Tag Archive for: Pennsylvania

Bradford County PA Wells Drilled Animation

Bradford County Wells Drilled Animation

One of the regular users, John Detwiler, recently took the mapping application that is part of the platform to an even greater level. He exported wells drilled data by year into Google Earth to create an animation of the shale gas wells drilled from 2007-11 in Bradford County, PA. Check it out:

Gas leases in Dryden NY

Gas Lease Review by the New York Times

Gas leases in the southeastern corner of the Town of Dryden (approximately).

Example lease map. Source: LivinginDryden.org


The New York Times has collected more than 111,000 oil and gas leases and related documents through open records requests. Over 100,000 of the documents in the archive are from Tarrant County, Tex., roughly 3,200 are from New York, and the remainder are from states including MarylandOhioPennsylvania and West Virginia.

To see all of the leases that have been collected by the New York Times, click here.


Some quick tidbits about what they found:

  • Fewer than half the leases require companies to compensate landowners for water contamination after drilling begins. And only about half the documents have language that lawyers suggest should be included to require payment for damages to livestock or crops.
  • Most leases grant gas companies broad rights to decide where they can cut down trees, store chemicals, build roads and drill. Companies are also permitted to operate generators and spotlights through the night near homes during drilling.
  • In the leases, drilling companies rarely describe to landowners the potential environmental and other risks that federal laws require them to disclose in filings to investors.
  • Most leases are for three or five years, but at least two-thirds of those reviewed by The Times allow extensions without additional approval from landowners.

Violations per Well by Operator Over Time

The following chart contains all operators that have either drilled a Marcellus Shale well in Pennsylvania from March 6, 2006 to November 27, 2011, or have been issued a Marcellus Shale related violation by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection between January 1, 2008 and September 30, 2011. Results are cumulative, thereby reflecting each company’s legacy with the Marcellus Shale, rather than their performances for any given year. The Violations per Well (VpW) score has been color coded for easy reference, with the following scale:

Most companies that are issued violations are well operators, although there do seem to be some midstream companies on the violation list. This might account for some of the blue “No wells” below, but mostly they reflect operators that were not yet active. For example, Antero Resource’s first well was in 2010, so entries for 2008 and 2009 read as “No wells”.

Whenever we look at Marcellus operators over time, the changes in companies has to be dealt with in some way. In this case, I took a minimalist approach: while East Resources, Inc. and East Resources, Llc. were combined, I did not merge name changes that were more substantial than that. For example, even though CNX Gas and Consol Gas are both owned by Consol, I did not merge the two. Another example is St. Mary Land and Exploration changed its name to SM Energy, and those two entries were left unchanged. Because of all of the changes within the industry, I have included the most recent drill date, so that viewers can determine if the drillers are still active.

PA Data Updates, New DataTool Charting Functionality

Several oil and gas datasets from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have been updated on the FracTracker DataTool, including:

Additionally, a Pennsylvania zip code dataset from the US Census has been added, but it appears to have some errors, with some zip codes inside Pennsylvania missing, and some outside of the border included.

PA zip codes. Please click the “i” tool then any map feature for more information.

Also, Rhiza Labs, the software developer of our DataTool, has been working hard to add new charting functionality to their Upshot platform. Any data that is classified as numeric upon upload can be charted. Play around with it, and let us know what you think.

January to August Marcellus Shale Violations by Operator

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Oil and Gas maintains violation data on their website (download the Excel file). The following is a summary of Marcellus Shale violations issued in the first eight months of this year, including the number of wells that were flagged for violations.

Marcellus Shale violations and offending wells in Pennsylvania: January – August, 2011

Marcellus Shale Production Decline Over Time in Pennsylvania

There are now three different Marcellus Shale production reports available on FracTracker’s DataTool:

The production data, which is self-reported by the drilling operators, is also available from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

In this post, we will explore the change in production from the 756 Marcellus Shale wells that reported positive (nonzero) production on each of the three reports. Of these, exactly 300 were flagged as horizontal wells on the most recent report, leaving 456 to be classified as vertical wells.

PA Marcellus Shale Production:  1-11 to 6-11 (large)
Marcellus Shale production in Pennsylvania from January to June, 2011. Please click the image to see a zoomable and dynamic map.
It is important to note that the first of the three production cycles is for a one year period, while the other two are for six months each.  Luckily, each report includes not only production in thousands of cubic feet (Mcf), but also the number of days for which each well was in production.  Therefore, we can look at the data in terms of thousands of cubic feet per day (McfPD), which solves not only the 12 month vs. 6 month problem, but also makes sure that we aren’t comparing six months of production to just a handful of days.

One important factor that this analysis does not account for, however, is when the well first entered production. This is significant, because gas wells typically have a very high initial production, which falls steeply in the months and years ahead. This produces a hyperbolic decline curve, such as this Department of the Interior graph found on Wikipedia.

In this case, we only know that the initial production was some time since 2006 and before June 30, 2010. Add to that fact that there are only three date ranges, and the result is definitely not a proper decline curve.

However, there are results, and they do show decline over time. Interestingly, there are some differences to note between horizontal and vertical Marcellus Shale wells.

Average Marcellus Shale production in thousands of cubic feet (Mcf) for wells on all three production reports.

Average Marcellus Shale production showing rates of decline.

The overall production of the sample decreased 40.7 percent from the period ending June 2010 to the one ending one year later.  Interestingly, the vertical wells are declining at a sharper rate than horizontal wells, although not dramatically so.

The chart also highlights the amazing difference in production that horizontal drilling provides to Marcellus Shale wells, with average production values 5.6 to 6.9 times higher than their vertical counterparts.

What’s Missing?
Not all of the Marcellus Shale wells from the July ’09 to June ’10 list were still reporting production for the period that ended one year later. These wells were not included in the above analysis, but are interesting in their own right:

Number of Marcellus Shale wells on the production report for the period ending June 2010 that are also reporting production one year later.

Surprisingly, the rate for horizontal wells no longer producing gas is more than twice as high as their vertical counterparts.  Does this mean that a side effect of horizontal drilling is a shorter well production life, as all of the gas is extracted faster?  We’ll have to wait and see what future data shows to find out.

Problems with Abandoned and Orphaned Wells

Left: Cabin Run orphaned oil well, Morgan County, Ohio. Many of the older oil and gas wells were either perfunctorily plugged, or else not at all. Right: The Pennsylvania DEP thinks this Bradford Township explosion in McKean County, PA might have been due to a nearby abandoned gas well that was drilled in 1881.

In April of 2000, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a plan for dealing with the approximately 8,000 abandoned and orphaned oil and gas wells throughout the Commonwealth. This report singled out 550 wells that were especially problematic, and of those, 129 were flagged as the highest priority, with a point score of 30 or greater on their internal scale.

Eleven years later, there are over 8,500 abandoned and orphaned wells, and 186 with a point score of 30 or greater. Most likely, this increase doesn’t suggest newly abandoned wells so much as the discovery of additional old ones. After all, according to Independant Petroleum Association of America estimates, over 325,000 oil and gas wells were drilled statewide between 1859 and 2000. The DEP has no information on more than half of those wells–about 184,000.  Therefore, the actual number of abandoned and orphaned wells in Pennsylvania could be much higher than the estimates provided above.

Abandoned wells are those that have been out of production for a year or more, and orphaned wells are wells that were abandoned prior to 1985, and from which the current landholder or operator didn’t receive any economic benefits.  When wells are designated as orphaned, the DEP is responsible for plugging them.  As of February, there are 6,251 wells classified as orphaned and 2,272 abandoned wells.

Reasons for Concern

Obviously, the prospects of houses suddenly exploding, as in the picture above, is reason enough to be concerned, and yet there are a variety of ways in which abandoned oil and gas wells can impact Pennsylvania’s environment and the health and well being of our residents. Most unplugged wells release some amount of oil, gas, condensate, or brine, which can kill vegetation, damage fragile riparian ecosystems, and contaminate aquifers. There is also the possibility of injury due to the sudden release of pressure. Some abandoned wells are 30 inch diameter open holes that are obviously a danger for children to fall into.

May 30, 2011 sinkhole in Allentown, PA
There is also the possibility that the presence of wells, whether active or or not, will aggravate unstable geologic formations, which are fairly common in Pennsylvania, due to mining activities in the west and soluble limestone formations in the east. This recent Allentown sinkhole was reportedly caused by a water leak, and caused significant property damage.

To give an example of the potential impact of abandoned oil and gas wells, here are some of the comments from the Abandoned and Orphaned Wells Program, with corresponding point scores:

Comments on abandoned wells and their corresponding point scores.

It is not always clear why a well was given a particular priority rating.  Indeed, there are many instances where ratings are zero, but the comments give reason for concern, such as “Oil in water supply” and “Well intact, near implement dealer facility, is a fire hazard.” Additionally, less than 15 percent of the abandoned wells listed give any comment at all.

Incidents in McKean County

Recent explosion incidents in McKean County, PA. Please click on the gray compass rose and double chevron to hide those menus.

The Bradford Township fire mentioned above (the more southern of the two), is about half a mile from the nearest abandoned well on the list.  However, the suspected well, Rogers 9, was apparently only 300 feet away. Presumably, this well was not known about until the incident occurred.  Rogers 9 was drilled in 1881.

The other incident, in Foster Township, is at the northern edge of a tight cluster of recent drilling activity.  It is entirely possible that there are abandoned wells in that region too, but again, nothing is on our list in the immediate vicinity.

This information leads one to suspect that one of the fires was probably due to recent activity, while the other was caused by a long-forgotten well. Whether or not that was the case, it is clear that drilling holes in the earth near where people live can have an adverse effect for a very long time.

Well Plugging

While well plugging technology has obviously improved over the years, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is always done right. A single $25,000 bond currently is the only insurance that an operator will plug all of their wells statewide, once they are no longer in production. In most cases, that is probably adequate, since there are non-monetary incentives for the operator to stay in good graces with the DEP. However, there are numerous smaller operators with wells still in production, including some residents who have their own private wells.

In these cases, the carrot of getting the bond money returned may not match the cost of plugging the well properly, especially if multiple wells are involved. In this 1998 document, the DEP put the average cost of plugging a well between $6,000 and $22,000. Last year, the DEP plugged 11 wells in Erie County for a cost of $137,348, or a cost of about $12,500 each.

According to the Bradford Era, over 2,700 wells have already been plugged statewide under the program. In McKean County, more than 950 wells have been plugged since 1989, at a cost of over $6.5 million.

As mentioned above, the DEP assumes responsibility for plugging the orphaned wells. The money for this comes from $150 fees added to oil permit applications, and $250 fees for gas permits. Money is clearly a limiting factor in how many wells the DEP can to plug. Those 11 Erie County wells required funds from 550 new gas permits. If those wells represent the average current price for plugging a well, then the 6,251 orphaned wells still on the list would cost over $78 million to plug, requiring the permit fees from 312,550 new wells. And that is still not including the approximately 184,000 abandoned wells that the DEP doesn’t even know about.

Maybe it is time for a new strategy.

Bradford County Blowout Frustrates Officials

Towanda Creek, Bradford County, PA
On April 19, a well being hydraulically fractured by Chesapeake Energy suffered a blowout, or a loss of control of the wellhead, releasing thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid onto the ground and into nearby Towanda Creek. Actions by officials at the county, state, and federal levels show some frustration with the drilling operator over this incident.

Chairman of the Bradford County Commissioners Mark W. Smith wrote an open letter to Governor Tom Corbett, in which he addresses the perfunctory well permitting process, well water spoilage and declining property values. He also points out the strains that the industry places on the local communities:
I continue to see our county, townships, and boroughs struggle with complex issues of development with no financial or logistical support from the Commonwealth. Emergency responders, volunteers, state and local police and dispatchers are working at a break neck pace to respond to immense traffic accident increases, well site accidents, and other related issues.
At the state level, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has already issued violations for the incident, as well as demanding explanations of certain aspects of the massive leak and spill. Chief among those is why Chesapeake elected to bring in well control specialists Boots and Coots, which took 12 hours to arrive on the scene, when there were other well control specialists available much closer. (For some dramatic well disaster footage, see Boots and Coots’ promotional video.)
The US Environmental Protection Agency is also getting involved, demanding complete information about the incident in this open letter to Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon. EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin explains the twofold nature of request:
We want a complete accounting of operations at the site to determine our next steps in this incident and to help prevent future releases of this kind.
Chesapeake Energy officials are also concerned, suspending all post-drilling activities in the Marcellus, including hydraulic fracturing, until the nature of the spill is fully undestood. The linked article gives no indication of a time frame for that review.
In 2010, Bradford County had 280 Marcellus Shale violations issued, with 386 Marcellus wells drilled in the same period. That works out to an average of three violations issued for every four wells drilled in the county.
Oil and gas violations in Bradford County, PA in 2010. Please click the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus.

PA Marcellus Shale Violations by Operator and County


This post has been archived.

Earlier this month, I examined 2010 oil and gas violation data for Pennsylvania on a summary level. Now I’m going to focus just on Marcellus Shale wells, and from the perspective of trying to determine the extent that drilling operators and location have on the likelihood of increased violations for any given well.

There are a number of ways in which this could be done. Although I am interested to see if the number of wells drilled in an area or by a drilling operator has a noticeable effect on violations, I have limited both investigations to 10 or more Marcellus Shale wells, both to avoid the erratic results of small sample sizes, and because the large number of results tends to make for crowded data displays.

Violations are only for 2010, both because it is current, and with 1,544 records, it is sufficiently large to make some generalizations about. As for wells, I decided to go for all drilled Marcellus Shale wells rather than just the 2010 wells, because wells that were spudded between 2006 and 2009 might well be included on the violations list. Also, the overall number of wells is a handy way to gauge the relative weight of a given operator or county on the industry as a whole.

2010 Marcellus Shale (MS) violations per total MS well, for counties with 10 or more MS wells.

2010 MS violations per total MS well, for operators with 10 or more MS wells.

There are, of course, a number of issues once we start looking at the data in detail. One of the biggest challenges is that many of these wells change hands, or else the companies that drill them change hands or are no longer active in the Marcellus Shale drilling industry in Pennsylvania. For example, in a previous analysis, I noted that Turm Oil had a large number of violations per well, and now they had none at all. I checked to see when their most recent well was drilled, and found my answer:

List of operators with 10 or more MS wells, with 2010 violations, frequencies per well, and the date of the most recent well drilled

Turm Oil hasn’t drilled a Marcellus well in almost two years. Looking at the chart above, Turm and Dominion don’t really belong in this analysis, and Eastern American and Fortuna may not for 2011. These four operators account for everyone with 10 or more total Marcellus Shale wells and no violations in 2010 except for Consol—kudos to Consol!

Does the number of wells impact violations?

Clearly, there is a tremendous range of violations per well, both in regards to who the operator is, as well as where the well is located. My hypothesis going into this analysis was that the more wells an operator drilled or the more wells drilled in a county, the fewer violations per well there would be.

I had several reasons for suspecting this to be the case. First of all, think of what must be done for a drilling operation without violations being issued. The site must be carefully placed, in accordance with all applicable regulations. The site must be prepared, taking into account all ground disturbing regulations. Then you have to drill through thousands of feet of rock, making sure that there is a structurally sound casing and cementing job to prevent gas migrations. Then there is the horizontal drilling, and the hydraulic fracturing. All along the way, not a drop of fracing fluid, diesel fuel, brine, or really anything else can touch the ground or enter Pennsylvania’s waters in any way. And when the drilling is done, the site must be restored in a timely fashion. And those are just a few of the regulations that the drilling operators agree to when they undertake drilling operations in Pennsylvania.

Let’s face it—that’s a lot to achieve. In order to consistently come in and out of a site with a clean record has got to take some practice. I’ve heard from industry sources that Marcellus Shale wells cost about $5 million to drill, so to do it right without cutting corners clearly takes significant resources as well.

In addition to all of that, a county level map of Marcellus Shale violations per well shows that the counties which produce the most Marcellus Shale gas wells are not the ones with the highest number of violations per well.

Map showing Marcellus Shale violations per county. Counties outlined in red have 100 or more Marcellus Shale wells. Click the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus.

So is there then any correlation between the number of wells drilled and the violations issued? Let’s take a look (1).

The equations for the trendlines were calculated by Excel, and I selected the ones with the highest R-squared values. I was surprised that the best fit for operators was a convex polynomial. In the graph above, there is indeed a cluster of operators with between 300 and 400 wells, and with about 0.5 violations per well or less, but on the other end of the spectrum, the violations per well are spread far apart. There are so many operators big and small with around 0.5 violations per well or less that it seems some other factors must be at play for all of the operators that exceed that value by a significant margin. Perhaps not everyone will achieve zero violations like Consol did in 2010, but it doesn’t seem reasonable that Williams Production Appalachia should have more than twice the amount of violations as Range Resources Appalachia, despite having only 8 percent of the number of wells as the gas extraction giant.

The correlation was a bit stronger for the counties than for the operators. I’m not entirely sure what factors are at play here, other than perhaps having a crew that is well familiar with the geology of the region and all the specific challenges associated with that. Again though, that doesn’t seem to explain why Wyoming County would have 3.44 violations for every Marcellus Shale well, while those in Washington county can only expect a violation for less than one well out of eight drilled.

[photo removed]

Again, I’m sure that the way this analysis was set up had an effect on some of these numbers, and Wyoming is certainly a smaller sample size than Washington. I also don’t want to infer that there aren’t problems when large operators drill in well established portions of the Marcellus Shale. What’s more, while over 1,500 Marcellus Shale violations in a year is a huge number, it likely doesn’t account for all of the actual incidents, just the ones that the DEP can demonstrate, apparently beyond a shadow of a doubt (2). And even in the best scenario, there are significant impacts upon the land and neighboring residents near the well site.

I am suggesting, however, that there are companies that need to do better in their efforts to comply with laws designed to protect Pennsylvanians from pollution and other deleterious effects of oil and gas drilling. Excuses that environmental regulations are too strict don’t hold water, as their competitors are closer to compliance, sometimes dramatically so.

  1. In order for Excel to be able to calculate all of the various regression lines, counties and operators with zero violations per well had to be excluded from this analysis.
  2. I have personally talked to numerous residents who feel that their well water was spoiled by gas operations on neighboring lands. A common theme in their complaints is that the DEP places the burden of proof on residents that their wells were not spoiled before drilling operations began–an almost impossible situation for the residents to predict and be proactive about.

How Long Between MS Permit Issuance and Drilling in PA?

2011 Marcellus Shale Permits and Drilled Wells in PA (large)
2011 Marcellus Shale drilled wells (green circles) and permits issued (red stars). For a larger, dynamic view, please click the image.
Marcellus Shale Permits and Drilled Wells (large)
All Marcellus Shale permits issued (red circles) and drilled wells (green circles). Please zoom in for a closer look in the denser portions of the map.

Sometimes it seems like the oil and gas industry is in an awfully big hurry. They are in a hurry to get the mineral leases, presumably because if they don’t, some other operator will. They are in a hurry to get their drilling permits from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)–already this year, the DEP has issued 979 permits from the Marcellus Shale formation alone. And sometimes they are in a hurry to get the drill in the ground.  Sometimes, however, they are not.

This does not mean that I think the 444 Marcellus Shale wells that have been spudded (time when the drill first hits the ground) so far this year is a small number. After all, today is just the 104th day of the year, which means that on average, almost 4.3 Marcellus Shale wells are started every single day. That’s a lot of industrial activity, and yet it reflects well under half of the 9.5 Marcellus Shale permits that DEP secretary Michael Krancer signs off on every day.

The longer term trends are similar: Of the 6,092 Marcellus Shale wells with active permits(1), 2,574 have been drilled. That represents about 42 percent, meaning that the 45 percent clip for 2011 is actually running a bit ahead of schedule. All of this brings a couple questions to mind:

  • Why does the oil and gas industry get more than twice as many permits as they are able to drill?
  • What’s the lag time for drilling once the permit is in hand?

I’m still scratching my head over the first one. I have been told that the siting and permitting processes are so involved and expensive that once the permit is in hand, the industry will drill the site, but the numbers don’t seem to reflect that as being fully true. Certainly, the 107 oil and gas drilling rigs available in Pennsylvania right now is a limiting factor in how many wells are drilled, but that doesn’t explain why the permitting process is years ahead of the drilling queue.

As for how long it takes to drill once a permit has been issued, there are means of answering that question. First, I matched the permits data to the spuds data using the wells’ unique API numbers, finding 2,804 matches for 2,574 distinct wells (2)(3). The second step was to subtract the number of days between the spud date and the permit date to determine the lag time for those permits which have been drilled, and where API numbers did match up. Let’s take a look at the results:

Number of days between permit issuance and spud (initial drilling) date.

Some of the 39 wells marked as “reworked” may not have originally been Marcellus Shale wells, so they were not included in the chart above. In addition, there were two negative values, for which it would appear that well was drilled before the permit was issued. I am assuming those are attributable to clerical error, and those wells were not included in the chart above (4).

Number of days from permit issuance to spud date for Marcellus Shale wells. Please click the “i” and then a map feature for more information. Please click the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus.

Overall, the value ranges from -86 to 2,274 days, with an average turnaround time of just over 100 days. If we omit the outliers discussed above, the values range from 1 to 566 days, with an average of just under 99 days.

After looking at these results, I am surprised by the vast range, and beyond the number of available rigs, I can only speculate as to what factors go into determining this. It also seems remarkable that there are wells that can get the equipment in place, the site prepared, and the drill in the ground the very next day after the permit was issued. And yet, for all of that celerity, sometimes it takes well over a year to start churning dirt.

  1. This data comes from the DEP’s Operators With Active Wells Inventory section of their Reports page. What I called “active permits” are actually “active wells” according to the DEP. These include all wells for which the permit has been issued but have not yet been plugged. This would include wells that hav not been drilled, thus my distinction.
  2. Both datasets had some duplication of well numbers. All records that were exact duplicates were removed, meaning that the remainder had at least slight variances in one or more columns.
  3. I should mention that the number of matches to the permits list means that there are 93 mismatches between the two datasets. In theory, all of the drilled wells should be on the permit report, but for now, let’s take the 97% match rate and move forward.
  4. All values are included in the posted dataset, and therefore the DataTool map.