Tag Archive for: Pennsylvania

Surveying Unassessed Waters in PA

According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), only 22,000 of the 86,000 miles of flowing water in PA have been sampled by biologists from their organization. As of 2011, about 12,800 miles were designated as wild trout waters. (It is hard to believe that we have so many streams to begin with!) In recent years, many groups in the Commonwealth have increased their efforts to assess these streams due to increases in potential water quality threats, such as land development and unconventional natural gas extraction. By default, unassessed streams are given the lowest classification category by the PA Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP). It is important to prioritize streams according to their water quality, the potential for wild trout populations, and the risk posed by nearby human activities. Why trout?  Glad you asked. While there are many other ways to determine water quality, the presence of wild trout increases the streams’ water quality protection classification in PA.

A few weeks ago I spoke with an engaging gentleman from Susquehanna University, Dr. Jonathan Niles, who is working on a unique stream sampling project through the PFBC with a number of partners to do just that. Pennsylvania’s Unassessed Waters Initiative seeks to classify the 92% of streams that don’t have monitoring data about.  In 2010, PFBC partnered with two universities to survey trout populations in 30 streams each under a small grant. This work was expanded in 2011 with even more entities signing on, including Susquehanna University, and resulted in a significant increase in the number of classified streams.  The project involves entering the GPS locations of the unassessed streams and then collecting trout population data from the field. In the past two years the Unassessed Waters Initiative has surveyed 1,049 streams and documented wild trout in about 55% of those streams. Check out the progress they have made in the two maps below, the first from 2008 before sampling efforts were increased, and the second from 2012:

2008 Unassessed Waters in PA

Unassessed Waters in PA – 2008 – Unassessed streams in red, Assessed in blue

2012 Unassessed Waters

Unassessed Waters in PA – 2012 – Unassessed streams in red, Assessed in blue

In addition to the sampling protocol set forth by PFBC, Dr. Niles and his students Caleb Currens, John Panas, and Sam Silknetter collected benthic macroinvertibrate (which are PA DEP water quality indicators) and algae species data, conducted fish population estimates on every stream (not just where there was more than 5 fish of a certain species), sampled fish diets, and collected water for additional heavy metals and contaminant analysis. The preliminary fishery data from last year are currently being reviewed by the PADEP.

Some of the Initative’s efforts have focused on the quality of streams near shale gas drilling operations, especially due to the risk that erosion and sedimentation poses to trout’s habitat. Dr. Niles feels that the data collected from initiatives like this one provide valuable operating insight for development and natural gas companies, as sensitive areas can be avoided by companies – saving them time and money.

With funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Iinitiative has been funded again this year. Dr. Niles’ team is contracted to assess 20 streams in Loyalstock that were previously unassessed. An additional 40 streams will be assessed by Dr. Niles’ team elsewhere in PA. While they have made extraordinary progress, there is still much work to be done. What does a project with such a broad geographic scope like this one cost? In addition to travel and salary costs, each benthic macroinvertebrate sample runs about $200-250 to analyze in a lab. It is likely that this year alone there will be at least 60 samples collected by Dr. Niles’ team, if not more. The financial cost of conducting this kind of research may seem high, but the failure to do so could cost Pennsylvanians much more. It is our hope, here at FracTracker, to keep up-to-date with the Unassessed Waters Initiative as the teams go out this year. Check back soon for more information, or contact us if you would like to get involved with either the sampling or funding of this initiative: info@fractracker.org.

Below are photos of Dr. Niles’ assessment team taken during their field sampling trips.

In addition to the Fish and Boat’s own crews, the following 15 groups are partners for this year’s Unassessed Waters Initiative:

  • Penn State University
  • California University of Pennsylvania
  • Susquehanna University
  • Clarion University
  • Lycoming College
  • Kings College
  • Keystone College
  • Juniata College
  • Allegheny College
  • Mansfield University
  • Lock Haven University
  • Duquesne University
  • Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association
  • Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
  • Trout Unlimited – Eastern Abandoned Mines program

By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – Communications Specialist, FracTracker; and DrPH Student, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health department. (email) malone@fractracker.org

Special thanks to Jon Niles (Susquehanna University) and Bob Weber (PA Fish and Boat Commission) for their contributions to this article and efforts in the field!

Pennsylvania Marcellus Fines Data

Usually, I try to let readers know the state of affairs related to oil and gas extraction by taking a hard look at publicly available data.  Sometimes, however, it seems like the simplest questions have an answer that starts off with, “Well, it’s complicated…”  Such is the case when it comes to fines issued by the the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (PADEP) Office of Oil and Gas Management.  Luckily  PADEP releases data about fines issued to operators in its compliance report, but unfortunately, it can be confusing to interpret.  Let’s take a closer look:

The first point of confusion is the compliance report itself.  Specifically, there are more rows of data than there are violations, as counted by PADEP.  The answer seems to be that PADEP counts the number of unique violation ID numbers, however sometimes (but not always), the same Violation ID will be used for multiple rows of data on the violation report.  When I downloaded Marcellus violation data from January 1, 2005 through May 2, 2012, there were 4,293 rows of violation data, but only 3,689 unique violation ID’s.

Distribution of Violation ID frequency on the PADEP Marcellus Shale compliance report, January 1, 2005 through May 2, 2012.

If a violations are counted by unique Violation ID numbers, what then are we to make of the other 604 items on the list? They all have violation numbers, but share them with between one and three other incidents. My perception is that this is one of those decisions made in the field that has unanticipated consequences with respect to database maintenance. That is just a guess though–I’ve contacted PADEP for clarification on this point, and will be sure to relay that information when I receive it.

The second confusing aspect of the fines data is fairly similar in nature, in that identical fine amounts will often appear for multiple violations (or rows of violation data, as the case may be).  This is an ostensibly reasonable thing to do; if PADEP can deal with a suite of related violations all at once, why not do so?  But it does beg the question of whether the full fine is posted for each item on the compliance report, or whether it has been prorated between them.

I believe the former case to be correct.  Take for example, the recent announcement of a fine issued by PADEP to Ultra Resources for improper storage of flowback water at a Potter County site.  The announcement mentions a $40,000 fine, but the data reflects three fines assessed to Ultra for that amount on March 23, 2012 for three incidents with unique Violation ID numbers.

The implication is that if you go through the dataset and add up the value of all the fines, the result will almost certainly be wildly inflated.  The same is true for the number of fines that have been assessed.   However, there is something linking the three records together in the Ultra example:  they all share the same Enforcement ID number.  So perhaps that is the key?  Let’s take a look at the total number and value of Marcellus fines assessed, with the data organized in three different ways:

Aggregated number and value of Marcellus related fines in PA from 1-1-2005 to 5-2-2012, by method.

Given that the three Ultra violations in the example above all had unique Violation ID numbers but shared the same Enforcement ID, my expectation was that aggregating the data by unique Enforcement IDs would yield the smallest (and most accurate) statewide totals.  Clearly, that hypothesis needs to be relegated to the scrap heap, based on the table above.

And to be honest, I don’t have a better hypothesis on deck.  I have also asked PADEP for clarity on this point, and will be happy to share that information when I receive a reply.  But for now, I’m not even sure if it is possible to tease the correct answers from the data that have been provided.  Which is a shame, because if we knew a reliable methodology for doing so, it would be possible to explore the topic in much more interesting detail, finding answers for questions like:  Which company gets fined the most?  What’s the ratio of violations to fines assessed?  How many days pass between a violation being issued and a fine?  (For this last one, I can tell you that the maximum amount of time so far is 755 days–I just can’t provide a reliable distribution of the results).

I like to give the DEP credit where it is due:  they are making tremendous progress in their dissemination of oil and gas data.  Two years ago, there were no compliance, production, or waste reports.  Drilled well data was available, but much of it didn’t have location data, and you had to copy and paste from web tables to a spreadsheet, which didn’t always work very well.  And some of the location data for permits were miles away from the actual well site with the corresponding API number.  PADEP has come a very long way in the reliability and accessibility of their oil and gas data.  Here’s hoping that trend continues.

Drilled Wells by Operator Over Time in PA’s Marcellus

The roster of companies that drill into Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale is a long one:  there are 70 different operators listed on the Marcellus Spud Report at the PADEP website. Here is a list of each operator, complete with annual totals since 2005:

Marcellus Shale wells drilled by operator by year, through May 2, 2012

With the chart below, you can view the same data in a different way:

Percentage of each operator’s drilling activity by year. Please click the above image for a full sized view.

This graph is particularly useful for highlighting new operators, as well as those that are no longer drilling wells. When I show data trends for operators over time, I typically get multiple comments about mergers, acquisitions, and subsidiaries within the industry. Such comments are welcome, and yet any attempt to account for them on my end will almost certainly be incomplete, and therefore potentially misleading. For that reason, I have elected not to aggregate operators in any way, tempting though it may be to combine “Exco Resources PA Inc” and “Exco Resources PA Llc”.

Here are a few more observations about the data:

  • Atlas Resources drilled an industry-high 117 Marcellus Shale wells in 2009. The company is still active, but not on the same scale, drilling just 11 wells last year, and only four wells in the first four months of 2012.
  • The DEP has apparently made some retroactive changes to the operators for wells drilled in previous years. In this violations analysis from November, for example, Dominion Exploration and Production has 17 wells between 2006 and 2011. Now, the only Dominion well is for Dominion Trans Inc. The balance of Dominion wells was likely transferred to either Consol Gas Co or CNX Gas Co Llc, both subsidiaries of Consol Energy, which purchased Dominion’s Marcellus holdings in 2010.
  • Whatever prompted the DEP to reassign Dominion wells to other operators apparently didn’t apply for Shell’s 2010 acquisition of East Resources.  Or at least it didn’t apply for all of East’s wells–in November, East was credited as being the operator for 342 wells, while they currently are on record for 298.  Shell, which does business as SWEPI on this list, had no wells until 2011 on the November list, whereas now, they are listed as the operator for 21 wells that were spudded between 2008 and 2010.
  • With 545 wells drilled through the first 123 days of 2012, the industry is on pace to drill 1,617 Marcellus wells in Pennsylvania this year, down from 1,937 wells last year.

Statewide County Natural Heritage Inventory Map

We Love Maps

At FracTracker, you could say that we are a bit obsessed about maps and data.  The amazing map below was created and is updated by the PA Natural Heritage Program (PNHP). While this is a recurring project for PNHP, with the increase in shale gas activity in recent years it is ever more important to protect and document changes to sensitive ecosystems.

Important Natural Heritage Areas

PA Natural Heritage Sites - Click for Interactive Map

Click on the map to check out a statewide interactive map featuring data from the County Natural Heritage Inventory. The results presented in this map represent a snapshot in time, highlighting the sensitive natural areas within Pennsylvania. Core habitat is outlined in red (places where any disturbance could be detrimental to certain ecological species), supporting landscape in purple, and landscape conservation areas in yellow.

By clicking on the map, you will be taken to the Heritage Program’s site where you can search the map by county, watershed, or an address to learn more about the protected areas near you. On this page you can learn about the species of special concern such as the Copperhead, the Bog Turtle,  and Northern Cricket Frog.

About the Inventory

The County Natural Heritage Inventory is a cooperative program undertaken by the PNHP partnership. The County Natural Heritage Inventories (CNHI) have been systematic studies of the critical biological resources of the state, county by county. The primary focus of CNHIs has been on species of concern: those plants, animals, natural communities, and habitats most at risk of extinction at the global or local level. These projects are designed to identify, map and discus areas that support species of concern, exemplary natural communities and broad expanses of intact natural ecosystems that support components of Pennsylvania’s native species biodiversity. These areas are prioritized based upon their ecological qualities and provided with recommendations regarding their management and protection.

These studies were conceived as tools to assist in planning to avoid the accidental destruction of habitats supporting species of concern at both the county and municipal levels and have been used effectively in that capacity. CNHIs have been incorporated into comprehensive plans, consulted to plan development projects, and utilized by conservation organizations to prioritize their work. Additionally, these studies have been used to help in the development of recreational amenities, promotion of tourism industries and assistance in community development. CNHIs have also been a primary source for much of the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory permit review data. CNHIs can actually streamline economic and infrastructure developments by providing information on sensitive environmental features early in the planning process when adjustments can be made at little cost or delay.

The County Natural Heritage Inventory is a planning tool, and is not intended to be used as a substitute for environmental review. For more information, view the Statewide CNHI fact sheet.


Drilling and Compliance in PA’s Marcellus Over Time

The following line chart shows the number of Marcellus Shale wells drilled in Pennsylvania from January 2007 through March 2012, and the number of violations issued (1) by PADEP over the same period of time:

Drilled Wells and Violations in PA’s Marcellus Over Time

While drilling activities in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale really got under way in 2005, the threshold of 10 wells drilled in a month didn’t happen until 2007, so the earlier data has been omitted in favor of charts that are a little less crowded. Here are a few milestones that have happened along the way:

  • First month with more violations than wells: April 2008 (difference=8)
  • First month with 50 violations: June 2008 (n=82)
  • First month with 50 wells: June 2009 (n=75)
  • First month with 100 violations: July 2009 (n=101)
  • First month with 100 wells: November 2009 (n=111)
  • First month with 100 more wells than violations: September 2010 (n=109)
  • First month with 200 wells: August 2011 (n=212)
  • Longest streak with more wells than violations: 15 months (January 2007 to March 2008) (2)
  • Longest streak with more violations than wells: 7 months: (February to August 2009)
  • Second longest streak with more wells than violations: 11 months (May 2011 to March 2012)
  • Second longest streak with more violations than wells: 2 months (Aug.-Sept 2008 and Dec. 2009-Jan 2010)
  1. Included in violations is the total number of records from the compliance report linked above during the given time period where the “Marcellus only” and “Inspections with violations only” fields are set to “Yes”. This inflates the number of incidents reported by PADEP, which keeps track through the number of unique violation ID’s issued, so that if two instances are issued the same violation ID, it will be counted as one violation.
  2. This streak may well be longer if months prior to 2007 were included

PA Marcellus Drilled Wells Data Updated

A few days ago, I talked about the nebulous situation in trying to determine just how many Marcellus Shale permits there are in Pennsylvania. Many of the same concerns with permits can lead to multiple occurrences on the spud report which is the source of the drilled well data in Pennsylvania.

Without going into all the monotonous details once again, as of February 1, 2012, there were 4,534 records on the spud report, representing 4,274 distinct wells.  The following are depictions of the larger number, both spatially and temporally.

Drilled Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania. To hide the menus, please click on the gray compass rose and double carat (^) icons.

Approaching 10K Unconventional Wells in PA

How Many MS Permits Are There in PA?

People interested in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale data frequently ask me what they think is a relatively straightforward question: how many drilling permits are there for Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania? As it happens, this is actually a somewhat complicated question, as there are numerous paths to finding the answer, all of which will lead to a different result. Consider, for example:

  • If you go to the Well Permit Workload Report for the week ending 1/20/12, the answer is provided for you: 9,883. But…
  • …if you search the Permits Issued Detail Report using the same end date, you will be given the result since the year 2000 as 9,868.
  • The above item is particularly confusing when you realize that it consists of 11,209 rows of data. No problem, you say, I’ll just use my Excel skills to pivot the data by it’s unique API number, and as of today’s data we’re down to a mere 9,880 (plus two items with the wrong numerical formatting altogether).

So which number is right? In my opinion, none of them. If you follow the API link above, you will see that there are serveral components to the API number, which generally is in the format AB-CDE-FGHIJ-KL-MN, where each letter is represented by a digit ranging from 0 to 9. Here’s what they mean:

  • “AB” represents the state code. In Pennsylvania, the code is “37”, but it is not included on the DEP dataset.
  • “CDE” is the county code, which is alphabetical, and starts at 001. So for example, Allegheny County has a code of 003, since it is near the start of the alphabet, while Washington County is 125, which is near the end.
  • “FGHIJ” is the unique well indicator. In theory, this allows for 100,000 wells per county to each have their own number. If you count the distinct combination of county codes and unique well indicators, there were 8,942 well permits as of 1-20.
  • “KL” indicates the directional sidetrack code. This could represent multiple horizontal components of a well, so there is some wiggle room for argument if you want to consider each horizontal segment to be its own well. I argue against it, as the language talks about there being numerous horizontal components to a well, but for the record if you include it, then the number is 9,638.
  • “MN” represents the event sequence code, which includes modifications to existing wells that also require permit actions. The number of distinct Marcellus Shale permits if you were to include the directional sidetrack and event sequence code would be 9,878 as of the 20th of January.

So…which number is right?  My interpretation of what the code means is that to count the number of wells in any given state, you should include all of the three digit county codes and all of the five digit unique well indicators (or “CDE-FGHIJ”, as described above.)  As of January 20th, that number was 8,942 for Marcellus Shale well permits in Pennsylvania, and as of today, that number is 9,005.

Sometime this year, I expect that the number of total Marcellus Shale permits in Pennsylvania to top the 10,000 mark.  But if that claim comes within the next week or two, my opinion is that it isn’t an accurate representation of the data–even if the claim comes from the DEP itself.

The following charts contain data through the end of January 2012.  The first is based on 11,297 permit actions (or records on the permit report), while the second is classified by unique 8 digit well API numbers.

PA Oil and Gas Inspection Data Available

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has updated their delivery mechanism of violation data, and it is now possible to search all inspections, including those that do not result in violations. To test it out, I downloaded all oil and gas inspection data from January 1, 2011 to January 16, 2012. Here is a summary of the results from that query:

While the vast majority of instances where no violations were issued were recorded in Column F, it seemed likely to me that no violations would have been issued for any category in rows D through I, so I aggregated those columns and divided by the total number of inspections.

According to the report instructions, the report was intended to include only those violations that resulted in a violation, but the final compliance report does allow for seeing all results. This is a very good thing, a it provides us with another way to evaluate the various operators within industry.

Before I present that data for the Marcellus Shale operators, I should point out a source of skew: When an inspection yields more than one violation, there are multiple entries for the actual inspection. For example, if one inspection yielded ten violations, this analysis would look at it as ten inspections, each of which yielded one violation. Clearly, that would distort the actual number of inspections with violations downward, resulting in more favorable scores for any operator with multiple violations on any one inspection. That in mind, let’s consider the following results to be preliminary.  Still, it is useful in combination with the violations per well and violations per million cubic feet of production metrics to triangulate in on the operators’ culture of compliance.

Animating Data: A Different Way to Look at Marcellus Shale Drilling

by Josh Knauer, CEO of Rhiza

At Rhiza, we love to experiment with new ways of visualizing data that help tell better data stories. In most of our work environments, using data is kind of difficult and visualizing is usually left to data experts. We’d love to see a future where sharing data visualizations (maps, charts, explanations, etc) is as easy as recording and sharing a video on YouTube. Not everything produced will be stellar in quality, but at least we’ll all be a lot further down the road towards breaking down the traditional data silos and moving data aggregation and visualization solely out of the hands of database admins and graphic designers. We’ll still need those folks, their jobs will just get a lot more fun!

To this end, when I saw a data animation created by John Detwiler that showed the spread of drilled Marcellus shale gas wells in Bradford County, I wanted to create my own data animation telling the same story, but for the entire state of Pennsylvania… Read more»

Updated Drilled Wells Data for PA

Three drilled wells datasets for Pennsylvania have been updated or created, including:

The last of the three datasets is the most unique, with data spatially joined to municipalities. The following two maps exhibit the Marcellus Shale related data that they contain:

Number of Marcellus Shale wells per PA municipalities as of December 16, 2011. Click the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus. Then click the information tool (the blue “i”) then any map feature for more information.

Number of Marcellus Shale wells in PA municipalities per square mile, as of December 16, 2011. Area calculation performed in PA State Plane South.