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Pipelines vs Oil Trains

By Juliana Henao, Communications Intern

Media outlets have been very focused recently on reporting oil train derailments and explosions. Additionally, the Keystone XL pipeline has hastened political debates and arguments for years by both political parties since its initial proposal in 2008 – and the May 19th pipeline oil spill in California isn’t helping matters. In the midst of all of this commotion, a million questions are being asked, yet no one can seem to reach a conclusion about what method of transporting oil is truly safest and economically feasible – or if we are just stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Some say the solution to this problem is transporting the volatile crude via pipelines, while others believe it is a matter of increasing regulations, standards, and compliance for transport by train. The answer is simply not simple.

In light of this, a few of the folks at FracTracker gathered some facts on pipelines vs oil trains to lay out this issue in a clearer fashion.

Let’s start with trains.

Benefits

Due to the increasing demand of crude oil supply, there has been increasing activity in the transportation of crude oil by rail, which provides flexibility and quick transportation throughout the U.S. and its 115 refineries. Railroads are also willing to offer shippers shorter contracts than pipelines and other transportation methods, making them a more favorable method of crude oil transportation.

In 2008, U.S. freight trains were delivering somewhere from 9-10,000 carloads of crude oil. In 2013, they delivered roughly 435,560 carloads of crude oil, showing a 20-fold increase in crude oil shipments.

Risks

Oil trains, as well as pipelines, can pose a detrimental risk to communities and public health in the case of an explosion and/or spill. Danger Around the Bend describes in detail the dangers of transporting Bakken Formation crude oil from North Dakota to parts all over the country.

Some of the risks of transporting volatile crude via train have been clearly depicted in the news with announcements of spills, derailments, and explosions in urban and suburban areas, putting many people in harm’s way. Despite the decrease in spills between 1996 and 2007, devastating train accidents like the one on July 6, 2013 have raised questions about the safety of transportation by train.

train_incidents_english

Learn more about this trend and the increasing risk of exploding oil trains in a post by Randy Sargent of CMU.

Trains and train tracks in general can be very dangerous, as demonstrated by the deadly Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia this May. The total number of incidents in 2014, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, sum up to 11,793 – with 818 of those being fatal. These fatalities have been linked to a range of possible causes, but the numbers depict the gravity of safety issues within the railroad regulations.

Regulations

When it comes to train safety and regulations, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is in charge. Some of the current efforts to increase the safety of oil trains include safer tank car design, adding breaking power, reducing the train speed limits through urban areas and increasing crew size. One of the most important improvements, however, includes an increase in oil spill response, which is managed through the National Oil and Hazardous Substance Contingency Plan.

Now, let’s talk pipelines.

As we all know, finishing the Keystone XL pipeline has stirred years of controversy, since this project was initially proposed back in 2008. On January 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of State released the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would transport up to 830,000 barrels of tar sand oil per day through an 875-mile long pipeline running from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast area. Below we have mapped the current and proposed tracks of the Keystone, along with the numerous ports, refineries, and rail lines:


The Keystone XL, Alberta oil sands, North American oil refineries and associated ports. View fullscreen and click Details for the metadata behind this map.

The SEIS discussed the impacts that the proposed pipeline would have on the environment and public health based on research, modeling, and analysis. One of the many purposes of the SEIS is to focus on whether the proposed project serves the national interest by comparing the risks to the benefits – discussed in more detail below.

Risks

The current risks associated with pipelines are similar to the risks associated with other modes of transporting oil across the United States. Oil spills are among the highest risks, but with the XL pipeline, it’s a more profound risk due to the type of oil being carried: tar sand oil. Tar sand oil, also known as heavy oil, is known for its tedious processing and its many environmental implications. Burning one single barrel of oil produced from Canadian tar sands generally emits 170 pounds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It also requires large amounts of energy and water, much of which cannot be recycled, to separate the oil from the tar sands and transform the oil into a form of petroleum that can be processed by refineries.

According to the final SEIS:

The proposed project would emit approximately 24 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year during the construction period (up to three times as much than producing conventional crude), which would be directly emitted through fuel use in construction vehicles and equipment as well as land clearing activities including open burning, and indirectly from electricity usage.

Additional risks associated with the XL pipeline include potential groundwater contamination of major aquifers – particularly the Ogallala Aquifer – as well as deforestation, habitat destruction, and fragmentation.

In the event of an oil spill from the Keystone XL or other pipelines crossing the U.S., the responsibility for who cleans it up does not fall on TransCanada. According to a report from the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), tar sand oils are exempt from paying into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Amendments that would require TransCanada to pay the 8-cent-per-barrel fee to the fund have not been passed.

Devastating oil spills such as the one in Santa Barbara in mid May reflect the impact it not only has on wildlife, but on the local culture, especially on those who depend on fisheries and whose lives revolves around surfing in the brisk waters of the Pacific Ocean. 21,000 gallons of crude oil covers roughly 4 miles of Santa Barbara’s coast now, extending about 50 yards into the water.

Benefits

Jobs, jobs, jobs. The economic stimulus is one purported advantage to the XL pipeline. During construction, proposed project spending would support approximately 42,100 jobs, directly and indirectly and around $2 billion in earnings throughout the US, according to the final SEIS. Despite different job creation estimates, any number will contribute significantly to the US gross domestic product, associating a huge economic growth with the construction of the proposed XL pipeline. (TransCanada estimates around 13,000 construction jobs and 7,000 manufacturing jobs, which is about 3 times higher than the State Department’s estimate.) In addition, the cost of paying for the Keystone XL project ($3.3 billion) would not be placed on the U.S. but on Keystone.

According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSMA), the industry and their operators have reduced the risk of hazardous materials transportation incidents with death or major injury by 4% every 3 years, and since 2002, they have reduced the risk of a pipeline spill with environmental consequences by an average of 5% per year.1

Still, there is more work to be done. Safety issues that the pipeline industry is aiming to fix include:

  • Infrastructure: Repair obsolete pipeline infrastructure through a pipeline integrity management program and investigate new technologies that can detect pipeline risks.
  • Improving human error and safety culture: Increase the focus on safety beyond compliance standards and evaluate the potential value of safety management systems.
  • Adding secondary containment: Limit the spread of HAZMAT in the event of a failure in the primary container, and improve leak detection.
  • Transparency: Increasing transparency for companies and their accountability

Check out the infographic below for a summary of all of these pros and cons:

Moving Forward

All methods of transporting oil present various risks and benefits based on the available data. Explaining both sides of this coin allows us to assess each method’s impacts on our economy, environment, and public health. Through these assessments, we can make more informed decisions on what truly serves the nation’s interests. Oil and gas transport is a dangerous business, but all transportation industries are improving their management programs and increasing their regulations to provide citizens peace of mind and the safety they deserve. In light of ongoing issues, however, some would ask if these risks are even necessary.

For example, the growth of safer energy resources such as solar energy would significantly cut down the risks mentioned above in addition to providing jobs and stimulating the overall economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Solar Foundation, the growth in direct industry jobs for solar has outweighed oil and gas for the past 3 years. In 2014, new jobs created for the solar industry were more than twice the jobs created for the oil and gas industry. Based on 2014’s economics, Kepler Cheuvreux stated that all renewables are already more competitive than oil priced at $100 per barrel — This is because renewables have a higher net energy return on capital invested (EROCI).

As a reader and a citizen, it is important to know the pros and cons of the current activities taking place in our country today. We must be aware of loopholes that may be putting our states, cities, or counties into harm’s way, as well as recognize alternative energy sources and regulatory oversight that lessen the threats that oil extraction and transport pose to our health and environment.

Footnote

1. These statistics are based from the Census Bureau analysis and Bureau of Transportation Statistics as of July 2012.

The Science Behind OK’s Man-made Earthquakes, Part 1

By Ariel Conn, Seismologist and Science Writer with the Virginia Tech Department of Geosciences

On April 21, the Oklahoma Geological Survey issued a statement claiming that the sharp rise in Oklahoma earthquakes — from only a couple per year to thousands — was most likely caused by wastewater disposal wells associated with major oil and gas plays. This is huge news after years of Oklahoma scientists hesitating to place blame on an industry that provides so many jobs.

Now, seismologists from around the country — including Oklahoma — are convinced that these earthquakes are the result of human activity, also known as induced or triggered seismicity. Yet many people, especially those in the oil industry, still refute such an argument. Just what is the science that has seismologists so convinced that the earthquakes are induced and not natural?

Hidden Faults

Over the last billion years (give or take a couple hundred million), colliding tectonic plates have created earthquake zones, just as we see today in California, Japan, Chile and Nepal. As geologic processes occurred, these zones shifted and moved and were covered up, and the faults that once triggered earthquakes achieved a state of equilibrium deep in the basement rocks of the earth’s crust. But the faults still exist. If the delicate balance that keeps these fault systems stable ever shifts, the ancient faults can still move, resulting in earthquakes. Because these inactive faults are so deep, and because they can theoretically exist just about anywhere, they’re incredibly difficult to map or predict – until an earthquake occurs.

Thanks to historic reports of earthquakes in the central and eastern United States, we know there are some regions, far away from tectonic plate boundaries, that occasionally experience large earthquakes. Missouri and South Carolina, for example, suffered significant and damaging earthquakes in the last 200 hundred years, yet these states lie nowhere near a plate boundary. We know that fault zones exist in these locations, but we have no way of knowing about dormant faults in regions of the country that haven’t experienced earthquakes in the last couple hundred years.

What is induced seismicity?

As early as the 1930s, seismologists began to suspect that extremely large volumes of water could impact seismic activity, even in those regions where earthquakes weren’t thought to occur. Scientists found that after certain reservoirs were built and filled with water, earthquake swarms often followed. This didn’t happen everywhere, and when it did, the earthquakes were rarely large enough to be damaging. These quakes were large enough to be felt, however, and they represented early instances of human activity triggering earthquakes.[1]

Research into induced seismicity really picked up in the 1960s. The most famous example of man-made earthquakes occurred as a result of injection well activity at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. The arsenal began injecting wastewater into a disposal well 12,000 feet deep in March of 1962, and by April of that year, people were feeling earthquakes. Researchers at the arsenal tracked the injections and the earthquakes. They found that each time the arsenal injected large volumes of water (between 2 and 8 million gallons per month, or 47,000 to 190,000 barrels), earthquakes would start shaking the ground within a matter of weeks (Figure 1).

Rocky Mountain Arsenal fluid injection correlated to earthquake frequency

Figure 1. Rocky Mountain Arsenal fluid injection correlated to earthquake frequency

South Carolina experienced induced earthquakes after filling a reservoir

Figure 2. South Carolina experienced induced earthquakes after filling a reservoir

When the injections ended, the earthquakes also ceased, usually after a similar time delay, but some seismicity continued for a while. The well was active for many years, and the largest earthquake thought to be induced by the injection well actually occurred nearly a year and a half after injection officially ended. That earthquake registered as a magnitude 5.3. Scientists also noticed that over time, the earthquakes moved farther and farther away from the well.

Research at a reservoir in South Carolina produced similar results; large volumes of water triggered earthquake swarms that spread farther from the reservoir with time (Figure 2).

When people say we’ve known for decades that human activity can trigger earthquakes, this is the research they’re talking about.

Why now? Why Oklahoma?

Class II Injection Well. Photo by Lea Harper

Injection Well in Ohio. Photo by Ted Auch

Seismologists have known conclusively and for quite a while that wastewater injection wells can trigger earthquakes, yet people have also successfully injected wastewater into tens of thousands of wells across the country for decades without triggering any earthquakes. So why now? And why in Oklahoma?

The short answers are:

  • At no point in history have we injected this much water this deep into the ground, and
  • It’s not just happening in Oklahoma.

One further point to clarify: General consensus among seismologists is that most of these earthquakes are triggered by wastewater disposal wells and not by hydrofracking (or fracking) wells. That may be a point to be contested in a future article, but for now, the largest induced earthquakes we’ve seen have been associated with wastewater disposal wells and not fracking. This distinction is important when considering high-pressure versus high-volume wells. A clear connection between high-pressure wells and earthquakes has not been satisfactorily demonstrated in our research at the Virginia Tech Seismological Observatory (VTSO) (nor have we seen it demonstrated elsewhere, yet). High-volume wastewater disposal wells, on the other hand, have been connected to earthquakes.

At the VTSO, we looked at about 8,000 disposal wells in Oklahoma that we suspected might be connected to induced seismicity. Of those, over 7,200 had maximum allowed injection rates of less than 10,000 barrels per month, which means the volume is low enough that they’re unlikely to trigger earthquakes. Of the remaining 800 wells, only 300 had maximum allowed injection rates of over 40,000 barrels per month — and up to millions of barrels per year for some wells. These maximum rates are on par with the injection rates seen at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and our own plots indicate a correlation between high-volume injection wells and earthquakes (Figure 3-4).

Triangles represent wastewater injection wells scaled to reflect maximum volume rates. Wells with high volumes are located near earthquakes.

Figure 3. Triangles represent wastewater injection wells scaled to reflect maximum volume rates. Wells with high volumes are located near earthquakes.

Triangles represent wastewater injection wells scaled to reflect maximum pressure. Wells with high pressures are not necessarily near earthquakes.

Figure 4. Triangles represent wastewater injection wells scaled to reflect maximum pressure. Wells with high pressures are not necessarily near earthquakes.

This does not mean that all high-volume wells will trigger earthquakes, or that lower-volume wells are always safe, but rather, it’s an important connection that scientists and well operators should consider.

Starting in 2008 and 2009, with the big oil and gas plays in Oklahoma, a lot more fluid was injected into a lot more wells. As the amount of fluid injected in Oklahoma has increased, so too have the number of earthquakes. But Oklahoma is not the only state to experience this phenomenon. Induced earthquakes have been recorded in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas.

In the last four years, Arkansas, Kansas, Ohio and Texas have all had “man-made” earthquakes larger than magnitude 4, which is the magnitude at which damage begins to occur. Meanwhile, in that time period, Colorado experienced its second induced earthquake that registered larger than magnitude 5. Oklahoma may have the most induced and triggered earthquakes, but the problem is one of national concern.

Footnote

[1] Induced seismicity actually dates back to the late 1800s with mining, but the connection to high volumes of fluid was first recognized in the 1930s. However, the extent to which it was documented is unknown.

Oil train - Photo by Washinton House Democrats

Increasing Risk from Exploding Crude Trains

By Randy Sargent, Carnegie Mellon CREATE Lab and Samantha Malone, FracTracker Alliance

In the past two years, crude oil trains have exploded 10 times, killing 47 people.

LacMegantic

Lac-Mégantic, Quebec: 47 killed

NewBrunswick

Outside Plaster Rock, New Brunswick

Casselton

Outside Casselton, ND

Aliceville

Outside Aliceville, AL

Lynchburg

Outside Lynchburg, VA

WV

Outside Mt. Carbon, WV

Timmins

Outside Timmins, Ontario

Galena

Outside Galena, IL

 

 

Heimdal

Outside Heimdal, ND

Gogoma

Outside Gogama, Ontario

It could have been much worse. Eight of the ten trains exploded in rural areas. The train that flattened half the business district of the small town of Lac-Mégantic might have killed hundreds of people if it had exploded during business hours.[1] Residents in Philadelphia have dodged a bullet several times already; they’ve seen two oil train derailments there that fortunately did not explode. And last week’s Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia that killed 8 people and injured more than 200 could have been much worse, had it impacted an oil train in that area.

Today we ship 17 times as much oil by rail as we did in 2010. This past year we shipped 14.5 billion gallons of oil — that’s 6,700 oil trains the size that destroyed Lac-Mégantic:

This chart above and the ones that follow are derived from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s recently provided data tracking crude oil movements by rail.

Why do oil trains explode so easily?

Like a carbonated beverage with dissolved CO2, oil extracted from Bakken wells naturally has lighter hydrocarbons in it, such as methane, ethane, propane, and butane. Methane — natural gas — is the lightest of the gases and boils out quickly at surface pressure. But ethane, propane, and butanes, known as light ends or natural gas liquids in the oil industry, take time and/or heat to boil out.[2]

In the most prolific oilfield in the U.S. today, North Dakota’s Bakken formation, most of light ends are left in the oil before loading on the train, to maximize value of what is sent to the refinery. But much like a soda bottle, the pressure increases with temperature and motion, with pressurized ethane, propane, and butane at the top. With those highly volatile gases under pressure, all it takes to create an explosion is a leak and a spark, and both commonly happen in a derailment or collision.

All ten exploding crude trains carried oil from the Bakken.

In contrast, shale oilfields in Texas do stabilize crude by removing light ends prior to shipment by rail.

Where are the exploding Bakken oil trains going?

Bakken trains travel through much of the US and Canada, heading to refineries on the coasts. Increasingly, they are traveling to East coast refineries, which now handle over half of Bakken crude oil production.

Closer to home for the authors, Pittsburgh is a popular waypoint for Bakken oil trains. Known for its steel industry in the 20th century, Pittsburgh continues to sport a large rail infrastructure. Its rails go through very densely populated areas, a good thing when the rails carried ore and steel and coal for the mills. But it’s a disaster waiting to happen now that the rails are bringing explosive oil trains through the city.

CMU

Oil and compressed gasses transit Carnegie Mellon University multiple times daily, Pittsburgh, PA

Oil trains travel across Pittsburgh's North Shore and Downtown multiple times daily, as well

Oil trains travel across Pittsburgh’s North Shore and Downtown multiple times daily, as well

 

A significant and growing fraction of Bakken oil trains carrying 1 million gallons or more transit Pittsburgh, with ~30 a week based on Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency data released for five days in October 2014. Prior to the disclosure, volunteers spent a day with us in 2014 recording traffic along one of several routes into the city to learn more about whether / how the trains might pose a risk to city residents and workers. Learn more about what we found here.

Why does this matter?

As crude-by-rail traffic continues to increase, it is only a matter of time before an oil train explodes in a populated area again. Imagine any of the 10 explosions so far taking place instead in downtown Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, or flattening a school in suburban Chicago, for example.

Map of Lac-Mégantic destruction from the Toronto Star’s article, “Where they died”

Map of Lac-Mégantic destruction from the Toronto Star’s article, Where they died. Click to explore the interactive map.

Learn more about the Lac-Megantic disaster through the eyes of those who lived through it.

What can be done

One attempt to make these trains safer, by requiring new tanker cars be built to a safer standard, does not appear to have helped; the most recent 5 exploding trains used the newest, “safer” tanker cars.

But there are effective measures that are in our power to take:


Photo and Video Credits

Endnotes

  1. The direction that the ignited oil flowed after the incident also played a significant role in the path of the damage and fatalities.
  2. Light Ends information
OES Workshops

Our Energy Solutions

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.

OES Panel in Asheville

OES panel answering questions in Asheville, NC

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.

BackPageAlt2_windmillsBoth 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.

Wellsbycounty-Feature

Well density by county in the U.S.

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!

CA Crude Oil by Rail Shipments and Railway Accidents

CA Crude Oil by Rail Shipments and Railway Accidents

By Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Incidents in California involving oil-by-rail cars increased from 3 in 2011 to 25 in 2013. There were 24 incidents within the first 6 months of 2014, and oil spills from rail cars increased from 98 in 2010 to 182 in 2013.1 With such an increase in oil train incidents, we have to ask what the state is doing to protect public safety.

CA Crude Oil by Rail – The Status Quo

California is currently far behind states like New Hampshire and Minnesota that have taken more control over in-state hazards, and have passed laws aimed at forcing rail and pipeline companies to abide by more rigorous emergency response measures instead of relying on the federal government and undertaking state-level spill response plans. These state movements are in response to the existing federal oversight, which critics cite as inadequate.2

State environmental health officials have acknowledged the dangers of a derailment, but have downplayed the risk – comparing the hazard of an incident to be similar to ethanol or gasoline, based on volatility. They do not believe oil train derailments are as hazardous as other materials transported by rail such as chlorine or ammonia. The bigger concern, though, is the huge volume of Bakken crude oil that is being shipped by rail. A recent report by the State of California Interagency Rail Safety Working group acknowledged this and identified key vulnerabilities along CA rail lines; Destinations of the crude trains in CA are the Bay Area via the Feather River or Donner Pass, Bakersfield via the Tehachapi Pass, and Los Angeles via the same route. These routes pass through the state’s most densely populated areas, as well as through some of the state’s most sensitive ecological areas, and each route has at least one high hazard area for derailments. Other issues identified include the impact of earthquakes on trains and rail lines and a shortage of emergency response capacity.

At-Risk Populations

A recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council used census data to identify at risk-populations for communities living near the rail lines that can be used for transporting shipments. The analysis identified a total of nearly four million people in the Bay Area and the Central Valley alone that live within 1 mile (the U.S. DOT isolation zone for a crude tanker fire) of a crude shipment rail line. The authors go on to provide the following recommendations to prevent crude oil train accidents:

  1. Remove Defective, Dangerous Tankers from Crude by Rail Service
  2. Impose Safer Speed Limits
  3. Reroute Around Sensitive Areas
  4. Provide Emergency Responder Resources
  5. Make Additional operational Safety and Oversight Improvements
  6. Exercise Local Government Powers4

Crude Oil Shipment Trends

Support of these recommendations is most important as more crude shipments in CA are on the horizon. A recent permit application by the Phillips 66 oil company included a proposal to use Amtrak passenger lines to transport Bakken crude through the San Francisco Bay Area. A review of the proposal by Hinman Consulting Engineers found that over the next 30 years, there is an approximate 28% risk of derailment in the heavily populated stretches of Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Santa Clara, San Jose and others. This estimate is assuming there is no increase in shipping volumes. The damage of an accident was estimated by the researchers, and the analysis showed that approximately 47,000 households and $22 billion in improved property value lay within the projected blast zone, 1000 feet from the railway. A projection of the damage from a single accident estimated that an average of 117 households along with $244 million in property value could be destroyed. Hinman also stated that “this figure does not include loss of revenue, environmental cleanup costs, loss of human life, or other societal costs.”5 A proposal by Valero Refining Co. plans to ship 100 crude oil tank cars a day through downtown Sacramento and downtown Davis to Benicia.

Responses by CA Regulators and Railroads

To plan for this increase in rail traffic, Sacramento passed a shipping charge to prevent and manage spills that will result in $11 million in 2015. Another bill has been introduced to impose a second shipping fee on oil companies to train and equip first responders to deal with major spills and fires on railroad lines. An additional bill was also authored requiring rail carriers to communicate more closely with state emergency officials about crude oil rail movements.6

The map below shows where spills and train accidents have occurred in CA since 2011. When zoomed out the map shows areas with higher incidence rates of accidents, but when zoomed to a higher resolution the map differentiates the accidents by year.7

CA Crude Oil by Rail and Railroad Accidents

View Full Screen

In the map above, a hot spot analysis shows the frequency of railroad accidents, such as derailments. Areas with the highest incidence rates are shown in yellow. The actual locations and descriptions with dates of these accidents can be seen by zooming in using the plus (+) button in the top left corner of the map, and clicking on a diamond symbol. Shown in red and green are the BNSF and other railroad lines used for the transportation of crude by rail.

BNSF Route

Figure taken from BNSF’s U.S. DOT disclosure to the state of California for emergency preparedness.9

From what little data has been released, it is clear that BNSF railway intends to ship two Bakken crude trains per week carrying more than one million gallons of crude through the CA counties of Butte, Contra Costa, Lassen, Modoc, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Yuba.8 The same information from Union Pacific Railroad has not been made public by the state of CA. The route shown in the figure to the right has been mapped in the FracTracker Alliance’s California Crude Shipment Routes and Railroad Accidents map above. From the map, you can see that there have been numerous accidents already on this BNSF rail line, particularly near Stockton and in the heavily populated North Bay Area.

References

  1. California Office of Emergency Services. 5/6/14. Historical HazMat Spill Notifications. Accessed 3/8/15.
  2. Douglas E. 6/16/14. 2 States Beef Up Oil-by-Rail and Pipeline Safety After String of Accidents. Inside Climate News. Accessed 3/9/15.
  3. Interagency Rail Safety Working Group. 6/10/14. Oil by Rail Safety in California. California Office of Emergency Services.
  4. Bailey D. 6/2014. It Could Happen Here: The Exploding Threat of Crude by Rail in California. Natural Resources Defense Council. Accessed 3/10/15.
  5. Reis E & Coughlin A. 6/6/2014. New Proposed Oil Transportation Calls for Rational, Risk-Based Mitigation Approach. Hinman Consulting Engineers. Accessed 3/11/15
  6. Bizjak T. 6/16/14. California to impose fee on crude oil rail shipments; funds to be used for spill prevention, cleanup. The Sacramento Bee. Accessed 3/10/15.
  7. U.S. DOT. 5/7/2014. Emergency Order. Docket No. DOT-OST-2014-0067. Accessed 3/10/15.
  8. California Public Utilities Commission. 2015. Railroad Safety and Operations. Accessed 3/8/15.
  9. U.S. DOT. 9/30/14. Re: U.S. Department of Transportation Emergency Order Docket Number DOT-OST-2014-0067 (Issued May 7, 2014). Accessed 3/10/15.

11% of organic farms near drilling in US, potentially 31% in future

By Juliana Henao & Samantha Malone, FracTracker Alliance

Currently, 11% (2,140 of 19,515 total) of all U.S. organic farms share a watershed with active O&G drilling. Additionally, this percentage could rise up to 31% if unconventional O&G drilling continues to grow.

Organic farms represent something pure for citizens around the world. They produce food that gives people more certainty about consuming chemical-free nutrients in a culture that is so accustomed to using pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides in order to keep up with booming demand. Among their many benefits, organic farms produce food that is high in nutritional value, use less water, replenish soil fertility, and do not use pesticides or other toxic chemicals that may get into our food supply. To maintain their integrity, however, organic farms have an array of regulations and an extensive accreditation process.

What does it mean to be an organic farm?

The accreditation process for an organic farm is quite extensive. USDA organic regulations include:

  • The producer must manage plant and animal materials to maintain or improve soil organic matter content in a manner that does not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water by plant nutrients, pathogenic organisms, heavy metals, or residues of prohibited substance.
  • No prohibited substances can be applied to the farm for a period of 3 years immediately preceding harvest of a crop
  • The farm must have distinct, defined boundaries and buffer zones, such as runoff diversions to prevent the unintended application of a prohibited substance to the crop or contact with a prohibited substance applied by adjoining land that is not under organic management.

There are additional regulations that pertain to crop pest, weed, and disease standards; soil fertility and crop nutrient management standards; seeds and planting stock practice standards; and wild-crop harvesting practice standards, to name a few. A violation of any one of these USDA regulations can mean a hold on the accreditation of an organic farm.

The full list of regulations and requirements can be found here.

Threats Posed by Oil & Gas

Nearby oil and gas drilling is one of many threats to organic farms and their crop integrity. With a steady expansion of wells, the O&G industry is using more and more land, requiring significant quantities of fresh water, and emitting air and water pollution from sites (both in permitted and unpermitted cases). O&G activity could not only affect the quality of the produce from these farms, but also their ability to meet the USDA’s organic standards.

To see how organic farms and the businesses surrounding wells are being affected, Ted Auch analyzed certain dynamics of organic farms near drilling activity in the United States, and generated some key findings. His results showcase how many organic farms are at risk now and in the future if O&G drilling expands. Below we describe a few of his key findings, but you can also read the entire article here.

Key Findings – Organic Farms Near Oil & Gas Activity

Explore this dynamic map of the U.S. organic farms (2,140) within 20 miles of oil & gas drilling. To view the legend and see the map fullscreen, click here.

Of the 19,515 U.S. organic farms in the U.S., 2,140 (11%) share a watershed with oil and gas activity – with up to 31% in the path of future wells in shale areas. Why look at oil and gas activity at the watershed level? Watersheds are key areas from which O&G companies pull their resources or into which they emit pollution. For unconventional drilling, hydraulic fracturing companies need to obtain fresh water from somewhere in order to frack the wells, and often the local watershed serves as that source. Spills can and do occur on site and in the process of transporting the well pad’s products, posing risks to soils and waterways, as well.

Figure 1, below, demonstrates the number of organic farms near active oil & gas wells in the U.S. – broken down by five location-based Regions of Concern (ROC).

Farm-Chart1

Figure 1: Total and incremental numbers of US organic farms in the 5 O&G Regions of Concern (ROC).

The most at-risk farms are located in five states: California, Ohio, Michigan, Texas and Pennsylvania. Learn more about the breakdown of the types of organic farms that fall within these ROCs, including what they produce.

Out of Ohio’s 703 organic farms, 220 organic farms are near drilling activity, and 105 are near injection (waste disposal) wells.

Conclusion

More and more O&G drilling is being permitted to operate near organic farms in the United States. The ability for municipalities to zone out O&G varies by state, but there is currently no national restriction that specifically protects organic farms from this industrial activity. As the O&G industry expands and continues to operate at such close proximities to organic farms in the US, there are a variety of potential impacts that we could see in the near future. The following list and more is explained in further detail in Auch’s research paper:

  • A complete alteration in soil composition and quality,
  • A need to restore wetland soils that are altered beyond the best reclamation techniques,
  • A dramatic decline in organic farm and land productivity,
  • A changing landscape,
  • Wildlife habitat fragmentation, and
  • Watershed resilience … to name a few.

PA feature image taken by Sara Gillooly, 2013

FracTracker Launches Oil and Gas Tracking App

Pittsburgh, PA – FracTracker Alliance announces the release of our free iPhone app – designed to collect and share experiences related to oil and gas drilling across the United States. As unconventional drilling or “fracking” intensifies, so too do the innovative ways in which citizens can track, monitor, and report potential issues from their smart phones.

The app allows users to submit oil and gas photos or reports. Users can also view a map of wells drilled near them and user-submitted reports. This map shows wells that have been drilled both unconventionally and conventionally.

“FracTracker’s app contributes to the collective understanding of oil and gas impacts and provides a new opportunity for public engagement,” explains Brook Lenker, Executive Director of the FracTracker Alliance. “We hope that our mobile app will revolutionize how people share oil and gas information.”

Development Partners

Several organizations and community groups helped to test and improve the app during its development. To address questions about the impacts of oil and gas development across landscapes, FracTracker joined with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) to create a crowd-sourced digital map with photos detailing the scale of oil and gas development near North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park using the app. The photo map is part of a NPCA’s campaign designed to educate citizens about the cross-landscape impacts of oil and gas development near America’s national parks. NPCA is hosting two events this week in support of this campaign work – in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

“FracTracker’s new app allows us to tell a visual story about fracking’s impacts to national parks and their local communities,” said Nick Lund, who manages the NPCA’s Landscape Conservation program. “With this week’s public events in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, we will show the dramatic impact that fracking continues to have, in just a few years, near Theodore Roosevelt National Park. These images can help inform the public and our elected officials as they finalize drilling regulations in Pennsylvania. We hope this information will lead to strong protections for our national parks, our forests, and our drinking water.”

Beta testing and reviews of the app were also conducted by Mountain Watershed Association, Responsible Drilling Alliance, Audubon PA, PA Forest Coalition, Southwest PA Environmental Health Project, and Save Our Streams PA. The app was developed in collaboration with Viable Industries, L.L.C.

Like NPCA, groups can use the FracTracker app to collect visual data and develop customized maps for their own projects. Contact FracTracker to learn more: info@fractracker.org.

Download the App

Download_on_the_App_Store_Badge_US-UK_135x40

Download the free app from the iTunes store or visit FracTracker.org to learn more: www.fractracker.org/apps. Currently the app is only available for only iPhone users, but an Android platform is due out later this year.

App Screenshots

app1

See a map of wells near you or submit a report.

app4

The legend describes the points on the map in more detail.

app2

Clicking on a dot shows the record/well

app3

Clicking the “i” shows you more information about the point

# # #

Media Contact

Samantha Malone
FracTracker Alliance
malone@fractracker.org
412-802-0273

FracTracker Alliance is a non-profit organization with offices in PA, OH, NY, WV, and CA that shares maps, data, and analyses to communicate impacts of the global oil and gas industry and inform actions that positively shape our energy future. Learn more about FracTracker at www.fractracker.org.

National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its one million members and supporters, and many partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for our children and grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.npca.org.

Politics and Campaign Financing

O&G Politics & Campaign Financing

By Ted Auch, OH Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Anyone who has been paying attention to the domestic shale gas conversation knows the issue is fraught with controversy and political leanings. The debate is made only more complicated by the extensive lobbying to promote drilling and related activities. It would be nice to look at shale gas through a purely analytical lens, but it is impossible to decouple the role of politicians and those that fund their campaigns from the myriad socioeconomic, health, and environmental costs/benefits.

As such, this article covers two issues:

  1. Who Gets Funded: the distribution of oil and gas (O&G) funds across the two primary parties in the US, as well as the limited funds awarded to third parties, and
  2. Funding Allocation to a Specialized Committee: industry financing to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology1 the primary house committee responsible for:

…all matters relating to energy research, development, and demonstration projects therefor; commercial application of energy technology; Department of Energy research, development, and demonstration programs; Department of Energy laboratories; Department of Energy science activities; energy supply activities; nuclear, solar, and renewable energy, and other advanced energy technologies; uranium supply and enrichment, and Department of Energy waste management; fossil energy research and development; clean coal technology; energy conservation research and development, including building performance, alternate fuels, distributed power systems, and industrial process improvements; pipeline research, development, and demonstration projects; energy standards; other appropriate matters as referred by the Chairman; and relevant oversight.

Politics and Campaign Financing

Fig. 1. Relevant Oil & Gas PACs, Institutes, and Think Tanks – as well as Koch Industries and subsidiaries offices (Orange). Click to explore

1. Letting the Numbers Speak

“When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”

The above quote has been attributed to a variety of sources from sports figures to economists, but nowhere is it more relevant than the politics of shale gas. The figures below present campaign financing from O&G industry to the men and women that represent us in Washington, DC.

Data Analysis Process

To follow the shale money path, FracTracker has analyzed data from the: a) total contributions and b) average per representative across Democrats and Republicans. Our Third Party analysis included five Independents in the Senate as well as one Green, one Unaffiliated, one Libertarian, and two Independents in the House.

Results

Annual Senate compensation relative to average US Income Per Capita

Fig. 3. US Senate Salary (Late 18th Century to 2014) & Average American Salary (1967-2013).

There are sizable inter-party differences across both branches of congress (See Figures 2a-b). In total, Democratic and Republican senators have received $18.1 and $48.6 million from the O&G industry since data collection began in 1990. Meanwhile, Third Party senators have received a total of $385,632 in O&G campaign finance. It stands to reason that the US House would receive more money in total than the senate, given that it contains 435 representatives to the Senate’s 100, and this is indeed the case; Democratic members of the House received $28.9 million to date vs. $104.9 million allocated to the House’ GOP members – or a 3.6 fold difference. Third Party members of the House have received the smallest allotment of O&G political largesse, coming in at $197,145 in total.

To put this into perspective, your average Democratic and Republican senator has seen the gap increase between his/her salary and the average American from $27,536 in 1967 to $145,171 in 2013 (Figure 3).

These same individuals have also seen their political war chests expand on average by $151,043 and $412,007, respectively. Third Party senators have seen their campaign funds swell by an average of $64,272 since 1990. Meanwhile, the U.S. Capitol’s Democratic and GOP south wing residents have seen their O&G campaign contributions increase by an average of $50,836 and $188,529, respectively, with even Third Partiers seeing a $38,429 spike in O&G generosity.

Figure 2a

Figure 2a. Total funding received by both branches of the US legislative branch

Average funding received by oil and gas industry

Figure 2b. Average funding received by oil and gas industry

Location is a better predictor of whether a politician supports the O&G industry than his/her political affiliation. At the top of the O&G campaign financing league tables are extraction-intensive states such as Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Alaska, California, and Louisiana. (See Figures 4a-h at the bottom of this article for Average Oil & Gas Contributions to US House Representatives and Senators across the US.)

2. Committee on Science, Space and Technology

The second portion of this post covers influences related to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology (CSST). There is no more powerful group in this country when it comes O&G policy construction and stewardship than CSST. The committee is currently made up of 22 Republicans and 18 Democrats from 21 states. Thirty-five percent of the committee hails from either California (6) or Texas (8), with Florida and Illinois each contributing three representatives to the committee. Almost all (94%) of the O&G campaign finance allocated to CSST has gone to its sitting GOP membership.

The top three recipients of O&G generosity are all from Texas, receiving 3.2-3.5 times more money than their party averages – totaling $1.93 million or 37% of the total committee O&G financial support. The next four most beholden members of the committee are Frank Lucas and Michael McCaul (TX, $904,709 combined), Cynthia Marie Lummis (WY, $400,400), and Kevin Cramer (ND, $343,000). The average Democratic member of the CSST committee has received 12.8 times less in O&G funding relative to their GOP counterparts; Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex representatives Marc Veasey and Eddie Bernice Johnson collected a combined $130,350 from industry. Interestingly a member of political royalty, Joe Kennedy III, has collected nearly $50K from the O&G industry, which corresponds to the average for his House Democrat colleagues.

See Figures 5-6 for totals and percentage of party averages of O&G campaign funds contributed to current member of the US House CSST.

Total Oil & Gas campaign funds contributed to current member of the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Figure 5. Totals

Total Oil & Gas campaign funds contributed to current member of the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology as percentage of party averages.

Figure 6. Percentage of party averages

 “Don’t Confuse Me With The Facts”

In addition to current do-nothing politicians beholden to the O&G industry, we have prospects such as Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst going so far as to declare that the Koch Brothers various Political Action Committees (PACs) started her trajectory in politics. Promising “ ‘to abolish’ the Environmental Protection Agency, she opposes the Clean Water Act, and in May she downplayed the role that human activities have played in climate change and/or rises in atmospheric CO2.

In Ohio it seems realistic to conjecture that OH Governor John Kasich, bracing for a tough reelection campaign, is wary of biting the PAC hands that feed him. He has also likely seen what happened to his “moderate” colleagues in states like Mississippi and Virginia, and in the age of Citizens United and McCutcheon he knows that the Hydrocarbon Industrial Complex will make him pay for anything that they construe as hostile to fossil fuel business as usual.

Close to the Action

Groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, Randolph Foundation, and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)2 are unapologetically wedded to continued production of fossil fuels. Nationally and in OH, politicians appear to be listening more to the talking points and white papers of such groups than they do their own constituents.. Therefore, it is no coincidence that DC and its surrounding Virginia suburbs has been colonized by industry mouthpieces, energy policy and economic academic tanks, philanthropies, and Political Action Committees (PACs). See Figure 1 for more information.

Know Your Vote

So when you go to the polls on November 4th, remember that politicians are increasingly beholden not to their constituents but to the larger donors to their campaigns. Nowhere is this more of a concern than US energy policy and our geopolitical linkages to producers and emerging markets. More to the point, when offered an opportunity to engage said officials make sure to bring up their financial links as it relates to how they vote and the types of legislation they write, massage, customize, or outright eliminate. As Plato once said, “The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Our current selection of politicians at the state and federal level are not evil, but data on O&G politics and campaign financing presented herein do indicate that objectivity with respect to oil and gas legislation has been at the very least compromised.


Figures 4a-h. Average & Total O&G Industry Contributions to US House Representatives and Senators across the US mainland and Alaska

Average Total
Democratic Representatives

Average Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Democratic Representatives

Fig. 4a

Total Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Democratic Representatives

Fig. 4b

Democratic Senators

Average Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Democratic Senators

Fig. 4c

Total Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Democratic Senators

Fig. 4d

Republican Representatives

Average Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Republican Representatives

Fig. 4e

Total Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Republican Representatives

Fig. 4f

Republican Senators

Average Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Republican Senators

Fig. 4g

Total Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Republican Senators

Fig. 4h


References

  1. This committee’s minority leader Ms. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) recently proposed the H.R.5189 – Energy and Water Research Integration Act of 2014 with an as yet to be published summary.
  2. …along with like-minded entities like the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce’s PAC. These PACs and foundations tend to fund and greatly benefit from frackademic shops like Northwestern University’s Northwestern Law Judicial Education Program and George Mason University’s Law and Economics Center.

Offshore oil and gas exploration federally approved

By Karen Edelstein, NY Program Coordinator

Right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) with calf

Background

Drilling in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the United States has been off-limits for nearly four decades. However, last Friday, the Obama administration’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) opened the Atlantic outer continental shelf for oil and gas exploration starting in 2018, with oil production commencing in 2026. In a December 2013 report by the American Petroleum Institute (API) , API estimated that offshore exploration and federal lease sales could generate $195 billion between 2017 and 2035.

Problems for marine mammals, sea turtles, fish

Aside from the inherent risks of catastrophic drilling accidents similar to BP’s Deepwater Horizon in April 2010, open ocean oil and gas exploration can pose severe problems for marine life. Environmentalists have voiced alarm over the techniques used to explore for hydrocarbons deep below the ocean floor. Using “sonic cannons” or “‘seismic airguns,” pulses of sound are directed at the sea bottom to detect hydrocarbon deposits.

Underwater communication by marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins, relies on sound transmission over long distances — sometimes thousands of miles. These animals use sound to navigate, find mates and food, and communicate with each other. Noise pollution by common ships and supertankers is known to disrupt and displace marine mammals, but naval sonar has been documented as a cause of inner ear bleeding, hearing loss, tissue rupture, and beach strandings. According to the Ocean Mammal Institute:

These sonars – both low -frequency (LFAS) and mid -frequency can have a source level of 240 dB, which is one trillion times louder than the sounds whales have been shown to avoid. One scientist analyzing underwater acoustic data reported that a single low frequency sonar signal deployed off the coast of California could be heard over the entire North Pacific Ocean.

Natural Resources Defense Council also expressed concern over naval sonar: “By the Navy’s own estimates, even 300 miles from the source, these sonic waves can retain an intensity of 140 decibels – a hundred times more intense than the level known to alter the behavior of large whales.”

As destructive as naval sonar may be, oil and gas exploration sonic cannons–also known as seismic airguns– (at 216 – 230 dB) create disruptions to marine life many orders of magnitude greater. Fish and sea turtles are also affected, with catch rates of fish decreasing up to 70% when airguns were used in a commercial fishing area, according to a study by the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research.

The intensity and duration of the sonic cannon pulses during oil and gas exploration are an important factor in this equation. According to the Huffington Post, “The sonic cannons are often fired continually for weeks or months, and multiple mapping projects are expected to be operating simultaneously as companies gather competitive, secret data.” Collateral damage for the exploration is far from insignificant, the article continues:

The bureau’s environmental impact study estimates that more than 138,000 sea creatures could be harmed, including nine of the 500 north Atlantic right whales remaining in the world. Of foremost concern are endangered species like these whales, which give birth off the shores of northern Florida and southern Georgia before migrating north each year. Since the cetaceans are so scarce, any impact from this intense noise pollution on feeding or communications could have long-term effects, Scott Kraus, a right whale expert at the John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory in Boston, said.

‘No one has been allowed to test anything like this on right whales,” Kraus said of the seismic cannons. “(The Obama administration) has authorized a giant experiment on right whales that this country would never allow researchers to do.’

North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered species of cetaceans in the world.

Map of ranges of marine mammals potentially affected and towns opposing sonic cannon exploration for oil and gas

Although currently, the waters off New Jersey and New England are off-limits for exploration, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia encouraged the federal government to open their off-shore waters for oil and gas surveys. Nevertheless,  many ocean-front communities have come out strongly against the use of sonic cannons and their impacts on marine life. To date, 15 communities from New Jersey to Florida have passed resolutions opposing this form of oil and gas exploration.

FracTracker has mapped the locations of these communities, with pop-up links to the resolutions that were passed, as well as the ranges of 17 marine mammals found along the Atlantic seaboard of the US.  These data come from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 2014 Red List of Threatened Species. You can toggle ranges on and off by going to the “Layers” drop-down menu at the top of the map. The default presentation for this map currently shows only the range of North Atlantic right whales. For a full-screen version of this map, with access to the other marine mammal ranges, click here.

Well Worker Safety and Statistics

By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – Manager of Science and Communications, FracTracker Alliance

The population most at risk from accidents and incidents near unconventional drilling operations are the drillers and contractors within the industry. While that statement may seem quite obvious, let’s explore some of the numbers behind how often these workers are in harm’s way and why.

O&G Risks

Oil and Gas Worker Fatalities over Time

Fig. 1. Number of oil and gas worker fatalities over time
Data Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014

Drilling operations, whether conventional or unconventional (aka fracking), run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Workers may be on site for several hours or even days at a time. Simply the amount of time spent on the job inherently increases one’s chances of health and safety concerns. Working in the extraction field is traditionally risky business. In 2012, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction jobs experienced an overall 15.9 deaths for every 100,000 workers, the second highest rate among American businesses. (Only Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting jobs had a higher rate.)

According to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the oil and gas industry employed 188,003 workers in 2012 in the U.S., a jump from 120,328 in 2003. Preliminary data indicate that the upward employment trend continued in 2013. However, between 2003 and 2012, a total of 1,077 oil and gas extraction workers were killed on the job (Fig. 1).

Causes of Injuries and Fatalities in Oil and Gas Field

Reasons for O&G Fatalities 2003-12. Aggregated from Table 1.

Fig. 2. Reasons for O&G Fatalities 2003-12. Aggregated from Table 1.

Like many industrial operations, here are some of the reasons why oil and gas workers may be hurt or killed according to OSHA:

  • Vehicle Accidents
  • Struck-By/ Caught-In/ Caught-Between Equipment
  • Explosions and Fires
  • Falls
  • Confined Spaces
  • Chemical Exposures

If you drill down to the raw fatality-cause numbers, you can see that the fatal worksite hazards vary over time and job type1 (Table 1, bottom). Supporting jobs to the O&G sector are at higher risk of fatal injuries than those within the O&G extraction job category2. The chart to the right shows aggregate data for years 2003-12. Records indicate that the primary risk of death originated from transportation incidents, followed by situations where someone came into contact with physical equipment (Fig. 2).

Silica Research

Silica-Exposed Workers

Fig. 3. Number of total silica-exposed workers and those exposed above PEL – compared across industries
Source: OSHA Directorate of Standards and Guidance

A recent NIOSH study by Esswein et al. regarding workplace safety for oil and gas workers was that the methods being employed to protect workers against respirable crystalline silica3 were not adequate. This form of silica can be found in the sand used for hydraulic fracturing operations and presents health concerns such as silicosis if inhaled over time. According to Esswein’s research, workers were being exposed to levels above the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of ~0.1 mg/m3 for pure quartz silica because of insufficient respirator use and inadequate technology controls on site. It is unclear at this time how far the dust may migrate from the well pad or sand mining site, a concern for nearby residents of the sand mines, distribution methods, and well pads. (Check out our photos of a recent frac sand mine tour.) The oil and gas industry is not the only employer that must protect people from this airborne workplace hazard. Several other classes of jobs result in exposure to silica dust above the PEL (Fig. 3).

References and Additional Resources

1. What do the job categories in the table below mean?

For the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is important for jobs to be classified into groups to allow for better reporting/tracking. The jobs and associated numbers are assigned according to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).

(NAICS 21111) Oil and Gas Extraction comprises establishments primarily engaged in operating and/or developing oil and gas field properties and establishments primarily engaged in recovering liquid hydrocarbons from oil and gas field gases. Such activities may include exploration for crude petroleum and natural gas; drilling, completing, and equipping wells; operation of separators, emulsion breakers, desilting equipment, and field gathering lines for crude petroleum and natural gas; and all other activities in the preparation of oil and gas up to the point of shipment from the producing property. This industry includes the production of crude petroleum, the mining and extraction of oil from oil shale and oil sands, the production of natural gas, sulfur recovery from natural gas, and the recovery of hydrocarbon liquids from oil and gas field gases. Establishments in this industry operate oil and gas wells on their own account or for others on a contract or fee basis. Learn more

(NAICS 213111) Drilling Oil and Gas Wells comprises establishments primarily engaged in drilling oil and gas wells for others on a contract or fee basis. This industry includes contractors that specialize in spudding in, drilling in, redrilling, and directional drilling. Learn more

(NAICS 213112) Support Activities for Oil and Gas Operations comprises establishments primarily engaged in performing support activities on a contract or fee basis for oil and gas operations (except site preparation and related construction activities). Services included are exploration (except geophysical surveying and mapping); excavating slush pits and cellars, well surveying; running, cutting, and pulling casings, tubes, and rods; cementing wells, shooting wells; perforating well casings; acidizing and chemically treating wells; and cleaning out, bailing, and swabbing wells. Learn more

2. Fifteen percent of all fatal work injuries in 2012 involved contractors. Source

3. What is respirable crystalline silica?

Respirable crystalline silica – very small particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand you might encounter on beaches and playgrounds – is created during work operations involving stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, mortar, and industrial sand. Exposures to respirable crystalline silica can occur when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing these materials. These exposures are common in brick, concrete, and pottery manufacturing operations, as well as during operations using industrial sand products, such as in foundries, sand blasting, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations in the oil and gas industry.

4. OSHA Fact Sheet: OSHA’s Proposed Crystalline Silica Rule: General Industry and Maritime. Learn more

Employee health and safety are protected under the following OSHA regulations. These standards require employers to make sure that the workplace is in due order:

Table 1. 2003-2012 U.S. fatalities in oil & gas industries by year, job category, & event/exposure
Year Oil and Gas (O&G) Industriesa Total Fatal Injuries (number)b Event or Exposurec
Violence / injuries by persons / animalsd Transportatione Fires & Explosions Falls, Slips, Trips Exposure to Harmful Substances or Environments Contact w/Objects & Equipment
2012
O&G Extraction 26 0 8 6 5 3 4
Drilling O&G Wells 39 0 10 6 8 3 10
Support Activities 77 0 46 11 5 3 10
Yearly Totals 142 0 64 23 18 9 24
2011
O&G Extraction 13 0 7 0 0 0 3
Drilling O&G Wells 41 0 15 5 4 5 12
Support Activities 58 3 29 7 4 4 11
Yearly Totals 112 3 51 12 8 9 26
2010
O&G Extraction 12 0 5 3 0 3 0
Drilling O&G Wells 47 0 8 14 7 6 12
Support Activities 48 3 28 8 0 0 8
Yearly Totals 107 3 41 25 7 9 20
2009
O&G Extraction 12 0 6 0 0 0 3
Drilling O&G Wells 29 0 9 0 0 4 13
Support Activities 27 0 12 5 0 4 5
Yearly Totals 68 0 27 5 0 8 21
2008
O&G Extraction 21 0 7 4 0 0 5
Drilling O&G Wells 30 0 6 3 4 4 13
Support Activities 69 0 36 11 4 6 12
Yearly Totals 120 0 49 18 8 10 30
2007
O&G Extraction 15 0 5 0 0 0 5
Drilling O&G Wells 42 0 12 0 4 8 16
Support Activities 65 0 33 6 0 5 19
Yearly Totals 122 0 50 6 4 13 40
2006
O&G Extraction 22 0 6 7 0 3 4
Drilling O&G Wells 36 0 11 0 5 4 14
Support Activities 67 0 2 12 0 5 21
Yearly Totals 125 0 19 19 5 12 39
2005
O&G Extraction 17 0 4 5 0 0 4
Drilling O&G Wells 34 0 9 0 7 4 10
Support Activities 47 0 21 5 0 5 13
Yearly Totals 98 0 34 10 7 9 27
2004
O&G Extraction 29 0 17 0 0 0 8
Drilling O&G Wells 30 0 6 0 6 3 11
Support Activities 39 0 22 5 0 0 10
Yearly Totals 98 0 45 5 6 3 29
2003
O&G Extraction 17 0 9 4 0 0 3
Drilling O&G Wells 26 0 5 5 0 0 13
Support Activities 42 0 17 10 0 3 10
Yearly Totals 85 0 31 19 0 3 26
2003-12 TOTAL FATALITIES 1077 6 411 142 63 85 282
a Oil and gas extraction industries include oil and gas extraction (NAICS 21111), drilling oil and gas wells (NAICS 213111), and support activities for oil and gas operations (NAICS 213112).
b Data in event or exposure categories do not always add up to total fatalities due to data gaps.
c Based on the BLS Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System (OIICS) 2.01 implemented for 2011 data forward
d Includes violence by persons, self-inflicted injury, and attacks by animals
e Includes highway, non-highway, air, water, rail fatal occupational injuries, and fatal occupational injuries resulting from being struck by a vehicle.