep 27%
General illness 24%
Headaches 24%
Diarrhea 24%
Shortness of breath 21%
Line Table 2. Most reported “stressors” participants associated with Marcellus Shale development, with the percentage of participants reporting said stressor.

Stressor Session 1 (n=33)
Denied or provided false information 79%
Corruption 61%
Concerns/complaints ignored 58%
Being taken advantage of 52%
Financial damages 45%
Noise pollution 45%

 

About the Journal Article

Assessment and longitudinal analysis of health impacts and stressors perceived to result from unconventional shale gas development in the Marcellus Shale region <-- Note: This link is presently not connecting to the article on IngentaConnect.com. We will update the link once the article becomes available again on their site. Authors: Kyle J. Ferrar; Jill Kriesky; Charles L. Christen; Lynne P. Marshall; Samantha L. Malone; Ravi K. Sharma; Drew R. Michanowicz; Bernard D. Goldstein Source: International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health

Unconventional oil and gas wells in the Chesapeake Basin

A Fresh Opportunity in the FRESHER Act

By Tanya Dierolf, Choose Clean Water Coalition

Love him or hate him, there’s no arguing that Stephen Colbert can grab a headline. Recently he’s had a lot to say about environmental protection, energy and water. Last week he reported on the Pegasus Pipeline Spill in Arkansas and reminded us that what’s “out of sight” and “out of mind” might still be in our drinking water. Those of us in Pennsylvania familiar with Talisman Terry have yet to forget his exposé on the children’s coloring book that attempts to teach kids about hydraulic fracturing through the expertise of a friendly Frackasaurus. This leaves me wondering if Colbert might ask Congressman Matt Cartwright about his legislative attempts to apply stricter federal protections to oil and gas development when the Pennsylvania Congressman appears on Stephen’s “Better Know a District” segment in early May.

In March 2013, Congressman Cartwright (PA-17) introduced the “Focused Reduction of Effluence and Stormwater runoff through Hydrofracking Environmental Regulation Act” or FRESHER act. Because of expanding development of oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania and exploration, construction, and operations in almost 30 other states, Mr. Cartwright introduced legislation aimed at fixing a federal Clean Water Act loophole to control stormwater runoff from for oil and gas operations. Under the Clean Water Act, industrial facilities are required to obtain a permit to discharge stormwater from their sites and develop “Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans” if disturbing more than one acre of land. However, Congress exempted oil and gas operations from both of these requirements. By closing the loophole, the FRESHER Act would provide for stronger oversight as both regulators and the public would be aware of industry plans to control pollution. The bill would also require a federal study of stormwater impacts in areas that might be contaminated by stormwater runoff pollution from oil and gas operations.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Many of us working in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are often asked about the impacts that increasing natural gas activity may have on our local waters and the larger Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Considering the ongoing challenges we have with sediment impacts to our local waterways in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and the pollution limits we now have in place to bring the Bay back to health, many are asking how we quantify these impacts. In addition to increased sediment pollution largely carried by stormwater runoff, others are also asking what impact a change in our land use might have as we convert farm fields and forests to well pads. Furthermore, many are asking about roads and pipelines and cumulative impacts. All good questions – and these are just related to natural gas development and its relationship to existing pollution limits and cleanup plans. There are a host of additional questions being asked about drinking water, emissions, groundwater contamination, methane migration, and health and safety.

Mapping a Better Picture

Unconventional oil and gas wells in the Chesapeake Basin

Unconventional Oil and Gas Wells in PA’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Click here to view dynamic, PA map of unconventional wells

To get an idea of the impacts of the oil and gas industry in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we turned to our colleagues at the FracTracker Alliance. FracTracker is committed to working with partners – citizens, organizations, and institutions – in a quest for objective, helpful information to perpetuate awareness and support actions that protect public health, the environment, and socioeconomic well-being. FracTracker collects, interprets and shares data through a website and mapping tool. When it came time to understand impacts, we asked for and received some numbers.

In the portion of Pennsylvania that has waterways draining to the Chesapeake Bay, there have been 5,137 oil and gas wells drilled since 2005*. This number includes both conventional and unconventional wells and vertical and horizontal wells (see map on right). Pennsylvania defines an “unconventional well” as one that is drilled into an unconventional formation, which is defined as a geologic shale formation between the base of the Elk Sandstone or its geologic equivalent where natural gas generally cannot be produced except by horizontal or vertical well bores stimulated by hydraulic fracturing. In short, the definition does include wells drilled within the Marcellus Shale formation. We are continuing to work with FracTracker to obtain similar information on West Virginia.

In Practice

I don’t want to leave the impression that oil and gas development, specifically gas development because of hydraulic fracturing, is an unregulated industry. For example, Pennsylvania already requires erosion & sediment permits for activities involving earth disturbance activities over five acres. I’m also not attempting to get into the patchwork of state-by-state regulations of the oil and gas industry, but Congressman Cartwright’s legislation would ensure that oil and gas companies have stormwater-related permits and pollution prevention plans in place prior to well pad development. The lack of oversight and permitting represents a significant threat to our waterways in places without adequate accountability mechanisms. It’s a fresh opportunity to address an ongoing challenge. We hope Mr. Colbert might just ask Mr. Cartwright about his efforts as we get to know PA’s 17th district. We think he might just say the FRESHER Act is good for his Congressional district and the region.

Written by Tanya Dierolf, Choose Clean Water Coalition


*For those who prefer to read statistics in a table format, see below:

Number of PA Drilled Wells in Chesapeake Basin 1/1/05 – 3/20/13

Well Type Conventional Unconventional Total
Vertical 1197 461 1658
Horizontal 5 3474 3479

Total 1202 3935 5137

Events

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