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destroyed home following pipeline explosion in San Bruno, CA

Pipelines Continue to Catch Fire and Explode

For the past decade, petroleum operators in the United States have been busy pumping record amounts of oil and gas from the ground. But has the pace been too frenzied? Since the vast majority of the oil and gas is not used in situ, the industry must transport these hydrocarbon products to other locations. The principal way of achieving this is through pipelines, a process which has resulted in thousands of incidents, causing hundreds of injuries and fatalities, thousands of evacuations, and billions of dollars’ worth of damage.

The United States has an estimated 3 million miles of hazardous liquid, gas distribution, and gathering and transmission pipelines in operation, and more are being built every day. Not only have the pipelines themselves become so ubiquitous that most people never give them a second thought, the incidents themselves have become so familiar to us that even severe ones struggle to gain any attention outside of the local media area.

In 2019, there were 614 reported pipeline incidents in the United States, resulting in the death of 10 people, injuries to another 35, and about $259 million in damages. As mentioned below, some of these totals are likely to creep upward as additional reports are filed. In terms of statistical fluctuations, 2019 was slightly better than normal, but of course statistics only tell a part of the story. Friends and family of the ten people that died last year would find no comfort knowing that there were fewer such casualties than 2017, for example. Similarly, it would be useless to comfort a family that lost their home by reminding them that someone lost an even bigger and more expensive home the year before.

Keeping in mind the human impact, let’s take a look at the data.

Pipeline Incident Summary

These incidents are broken into three separate reports:

  1. Hazardous Liquids (including crude oil, refined petroleum products, and natural gas liquids).
  2. Gas Distribution (lines that take gas to residents and other consumers), and
  3. Gas Transmission & Gathering (collectively bringing gas from well sites to processing facilities and distant markets)

View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

Table 1: Summary of pipeline incidents from 1/1/2010 through 12/31/2019

Report Incidents Fatalities Injuries Evacuees Damages ($) Fires Explosions
Hazardous Liquids Lines 3,978 10 26 2,482 2,812,391,218 130 15
Gas Transmission & Gathering Lines 1,226 25 108 12,984 1,315,162,976 133 57
Gas Distribution 1,094 105 522 20,526 1,229,189,997 659 257
Totals 6,298 140 656 35,992 5,356,744,191 922 329

But is increasing the capacity of the pipes a good idea? As FracTracker has shown in the past, pipeline incidents occur at a rate of about 1.7 incidents per day. This holds true with updated data, showing 6,298 incidents from January 1, 2010 through December 17, 2019, which was the latest report filed when the data was downloaded in early February 2020.

Pipeline Usage in the United States

In 2018, roughly three million miles of natural gas pipelines transported almost 28 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of gas, which is roughly 13 times the volume of Mount Everest. For liquids, pipeline data is available showing shipments of from one region of the country (known as a PAD District) to another, which shows that 1.27 billion barrels of crude oil were shipped through almost 81,000 miles of pipelines in 2018, and 3.39 billion barrels through nearly 214,000 miles of pipes when counting natural gas liquids and refined petroleum products.

Note that these figures are less than 2018 estimates based on 70% of liquid petroleum products being moved by pipeline. This discrepancy could be accounted for by the dramatic increase in production in recent years, or perhaps by intra-PAD shipments not listed in the data above. For example, petroleum produced in the Permian Basin in western Texas and eastern New Mexico may travel nearly 500 miles by pipeline en route to export terminals on the Gulf coast, while remaining in the same PAD District. If the 70% estimate holds true, then roughly 2.8 billion barrels (117 billion gallons) of crude would be shipped by pipeline, more than twice as much as the 1.27 billion barrel figure shown above.

The drilling boom in the United States was quickly followed by a boom in pipeline construction. Total mileage for liquid pipelines – known as hazardous liquid lines – increased by 20% from 2010 to 2018. For those aware of thousands of miles of recent gas pipeline projects, it is confusing to hear that the data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) are mixed for natural gas. It does show a 2.4% increase in total miles for gas distribution mainlines to 1.3 million miles, and a 2.0% increase over the same time in distribution service lines, which run from the mainlines to the consumer. However, the total mileage for transmission lines – which are large diameter pipes that move gas long distances – actually contracted 2.1% to just under 302,000 miles. Total mileage for gathering lines fell even more, by 8.4% to just under 18,000 miles. However, since PHMSA estimates only 5% of gathering lines report to the agency, this last figure is probably not a valid estimate.

If this data is accurate, it means that the thousands of miles of transmission and gathering lines built in recent years were more than offset by decommissioned routes. However, given the record production levels mentioned above, it is almost certain that total capacity of the system has gone up, which can be accomplished through a combination of increased pressure and diameter of the pipe.

Hazardous Liquids

Table. 2. Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Incident Impact Summary. Data from PHMSA.
Year Incidents Fatalities Injuries Evacuees Damages ($) Fires Explosions
2010 350 1 3 686 1,075,193,990 8 1
2011 344 0 1 201 273,526,547 9 2
2012 366 3 4 235 145,477,426 10 2
2013 401 1 6 858 278,525,540 15 2
2014 455 0 0 34 140,211,610 20 4
2015 460 1 0 138 256,251,180 16 1
2016 420 3 9 104 212,944,094 17 2
2017 415 1 1 58 163,118,772 7 0
2018 405 0 2 165 152,573,682 15 1
2019 362 0 0 3 114,568,377 13 0
Grand Total 3978 10 26 2482 2,812,391,218 130 15

The most important statistics when considering pipeline incidents are those representing bodily harm – injuries and fatalities. In those respects, at least, 2019 was a good year for hazardous liquid pipelines, with no reported injuries or fatalities. Most of the other metrics were below average as well, including 362 total incidents, three evacuees, $115 million in damages, and zero explosions. The 13 reported fires represents a typical year. However, we should keep in mind that the results may not be complete for 2019. The data was downloaded on February 3, 2020, but represented the January 2020 update of the dataset. Additionally, there is often a gap between the incident date and the reporting date, which is sometimes measured in months.

One thing that really sticks out about hazardous liquid pipelines is that the pipelines that fail the most often are the newest. Of the hazardous liquid incidents since 2010, 906 occurred in pipelines that were installed within the decade. By means of comparison, the same amount of incidents occurred in the same period for pipes installed in the 40 years between 1970 and 2009. Of course, the largest category is “Unspecified,” where the install year of the pipeline was left blank in 1,459 of the 3,978 total incidents (37%).

The causes of the incidents are dominated by equipment failure, where the 1,811 incidents accounted for 46% of the total. The next highest total was corrosion failure with 798 incidents, or 20% of the total. Six of the incidents in the “Other Outside Force Damage” are attributed to intentional damage, representing 0.15% of the total.

Gas Transmission & Gathering

Table. 3. Gas Transmission and Gathering Pipeline Incident Impact Summary. Data from PHMSA.
Year Incidents Fatalities Injuries Evacuees Damages ($) Fires Explosions
2010 116 10 61 373 596,151,925 19 7
2011 128 0 1 874 125,497,792 14 6
2012 116 0 7 904 58,798,676 15 7
2013 112 0 2 3,103 53,022,396 11 4
2014 142 1 1 1,482 61,533,154 15 6
2015 149 6 16 565 61,498,753 10 6
2016 97 3 3 944 107,524,564 8 4
2017 126 3 3 202 85,665,233 17 7
2018 118 1 7 4,088 77,753,611 17 6
2019 122 1 7 449 87,716,872 7 4
Grand Total 1,226 25 108 12,984 1,315,162,976 133 57

One person died and seven were injured from gas transmission and gathering line accidents that were reported to PHMSA in 2019, which were both below average for this dataset. The total number of incidents was typical, while the 499 evacuees, $88 million in property damage, seven fires, and four explosions were all below normal. Note that only a small fraction of the nation’s gathering lines are required to report incident data to PHMSA, so this data should not be seen as comprehensive. And as with the hazardous liquid incidents, it is likely that not all incidents occurring during the year have had reports filed in time for this analysis.

The distribution of the age of pipes that failed within the past decade is different from the hazardous liquid pipelines. Pipes installed in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were the most likely to fail, although failures in routes built this century represent a secondary peak. The number of incidents where the age of pipe data field was not completed remains high at 135 incidents, but the data gap is not as outrageous as it is for hazardous liquid lines.

Once again, equipment failure is the most common cause of transmission and gathering line accidents, with 390 incidents accounting for 32% of the total. Corrosion failure was the second most common reason, with 239 incidents accounting for an additional 19%. One incident was attributed to intentional damage, accounting for 0.08% of the total.

Gas Distribution

Year Incidents Fatalities Injuries Evacuees Damages ($) Fires Explosions
2010 120 11 44 2,080 21,155,972 82 29
2011 116 13 53 4,417 27,105,022 73 32
2012 88 9 46 746 25,556,562 61 22
2013 104 8 36 1,606 37,363,960 59 20
2014 106 18 93 2,037 72,885,067 61 30
2015 101 4 32 948 32,176,608 65 24
2016 115 10 75 2,510 56,900,068 71 28
2017 104 16 34 1,960 72,226,380 57 17
2018 110 7 81 2,561 827,647,610 64 31
2019 130 9 28 1,661 56,172,748 66 24
Grand Total 1,094 105 522 20,526 1,229,189,997 659 257
Table 4. Gas Distribution Pipeline Incident Impact Summary. Data from PHMSA.

The nine fatalities and 28 injuries reported for gas distribution lines in 2019 were obviously tragic, but these totals are both below what would be expected in a typical year. The 130 incidents and 66 fires were both above average totals, while the 1,661 evacuees, $56 million in property damage, and 24 explosions were all below average. As with the other reports, these totals are subject to change as additional reports are filed.

The distribution for the age of pipes that failed during the past decade is more like a normal (or bell curve) distribution than the other two datasets, with the most incidents occurring in pipeline routes laid in the 1990s. Much like the hazardous liquids dataset, however, the largest category is “Unspecified”, where the age of the pipe was not entered into the data for one reason or another. These 222 incidents account for 20% of the total, and if we had this data, the distribution could be significantly different.

The causes of distribution line incidents are attributed very differently than either the hazardous liquids or transmission and gathering line datasets. The leading cause is “Other Outside Force Damage,” with 355 incidents accounting for 32% of the total, followed by 330 “Excavation Damage” incidents accounting for an additional 30%. This difference could well be explained because this type of line tends to occur in highly populated areas. The largest subtype for the outside force damage category is damage by motor vehicles not involved in excavation, with 160 incidents, followed by fires or explosions which the operator claims did not originate with the pipeline, with 78 incidents. Intentional damage remains rare – although still way too high – with 15 incidents, or 1.4% of the overall total.

Data Notes

PHMSA incident data is ultimately self-reported by the various operators. Because the vast majority of gathering lines do not report to the agency, this dataset should not be seen as comprehensive for incidents in that category.

There were eleven issues with faulty location data that we were able to correct for this map. There are likely to be more, as only the ones with coordinates rendering outside of the United States were identified. Some of these had mixed up latitude and longitude values, or omitted the negative value for longitude, placing the points in Kyrgyzstan, the Himalayas, and Mongolia. One record had no coordinates at all, but included a detailed description of the location, which was then found on Google Maps. Two wells that rendered in Canada were on the correct longitude for the county that they belonged in, but had faulty latitude values. One of these was reduced by exactly 20° of latitude, while the other was reduced by exactly 7° of latitude, and were then located in the proper county. Other than the adjustments for these eleven incidents, all location data reflects the data available on the PHMSA .

Additional Leaks

The data above reflects 6,298 incidents over the course of a decade, with a few more incidents likely to trickle in during the next few updates of the reports by PHMSA. And while these discrete incidents account for the majority of human impacts in terms of life and well-being, it is worth noting that these 1.7 incidents per day are not the only problems that occur along millions of miles of pipelines in this country.

William Limpert has analyzed information about pipeline leakage in gas transmission lines, which found that 0.35% of the volume of gas was lost in transmission, one tenth of which was vented or flared intentionally, for example in compressor station blowdown events. This means that 0.315% of the gas is released unintentionally.

These numbers sound tiny, but due to the enormous volume of gas transported in pipes, they really add up quickly. For example, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Mr. Limpert’s primary focus, is scheduled to transmit 1.5 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas per day. At a typical rate of failure, we could expect leakage of 4.725 million cubic feet (MMcf) per day, or 1.725 billion cubic feet over the course of a year. That’s enough gas to provide to all Pennsylvania residential consumers for about 13 days in August, and this is just from one pipeline.

As mentioned above, the entire pipeline network moved about 28 Tcf in 2018. The estimated amount leaked at 0.315% is 88.2 Bcf. What would residential consumers pay for that volume of gas? Even with the current low prices due to the gas glut, the average residual price was $9.43 per Mcf in November 2019, the most recent data available. That means that residential consumers would pay roughly $832 million for an equivalent amount of gas.

Still More Leaks

There are also countless leaks that occur during the construction of the pipelines themselves. When pipelines are built, they have numerous obstacles to navigate during their construction. Among the most challenging are linear obstacles, such as roads and streams. A method that the industry regularly uses to avoid having to trench through these features is horizontal directional drilling (HDD).

While HDDs are meant to minimize impacts, they very frequently result in an incident known as an “inadvertent return,” when volumes of drilling mud return to the surface through a series of underground voids, frequently karst geology or abandoned mines. The leaking borehole under the road or stream then leaks drilling mud – sometimes thousands of gallons of it – which can then affect aquatic stream life. Additionally, these areas represent voids in the matrix that is intended to keep the pipeline stable and may represent future opportunities for catastrophic failure.

These features are so prevalent in some parts of the country that pipeline operators seem to be unable to avoid them, and regulators seem unwilling to press the issue in a proactive fashion. For example, Energy Transfers’ Mariner East II pipeline is currently being built to move natural gas liquids from Appalachia to its industrial complex and export terminal at Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania. During construction, there have been hundreds of inadvertent returns, both to the soil and waters of the Commonwealth. The presence of karst and abandoned mines along the route were well known ahead of time to the operator designing and implementing the HDDs, as well as the regulators who approved their use.

The many issues along the Mariner East II route, when combined with a massive pipeline explosion in Beaver County led to Pennsylvania’s decision to temporarily block all permit actions by the operator statewide. That hold is now lifted, leading residents along the route worried about a new batch of inadvertent returns, related sinkholes, and other follies as the project is completed. Construction activities for the parallel Mariner East 2X pipeline are already underway.

While residents along the Mariner East pipeline system have seen more than their fair share of impacts from the construction, these impacts are not at all rare on unusual. What is unusual, however, is for regulators to provide data highlighting these types of errors. In Pennsylvania, enough people requesting data on a variety of problematic pipelines has prompted the Department of Environmental Protection to create a Pennsylvania Pipeline Portal page. This only includes information on recent major pipeline projects and is not comprehensive in terms of content, but it is a major step in the right direction in terms of data transparency.

Can We Do Better?

Statistics can never capture the full force of tragedies. Most of us are aware of this point intellectually, and yet when we are confronted with such numbers, it seems that we are obliged to process them in one form or another. Perhaps the most common way is to compartmentalize it, where we might acknowledge the data and misfortune that they represent, but the file it away in the messy cabinet of our mind, clearing the slate of active thought for the next bit of information. Many of us never stop to question whether we can do better.

So, can we do better with pipelines? Perhaps so. If there are structural hazards such as abandoned mines or karst, perhaps regulators could demand that the operator route around them. If there are residents nearby, communities should demand that the pipeline get rerouted as well. Of course, these reroutes will just push the impacts elsewhere, but hopefully to an area where people won’t be affected by them, if such a place exists. Certainly, there could be better standards for construction and identification, so that there are fewer accidents involving pipelines. Or better yet, we could transition to renewable fuels for an ever-increasing share of our energy needs, making dirty and dangerous pipelines a relic of the past.

The one thing that we can no longer afford to do is continue to stick our fingers in our ears and dismiss the entire issue of pipeline safety as manageable or the cost of doing business.

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

Feature image at top of page shows San Bruno, California, following the 2010 pipeline explosion

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A successful 2019 Community Sentinel Award Reception- a full summary

There are many courageous and determined individuals to be grateful for within the environmental movement. At the 2019 Community Sentinel Awards for Environmental Stewardship, we were graced with the presence of many such leaders, and celebrated four in particular as this year’s award winners. From those fighting LNG export terminals on the West Coast, to those resisting fracking expansion in the Marcellus Shale and other formations, to those shutting down petrochemical expansion in the Gulf Coast – thank you, Sentinels.

 

2019 Community Sentinel Award Reception

The Program on October 22nd

The 2019 reception and ceremony coincided with the oil and gas industry’s three-day Shale Insight Conference. The fighters and victims of dirty energy and petrochemical development were recognized as we opposed the nearby perpetrators of these harms. The event featured the keynote speaker Andrey Rudomakha, Director of Environmental Watch on North Caucasus, and inspirational emcee David Braun of Rootskeeper.

You can watch the full 2019 Awards Reception here:

 

More About the Awardees

  • Ron Gulla
    Mr. Ron Gulla has been a pivotal voice in fighting unconventional oil and gas development in Pennsylvania and beyond. After natural gas development destroyed his property in Canonsburg, PA in 2005, Mr. Gulla became an outspoken advocate for citizens and landowners facing the many harms of fracking.

    Mr. Gulla knows the industry well, having worked as an equipment supplier for various oil and gas operations. Like so many, he believed the industry crusade that touted energy independence and its promise of becoming a “shalionaire.”

    Four unconventional gas wells were installed on Mr. Gulla’s property from 2005 to 2008. As a result, his water source and soil were contaminated, as well as a nearby stream and pond. He immediately began speaking out about his experiences and warning people of the potential dangers of fracking. Soon, people from all over the state were reaching out to him to share their stories.

    Mr. Gulla became a central figure in informing and connecting people who were desperately looking for help. He has documented individuals’ stories for health studies and appropriate regulatory agencies, testified in front of the PA Department of Health and other official bodies, and he was instrumental in organizing letter campaigns with other affected landowners addressed to local district attorneys. These efforts resulted in a statewide investigation into many of these cases. He also has coordinated with local, state, and national news agencies to expose these critical issues.

    Mr. Gulla proactively engaged the media and brought like-minded people together to tell their stories. Without his relentless efforts, much of the progress made in exposing the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania would not have been possible.

  • Sharon Lavigne

    Ms. Sharon Lavigne lives in the epicenter of the oil, gas, and petrochemical facilities in Louisiana. She is the founder of RISE St. James, a faith-based environmental and social justice organization dedicated to protecting St. James Parish from these toxic, cancer- causing industries. Her work is a matter of life or death — the 20 acres of land that Ms. Lavigne inherited from her grandfather is dead center of what is known today as “Cancer Alley.”

    The 4th and 5th Districts of St. James Parish are majority Black neighborhoods, and they were the only districts to be covertly rezoned from residential to “residential/future industrial.” The environmental racism could not be more pronounced. Ms. Lavigne is fighting to protect the health of all residents living along the 85-mile long Cancer Alley, from those in New Orleans to those in Baton Rouge. Industry and elected officials are intent on wiping historic Black communities off the map, but with Ms. Lavigne’s leadership, residents are rising up to protect their health, their home, and their future.

    At the heart of Ms. Lavigne’s work with RISE St. James is the demand for a moratorium on oil, gas, and petrochemical industry in St. James Parish. The district where Sharon lives has 2,822 people and 12 petrochemical plants — one plant for every 235 residents. Despite these staggering ratios, Formosa Plastics is trying to build a 14-plant petrochemical complex less than two miles from Ms. Lavigne’s home.

    After working tirelessly over the last year to educate and mobilize other residents, Ms. Lavigne and RISE St. James members recently celebrated their biggest victory yet: blocking a $1.5B Wanhua petrochemical plant from moving into St. James Parish and operating within a mile of residents’ homes. In Ms. Lavigne’s words, “This is our land, this is our home, and we are standing up together to defend it. St. James is rising.”

  • Allie Rosenbluth

    Ms. Allie Rosenbluth is a dedicated community activist who has spent years coordinating a huge grassroots rural coalition opposing Pembina’s proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal and Pacific Connector fracked gas pipeline in southern Oregon. She also recently traveled to Poland as a COP 24 delegate with SustainUS, a youth-led justice and sustainability advocacy group.

    For over a decade, the Jordan Cove LNG project has been threatening southern Oregonians with the prospect of a 36-inch pipeline stretching across four rural counties, 229 miles, and over 180 state waterways, ending in a massive methane liquefaction and export terminal in Coos Bay. Ms. Rosenbluth has worked incredibly hard to ensure that all those opposed to the project gets a chance to speak with their elected representatives about the project and make their voice heard in local, state, and federal permitting processes. She has coordinated efforts to generate tens of thousands of comments in state and federal agency comment periods to review the various environmental impacts of the project. This turnout has surpassed public participation records in such permitting processes.

    Ms. Rosenbluth’s efforts helped lead to a May 2019 denial from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality on a Clean Water Act permit needed to build the project, underlining the importance of state authority to defend water quality under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which the Trump Administration was simultaneously trying to weaken. She also helped mobilize over 3,000 rural Oregonians to attend four public hearings on the State Lands review of the project. Ms. Rosenbluth’s masterful coalition-building has helped unify people of all political persuasions, races, and ethnicities across the state to unify their opposition to fracked gas infrastructure in Oregon.

  • Melissa Troutman
    Ms. Melissa Troutman is co-founder of the investigative news nonprofit Public Herald as well as a research and policy analyst for Earthworks. Her work as a film director and journalist has redefined the landscape and narrative around fracking w, and her community organizing has led to major wins against the industry.

    Ms. Troutman’s Public Herald publications have seen widespread coverage. Her work has been referenced in the books Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America by Eliza Griswald; Legal Rights for Rivers: Competition, Collaboration and Water Governance by Erin O’Donnell; and Sustainability and the Rights of Nature: An Introduction by Cameron La Follette and Chris Maser. Her work has been cited in over 20 academic studies to date. Furthermore, Ms. Troutman has produced three award-winning documentary films on fracking: Triple Divide (2013), TRIPLE DIVIDE [REDACTED] (2017), and INVISIBLE HAND (2019). Her films continue to play an important role in the narrative surrounding fracking and democracy.

    In 2017, Ms. Troutman uncovered that 9,442 complaints related to oil and gas operations were never made public by the state. Her analysis of drinking water complaints revealed official misconduct by state officials that left families without clean water for months, even years. Consequently, Public Herald called for a criminal and civil investigation of the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection. In 2018, Ms. Troutman’s reporting on an untested fracking wastewater treatment facility at the headwaters of the Allegheny River was used by the Seneca Nation of Indians to shut down the project.

    Ms. Troutman’s tireless efforts are an inspiration to the environmental movement in Pennsylvania, across the country, and beyond.

Check out the Community Sentinels in action | Reception slideshow

Legacy of Heroes Recognition

  • Bill Hughes

    On March 25, 2019, Bill Hughes of Wetzel County, West Virginia, passed away at age 74. Mr. Hughes, an environmental defender extraordinaire and former FracTracker colleague, served on the County solid waste authority, where he consistently pushed back on accepting the radioactive waste of the fracking industry. For nearly a decade, Mr. Hughes documented and disseminated photographic evidence of the activities and effects of shale gas development, and in turn educated thousands of people on the negative impacts of this industry. Mr. Hughes also shared information via gas field tours, PowerPoint presentations to groups in five states, op-ed pieces written for news media, and countless responses to questions and inquiries.

    His legacy lives through the multitude of lives he enriched – from students, to activists, to everyday people. Bill was an omnipresent force for good, always armed with facts and a pervasive smile.

  • April Pierson-Keating

    April Pierson-Keating of Buckhannon, West Virginia, passed away on September 28, 2019, at age 52. Mrs. Pierson-Keating was the founder and director of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, and a founding member of Preserve Our Water Heritage and Rights (POWHR). She was a board member of the Buckhannon River Watershed Association, the cancer research group ICARE, and the WV Environmental Council, and she was also a member of the Sierra Club, the WV Highlands Conservancy, and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC). When one met Mrs. Pierson-Keating, one could not help noticing and absorbing her passion for environmental preservation.

    Mrs. Pierson-Keating received the Buckhannon BEST Award on May 14, 2019 in recognition of her commitment. Mayor David McCauley stated: “Mrs. Keating is a supreme protector of our environment. She is a lobbyist for clean water at both our state and federal governments, a participant in Buckhannon’s Community Unity & Kindness Day, the Equality March, the Science March, and other awareness activities… April Keating has helped us all in our B-U community to be happier and healthier in many ways.”

  • Ricky Allen Roles

    Ricky Allen Roles passed away at age 61 at his ranch in Silt, Colorado, on November 22, 2018. Mr. Roles was an adamant anti-fracking activist and spent many years fighting for safer oil and gas drilling and fracking regulations. He tirelessly fought to protect our earth’s sacred water and soil for the health and wellness of all living creatures. He is featured in books such as Fractivism and Collateral Damage, and documentaries including the Emmy Award winning film Split Estate and Oscar-nominated and Emmy-Award winning Gasland. He also bravely testified before Colorado’s Congress on the dangers of fracking.

    Mr. Roles shared how his and his livestock’s health precipitously declined with the drilling of 19 wells on his property. He experienced respiratory, immune, and nervous system problems. Despite his health problems,
    he strove to create awareness of the harmful impacts of fracking in his community and beyond. With those publications, his voice, beliefs and legacy will be heard forever.

  • John A. Trallo Sr.

    John A. Trallo, Sr., 67, of Sonestown, Pennsylvania passed away on August 13, 2019. Mr. Trallo was a dedicated environmental activist who contributed to several groups working on pressing environmental issues such as hydraulic fracturing. He was a brilliant man who earned three college degrees and a teaching certificates in two states. He asked hard questions and was adamant in keeping government officials accountable. Some of the groups he was involved with were: Responsible Drilling Alliance (RDA), Shale Justice, The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), PA Community Rights Network, and Organizations United for the Environment. Mr. Trallo left this planet a better place for future generations, and we honor his spirit by continuously working towards his noble vision.

 

Sponsors and Partners

The Sentinels’ program and reception requires financial support—for monetary awards, awardee travel, and many

Michele Fetting of the Breathe Project and and FracTracker Board Member introducing 2019 Sentinel Award Winner Sharon Lavigne

other costs. As such, each year we call upon dedicated sponsors and partners for resources to enable this endeavor to continue. The daily, often-thankless jobs of Community Sentinels working to protecting our health and the environment deserve no less. Thank you to this year’s incredible award sponsors: The Heinz Endowments, 11th Hour Project, Center for Coalfield Justice, and Foundation for PA Watersheds.

We extend a big thank you to the following award partners: Viable Industries, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oxfam, Rootskeeper, Food & Water Watch, STAND.earth, Halt the Harm Network, Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Choose Clean Water Coalition, Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community, Mountain Watershed Association, Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, Earthworks, and FracTracker Alliance.

 

Nominees

The following 18 people were nominated by their peers to receive this distinguished award:

  • Laurie Barr – Coudersport, PA

    2019 Sentinel Award Winner Melissa Troutman with introducer Leanne Leiter of Earthworks

  • Kim Bonfardine – Elk County, PA
  • Kim Fraczek – New York, NY
  • Lisa Graves – Marcucci Washington, DC
  • Ron Gulla – Canonsburg, PA*
  • Leatra Harper – Bowling Green, OH
  • Maury Johnson – Greenville, WV
  • Theresa Landrum – Detroit, MI
  • Sharon Lavigne – St. James, Louisiana*
  • Sara Loflin – Erie, CO
  • Ann Pinca – Lebanon, PA
  • Randi Pokladnik – Uhrichsville, OH
  • Patricia Popple – Chippewa Falls, WI
  • Bev Reed – Bridgeport, OH
  • Allie Rosenbluth – Medford, OR*
  • Bob Schmetzer – South Heights, PA
  • Yvonne Taylor – Watkins Glen, NY
  • Melissa Troutman – Pittsburgh, PA*

* Denotes 2018 award recipient

Judges

Many thanks to the following judges for giving their time to review all of the nominations.

  • Mariah Davis – Choose Clean Water Coalition
  • Brenda Jo McManama – Indigenous Environmental Network
  • Kathleen Brophy – Oxfam
  • Dr. Pamela Calla – New York University
  • Matt Krogh – STAND.earth

2019 Sentinel Award Winner Ron Gulla

 

Ethan Buckner of Earthworks introducing 2019 Sentinel Award Winner Sharon Lavigne

 

Keynote Speaker Andrey Rudomakha, Director of Environmental Watch on North Caucasus, with translator Kate Watters, Co-founder & Executive Director

 

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Shell Pipeline - Not Quite the Good Neighbor

Heavy Rains and Risks to Pipelines

For many cities in the Eastern U.S., flash flood warnings and road closings characterized the summer of 2018. Now, hurricane season is upon us.

It’s been the wettest summer to date for Williamsport PA, Luray VA, and Baltimore MD. Several places set records for the wettest “year-through-August,” including Harrisburg PA and Wilmington NC. Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh are just two of many cities to reach their average yearly total rainfall with a third of the year left.

With the record-breaking rains come record-breaking floods, signaling devastation for local officials, residents, and… pipeline operators.

In June, construction on the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia was suspended after heavy rainfall made it difficult for construction crews to control erosion. A landslide caused an explosion on the Leach Xpress Pipeline in West Virginia. The pipeline was built on a steep slope, and the weather made for challenging conditions to remediate the blast.

Then came the explosion of the Revolution Pipeline in Beaver County just this week on September 10th. Fire from the blast destroyed a house, a barn, two garages, several vehicles, six high tension electric towers, and shut down a section of a highway. Thankfully, residents were able evacuate their homes in time and no injuries were reported.

While the explosion is still under investigation, the cause of the explosion is believed to be a landslide, which occurred following days of heavy rain.

Burned hillside near Ivy Lane after the Revolution Pipeline Exploded

The burnt hillside near the site of the Revolution Pipeline explosion. Photo courtesy of Darrell Sapp, Post Gazette

How rain affects pipelines

Heavy rain can cause the ground to shift and swell, triggering devastating landslides, damaging pipelines, and creating leaks. Flooding can also make it difficult for crews to locate sites of leaks and repair pipelines.

Storms cause problems during pipeline construction, as well. Work areas and trenches can alter the flow of floodwaters and spill water onto farmland or backyards. At drilling sites, rain water can carry spills of bentonite, a drilling mud, into waterways.

Still, pipeline operators continue to plan and build along steep slopes, landslide prone areas, and through floodways and waterways. For instance, the route of Shell’s proposed Falcon Pipeline, in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, passes through many areas that are crucial for managing heavy rains.

Risks along the Falcon route

As highlighted by a recent Environmental Health News piece to which we contributed, Falcon’s route passes through 25 landslide prone areas, a few of which are in residential neighborhoods. In fact, one landslide-prone portion of the pipeline is just 345 feet from a home.

In Beaver County alone, the pipeline route passes through 21,910 square feet of streams, 455,519 square feet of floodway, and 60,398 square feet of wetland:

A map of landslide prone areas along the Falcon Pipeline route

Map of the Falcon Pipeline’s route through Beaver County, with locations Shell has identified as prone to landslides. 

Preventing disasters

What can be done to prevent pipeline leaks, explosions, and spills?

Along the Texas Gulf Coast, robust plans are in the works to protect oil and gas infrastructure. In August of 2017, Hurricane Harvey suspended a large portion of oil and gas operations in Texas. Now, the state has a $12 billion publicly-funded plan to build a barrier along the coast. The 60-mile-long structure would consist of seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates, and steel levees. It will protect homes and ecosystems, as well as one of the world’s largest sites of petrochemical activity.

In July, the state fast-tracked $3.9 billion for three storm barriers around oil facilities. The industry is also moving inland to the Ohio River Valley, where it intends to build a petrochemical hub away from hurricane risk.

Herein lies the irony of the situation: The oil and gas industry is seeking refuge from the problems it is worsening.

Weather events are intensified by rising ocean and atmospheric temperatures. Scientists have reached a consensus on what’s causing these rises: increasing concentrations of greenhouse gasses (such as carbon dioxide and methane), released by burning fossil fuels. Protecting oil and gas infrastructure will allow the industry to continue polluting, thereby amplifying the problem.

In the short term, I suggest better protection of floodplains and waterways to keep residents and the environment safe. Accounting for frequent, heavy rains will help pipeline operators develop better erosion and sediment control plans. More protections for landslide prone areas near homes could save human and animal lives.

However, continuing to spend time, resources, and money to protect infrastructure from problems that the fossil fuel industry is exacerbating isn’t logical. Renewable energy will slow the effects of climate change that intensify weather events. Resources such as solar and wind also come with significantly less risk of explosion. Let’s be logical, now.


By Erica Jackson, Community Outreach & Communications Specialist

Tracking the Movement Against Fossil Fuels

Project Info

This article is the first iteration of FracTracker’s emerging Clean Energy Action Maps project, which will be expanded to include additional interactive maps and guides to communities, organizations, and activities resisting fossil fuels, protecting the climate, and advocating transitions to renewable energy.

Energy use — whether for heating, cooking, transportation, or manufacturing — is a fact of life for humans on our planet. From the most subsistence-level village life, to the largest metropolises in the world, energy is consumed. But fossil fuels are not a sustainable source of energy. Fossil fuels, by their very nature, are finite in quantity, and increasingly more expensive to extract as the most accessible stores are tapped.

Fossil fuel consumption by-products are driving CO2 and methane to accumulate in the atmosphere, leading towards what most scientists think will be a tipping point to irreversible climate chaos (see image below).

Alternatives to fossil fuels not only exist, but in many cases, are becoming more affordable (see additional information on solar afforability here) than the environmentally-destructive oil, gas, and coal-burning options. Technological advances are changing the way people around the world can live, with cleaner, greener, and more equitable energy sources, as well as more conservation-focused consumption patterns.

Recognizing the benefits to transitioning away from fossil fuels, communities across the US and world-wide, are saying NO to fossil fuel extraction and YES to renewable energy: solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro power, as well as electric vehicles when the electricity that supplies them is renewably generated. Below, and in the following map, we are tracking this movement to a clean energy future.

The Resistance – Movements Against Fossil FuelsThe Resistance - Movements against fossil fuelsView Live Map |  How FracTracker maps work

Municipal law-making

At least 35 communities in California and Washington State have passed resolutions against off-shore drilling. On the East Coast, from Florida to New York State, 44 municipalities have passed resolutions opposing seismic blasting, a form of exploration for oil and gas that has disastrous impacts on marine life, including threatened and endangered marine mammals. What’s further, 105 communities have come out against a combination of offshore drilling and seismic blasting, and at least 26 have taken a stand against offshore drilling.

In Florida, where several bills that would prohibit fracking statewide have been in play for the past few years, individual municipalities have registered their opposition. 43 have signed resolutions opposing fracking, and 7 communities, including Zephyr Hills, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs, Coconut Creek, Dade City, Estero, and St. Petersburg, have passed full ordinances against fracking within their boundaries. In addition to resolutions against drilling in 25 Florida counties, 13 counties in Florida have passed legislation fully banning fracking. These counties are Alachua, Bay, Brevard, Citrus, Indian River, Madison, Osceola, Pinellas, Seminole, St. Lucie, Volusia, Wakulla, and Walton.

In Connecticut, where the geology is not suitable for oil and gas extraction, communities are still proactively protecting themselves against one byproduct of extreme oil and gas extraction: fracking waste disposal. While historically, there are no known instances of fracking waste being exported to Connecticut for disposal, as of March 2018, 46 municipalities are considering rules to ban future disposal of oil and gas wastes within their boundaries, while another 45 have already outlawed the practice, as of late May 2018.

New York State has had a state-wide ban against high-volume hydraulic fracturing since December of 2014. New York led the way in home-rule backed municipal bans and moratoria (temporary prohibitions). Since 2011, 92 NYS municipalities have instituted bans against fracking, and 96 towns, cities, and village have passed moratoria — most of which have now expired. At least another 88 municipalities have also considered banning the practice, prior to the more comprehensive state-wide ban.

The state of Vermont has also banned fracking, and Maryland has instituted a long-term moratorium. Outside of New York State, another 51 municipalities — from Australia to Italy, and New Jersey to California — have passed local ordinances banning fracking. Five countries — Bulgaria, France, Ireland, Germany, and Scotland — have banned the practice altogether. The countries of Wales, The Netherlands, and Uruguay have active moratoria. Moratoria are also currently in place in Cantabria, Spain; Victoria, Australia; Newfoundland, Canada; Paraná, Brazil; Entre Rios, Argentina; and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, as well as the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

Crossing Boundaries

Coordinated efforts are happening — across state lines, linking urban and rural communities — to fight new fossil fuel infrastructure on local and regional levels. On both sides of the New York / Connecticut border, communities are uniting against the Cricket Valley Energy Center, an 1,100 MW fracked gas-powered plant that opponents say presents environmental and human health risks and diverts NYS’s renewable energy focus back to fossil fuels.

More than 30 communities in Pennsylvania along the route of the proposed PennEast pipeline have passed resolutions opposing that pipeline. Nearly 80 communities in New York and New Jersey have come out against the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline, designed to carry light crude from the Port of Albany to the Atlantic Coast refineries. And a plan by Crestwood/ Stagecoach Energy to store hydrocarbons in abandoned salt caverns along the shores of Seneca Lake in the scenic Finger Lakes Region of central New York met unprecedented sharp opposition. As of early 2018, over 32 towns and counties, and close to 400 local businesses had signed resolutions opposing the gas storage plans. Pressure from business and government interests likely contributed to scaling down of the storage plans from butane, ethane, and natural gas, to only LNG.

Unconventional Bans

A 2013 ban on fracking in Hawai’i was met initially with some puzzlement, since there are no oil and gas deposits within the lava-created rock that makes up the Big Island. However, this ban was not against fracking for gas; rather, it dealt with fracking to harness geothermal energy. The Puna Geothermal Venture Plant, located on Hawaii’s highly geologically active East Rift Zone, was controversial when it was built twenty-five years ago. Now, with lava already on the property and poised to potentially inundate the facility, opponents are pushing for its complete closure — if the plant survives the massive flow from Kilauea, now devastating Lower Puna, that started in early May 2018.

Transportation Concerns

Fossil fuels are transported through a variety of mechanisms. Pipelines are the most common means of conveyance; the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that 3 million miles of oil and gas transmission and delivery pipelines crisscross the US. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics estimated in 2014 that there were nearly 1.6 million miles of gas transmission pipelines in the US, and another 160,521 miles of oil pipelines.  Pipeline safety has been a concern for years, and as pipeline build-out continues, so does the litany of accidents due to failures.

A widely used alternative to moving light crude via pipelines is to transport it by rail, from oil fields in Canada and the Dakotas to coastal refineries. In 2014, crude oil production from North Dakota was nearly 1 million barrels per day. The same year, Texas was producing 2.9 million barrels per day. Statistics from the Association of American Railroads (NY Times, 4/12/2014) indicate that in 2013, 407,642 carloads (700 barrels = 1 carload) of crude oil were shipped across the US. That’s more than 285 million barrels, or about 80% of the crude oil shipped to port, that were transported via rail.

Accidents resulting from the derailment of freight cars carrying crude oil can be disastrous to both human communities, and to the environment. The Lac-Mégantic derailment in July, 2013 resulted in a death toll of 47, and the near complete devastation of the downtown of this small Quebec town. Benzene contamination at the site was heavy, and the Chaudière River was contaminated with 26,000 gallons of the light crude, which impacted towns 50 miles downstream.

The disaster at Lac-Mégantic led to a rallying cry among policy-makers, regulators, and environmentalists, who continued to raise awareness of the risks of “crude by rail”, or, as the freight cars are often known, “bomb trains”. Within 2 years after the disaster, over 180 communities from Washington State, to California, to New York, and New Jersey, passed local resolutions demanding better safety regulations, and exhorting officials to stop shipping crude through their communities.

Earlier research by FracTracker Alliance on “bomb train” routes through major New York urban centers like Buffalo and Rochester showed dozens of K-12 public and private schools are within the ½-mile blast zones. Without adequate evacuation plans, the injury or loss of life — were a derailment to happen within the cities — could be extensive. The importance of public critique about the transportation of light crude by rail cannot be overstated.

Transitions to renewable energy

communities making it happen

The answer to a clean and renewable energy future, while rooted in the resistance to fossil fuel build out, consists of much more than protesting, and saying “NO”. A clean energy future requires goal-setting, and a vision to commit to change. It takes communities investing in a healthy future for all community members—today, tomorrow, and into the next century.

Clean, Renewable Energy MovementsThe Resistance - Clean Energy MovementsView Live Map |  How FracTracker maps work

To that end, nearly 350 communities worldwide (so far) have set tangible goals to transition off fossil fuels – see map above. These communities are our beacons for a sustainable planet. They take seriously the dangerous ecological cascades posed by climate change and have made creative and conscious commitments to future generations of Earth’s biota.

350

Communities Worldwide

As of early 2018, at least 62 cities in the US have set goals for being powered by renewable energy before the middle of the 21st century according to Sierra Club’s tally of municipalities striving for clean energy power. Five of these communities — Kodiak Island, AK; Rock Port, MO; Greensburg, KS, Burlington, VT; and Aspen, CO, have already met their goals. EcoWatch collected information on over 100 cities around the world that are now powered by at least 70% renewables, and the organization CDP noted close to 200 cities and towns with ambitious targets for renewable power within the next two decades.

Across the US, over 27,300 MW of commercial solar has been installed as of April, 2018.  And currently, wind turbines provide close to 59,000 MW of clean energy, nationwide.  As of June, 2018, there were more than 18,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the country.  While many municipalities are committed to replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, we have a long way to go. Change must happen exponentially in order to meet ambitious goals of even 50% renewable energy in the next decade. For example, in 2011, New York State was meeting approximately 19% of its energy needs from renewable energy—largely from hydropower. Governor Cuomo’s “50 by 30” plan—mandating a clean energy standard of 50% renewables by 2030—sets forth goals that will require aggressive advocacy, the will of decision-makers, economic funding and incentives, education, and the steadfast insistence of the citizenry if we are to have a chance at slowing climate change and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Other resources on resistance

On every continent of the planet, there are citizen-based movements to address the impacts of coal on the environment. CoalSwarm has compiled a dynamic listing on a country-by-country basis. Similarly, a sister project, FrackSwarm, is a clearinghouse for citizen’s movements around the world that are addressing the impacts of fracking. Both CoalSwarm and FrackSwarm advocate strongly for a movement to clean energy everywhere. Both sites feature detailed background information on movements around the world and are partner projects to SourceWatch and the Center for Media and Democracy.

Halt the Harm Network, another organization closely allied with FracTracker Alliance, has developed a robust network of groups leading the fights against the oil and gas industry. Their database is searchable by skills, geography, and interests. Many of the organizations included in their database are also included in this map of resistance advocacy and activism groups fighting for a clean energy future.

Last, but not least, in 2017, FracTracker Alliance partnered with E2 to create a resource called “Mapping Clean Energy: New York”. You can view the maps that show clean energy jobs, solar, wind, and electric vehicle resources here. FracTracker also developed clean energy interactive maps for Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri.

Next steps

FracTracker will continue to update our Clean Energy Action Maps project, and actively solicit input and feedback from the public. If your advocacy group is not listed on our maps above, please complete the form at the bottom of the project page. We’ll compile public input, and regularly add new organizations to this resource.


Of note: We will soon be retiring our Alliance Map in favor of these maps, as we believe it is extremely important to capture the depth and breadth of the movements against fossil fuels and in support of renewables. This project is our effort to make connections across the globe, whether or not we are in direct communication with the groups on the maps.

If you have any questions about this work, please email: info@fractracker.org.

Shell Pipeline - Not Quite the Good Neighbor

Shell Pipeline: Not Quite the “Good Neighbor”

In August 2016, Shell Pipeline announced plans to develop the Falcon Ethane Pipeline System, a 97-mile pipeline network that will carry more than 107,000 barrels of ethane per day through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, to feed Shell Appalachia’s petrochemical facility currently under construction in Beaver County, PA.

FracTracker has covered the proposed Falcon pipeline extensively in recent months. Our Falcon Public EIA Project explored the project in great detail, revealing the many steps involved in risk assessments and a range of potential impacts to public and environmental health.

This work has helped communities better understand the implications of the Falcon, such as in highlighting how the pipeline threatens drinking water supplies and encroaches on densely populated neighborhoods. Growing public concern has since convinced the DEP to extend public comments on the Falcon until April 15th, as well as to host three public meetings scheduled for early April.

Shell’s response to these events has invariably focused on their intent to build and operate a pipeline that exceeds safety standards, as well as their commitments to being a good neighbor. In this article, we investigate these claims by looking at federal data on safety incidents related to Shell Pipeline.

Contrary to claims, records show that Shell’s safety record is one of the worst in the nation.

The “Good Neighbor” Narrative

Maintaining a reputation as a “good neighbor” is paramount to pipeline companies. Negotiating with landowners, working with regulators, and getting support from implicated communities can hinge on the perception that the pipeline will be built and operated in a responsible manner. This is evident in cases where Shell Pipeline has sold the Falcon in press releases as an example of the company’s commitment to safety in public comments.

Figure 1. Shell flyer

A recent flyer distributed to communities in the path of the Falcon, seen in Figure 1, also emphasizes safety, such as in claims that “Shell Pipeline has a proven track record of operating safely and responsibility and remains committed to engaging with local communities regarding impacts that may arise from its operations.”

Shell reinforced their “good neighbor” policy on several occasions at a recent Shell-sponsored information meeting held in Beaver County, stating that, everywhere they do business, Shell was committed to the reliable delivery of their product. According to project managers speaking at the event, this is achieved through “planning and training with first responders, preventative maintenance for the right-of-way and valves, and through inspections—all in the name of maintaining pipeline integrity.”

Shell Pipeline also recently created an informational website dedicated to the Falcon pipeline to provide details on the project and emphasize its minimal impact. Although, curiously, Shell’s answer to the question “Is the pipeline safe?” is blank.

U.S. Pipeline Incident Data

Every few years FracTracker revisits data on pipeline safety incidents that is maintained by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). In our last national analysis we found that there have been 4,215 pipeline incidents resulting in 100 reported fatalities, 470 injuries, and property damage exceeding $3.4 billion.

These numbers were based on U.S. data from 2010-2016 for natural gas transmission and gathering pipelines, natural gas distribution pipelines, and hazardous liquids pipelines. It is also worth noting that incident data are heavily dependent on voluntary reporting. They also do not account for incidents that were only investigated at the state level.

Shell Pipeline has only a few assets related to transmission, gathering, and distribution lines. Almost all of their pipeline miles transport highly-volatile liquids such as crude oil, refined petroleum products, and hazardous liquids such as ethane. Therefore, to get a more accurate picture of how Shell Pipeline’s safety record stacks up to comparable operators, our analysis focuses exclusively on PHMSA’s hazardous liquids pipeline data. We also expanded our analysis to look at incidents dating back to 2002.

Shell’s Incident Record

In total, PHMSA data show that Shell was responsible for 194 pipeline incidents since 2002. These incidents spilled 59,290 barrels of petrochemical products totaling some $183-million in damages. The below map locates where most of these incidents occurred. Unfortunately, 34 incidents have no location data and so are not visible on the map. The map also shows the location of Shell’s many refineries, transport terminals, and off-shore drilling platforms.

Open the map fullscreen to see more details and tools for exploring the data.


View Map Fullscreen | How FracTracker Maps Work

Incidents Relative to Other Operators

PHMSA’s hazardous liquid pipeline data account for more than 350 known pipeline operators. Some operators are fairly small, only maintaining a few miles of pipeline. Others are hard to track subsidiaries of larger companies. However, the big players stand out from the pack — some 20 operators account for more than 60% of all pipeline miles in the U.S., and Shell Pipeline is one of these 20.

Comparing Shell Pipeline to other major operators carrying HVLs, we found that Shell ranks 2nd in the nation in the most incidents-per-mile of maintained pipeline, seen in table 1 below. These numbers are based on the total incidents since 2002 divided by the number of miles maintained by each operator as of 2016 miles. Table 2 breaks Shell’s incidents down by year and number of miles maintained for each of those years.

Table 1: U.S. Pipeline operators ranked by incidents-per-mile

Operator HVL Incidents HVL Pipeline Miles Incidents Per Mile (2016)
Kinder Morgan 387 3,370 0.115
Shell Pipeline 194 3,490 0.056
Chevron 124 2,380 0.051
Sunoco Pipeline 352 6,459 0.049
ExxonMobile 240 5,090 0.048
Colonial Pipeline 244 5,600 0.044
Enbride 258 6,490 0.04
Buckeye Pipeline 231 7,542 0.031
Magellan Pipeline 376 12,928 0.03
Marathan Pipeline 162 5,755 0.029

Table 2: Shell incidents and maintained pipeline miles by year

Year Incidents Pipeline Miles Total Damage Notes
2002 15 no PHMSA data $2,173,704
2003 20 no PHMSA data $3,233,530
2004 25 5,189 $40,344,002 Hurricane Ivan
2005 22 4,830 $62,528,595 Hurricane Katrina & Rita
2006 10 4,967 $11,561,936
2007 5 4,889 $2,217,354
2008 12 5,076 $1,543,288
2009 15 5,063 $11,349,052
2010 9 4,888 $3,401,975
2011 6 4,904 $2,754,750
2012 12 4,503 $17,268,235
2013 4 3,838 $10,058,625
2014 11 3,774 $3,852,006
2015 12 3,630 $4,061,340
2016 6 3,490 $6,875,000
2017 9 no PHMSA data $242,800
2018 1 no PHMSA data $47,000 As of 3/1/18

Cause & Location of Failure

What were the causes of Shell’s pipeline incidents? At Shell’s public informational session, it was said that “in the industry, we know that the biggest issue with pipeline accidents is third party problems – when someone, not us, hits the pipeline.” However, PHMSA data reveal that most of Shell’s incidents issues should have been under the company’s control. For instance, 66% (128) of incidents were due to equipment failure, corrosion, welding failure, structural issues, or incorrect operations (Table 3).

Table 3. Shell Pipeline incidents by cause of failure

Cause Incidents
Equipment Failure 51
Corrosion 37
Natural Forces 35
Incorrect Operation 25
Other 20
Material and/or Weld Failure 15
Excavation Damage 11
Total 194

However, not all of these incidents occurred at one of Shell’s petrochemical facilities. As Table 4 below illustrates, at least 57 incidents occurred somewhere along the pipeline’s right-of-way through public areas or migrated off Shell’s property to impact public spaces. These numbers may be higher as 47 incidents have no mention of the property where incidents occurred.

Table 4. Shell Pipeline incidents by location of failure

Location Incidents
Contained on Operator Property 88
Pipeline Right-of-Way 54
Unknwon 47
Originated on Operator Property, Migrated off Property 3
Contained on Operator-Controlled Right-of-Way 2
Total 194

On several occasions, Shell has claimed that the Falcon will be safely “unseen and out of mind” beneath at least 4ft of ground cover. However, even when this standard is exceeded, PHMSA data revealed that at least a third of Shell’s incidents occurred beneath 4ft or more of soil.

Many of the aboveground incidents occurred at sites like pumping stations and shut-off valves. For instance, a 2016 ethylene spill in Louisiana was caused by lightning striking a pumping station, leading to pump failure and an eventual fire. In numerous incidents, valves failed due to water seeping into systems from frozen pipes, or large rain events overflowing facility sump pumps. Table 5 below breaks these incidents down by the kind of commodity involved in each case.

Table 5. Shell Pipeline incidents by commodity spill volumes

Commodity Barrels
Crude Oil 51,743
Highly Volatile Liquids 6,066
Gas/Diesel/Fuel 1,156
Petroleum Products 325
Total 59,290

Impacts & Costs

None of Shell’s incidents resulted in fatalities, injuries, or major explosions. However, there is evidence of significant environmental and community impacts. Of 150 incidents that included such data, 76 resulted in soil contamination and 38 resulted in water contamination issues. Furthermore, 78 incidents occurred in high consequence areas (HCAs)—locations along the pipeline that were identified during construction as having sensitive environmental habitats, drinking water resources, or densely populated areas.

Table 6 below shows the costs of the 194 incidents. These numbers are somewhat deceiving as the “Public (other)” category includes such things as inspections, environmental cleanup, and disposal of contaminated soil. Thus, the costs incurred by private citizens and public services totaled more than $80-million.

Table 6. Costs of damage from Shell Pipeline incidents

Private Property Emergency Response Environmental Cleanup Public (other) Damage to Operator Total Cost
$266,575 $62,134,861 $11,024,900 $7,308,000 $102,778,856 $183,513,192

A number of significant incidents are worth mention. For instance, in 2013, a Shell pipeline rupture led to as much as 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilling into a waterway near Houston, Texas, that connects to the Gulf of Mexico. Shell’s initial position was that no rupture or spill had occurred, but this was later found not to be the case after investigations by the U.S. Coast Guard. The image at the top of this page depicts Shell’s cleanup efforts in the waterway.

Another incident found that a Shell crude oil pipeline ruptured twice in less than a year in the San Joaquin Valley, CA. Investigations found that the ruptures were due to “fatigue cracks” that led to 60,000 gallons of oil spilling into grasslands, resulting in more than $6 million in environmental damage and emergency response costs. Concerns raised by the State Fire Marshal’s Pipeline Safety Division following the second spill in 2016 forced Shell to replace a 12-mile stretch of the problematic pipeline, as seen in the image above.

Conclusion

These findings suggest that while Shell is obligated to stress safety to sell the Falcon pipeline to the public, people should take Shell’s “good neighbor” narrative with a degree of skepticism. The numbers presented by PHMSA’s pipeline incident data significantly undermine Shell’s claim of having a proven track record as a safe and responsible operator. In fact, Shell ranks near the top of all US operators for incidents per HVL pipeline mile maintained, as well as damage totals.

There are inherent gaps in our analysis based on data inadequacies worth noting. Incidents dealt with at the state level may not make their way into PHMSA’s data, nor would problems that are not voluntary reported by pipeline operators. Issues similar to what the state of Pennsylvania has experienced with Sunoco Pipeline’s Mariner East 2, where horizontal drilling mishaps have contaminated dozens of streams and private drinking water wells, would likely not be reflected in PHMSA’s data unless those incidents resulted in federal interventions.

Based on the available data, however, most of Shell’s pipelines support one of the company’s many refining and storage facilities, primarily located in California and the Gulf states of Texas and Louisiana. Unsurprisingly, these areas are also where we see dense clusters of pipeline incidents attributed to Shell. In addition, many of Shell’s incidents appear to be the result of inadequate maintenance and improper operations, and less so due to factors beyond their control.

As Shell’s footprint in the Appalachian region expands, their safety history suggests we could see the same proliferation of pipeline incidents in this area over time, as well.

NOTE: This article was amended on 4/9/18 to include table 2.

Header image credit: AFP Photo / Joe Raedle

By Kirk Jalbert, FracTracker Alliance

Community Sentinel Awards 2017

Reflections from the 2017 Community Sentinel Award Program

The Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship, launched in 2015, is awarded each year to three people who work to guard their communities from the harms of oil and gas development. Below is a reflection of the 2017 honorees and Community Sentinel Award Program held on November 18, 2017 in Pittsburgh, PA.

This year, 18 people were nominated by their peers to receive this distinguished award. These nominees were reviewed by a committee of community defense leaders (judges listed below). With the help of our Award Partners, we presented the 2017 Community Sentinel award to: Ranjana Bhandari, Frank Finan, and Ray Kemble. Each awardee received $1,000 to perpetuate their efforts.

The award ceremony, attended by ~300 people, was graciously emceed by David Braun of Rootskeeper. Recipients were introduced enthusiastically by Jennifer Krill of Earthworks, Ryan Clover-Owens of Halt the Harm Network, and Doug Shields of Food and Water Watch. After giving their very moving acceptance speeches, Ranjana, Frank, and Ray were then presented with their awards by acclaimed author and ecologist, Sandra Steingraber.

Community Sentinel Award Recipients

Ranjana Bhandari of TX, Photo by Julie Dermansky | DeSmogBlog

Ranjana Bhandari of TX, Photo by Julie Dermansky | DeSmogBlog

Ranjana Bhandari, though humble and quiet, is an outspoken advocate for clean air and water. When urban fracking came to her town, she took the initiative to form a grass roots organization. In 2017, she worked tirelessly for many months organizing a successful opposition to a proposed wastewater injection well that was to be installed on the banks of her town’s drinking water supply.

Frank Finan of PA

Frank Finan of PA

Frank Finan is an unsung hero of the Marcellus Shale, through both his work documenting emissions using his FLIR camera and his selfless donations of talent, skills, and labor when his neighbors are in need. He made it his mission to help families who were becoming ill from highly concentrated spikes of pollution.

Ray Kemble of PA

Ray Kemble of PA

Ray Kemble has been at the center of fighting fracking from day one as a resident of Dimock, Pennsylvania. Despite recently breaking has back and undergoing an operation for cancer, he will not be deterred from seeking justice for the harmed.

Legacy of Heroes Presentation

In addition to the Community Sentinels, we also recognized activists who could not be with us during a special Legacy of Heroes presentation. This presentation recognized the efforts of four people who valiantly fought against the harms of dirty energy but passed away in the last year: Walter Brasch of Pennsylvania, Rosemarie Braz of California, Jackie Dill of Oklahoma, and Kaye Fissinger of Colorado.

Walter Brasch, of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, was professor emeritus of mass communications and journalism at Bloomsburg University and an award-winning reporter and author who turned his attention to fracking when the boom overtook PA. His critically-acclaimed book, Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster, explored the controversies surrounding shale gas development in his home state.

From apartheid to the prison-industrial complex to climate change, Rose Braz fought injustice in all its many forms. An incredible strategist, facilitator and mentor, she led and inspired a generation of activists. As the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Campaign Director from 2009 until her death, and Co-founder of Californians Against Fracking, Rose worked passionately to protect people from fracking and dangerous drilling.

Jackie Dill described herself as a heritage wildcrafter, practicing and teaching others to use wild plants for food, spices, healing, and crafts. Oil and gas companies developed wells around her home, and fracking-induced earthquakes severely damaged it. Jackie was known for speaking out about these issues, with features in Time and Newsweek.

Kaye Fissinger, of Longmont, Colorado, was a force of nature. The effort she led to ban fracking via an historic ballot initiative attracted the attention of The New York Times and PBS, among other national media. A founding member of Americans Against Fracking, Kaye helped change the conversation about fracking.

On behalf of all of the award partners and sponsors, a heartfelt thank you goes out to these incredible advocates.

Ceremony Photos


Complete Award and Program Details

Nominees and Recipients

  • Gustavo Aguirre Jr. – Central CA EJ Network – Bakersfield, CA
  • Heather Andersen – Save The Hills Alliance – Bloomer, WI
  • Alice Arena – FRRACS – Weymouth, MA
  • Ranjana Bhandari – Liveable Arlington – Arlington, TX **
  • Lois Bower-Bjornson – CCJ, CAC, Sierra Club, etc. – Scenery Hill, PA
  • Malinda and Mark Clatterbuck – Lancaster Against Pipelines – Holtwood, PA
  • Robert Donnan – Community Resident – McMurray, PA
  • Karen Feridun – Berks Gas Truth – Kutztown, PA
  • Frank Finan – Community Resident – Hop Bottom, PA **
  • Kim Fraczek – Sane Energy Project – Brooklyn, NY
  • Anne Marie Garti – Stop the Pipeline – Bronx, NY
  • Elise Gerhart – Camp White Pine – Huntingdon, PA
  • Nadine Grabania – Don’t Frack Maryland – Frostburg, MD
  • Carrie Hahn – CAUSE – Volant, PA
  • Ray Kemble – Community Resident, Montrose, PA **
  • Ann Nau – Community Resident – Myersville, MD
  • Courtney Williams – resistaim.org / resistspectra.org – Peekskill, NY
  • Leonard Zuza – Community Resident – Solomons, MD

** Indicates 2017 Award Recipient

Legacy of Heroes Remembrance

  • Walter Brasch of Pennsylvania
  • Jackie Dill of Oklahoma
  • Kaye Fissinger of Colorado
  • Rosemarie Braz of California

If there are additional community heroes who passed away this year that you would like us to list above, we would be happy to include them. Please email us: info@fractracker.org.

Judges

  • Bill Hughes of Wetzel County Action Group, West Virginia
  • Pat Popple of Save the Hills Alliance, Wisconsin
  • Sierra Shamer of Shalefield Organizing Committee, Pennsylvania
  • Dante Swinton of Energy Justice, Maryland
  • Niki Wong of Redeemer Community Partnership, California

Partners

Sponsors

Many thanks to the organizers and attendees of the People vs. Oil and Gas Infrastructure Summit, during which the Community Sentinel award ceremony was conducted.

Downtown Pittsburgh, PA - Photo by Brook Lenker after Climate Reality Project in 2017

Empowered by Reality – Reflections on Climate Reality

In October, Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project invigorated Pittsburgh like an autumn breeze. Never before had 1,400 people assembled in the region for the shared purpose of solving the climate crisis. The ground almost shook from the positive energy. It was induced seismicity of a better kind.

About the Climate Reality Project

The event occupied the David Lawrence Convention Center, a LEED Platinum facility providing the ultimate venue for a training session about saving our planet. The Nobel Laureate and former Vice President, joined by notable scientists, dignitaries, and communication experts, peppered three-days with passion and insight. The participants – who had to complete a rigorous application to attend – came from Pennsylvania, other states, and other countries. Their backgrounds were as diverse as their geographic origins. Seasoned activists were joined by faith leaders, students, educators, researchers, philanthropists, public health professionals, and business persons. A deep concern about humanity’s future was the common bond.

Together, we comprised the largest Climate Leadership Corps class ever. There are now more than 13,000 well-prepared voices speaking truth to power around the world to accelerate clean energy and foster sustainability. The ranks will continue to rise.

Unequivocal facts and figures affirmed that time is running out unless we expedite our energy transition. Most people don’t question gravity, but some question climate change despite scientific certainty about both. Jumping off a cliff is deadly and so is leaping off the metaphorical cliff of denial. When it comes to these issues, we were taught to find and focus on shared values. Everyone, even the cynic, cares about a person, place, or thing that will be irrevocably affected by man-made climate chaos.

Good for the planet, people, and jobs

Everyone needs a job, and embracing renewables and building smart, efficient energy systems creates a lot of them. In the U.S., solar energy jobs are growing 17 times faster than the overall economy.[1] Today, there are over 2.6 million Americans employed in the solar, wind, and energy efficiency sectors.[2] These safe, well-paying positions will continue to grow over time, but they’ll grow faster if government at every scale accelerates the new economy with supportive policies, programs, decisions and resources. In the process, we’ll build wealth and opportunity. If we don’t do what’s needed and its fossil fuel business as usual, we’ll have polluted air, sickened landscapes, and an economy in decline.

Hope – a bridge to somewhere better

On the afternoon that training ends, the weather is unusually warm and has been for days, another reminder that normal is long gone. Hope fills the void. I walk the Rachel Carson Bridge, named for the conservation giant who warned of the dangers of putting unfettered profit before the good of people and nature. Atop her bridge, wind turbines whirl, whispering intelligent tidings to all who will listen.

If you’d like to schedule a hope-filled climate reality project presentation in your community, please contact us at info@fractracker.org


References

  1. The Solar Foundation, Solar Accounts for 1 in 50 New U.S. Jobs in 2016, February 7, 2017.
  2. Environmental Entrepreneurs, 3 Million Clean Energy Jobs in America, February 2017.
Sandhill Crane

Giving Voice to the Sandhill Cranes: Place-based Arguments against Keystone XL

By Wrexie Bardaglio, guest commentator

When we hear his call, we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men…” ~ Aldo Leopold, on the Sandhill Crane, in “Marshland Elegy”

Dilbit – or diluted bitumen – is refined from the naturally-occurring tar sands deposits in Alberta, Canada. In March 2017, I applied to the Nebraska Public Service Commission for standing as an intervenor in the Commission’s consideration of TransCanada’s request for a permit to construct a pipeline transporting dilbit – a project referred to as the Keystone XL pipeline. Below are my reflections on the battle against the permitting process, and how FracTracker’s maps ensured the Sandhill Crane’s voice made it into public record.

A Pipeline’s History

The Keystone 1 pipeline carries the dilbit from Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska, and ultimately to Port Arthur, Texas and export refineries along the Gulf Coast. The state of Montana had already approved the Keystone XL project, as had the state of South Dakota. The decision of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission was appealed, however, and has now worked its way to the South Dakota Supreme Court, where it is pending.

Resistance to TransCanada’s oil and gas infrastructure projects is not new. Beginning in 2010, some Nebraska farmers and ranchers joined forces with tribal nations in the Dakotas, who were also fighting TransCanada’s lack of proper tribal consultation regarding access through traditional treaty territory. The indigenous nations held certain retained rights as agreed in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty between the United States government and the nine tribes of the Great Sioux Nation. The tribes were also protesting TransCanada’s flaunting of the National Historic Preservation Act’s protections of Native American sacred sites and burial grounds. Further, although TransCanada was largely successful in securing the easements needed in Nebraska to construct the pipeline, there were local holdouts refusing to negotiate with the company. TransCanada’s subsequent attempts to exercise eminent domain resulted in a number of lawsuits.

In January of 2015, then-President Barack Obama denied the international permit TransCanada needed. While that denial was celebrated by many, everyone also understood that a new president could well restore the international permit. Indeed, as one of his first actions in January 2017, the new Republican president signed an executive order granting the permit, and the struggle in Nebraska was reignited.

“What Waters Run Through My Veins…”

While I am a long-time resident of New York, I grew up in the Platte River Valley of South Central Nebraska, in a town where my family had and continues to have roots – even before Nebraska became a state. There was never a question in my mind that in this particular permitting process I would request status as an intervenor; for me, the matter of the Keystone XL Pipeline went far beyond the legal and political and energy policy questions that were raised and were about to be considered. It was about who I am, how I was raised, what I was taught, what waters run through my veins as surely as blood, and who my own spirit animals are, the Sandhill Cranes.

wrexie_3yrs

Bardaglio (age 3) and her father, along the banks of the Platte River

When we were growing up, our father told us over and over and over about why Nebraska was so green. The Ogallala Aquifer, he said, was deep and vast, and while eight states partially sat atop this ancient natural cistern, nearly all of Nebraska floated on this body. Nebraska was green, its fields stretching to the horizon, because, as our father explained, the snow runoff from the Rockies that flowed into our state and was used eleven times over was cleansed in water-bearing sand and gravel on its way to the Missouri on our eastern boundary, thence to the Mississippi, and finally to the Gulf.

I grew up understanding that the Ogallala Aquifer was a unique treasure, the largest freshwater aquifer in the world, the lifeblood for Nebraska’s agriculture and U.S. agriculture generally, and worthy of protection. I thought about the peril to the aquifer because of TransCanada’s plans, should there be a spill, and the additional threats an accident would potentially pose to Nebraska’s rivers, waterways and private wells.

2000px-ogallala_saturated_thickness_1997-sattk97-v2-svg

The Ogallala Aquifer

Knowing that climate change is real, terrifying, and accelerating, I recognized that a warming world would increasingly depend on this aquifer in the nation’s midsection for life itself.

Migration of the Sandhill Cranes

As I thought about how I would fight the KXL, another narrative took shape rising out of my concern for the aquifer. Growing up in the South Central Platte River Valley, I – and I daresay most everyone who lives there – have been captivated by the annual migration of the Sandhill Cranes, plying the skies known as the Central Flyway. As sure as early spring comes, so do the birds. It may still be bitterly cold, but these birds know that it is time to fly. And so they do – the forward scouts appearing in winter grey skies, soon followed by some 500,000 – 600,000 thousand of them, darkening the skies, their cries deafening and their gorgeous archaeopteryx silhouettes coming in wave after wave like flying Roman Legions.

branch-bird-sky-sunrise-sunset-morning-dawn-flock-dusk-birds-cranes-water-bird-bird-migration-migratory-birds-atmospheric-phenomenon-animal-migration-crane-like-bird-529634

To this day, no matter where I am, the first thing in my sinews and bones when winter begins to give way is the certainty that the birds are coming, I feel them; they are back. They are roosting on the sandbars in the braided river that is the Platte and gleaning in the stubbled fields abutting it… they are home.

According to The Nature Conservancy:

Scientists estimate that at least one-third of the entire North American population of Sandhill Cranes breed in the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska…

Scientists estimate that approximately 80 percent of all Sandhill Cranes in North America use a 75-mile stretch of Nebraska’s Platte River during spring migration. From March to April, more than 500,000 birds spend time in the area preparing for the long journey north to their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska. During migration, the birds may fly as much as 400 miles in one day.

Sandhill Cranes rely on open freshwater wetlands for most of their lifecycle. Degradation of these kinds of wetland habitats is among the most pressing threats to the survival of Sandhill Cranes. (Emphasis added)

Giving Sandhill Cranes a Voice

But how could I make the point about the threat TransCanada posed to the migratory habitat of the Sandhill Cranes (and endangered Whooping Cranes, pelicans, and hummingbirds among the other thermal riders who also migrate with them)? Books, scientific papers, lectures – all the words in the world – cannot describe this ancient rite, this mysterious primal navigation of the unique pathway focusing on this slim stretch of river, when viewed from a global perspective a fragile skein in a fragile web in a biosphere in peril.

In my head I called it a river of birds in the grassland of sky. And I am so grateful to my friend, Karen Edelstein at FracTracker Alliance, for her willingness to help map and illustrate the magnificence of the migration flyway in the context of the three proposed options for the KXL pipeline.

flyway_map

Karen prepared two maps for me, but my favorite is the one above.

It shows an ancient, near-primordial, near-mystical event. Guided by rudders and instinct we can barely comprehend, in concert with earth’s intrinsic and exquisitely-designed balance, and as certain as a sunrise, a sunset or a moon rise, these oldest of crane species find their ways through the heavens. They hew to certainties that eclipse the greed of multinational corporations like TransCanada, who barely even pay lip service to the integrity of anything over which they can’t exert dominion. To say they don’t respect the inherent rights of species other than our own, or to ecological communities that don’t directly include us, is an understatement, and a damning comment on their values.

I was prepared for pushback on these maps from TransCanada. And in truth, the company was successful in an in limine motion to have certain exhibits and parts of my testimony stricken from the official record of the proceedings.

But not the maps.

In fact, too many other intervenors to count, as well as several of the lawyers involved in the proceedings commented to me on the beauty and accuracy of the maps. And not only are they now a part of the permanent record of the Nebraska Public Service Commission, should there be an appeal (which all of us expect), on both sides of the issue, there is a very good possibility they will be incorporated into the formal testimonies by the lawyers as the matter moves through the appeals process.

Taking Action, Speaking Out

Ordinary citizens must figure out how to confront the near-impenetrable stranglehold of multi-national corporations whose wealth is predicated on the continuance of fossil fuels as the primary sources of energy. We have had to become more educated, more activist, and more determined to fight the destruction that is now assured if we fail to slow down the impacts of climate change and shift the aggregate will of nations towards renewable energy.

Many activists do not realize that they can formally intervene at the state level in pipeline and infrastructure permitting processes. In doing so, the voice of the educated citizen is amplified and becomes a threat to these corporations whose business models didn’t account for systematic and informed resistance in public agencies’ heretofore pro forma proceedings. The publicly-available documents and filings from corporations can be important tools for “speaking truth to power” when paired with the creative tools born of necessity by the environmental movement.

Technology is value-neutral, but as I learned – as did many others in the Keystone XL Pipeline fight – in skilled hands it becomes a weapon in the struggle for the greater good.

I will be forever grateful for FracTracker, and will be interested to see how others use this tool in the fights that are sure to come.

EXCELSIOR!

For more background on the natural history of Sandhill Cranes, please view this video produced by The Crane Trust.


Wrexie Bardaglio is a Nebraska native living in Covert, New York. She worked for ten years for a member of Congress as a legislative assistant with a focus on Indian affairs and for a DC law firm as legislative specialist in Indian affairs. She left politics to open a bookstore in suburban Baltimore. She has been active in the Keystone XL fights in Nebraska and South Dakota and in fracking and gas infrastructure fights in New York.

This article’s feature image of a Sandhill Crane is the work of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

FracTracker Alliance makes hundreds of maps, analyses, and photos available for free to frontline communities, grassroots groups, NGO’s, and many other organizations concerned about the industry to use in their oil and gas campaigns. To address an issue, you need to be able to see it.

However, we rely on funders and donations – and couldn’t do all of this without your help!

Northeast Ohio Class II injection wells taken via FracTracker's mobile app, May 2015

What are aquifer exemptions? Permitted exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act

We’d like to give our readers a bit of background on aquifer exemptions, because we’re going to be covering this topic in a few upcoming blog posts. Stay tuned!

Liquid Waste Disposal

Drilling for oil and gas produces both liquid and solid waste that must be disposed of. The liquid waste from this industry is considered a “Class II waste” according to the US EPA. Aquifers are places underground capable of holding or transmitting groundwater. To dispose of Class II waste, operators are granted aquifer exemptions, by the EPA based on the state’s recommendations. The term “exemption,” specifically, refers to the Safe Drinking Water Act, which protects underground sources of drinking water (USDWs).

Therefore, these exemptions grant oil and gas operators the right to contaminate groundwaters, albeit many of the groundwater formations used for disposal in Class II wells are very deep.

Learn more about disposal well classes and aquifer exemptions on this story map by the US EPA

Aquifer Exemption Criteria

There are several qualifiers for a USDW to be granted exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Aquifer exemptions are granted for underground formations that are not currently used as a source of drinking water and meet one of the following criteria:

  • The formation contains commercially producible minerals or hydrocarbons;
  • The formation is so deep that recovery of water for drinking water purposes is economically or technologically impractical; or,
  • The formation is so contaminated that it would be economically or technologically impractical to render the water fit for human consumption.
  • In some states, aquifer exemptions are not approved for formations with Total Dissolved Solids (TDS*) equal to or less than 3,000 mg/l TDS.

If an underground formation qualifies for an exemption, it does not mean that groundwater cannot be used for drinking water, just that it is not currently a source of drinking water. The most precarious criteria requirement, therefore, is the determination that a USDW is simply not “economically viable” or it is “technologically impractical,” meaning that the cost of drilling a groundwater well to the depth of the aquifer (under the condition of the current need for water) may make the investment impractical. In the near future, this water may be needed and highly valued, however.

TDS = Total dissolved solids are inorganic salts (e.g. calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, bicarbonates, chlorides, and sulfates), as well as some organic matter, dissolved in water.

The Lay of the Land

Below, we have put together a map of aquifer exemptions in the U.S. Click on the dots and shaded areas to learn more about a particular aquifer.

Map of all aquifer exemptions in the U.S.

View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work


By Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Indian Creek - Part of Bears Ears National Monument

Nationally treasured federal lands face threats by oil, gas, and other extractive uses

Should public, federal lands be opened up even further for extracting minerals, oil, and gas for private ventures? FracTracker’s Karen Edelstein discusses the past, present, and potential future of many of America’s cherished natural resources and wonders.

The United States is blessed with some of the most diverse natural landscapes in the world. Through foresight of great leaders over the decades, starting in 1906 — Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Benjamin Harrison, and Jimmy Carter – to name just a few — well over a half billion acres of wilderness have been set aside as national parks, refuges, monuments, and roadless areas. Some of the most famous of these protected areas include the Grand Canyon, Acadia, and Grand Tetons National Parks. In all, the federal government owns 28% of the 2.27 billion acres of land that the United States comprises. These federal lands are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM): 248.3 million acres, the US Forest Service: 192.9 million acres, US Fish and Wildlife Service: 89.1 million acres, and National Park Service: 78.9 million acres. In addition, the US Department of Defense administers 11.4 million acres.

Why are federal lands at risk?

While most people assume that federal wild lands are forever protected from development and commercial exploitation, quite the opposite is true. For most of the past century, federal lands have hunted, fished, logged and grazed by private individuals and enterprises. In addition, and in the cross-hairs of discussion here, is the practice of leasing lands to industrial interests for the purpose of extracting minerals, oil, and gas from these public lands.

Provisions for land conservation and restrictions on oil and gas extraction, in particular, became more stringent since the inception of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. However, environmentalists have watched in horror as the current administration in Washington has gutted the EPA, and installed climate change-deniers and corporate executives in high levels of office throughout a range of federal agencies. Notable is the appointment of Ryan Zinke as US Secretary of the Interior. Zinke, a former businessman, has a long record of opposing environmental viewpoints around extraction of oil, coal, and gas and cutting regulations. The League of Conservation Voters gives his voting record a lifetime score of 4 percent on environmental issues. As recently as this week, Joel Clement–one of Zinke’s senior advisors–resigned his post, citing, Zinke’s poor leadership, wasting of tax-payer dollars, and denial of climate change science.

Early in his tenure as Secretary of the Interior, Zinke initiated a review of 27 national monuments, a move that environmentalists feared could lead to the unraveling of protections on millions of acres of federal land, and also relaxed regulations on oil and gas exploration in those areas. Public comment on the plans to review these national monuments was intense; when the public comment period closed on July 10, 2017, the Interior Department had received over 2.4 million comments, the vast majority of which supported keeping the existing boundaries and restrictions as they are.

Federal lands under threat by Trump Administration


View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

The above map shows which sites are under consideration for oil, gas, or coal extraction, or face boundary reduction of up to 88%. Click here to view this map full-screen with a legend, zoom in and click on areas of interest, etc.

Who should be allowed to use these resources?

Ranchers, loggers, and recreational hunters and anglers felt that the 1906 Antiquities Act had been over-interpreted, and therefore advocated for Zinke’s proposal. (The Act was the first U.S. law to provide protection for any general kind of cultural or natural resource.)

However, environmental advocates such as the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and others were adamantly opposed to opening up federal lands resources for extraction, citing the need for environmental protection, public access, and, importantly, concerns that the lands would be more easily transferred to state, local, or private interests. Environmentalists also argue that the revenue generated by tourism at these pristine sites would far exceed that generated by extractive resource activities. Attorneys and staff from NPCA and NRDC argued legislation in effect since the 1970s requires role for Congress in changing the boundaries of existing monuments. The President or his cabinet do not have that sole authority.

The Wilderness Society estimates that already, 90% of the land in the US West, owned by the Bureau of Land Management, is open for oil and gas leasing, while only 10% is set aside for other uses (Figure 2). According to information from Sourcewatch, in 2013, these lands included 12 National Monuments, Parks, Recreation Areas, and Preserves that had active drilling, and another 31 that might see possible drilling in the future.

Source: The Wilderness Society

Figure 2. Percent of land already available for oil and gas leasing in the West. Source: The Wilderness Society

What Zinke has Proposed

True to expectation, in August of 2017, Zinke issued a recommendation to shrink the boundaries of several national monuments to allow coal mining and other “traditional uses” — which appear to include large-scale timbering, as well as potentially oil and gas drilling. Sites include Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah (encompassing more than 3.2 million acres in lands considered sacred to Dine/Navajo people), Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon, and Gold Butte in Nevada. According to Zinke’s report, Grand Staircase-Escalante contains “an estimated several billion tons of coal and large oil deposits”. Zinke lifted Obama-era restrictions on coal leasing on federal lands this past March, 2017. However, just last week, a federal judge ruled that the current Administration’s efforts to suspend methane emission restrictions from pipelines crossing public lands were illegal. These are merely a few of the Obama-era environmental protections that Zinke is attempting to gut.

Zinke has proposed decreasing the size of Bears Ears National Monument from the current 1.35 million acres to a mere 160,000, a reduction of 88%. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, made up of thirty Native American tribes, condemned the recommendation as a “slap in the face to the members of our Tribes and an affront to Indian people all across the country.” The Navajo Nation intends to sue the President’s administration if this reduction at Bears Ears is enacted.

Bears Ears National Monument, designated by President Barack Obama, contains tens of thousands of cultural artifacts, and is facing not only a threat of boundary shrinkage, but also a relaxing use restrictions within the Monument area. The current President has referred to Obama’s designation of the monument as “an egregious abuse of power.” Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated by President Bill Clinton, and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was designated by Clinton and expanded by President Obama.

The recommendation details were not made public in August, however, and only came to light in September through a leaked memo, published in The Washington Post. In the memo, Secretary Zinke noted that the existing boundaries were “arbitrary or likely politically motivated or boundaries could not be supported by science or reasons of resource management.” The memo goes on to say that “[i]t appears that certain monuments were designated to prevent economic activity such as grazing, mining and timber production rather than to protect specific objects.” In addition, Zinke is advocating for the modification for commercial fishing uses of two marine national monuments: the Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll.

Lacking Specificity

According to the Washingon Post, Zinke:

… plans to leave six designations in place: Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients; Idaho’s Craters of the Moon; Washington’s Hanford Reach; Arizona’s Grand Canyon-Parashant; Montana’s Upper Missouri River Breaks; and California’s Sand to Snow.

Perplexingly, the report is silent on 11 of the 27 monuments named in the initial proposal. One of which is the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument — over 725,000 square miles of ocean — in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The report also requests tribal co-management of “cultural resources”  at Bears Ears, Rio Grande del Norte, and Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks. While one could imagine that greater involvement of indigenous people in the federal government’s management of the sacred landscapes to be a potentially positive improvement, the report is silent on the details. More information on tribal co-management and other options can be gleaned from a series of position papers written by the Property and Environment Research Center.

Of other note: Zinke is also suggesting the establishment of three new national monuments, including the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine area in Montana, a sacred site of the Blackfeet Nation. Badger-Two Medicine was the site of a more than 30-year battle to retire 32,000 acres of oil and gas leases. The tribe prevailed, and the leases were canceled in November, 2016.

With potential lawsuits pending about boundary changes, galvanized push-back from environmental and tribal interests on resource management definitions for the targeted monuments, and general unpredictability on policy details and staffing in Washington, the trajectory of how this story will play out remains uncertain. FracTracker will continue to monitor for updates, and provide additional links in this story as they unfold.

Check out National Geographic’s bird’s eye view of these protected areas for a stunning montage, descriptions, and more maps of the monuments under consideration.


Federal Lands Map Data Sources

National Monuments under consideration for change by Secretary Zinke:
Accessed from ArcGIS Online by FracTracker Alliance, 28 August 2017. Data apparently from federal sources, such as BLM, NPS, etc. Dataset developed by Kira Minehart, GIS intern with Natural Resources Defense Council.0=not currently targeted for policy or boundary change1= targeted for expanded resource use, such as logging, fishing, etc. 2=targeted for shrinkage of borders, and expanded resource use.

National Park Service lands with current or potential oil and gas drilling:
Downloaded by FracTracker Alliance on 9 November 2016, from National Park Service.  Drilling information from here. List of sites threatened by oil and gas drilling from here (23 January 2013).

Badger-Two Medicine potential Monument:
Shapefile downloaded from USGS by FracTracker Alliance on 28 August 2017. This map layer consists of federally owned or administered lands of the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. For the most part, only areas of 320 acres or more are included; some smaller areas deemed to be important or significant are also included. There may be private inholdings within the boundaries of Federal lands in this map layer. Some established Federal lands which are larger than 320 acres are not included in this map layer, because their boundaries were not available from the owning or administering agency. Complete metadata available here.


By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

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