In August 2020, the Colonial Pipeline ruptured, spilling an estimated 1.2 million gallons of gasoline—18 times more than originally reported.
FracTracker Alliance has released a new national map, filled with energy and petrochemical data. Explore the map, continue reading to learn more, and see how your state measures up!
View Full Size Map | Updated 4/13/21 | Data Tutorial
This map has been updated since this blog post was originally published, and therefore statistics and figures below may no longer correspond with the map
The items on the map (followed by facility count in parenthesis) include:
This map is by no means exhaustive, but is exhausting. It takes a lot of infrastructure to meet the energy demands from industries, transportation, residents, and businesses – and the vast majority of these facilities are powered by fossil fuels. What can we learn about the state of our national energy ecosystem from visualizing this infrastructure? And with increasing urgency to decarbonize within the next one to three decades, how close are we to completely reengineering the way we make energy?
The “power plant” legend item on this map contains facilities with an electric generating capacity of at least one megawatt, and includes independent power producers, electric utilities, commercial plants, and industrial plants. What does this data reveal?
In terms of the raw number of power plants – solar plants tops the list, with 2,916 facilities, followed by natural gas at 1,747.
In terms of megawatts of electricity generated, the picture is much different – with natural gas supplying the highest percentage of electricity (44%), much more than the second place source, which is coal at 21%, and far more than solar, which generates only 3% (Figure 1).
This difference speaks to the decentralized nature of the solar industry, with more facilities producing less energy. At a glance, this may seem less efficient and more costly than the natural gas alternative, which has fewer plants producing more energy. But in reality, each of these natural gas plants depend on thousands of fracked wells – and they’re anything but efficient.
The cost per megawatt hour of electricity for a renewable energy power plants is now cheaper than that of fracked gas power plants. A report by the Rocky Mountain Institute, found “even as clean energy costs continue to fall, utilities and other investors have announced plans for over $70 billion in new gas-fired power plant construction through 2025. RMI research finds that 90% of this proposed capacity is more costly than equivalent [clean energy portfolios, which consist of wind, solar, and energy storage technologies] and, if those plants are built anyway, they would be uneconomic to continue operating in 2035.”
The economics side with renewables – but with solar, wind, geothermal comprising only 12% of the energy pie, and hydropower at 7%, do renewables have the capacity to meet the nation’s energy needs? Yes! Even the Energy Information Administration, a notorious skeptic of renewable energy’s potential, forecasted renewables would beat out natural gas in terms of electricity generation by 2050 in their 2020 Annual Energy Outlook.
This prediction doesn’t take into account any future legislation limiting fossil fuel infrastructure. A ban on fracking or policies under a Green New Deal could push renewables into the lead much sooner than 2050.
In a void of national leadership on the transition to cleaner energy, a few states have bolstered their renewable portfolio.
How does your state generate electricity?
One final factor to consider – the pie pieces on these state charts aren’t weighted equally, with some states’ capacity to generate electricity far greater than others. The top five electricity producers are Texas, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.
In 2018, approximately 28% of total U.S. energy consumption was for transportation. To understand the scale of infrastructure that serves this sector, it’s helpful to click on the petroleum refineries, crude oil rail terminals, and crude oil pipelines on the map.
The majority of gasoline we use in our cars in the US is produced domestically. Crude oil from wells goes to refineries to be processed into products like diesel fuel and gasoline. Gasoline is taken by pipelines, tanker, rail, or barge to storage terminals (add the “petroleum product terminal” and “petroleum product pipelines” legend items), and then by truck to be further processed and delivered to gas stations.
The International Energy Agency predicts that demand for crude oil will reach a peak in 2030 due to a rise in electric vehicles, including busses. Over 75% of the gasoline and diesel displacement by electric vehicles globally has come from electric buses.
China leads the world in this movement. In 2018, just over half of the world’s electric vehicles sales occurred in China. Analysts predict that the country’s oil demand will peak in the next five years thanks to battery-powered vehicles and high-speed rail.
In the United States, the percentage of electric vehicles on the road is small but growing quickly. Tax credits and incentives will be important for encouraging this transition. Almost half of the country’s electric vehicle sales are in California, where incentives are added to the federal tax credit. California also has a “Zero Emission Vehicle” program, requiring electric vehicles to comprise a certain percentage of sales.
We can’t ignore where electric vehicles are sourcing their power – and for that we must go back up to the electricity generation section. If you’re charging your car in a state powered mainly by fossil fuels (as many are), then the electricity is still tied to fossil fuels.
Many of the oil and gas infrastructure on the map doesn’t go towards energy at all, but rather aids in manufacturing petrochemicals – the basis of products like plastic, fertilizer, solvents, detergents, and resins.
This industry is largely concentrated in Texas and Louisiana but rapidly expanding in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.
On this map, key petrochemical facilities include natural gas plants, chemical plants, ethane crackers, and natural gas liquid pipelines.
Natural gas processing plants separate components of the natural gas stream to extract natural gas liquids like ethane and propane – which are transported through the natural gas liquid pipelines. These natural gas liquids are key building blocks of the petrochemical industry.
Ethane crackers process natural gas liquids into polyethylene – the most common type of plastic.
The chemical plants on this map include petrochemical production plants and ammonia manufacturing. Ammonia, which is used in fertilizer production, is one of the top synthetic chemicals produced in the world, and most of it comes from steam reforming natural gas.
As we discuss ways to decarbonize the country, petrochemicals must be a major focus of our efforts. That’s because petrochemicals are expected to account for over a third of global oil demand growth by 2030 and nearly half of demand growth by 2050 – thanks largely to an increase in plastic production. The International Energy Agency calls petrochemicals a “blind spot” in the global energy debate.
Investing in plastic manufacturing is the fossil fuel industry’s strategy to remain relevant in a renewable energy world. As such, we can’t break up with fossil fuels without also giving up our reliance on plastic. Legislation like the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act get to the heart of this issue, by pausing construction of new ethane crackers, ensuring the power of local governments to enact plastic bans, and phasing out certain single-use products.
“The greatest industrial challenge the world has ever faced”
Mapped out, this web of fossil fuel infrastructure seems like a permanent grid locking us into a carbon-intensive future. But even more overwhelming than the ubiquity of fossil fuels in the US is how quickly this infrastructure has all been built. Everything on this map was constructed since Industrial Revolution, and the vast majority in the last century (Figure 3) – an inch on the mile-long timeline of human civilization.
Figure 3. Global Fossil Fuel Consumption. Data from Vaclav Smil (2017)
In fact, over half of the carbon from burning fossil fuels has been released in the last 30 years. As David Wallace Wells writes in The Uninhabitable Earth, “we have done as much damage to the fate of the planet and its ability to sustain human life and civilization since Al Gore published his first book on climate than in all the centuries—all the millennia—that came before.”
What will this map look like in the next 30 years?
A recent report on the global economics of the oil industry states, “To phase out petroleum products (and fossil fuels in general), the entire global industrial ecosystem will need to be reengineered, retooled and fundamentally rebuilt…This will be perhaps the greatest industrial challenge the world has ever faced historically.”
Is it possible to build a decentralized energy grid, generated by a diverse array of renewable, local, natural resources and backed up by battery power? Could all communities have the opportunity to control their energy through member-owned cooperatives instead of profit-thirsty corporations? Could microgrids improve the resiliency of our system in the face of increasingly intense natural disasters and ensure power in remote regions? Could hydrogen provide power for energy-intensive industries like steel and iron production? Could high speed rail, electric vehicles, a robust public transportation network and bike-able cities negate the need for gasoline and diesel? Could traditional methods of farming reduce our dependency on oil and gas-based fertilizers? Could zero waste cities stop our reliance on single-use plastic?
Of course! Technology evolves at lightning speed. Thirty years ago we didn’t know what fracking was and we didn’t have smart phones. The greater challenge lies in breaking the fossil fuel industry’s hold on our political system and convincing our leaders that human health and the environment shouldn’t be externalized costs of economic growth.
On September 9, 2016 a pipeline leak was detected from the Colonial Pipeline by a mine inspector in Shelby County, Alabama. It is estimated to have spilled ~336,000 gallons of gasoline, resulting in the shutdown of a major part of America’s gasoline distribution system. As such, we thought it timely to provide some data and a map on the Colonial Pipeline Project.
The Colonial Pipeline was built in 1963, with some segments dating back to at least 1954. Colonial carries gasoline and other refined petroleum projects throughout the South and Eastern U.S. – originating at Houston, Texas and terminating at the Port of New York and New Jersey. This ~5,000-mile pipeline travels through 12 states and the Gulf of Mexico at one point. According to available data, prior to the September 2016 incident for which the cause is still not known, roughly 113,382 gallons had been released from the Colonial Pipeline in 125 separate incidents since 2010 (Table 1).
Table 1. Reported Colonial Pipeline incident impacts by state, between 3/24/10 and 7/25/16
|State||Incidents (#)||Barrels* Released||Total Cost ($)|
|*1 Barrel = 42 U.S. Gallons
** The total amount of petroleum products spilled from the Colonial Pipeline in this time frame equates to roughly 113,382 gallons. This figure does not include the September 2016 spill of ~336,000 gallons.
Data source: PHMSA
Unfortunately, the Colonial Pipeline has also been the source of South Carolina’s largest pipeline spill. The incident occurred in 1996 near Fork Shoals, South Carolina and spilled nearly 1 million gallons of fuel into the Reedy River. The September 2016 spill has not reached any major waterways or protected ecological areas, to-date.
Owners of the pipeline include Koch Industries, South Korea’s National Pension Service and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Royal Dutch Shell, and Industry Funds Management.
For more details about the Colonial Pipeline, see Table 2.
Table 2. Specifications of the Colonial and/or Intercontinental pipeline
|Segment Flow Direction (# Segments)|
|Segment Bi-Directional (# Segments)|
|State||Number||Total Mileage||Avg. Mileage||Long||Avg. PSI||Avg. Diameter (in.)|
|Gulf of Mexico||437||522||1.2||77||50||1.4|
|PSI = Pounds per square inch (pressure)
Data source: US EIA
Kirk Jalbert, FracTracker’s Manager of Community Based Research & Engagement, interviews Therese Vick, one of FracTracker’s 2015 Community Sentinels Award Winners.
Therese Vick is a highly-regarded community organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League in North Carolina. A big part of her work is serving BREDL chapters in Stokes, Anson, Lee, and Chatham counties – all frontline communities threatened by shale gas extraction. In these communities, she offers organizing assistance, training programs, and strategic campaign planning for local groups. Watch-dogging state regulatory agencies is also a significant part of Therese’s work, about which she publishes extensively on in her blog, From Where I Sit: Reports From The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission Meetings. Therese lives in Raleigh, NC, with her cats Savannah and Charity, and a very opinionated bunny named Stella.
Q: To start, can tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to the world of environmental advocacy work?
Therese: Well, I actually started out in a small town in Eastern North Carolina, working at a pharmacy. This was back in the very early ‘90s and a proposal for the world’s second largest hazardous waste incinerator landed on our county about six miles from my home. And this is a county that had no hospital. We had a volunteer fire department, but we had no haz-mat, none of that kind of infrastructure. That’s how I got involved in grassroots environmental work. I was a volunteer for years. Then I came on staff with Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) and was supported by a local organization – the North Hampton Citizens Against Pollution -through a small grant. I left my job at the drug store after about 15 years and went to work on a bunch of different issues, not just the hazardous waste incinerator, which we eventually defeated. I worked with BREDL for about three and a half years, then went back to work with my husband in his business and raised my kids but stayed active with local community groups off and on. I came here to the Triangle to complete my education in psychology and human services. I called the executive director of BREDL to let them know I was living here in Raleigh; I knew that they came to Raleigh sometimes. They offered me a job, I graduated, and I came back to work for BREDL. So that’s kind of how I ended up where I am right now. I have been volunteering and working on grassroots environmental issues for over 20 years.
Q: Now that you are back with Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, what sorts of projects have you been working on?
A: It can change from one day to the next, but my biggest areas of work are on fracking, of course, disposal of coal ash, and air quality in particular. I’m also working on pipelines. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is proposed to go through North Carolina. My co-worker and I are working with communities opposing that. And we work on myriads of other issues. We are community organizers, but we not only doing the organizing, we do a lot of research and technical assistance and watchdog regulatory agencies and things like that as well. That is another big part of my job, is public records and investigations and things like that.
Q: You also do a lot to communicate your findings to the public by way of your blog, From Where I Sit. How do you think that work has made a difference in helping community to understanding the political landscape of gas development?
A: How that blog came about was, I was attending many, many meetings. I can’t even tell you how many, I would say 100 meetings of the Mining and Energy Commission and their various committees, which were very hard to sit through and very frustrating. I wrote this really sarcastic report to our executive director and it was kind of funny too. He said, you know what, you need to start writing a blog before you lose your mind. So that is where it started. It was fun, but also serious. It’s a good organizing tool. In the court of public opinion, it is a good tool for communities to use and to let the general public know that this is something good we are doing for the community, for our community. I mean, it’s something that has to be done because we are just not being protected like we should be. And I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Fighting for Government Transparency
Q: How has all of this work that you are involved in shaped your feelings on the importance of making information and data available to the public?
A: Back in the ‘90s there were these proponents of the incinerator who were very assertive about how we needed the incinerator and how it was going to help the state and all of this stuff. People just had never known them to be active politically so they knew something was going on – all the proponents said, “oh we have nothing to gain from this, nothing. We just think it’s a good idea and blah, blah, blah.” So when I went to the state to do a file search, the first one I had ever done, nervous as I could be, and I found three options from three of the biggest proponent land owners with the company – they were selling their land to the company for the hazardous waste incinerator. Nobody knew this. And I so I paid my 25 cents a page, copied them, and hurried back home from Raleigh to the little town I lived. Long story short, it was a really big story. It was a statewide story and I got some threats, some anonymous threats, and I had a lawyer that call me saying I had no right to those documents. I ended up hanging up on him. Anyway, that kind of got me hooked on the power of having information.
Q: Have you found a similar sense of importance in working with oil and gas related data? I know, for instance, you have done a lot of writing about Halliburton having deep political ties in your area.
A: Well the Halliburton one, Greenpeace did some reporting on that piece and it got national attention. Most of the Mining and Energy Commission stuff is pretty mundane, but this one commissioner was not careful. I requested specific information about if they had met with certain individuals—all the commissioners, it was a request to all the commissioners. I wanted calendar entries and all that stuff. It took them a little bit to get me the information. But then this one commissioner he had it all in a folder that was marked Halliburton. I was stunned. There was this guy, Bowen Health, and he was a registered lobbyist for Halliburton. And this Commissioner, George Howard, he was on the Mining and Energy Commission. He had this folder marked Halliburton. Now, compared to other places of the country we had a pretty strong chemical disclosure law. And Halliburton essentially nixed that. They got that backed up. But this commissioner, he had a calendar entry on December 5th, 2012, from 5:30-6:00pm, there with Bowen Health, the Halliburton lobbyist. All of the commissioners had just maintained, over and over and over again, “We haven’t had any contact with Halliburton.” That is what led me to request the records and there it was, just in black and white. And, I tell you what, it made some of them really mad at him.
Q: What would you say, at this point, is the biggest challenge moving forward with this work?
A: I think the current anti-regulatory frenzy at the state level, the lack of care and concern for public health and the environment at the state level, and the rush to exploit oil and gas in North Carolina at any cost. Those would be the three biggest challenges you have to battle every single day. You’ve got the same philosophy at the head of the environmental agency that you have in the governor’s mansion and in the legislature. People that don’t—at least say they don’t—believe in climate change. People that think that fracking is fine. People that think that offshore drilling is great. Conservative folks, and I’m not political, but that’s one thing that kind of astounded me at the beginning of this. Forced pooling is legal in North Carolina, and it has been since the ‘40s. The fact that people who consider themselves believers in personal and private property rights support, or don’t repeal, that law just was stunning to me. I’m seeing the same thing with imminent domain and the pipelines. So the fact that all this stuff can be ignored, and with the legislature, the governor, and the Department Environment and Natural Resources having that same philosophy, makes it difficult, but not impossible.
Q: So how do you overcome the challenges of anti-disclosure and anti-regulatory sentiments?
A: You have to continue to try to expose what is going on. And, actually, I have got a huge request that I have been going through on coal ash that has some of what I was just telling you about. You have to expose what is going on to educate the public. You have to develop strategic plans within the bigger organization and at the community level, because you just have to be prepared for whatever comes next. And working at the grassroots is the most important thing – folks working in local communities with their local governments, that is the most important thing.
Q: If there was one thing that you would communicate to people or groups that are getting off the ground to deal with similar problems in other parts of the country, what would you say to those individuals?
A: We only have to last one day longer than they do. In other words, don’t give up. If you need to take a little break then take a break, but try to celebrate along the way because it’s hard work. It’s very, very hard work and it can be very depressing and stressful, especially when you are living in a targeted community or you are living with a problem. Try to have fun when you can find it.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to mention that is important to you personally?
A: I just wanted to say – about the Community Sentinel Award – I wanted to lift up the communities that I work with. Over time they become friends, and they are the heroes. They are the heroes, and I couldn’t do the kind of work that I do without them.
Updated National Well Data
By Matt Kelso, Manager of Data & Technology
In February 2014, the FracTracker Alliance produced our first version of a national well data file and map, showing over 1.1 million active oil and gas wells in the United States. We have now updated that data, with the total of wells up to 1,666,715 active wells accounted for.
Density by state of active oil and gas wells in the United States. Click here to access the legend, details, and full map controls. Zoom in to see summaries by county, and zoom in further to see individual well data. Texas contains state and county totals only, and North Carolina is not included in this map.
While 1.7 million wells is a substantial increase over last year’s total of 1.1 million, it is mostly attributable to differences in how we counted wells this time around, and should not be interpreted as a huge increase in activity over the past 15 months or so. Last year, we attempted to capture those wells that seemed to be producing oil and gas, or about ready to produce. This year, we took a more inclusive definition. Primarily, the additional half-million wells can be accounted for by including wells listed as dry holes, and the inclusion of more types of injection wells. Basically anything with an API number that was not described as permanently plugged was included this time around.
Data for North Carolina are not included, because they did not respond to three email inquiries about their oil and gas data. However, in last year’s national map aggregation, we were told that there were only two active wells in the state. Similarly, we do not have individual well data for Texas, and we use a published list of well counts by county in its place. Last year, we assumed that because there was a charge for the dataset, we would be unable to republish well data. In discussions with the Railroad Commission, we have learned that the data can in fact be republished. However, technical difficulties with their datasets persist, and data that we have purchased lacked location values, despite metadata suggesting that it would be included. So in short, we still don’t have Texas well data, even though it is technically available.
Wells by Type and Status
Each state is responsible for what their oil and gas data looks like, so a simple analysis of something as ostensibly straightforward as what type of well has been drilled can be surprisingly complicated when looking across state lines. Additionally, some states combine the well type and well status into a single data field, making comparisons even more opaque.
Among all of the oil producing states, there are 371 different published well types. This data is “raw,” meaning that no effort has been made to combine similar entries, so “gas, oil” is counted separately from “GAS OIL,” and “Bad Data” has not been combined with “N/A,” either. Conforming data from different sources is an exercise that gets out of hand rather quickly, and utility over using the original published data is questionable, as well. We share this information, primarily to demonstrate the messy state of the data. Many states combine their well type and well status data into a single column, while others keep them separate. Unfortunately, the most frequent well type was blank, either because states did not publish well types, or they did not publish them for all of their wells.
There are no national standards for publishing oil and gas data – a serious barrier to data transparency and the most important takeaway from this exercise…
Wells by Location
There are oil and gas wells in 35 of the 50 states (70%) in the United States, and 1,673 out of 3,144 (53%) of all county and county equivalent areas. The number of wells per state ranges from 57 in Maryland to 291,996 in Texas. There are 135 counties with a single well, while the highest count is in Kern County, California, host to 77,497 active wells.
With the exception of Texas, where the data are based on published lists of well county by county, the state and county well counts were determined by the location of the well coordinates. Because of this, any errors in the original well’s location data could lead to mistakes in the state and county summary files. Any wells that are offshore are not included, either. Altogether, there are about 6,000 wells (0.4%) are missing from the state and county files.
Wells by Operator
There are a staggering number of oil and gas operators in the United States. In a recent project with the National Resources Defense Council, we looked at violations across the few states that publish such data, and only for the 68 operators that were identified previously as having the largest lease acreage nationwide. Even for this task, we had to follow a spreadsheet of which companies were subsidiaries of others, and sometimes the inclusion of an entity like “Williams” on the list came down to a judgement call as to whether we had the correct company or not.
No such effort was undertaken for this analysis. So in Pennsylvania, wells drilled by the operator Exco Resources PA, Inc. are not included with those drilled by Exco Resources PA, Llc., even though they are presumably the same entity. It just isn’t feasible to systematically go through thousands of operators to determine which operators are owned by whom, so we left the data as is. Results, therefore, should be taken with a brine truck’s worth of salt.
Texas does publish wells by operator, but as with so much of their data, it’s just not worth the effort that it takes to process it. First, they process it into thirteen different files, then publish it in PDF format, requiring special software to convert the data to spreadsheet format. Suffice to say, there are thousands of operators of active oil and gas wells in the Lone Star State.
Not counting Texas, there are 39,693 different operators listed in the United States. However, many of those listed are some version of “we don’t know whose well this is.” Sorting the operators by the number of wells that they are listed as having, we see four of the top ten operators are in fact unknown, including the top three positions.
The state of oil and gas data in the United States is clearly in shambles. As long as there are no national standards for data transparency, we can expect this trend to continue. The data that we looked for in this file is what we consider to be bare bones: well name, well type, well status, slant (directional, vertical, or horizontal), operator, and location. In none of these categories can we say that we have a satisfactory sense of what is going on nationally.
Click on the above button to download the three sets of data we used to make the dynamic map (once you are zoomed in to a state level). The full dataset was broken into three parts due to the large file sizes.
By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator
This article was originally posted on 10 July 2015, and then updated on 22 January 2016 and 16 February 2016.
Proposed Pipeline to Funnel Marcellus Gas South
In early fall 2014, Dominion Energy proposed a $5 billion pipeline project, designed provide “clean-burning gas supplies to growing markets in Virginia and North Carolina.” Originally named the “Southeast Reliability Project,” the proposed pipeline would have a 42-inch diameter in West Virginia and Virginia. It would narrow to 36 inches in North Carolina, and narrow again to 20 inches in the portion that would extend to the coast at Hampton Roads. Moving 1.5 billion cubic feet per day of gas, with a maximum allowable operating pressure of 1440 psig (pounds per square inch gage), the pipeline would be designed for larger customers (such as manufacturers and power generators) or local gas distributors supplying homes and businesses to tap into the pipeline along the route, making the pipeline a prime mover for development along its path.
The project was renamed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) when a coalition of four major US energy companies—Dominion (45% ownership), Duke Energy (40%), Piedmont Natural Gas (15%), and AGL Resources (5%)— proposed a joint venture in building and co-owning the pipeline. Since then, over 100 energy companies, economic developers, labor unions, manufacturers, and civic groups have joined the new Energy Sure Coalition, supporting the ACP. The coalition asserts that the pipeline is essential because the demand for fuel for power generation is predicted more than triple over the next 20 years. Their website touts the pipeline as a “Path to Cleaner Energy,” and suggests that the project will generate significant tax revenue for Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia.
Map of Proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline
View map fullscreen – including legend and measurement tools.
Lew Ebert, president of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, optimistically commented:
Having the ability to bring low-cost, affordable, predictable energy to a part of the state that’s desperately in need of it is a big deal. The opportunity to bring a new kind of energy to a part of the state that has really struggled over decades is a real economic plus.
Unlike older pipelines, which were designed to move oil and gas from the Gulf Coast refineries northward to meet energy demands there, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would tap the Marcellus Shale Formation in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania and send it south to fuel power generation stations and residential customers. Dominion characterizes the need for natural gas in these parts of the country as “urgent,” and that there is no better supplier than these “four homegrown companies” that have been economic forces in the state for many years.
In addition to the 550 miles of proposed pipeline for this project, three compressor stations are also planned. One would be at the beginning of the pipeline in West Virginia, a second midway in County Virginia, and the third near the Virginia-North Carolina state line. The compressor stations are located along the proposed pipeline, adjacent to the Transcontinental Pipeline, which stretches more than 1,800 miles from Pennsylvania and the New York City Area to locations along the Gulf of Mexico, as far south as Brownsville, TX.
In mid-May 2015, in order to avoid requesting Congressional approval to locate the pipeline over National Park Service lands, Dominion proposed rerouting two sections of the pipeline, combining the impact zones on both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail into a single location along the border of Nelson and Augusta Counties, VA. National Forest Service land does not require as strict of approvals as would construction on National Park Service lands. Dominion noted that over 80% of the pipeline route has already been surveyed.
Opposition to the Pipeline on Many Fronts
The path of the proposed pipeline crosses topography that is well known for its karst geology feature—underground caverns that are continuous with groundwater supplies. Environmentalists have been vocal in their concern that were part of the pipeline to rupture, groundwater contamination, along with impacts to wildlife could be extensive. In Nelson County, VA, alone, 70% of the property owners in the path of the proposed pipeline have refused Dominion access for survey, asserting that Dominion has been unresponsive to their concerns about environmental and cultural impacts of the project.
On the grassroots front, 38 conservation and environmental groups in Virginia and West Virginia have combined efforts to oppose the ACP. The group, called the Allegany-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA), cites among its primary concerns the ecologically-sensitive habitats the proposed pipeline would cross, including over 49.5 miles of the George Washington and Monongahela State Forests in Virginia and West Virginia. The “alternative” version of the pipeline route would traverse 62.7 miles of the same State Forests. Scenic routes, including the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Scenic Trail would also be impacted. In addition, it would pose negative impacts on many rural communities but not offset these impacts with any longer-term economic benefits. ABRA is urging for a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) to assess the full impact of the pipeline, and also evaluate “all reasonable, less damaging” alternatives. Importantly, ABRA is urging for a review that explores the cumulative impacts off all pipeline infrastructure projects in the area, especially in light of the increasing availability of clean energy alternatives.
Environmental and political opposition to the pipeline has been strong, especially in western Virginia. Friends of Nelson, based in Nelson County, VA, has taken issue with the impacts posed by the 150-foot-wide easement necessary for the pipeline, as well as the shortage of Department of Environmental Quality staff that would be necessary to oversee a project of this magnitude.
Do gas reserves justify this project?
Dominion, an informational flyer, put forward an interesting argument about why gas pipelines are a more environmentally desirable alternative to green energy:
If all of the natural gas that would flow through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is used to generate electricity, the 1.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcf/d) would yield approximately 190,500 megawatt-hours per day (mwh/d) of electricity. The pipeline, once operational, would affect approximately 4,600 acres of land. To generate that much electricity with wind turbines, utilities would need approximately 46,500 wind turbines on approximately 476,000 acres of land. To generate that much electricity with solar farms, utilities would need approximately 1.7 million acres of land dedicated to solar power generation.
Nonetheless, researchers, as well as environmental groups, have questioned whether the logic is sound, given production in both the Marcellus and Utica Formations is dropping off in recent assessments.
Both Nature, in their article Natural Gas: The Fracking Fallacy, and Post Carbon Institute, in their paper Drilling Deeper, took a critical look at several of the current production scenarios for the Marcellus Shale offered by EIA and University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology (UT/BEG). All estimates show a decline in production over current levels. The University of Texas report, authored by petroleum geologists, is considerably less optimistic than what has been suggested by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), and imply that the oil and gas bubble is likely to soon burst.
David Hughes, author of the Drilling Deeper report, summarized some of his findings on Marcellus productivity:
- Field decline averages 32% per year without drilling, requiring about 1,000 wells per year in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to offset.
- Core counties occupy a relatively small proportion of the total play area and are the current focus of drilling.
- Average well productivity in most counties is increasing as operators apply better technology and focus drilling on sweet spots.
- Production in the “most likely” drilling rate case is likely to peak by 2018 at 25% above the levels in mid-2014 and will cumulatively produce the quantity that the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected through 2040. However, production levels will be higher in early years and lower in later years than the EIA projected, which is critical information for ongoing infrastructure development plans.
- The EIA overestimates Marcellus production by between 6% and 18%, for its Natural Gas Weekly and Drilling Productivity reports, respectively.
- Five out of more than 70 counties account for two-thirds of production. Eighty-five percent of production is from Pennsylvania, 15% from West Virginia and very small amounts from Ohio and New York. (The EIA has published maps of the depth, thickness and distribution of the Marcellus shale, which are helpful in understanding the variability of the play.)
- The increase in well productivity over time reported in Drilling Deeper has now peaked in several of the top counties and is declining. This means that better technology is no longer increasing average well productivity in these counties, a result of either drilling in poorer locations and/or well interference resulting in one well cannibalizing another well’s recoverable gas. This declining well productivity is significant, yet expected, as top counties become saturated with wells and will degrade the economics which have allowed operators to sell into Appalachian gas hubs at a significant discount to Henry hub gas prices.
- The backlog of wells awaiting completion (aka “fracklog”) was reduced from nearly a thousand wells in early 2012 to very few in mid-2013, but has increased to more than 500 in late 2014. This means there is a cushion of wells waiting on completion which can maintain or increase overall play production as they are connected, even if the rig count drops further.
- Current drilling rates are sufficient to keep Marcellus production growing on track for its projected 2018 peak (“most likely” case in Drilling Deeper).
Post Carbon Institute estimates that Marcellus predictions overstate actual production by 45-142%. Regardless of the model we consider, production starts to drop off within a year or two after the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would go into operation. This downward trend leads to some serious questions about whether moving ahead with the assumption of three-fold demand for gas along the Carolina coast should prompt some larger planning questions, and whether the availability of recoverable Marcellus gas over the next twenty years, as well as the environmental impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, justify its construction.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, will make a final approval on the pipeline route later in the summer of 2015, with a final decision on the pipeline construction itself expected by fall 2016.
UPDATE #1: On January 19, 2016, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the United States Forest Service had rejected the pipeline, due to the impact its route would have on habitats of sensitive animal species living in the two National Forests it is proposed to traverse.
UPDATE #2: On February 12, 2016, Dominion Pipeline Company released a new map showing an alternative route to the one recently rejected by the United States Forest Service a month earlier. Stridently condemned by the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition as an “irresponsible undertaking”, the new route would not only cross terrain the Dominion had previously rejected as too hazardous for pipeline construction, it would–in avoiding a path through Cheat and Shenandoah Mountains–impact terrain known for its ecologically sensitive karst topography, and pose grave risks to water quality and soil erosion.
14 workshops in 7 countries on 3 continents
A FracTracker team has just returned from North Carolina where fracking has been given the green light by the state’s government. Time may tell what reserves are contained within the Mesozoic basins but already landmen are knocking on doors and striking deals with willing landowners. Offshore drilling is also under consideration in a state where tourism – fueled in part by renowned beach destinations – is a $20 billion a year industry.
The visit was for Our Energy Solutions, a project bringing 14 workshops to seven countries on three continents. The aim is to help build a global community of engaged citizens and stakeholders who are informed of the risks of fossil fuels (like oil and natural gas), enlightened about renewable energy opportunities, and inspired to share ideas for a more sustainable planet. The attendance, interest, and dialogue at the North Carolina workshops were inspiring. People young and old came out to prove there is great concern about these issues. While acknowledging the complexities of energy and climate challenges, they seemed willing to dig-in, reach-out, engage, and act. The audiences owned the “Our” in Our Energy Solutions. Just weeks earlier, another team from FracTracker and the Ecologic Institute – the lead collaborators in Our Energy Solutions – launched the project with workshops in Florida, hosted by the South Florida Wildlands Association. In North Carolina, our partners were Environment North Carolina and MountainTrue. These regional and statewide groups offer abundant ways to get involved and illuminate a better path forward.
Both states are at risk from accelerated and more extreme hydrocarbon extraction, but both also bear significant potential for broad success with renewable energy. While only 0.1% of Florida’s current generating capacity comes from solar, it has some of the strongest incoming solar radiation in the country. North Carolina sports the best conditions for offshore wind energy on the east coast. The Tarheel State ranked 2nd in the nation for new installed solar capacity in 2014, and the same year, over 4,300 North Carolinians worked in the solar power industry. Already, 4,800 Floridians work in the solar industry.
The volatile economics of oil and gas, the effects of fossil fuel combustion on the planet, and the impairment of human health and the environment caused by extraction necessitate other approaches to meet our energy needs. Our Energy Solutions will strive to showcase brighter possibilities – one workshop at a time. Next stop, Argentina – May 5-12th.
Check out Our Energy Solutions on Facebook and join the conversation!
Many people ask us how many wells have been hydraulically fractured in the United States. It is an excellent question, but not one that is easily answered; most states don’t release data on well stimulation activities. Also, since the data are released by state regulatory agencies, it is necessary to obtain data from each state that has oil and gas data to even begin the conversation. We’ve finally had a chance to complete that task, and have been able to aggregate the following totals:
While data on hydraulically fractured wells is rarely made available, the slant of the wells are often made accessible. The well types are as follows:
- Directional: Directional wells are those where the top and the bottom of the holes do not line up vertically. In some cases, the deviation is fairly slight. These are also known as deviated or slant wells.
- Horizontal: Horizontal wells are directional wells, where the well bore makes something of an “L” shape. States may have their own definition for horizontal wells. In Alaska, these wells are defined as those deviating at least 80° from vertical. Currently, operators are able to drill horizontally for several miles.
- Directional or Horizontal: These wells are known to be directional, but whether they are classified as horizontal or not could not be determined from the available data. In many cases, the directionality was determined by the presence of directional sidetrack codes in the well’s API number.
- Vertical: Wells in which the top hole and bottom hole locations are in alignment. States may have differing tolerances for what constitutes a vertical well, as opposed to directional.
- Hydraulically Fractured: As each state releases data differently, it wasn’t always possible to get consistent data. These wells are known to be hydraulically fractured, but the slant of the well is unknown.
- Not Fractured: These wells have not been hydraulically fractured, and the slant of the well is unknown.
- Unknown: Nothing is known about the slant, stimulation, or target formation of the well in question.
- Unknown (Shale Formation): Nothing is known about the slant or stimulation of the wells in question; however, it is known that the target formation is a major shale play. Therefore, it is probable that the well has been hydraulically fractured, with a strong possibility of being drilled horizontally.
Wells that have been hydraulically fractured might appear in any of the eight categories, with the obvious exception of “Not Fractured.” Categories that are very likely to be fractured include, “Horizontal”, “Hydraulically Fractured”, and “Unknown (Shale Formation),” the total of which is about 32,000 wells. However, that number doesn’t include any wells from Texas or Colorado, where we know thousands wells have been drilled into major shale formations, but the data had to be placed into categories that were more vague.
Oil and gas wells in the United States, as of February 2014. Location data were not available for Maryland (n=104), North Carolina (n=2), and Texas (n=303,909). To access the legend and other map tools, click the expanding arrows icon in the top-right corner.
The standard that we attempted to reach for all of the well totals was for wells that have been drilled but have not yet been plugged, which is a broad spectrum of the well’s life-cycle. In some cases, decisions had to be made in terms of which wells to include, due to imperfect metadata.
No location data were available for Maryland, North Carolina, or Texas. The first two have very few wells, and officials in Maryland said that they expect to have the data available within about a month. Texas location data is available for purchase, however such data cannot be redistributed, so it was not included on the map.
It should not be assumed that all of the wells that are shown in the map above the shale plays and shale basin layers are actually drilled into shale. In many cases, however, shale is considered a source rock, where hydrocarbons are developed, before the oil and gas products migrate upward into shallower, more conventional formations.
The raw data oil and gas data is available for download on our site in shapefile format.
Sometimes, one vote really does make a difference. When the North Carolina state legislature attempted to override then-Governor Beverly Perdue’s veto of a bill designed to allow hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in the Tar Heel State back in July 2012, one legislator pressed the wrong button, and was not allowed to correct her vote. With that, proponents of the law had enough votes, and historical laws banning horizontal production wells and injection wells were stricken from the books.
So now that it’s legal, where’s the North Carolina map?
Our maps section has maps for over 30 states, numerous maps of national interest, and one for British Columbia, as well. There have certainly been numerous requests from people in North Carolina in the year and a half since Governor Perdue’s veto was overridden for us to map their state.
It’s true that our small staff is still working on backlog of states to be added to our collection of shale viewer maps. It’s also true that some states produce insufficient data to map their unconventional oil and gas efforts. For example, neighboring Tennessee’s Department of Environment & Conservation has no data at all available on their website (a fact that I have verified through personal correspondence).
But in North Carolina, the reasons are different. While horizontal drilling and injection wells are now legal, essentially paving the way for development with hydraulic fracturing, the law that was passed over the veto mandated that the Mining and Energy Commission develop a regulatory framework for the modern drilling techniques. The Commission is still in the process of putting that together, and should be finished by October 1, 2014.
So stay tuned.
This post was updated on February 13, 2015 to fix a broken link and provide a more accurate estimate for the number of shale viewer maps we offer.
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Oil & Gas Activity in North Carolina
The N.C. Geological Survey, housed in the Department of Environmental Quality, has concluded that a viable reserve of natural gas may underlie parts of the state’s Triassic basins. Technically recoverable gas is thought to exist in the Sanford sub-basin (including Lee, Chatham and Moore counties) and possibly the Dan River sub-basin (including Stokes and Rockingham counties). Learn more
Recently, drilling has been proposed off of the coast of NC, however, but the extent to which that happens remains to be seen. Learn more
Presently there is no large scale oil and gas extraction occurring on land in North Carolina, but this industrial activity may begin in the near future. Due to a fairly recent law, horizontal drilling and injection wells (e.g. fracking) are now legal. The law also mandated that the Mining and Energy Commission develop a regulatory framework for the modern drilling techniques. The Commission has since created new rules, which can be found here:
When we compiled our national map of oil and gas wells in 2014 and in 2015, we were told that there were two active oil and gas wells in the state of North Carolina, but that data about those wells were currently unavailable. We have followed up on this matter multiple times, but received no further replies.
If you are approached to lease your mineral rights for oil and gas drilling, this website offers valuable tips for things to consider.
As data become available regarding oil and gas drilling in NC, including the use of well stimulation techniques such as fracking, we will update this page. In the meantime, below are resources that you can use to learn more about the potential for drilling in NC, as well as concerns and current research.
Shale Gas Extraction in North Carolina: Research Recommendations and Public Health Implications – A summary by Adrian Down, Martin Armes, and Robert Jackson of a summit held in October 2012 by the Research Triangle Environmental Health Collaborative. Three recommendations for oil and gas development in NC were put forth by participants during that summit, to:
- Collect background data on the current state of health and the environment prior to drilling,
- Develop a comprehensive health impact assessment to monitor for problems as they occur, and
- Create a community needs and assets assessment to address and prevent social impacts.