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Aliso Canyon natural gas leak - Photo by Environmental Defense Fund

A Climate Disaster – California in state of emergency as a result of massive natural gas leak

By Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

A natural gas well equipment failure in southern California has resulted in the largest point release of methane to the atmosphere in U.S. history. California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a California state of emergency for the incident, and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has identified the site as the single largest source point of global warming.1 Since October 23, 2015 the failure has been reported to be releasing 62 million cubic feet of methane per day – 110,000 pounds per hour – for a total of about 80 million metric tons thus far. (A running counter for the natural gas leak can be found here, on Mother Jones).2,3 This quantity amounts to a quarter of California’s total methane emissions, and the impact to the climate is calculated to be the equivalent of the operation of 7 million cars.

SoCalGas (a subsidiary of Sempra Energy) reports that nothing can be done to stop or reduce the leak until February or March of 2016. As a result, the nearby community of Porter Ranch has been largely evacuated (30,000 people) due to health complaints and the rotten egg smell of tertbutyl mercaptan and tetradydrothiophen. Air quality sampling, being assessed by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard and Assessment (OEHHA), measured volatile organic compounds, specifically the carcinogen benzene, at concentrations below acute toxicity health standards.4 Exposure to benzene even at low levels presents a risk of cancer and other health hazards. Locals have complained of headaches, sore throats, nosebleeds and nausea. The LA County Department of Public Health has ordered SoCalGas to offer free temporary relocation to any area residents affected. About 1,000 people are suing the company.5 A fly over of the site has been posted to youtube by the Environmental Defense Fund, and can be seen here. The video uses a FLIR camera to take infrared video that shows the leak.

Site Description

CA gas storage and Aliso Canyon natural gas leak

Figure 1. California active natural gas storage fields most active in 2014

The source of the leak is a natural gas storage well operated by SoCalGas in the Aliso Canyon oil field – a drained oil field now used to store natural gas. SoCalGas is the largest natural gas utility in the U.S., distributing natural gas to 20.9 million.4 Aliso Canyon is the largest gas storage field in the state, but there are numerous other gas storage fields in the state that could present similar risks. In Figure 1, to the right, California’s other currently active gas storage fields are shown. Injection volumes of natural gas are summed and averaged over the area of the field, and the Aliso Canyon is shown to have injected over 1,000,000 cubic feet per km2 of natural gas since the beginning of 2014. Other high volume fields include Honor Rancho, McDonald Island Gas, and Wild Goose Gas.

The failed well, known as Standard Sesnon 25, is marked with a red star in the map of gas storage wells shown below (Figure 2). The well was drilled in October of 1953. Reports show that pressures in the well bored reached 2,516 PSI in 2015. If you use the map to navigate around the state of California, it is clear that there are numerous other natural gas storage facilities in California, with wellbore pressures similar to or higher than the reported pressure of Standard Sesnon 25 and other wells in the Aliso Canyon Field. Beyond California, the state of Michigan is reported to have the most natural gas storage by volume, at 1.1 trillion cubic feet.6 The incident that caused the leak was a well casing failure, although the cause of the well casing failure has not yet been identified. There have been numerous editorials written that have painted SoCalGas as a model for contemporary corporate greed and corruption for several reasons, including the removal of safety valves, reports of corrosion, and lack of resources for inspections and repairs.7 Rather than this being a unique case of criminal neglect, casing failures are a statistical likelihood for wells of this age. Well casing failures are a systemic issue of all oil and gas development. Every well casing has a shelf life and will fail eventually.8 Additionally, leaks from gas storage wells have occurred at other SoCalGas natural gas storage facilities in California, such as Montebello and Playa Del Rey.

Figure 2. California’s gas storage wells. The size of orange markers indicates wellhead pressure, as reported in 2015. Blue markers show the volume of gas injected in 2014/2015. The Aliso Canyon leak at ‘Standard Sesnon 25’ natural gas storage well is marked with a red star. Click here to manipulate the map. After expanded, use the “Layers” menu to visualize the data with colored markers rather than size. 

Response

Fixing the problem is therefore much more complicated, overall, in this specific case. Since the well casing has ruptured deep underground, natural gas is leaking in the annular space outside the borehole and spewing from the topsoil surrounding the well head. To stop the leak the production pipe must be plugged below the rupture. All attempts to plug the well from the surface have failed due to the high pressure within the borehole, a 7” inner diameter of the production pipe. Therefore, a relief well is being drilled to intersect the well casing, to inject a mud-chemical cocktail intended to plug the well far below the casing failure. Updates on the response, claims information, and the location of the Community Resource Center can be found here. Additionally, Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, which means federal support and a requirement of the state of California to cover the costs.9

The state response to the natural gas leak has included numerous agencies. According to documents from California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the agencies leading the response are the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the Office of Emergency Services (CalOES), California Air Resources Board (ARB), California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA), the California Energy Commission (CEC), and the CPUC. DOGGR is conducting an independent investigation of the incident. The investigation will include a third party analysis for root-cause issues. CARB is monitoring total methane emissions while the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment with CalEPA are collecting and reviewing air quality data. Coordinated response information can be found on the CalOES site. SoCalGas has submitted a proposal to regulators to raise customer rates in order to raise $30 million for a more proactive approach to inspections and repairs.10

This event is the largest, but is not the first major methane/natural gas leak to occur at a wellsite. Leaks can result from a number of natural and anthropogenic (man made) causes. Besides the natural degradation of well integrity with age, acute events can also cause casing failures. There are documented cases where seismic activity has caused casing failures.

As a result of an earthquake natural fractures in the region can grow and disrupt well bores. In areas of dense drilling, fracture stimulations that propagate improperly or intersect unknown faults. When two wells become interconnected, known as “downhole communication” or a “frack hit” when it occurs due to hydraulic fracturing, spills and leaks can occur due to over-pressurization. In many states, these risks are mitigated by having setbacks between wells. California, the most seismically active state, has minimal setbacks for drilling or fracking oil and gas wells. In previous research, FracTracker found that over 96% of new hydraulic fractures in 2013 were drilled within 1,200 feet of another well, which would even violate setback rules in Texas!

Climate Impacts

Natural gas is hailed by the fossil fuel industry as the bridge fuel that will allow the world to transition to renewables. The main argument claims natural gas is necessary to replace coal as our main source of generating electricity. Burning both coal and natural gas produce carbon dioxide, but natural gas is more efficient. For the same amount of energy production, natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide emissions. The legitimate threat of climate impacts comes from fugitive (leaked) emissions of methane, before the natural gas can be burned. Since methane is a gas, it is much harder to contain than oil or coal. Methane is also more insulating than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (34-86 times more insulating), making it a more potent greenhouse gas. The leaked natural gas from the Aliso Canyon well is currently equivalent to 7,000,000 tons of CO2 (Updated here, on Mother Jones).

Current estimates show methane is responsible for 25% of the world’s anthropogenic warming to date. Proponents of the bridge fuel theorize that if methane leakage can be kept under 4% of total production, natural gas power generation will provide a climate-positive alternative to coal. EPA estimates set the leakage rate at 2.4%, but independent research estimates actual rates up to 7.9%.11 The EDF has been conducting an $18 million project focused on quantifying methane leaks from the natural gas industry. A team of 20 researchers from 13 institutions conducted the 2 year study measuring emissions from the Barnett Shale. Details can be found on the Environmental Defense Fund’s Page.12

Natural Gas Leak References

  1. Goldenberg, S. (2016). A single gas well leak is California’s biggest contributor to climate change. The Guardian. Accessed 1/6/16.
  2. Environmental Defense Fund. (2015). Aerial Footage of Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Leak. via YouTube. Accessed 1/5/16.
  3. Lurie, J. (2016). Thousands of Californians are Fleeing an Enormous Methane Leak. Here are 8 Things You Need to Know. Mother Jones. Accessed 1/6/16.
  4. CalOES. (2015). Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Leak. Accessed 1/8/15.
  5. BBC. (2015). California state of emergency over methane leak. Accessed 1/8/15
  6. Ellison, G. (2015). Michigan has most underground natural gas storage in U.S. MLive. Accessed 1/8/15.
  7. Reicher, M. (2015). SocalGas knew of corrosion at Porter Ranch gas facility, doc shows. LA Daily News. Accessed 1/5/16.
  8. Ingraffea et al. (2013). Assessment and risk analysis of casing and cement impairment in oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, 2000-2012. PNAS. Vol.111 no.30.
  9. Cronin, M. (2015). Why Engineers Can’t Stop Los Angeles’ Enormous Methane Leak. Accessed 1/4/16.
  10. CUUC. (2015). Appendix A. Accessed 1/5/15. [please note that some CPUC files are being taken offline for unknown reasons]
  11. Howarth et al. (2011). Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Climatic Change. 106:679-690.
  12. Song, L. (2015). Texas Fracking Zone Emits 90% More Methane Than EPA Estimated. InsideClimate News.

Feature Image: Aliso Canyon natural gas leak – Photo by Environmental Defense Fund

Unconventional Drilling Activity Down In Pennsylvania

By Matt Kelso, Manager of Data & Technology

Wells Spudded (Drilled)

The number of newly drilled unconventional wells in Pennsylvania peaked in 2011.

Figure 1: Newly drilled unconventional wells in Pennsylvania peaked in 2011.

Unconventional oil and gas drilling is well established in Pennsylvania, with over 9,200 drilled wells, an additional 7,200 permitted locations that have not yet been drilled, and 5,300 violations all happening since the turn of the millennium. It took a while for the industry to gather steam, with just one unconventional well drilled in 2002, and only eight in 2005. But by 2010, that figure had ballooned to 1,599 wells, which was greater than the previous eight years combined. There were 1,956 wells drilled in 2011, representing the peak for unconventional drilling activity in Pennsylvania (Figure 1).

None of the three full years since then, however, have seen more than 70% of the 2011 total. Halfway through 2015, the industry is on pace to drill only 842 unconventional wells statewide, which would be the lowest total since 2009, and only 43% of the 2011 total.


Pennsylvania Shale Viewer. Click here to access the full screen view with a legend, layer details, and other tools.

Taken cumulatively, the footprint on the state is immense, as is shown in the map above, and impacts remain for some time. Of Pennsylvania’s 9,234 unconventional wells 8,187 (89%) are still active. Only 474 wells have been permanently plugged so far, with 570 given an inactive status, and one well listed as “proposed but never materialized,” despite being included on the spud report.

Permits & Violations

The number of permits and violations issued have been declining over the past five years as well.

Five years of unconventional oil and gas activity in Pennsylvania, July 2010 through June 2015.

Figure 2: Five years of unconventional oil and gas activity in Pennsylvania, July 2010 through June 2015.

Figure 2 shows the monthly totals of permits, wells, and violations over the last 60 months. Linear trendlines were added to the chart to give a visual representation of changes over time if we ignore the noise of the peaks and troughs of activity, which is an inherent attribute of the industry. Each of the three trendlines has a negative slope1, showing downward trends in each category.

In fact, permits for new wells are declining more rapidly than the drilled wells, and violations issued are declining at a still faster rate. Over the course of five years, these declines are substantial. In July 2010, the smoothed totals that are “predicted” by the trendline show 304 permits issued, 159 wells drilled, and 128 violations issued per month.  60 months later, one would expect 213 permits, 81 wells drilled, and just 12 violations issued2.

Location of Drilling Activity

The oil and gas industry has been more selective about where unconventional wells are being drilled in recent years, as well. Altogether, there are unconventional wells in 39 different counties, with 32 counties seeing action in both 2010 and 2011. That number is down to 22 for both 2014 and the first half of 2015. There has been drilling in 443 different municipalities since 2002, with a maximum of 241 municipal regions in 2011, which shrank to 161 last year, and just 88 in the first half of 2015.


Summary of unconventional wells drilled in each Pennsylvania county by year, through June 30, 2015. Click here to access the full screen view with a legend, layer details, and other tools

Clicking on any of the counties above will show the number of unconventional wells drilled in that county by year since the first unconventional well was spudded in Pennsylvania back in 2002.  The color scheme shows the year that the maximum number of unconventional wells were drilled in each county, with blues, greens, and yellows showing counties where the activity has already peaked, oranges showing a peak in 2014, and red showing a peak in 2015, despite only six months of activity.  30 of the 39 counties with unconventional wells in the state saw a peak in activity in 2013 or before.

Notes

  1. The equations for the three trendlines are as follows:
    • Permits: y = -1.5128x + 303.81
    • Wells: y = -1.2939x + 158.95
    • Violations: y = -1.9334x + 127.53
  2. The lowest actual value for each category are as follows:
    • Permits: 117, in July 2012
    • Wells: 43, in February 2015
    • Violations: 16, in August 2014.

Utica Drilling in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, the vast majority of unconventional oil and gas activity is focused on the Marcellus Shale formation, a Devonian period deposit of black shale with a high hydrocarbon content, which requires horizontal drilling and large scale hydraulic fracturing to produce enough oil and gas to make the drilling economically viable.  This formation was created about 390 million years ago, when organic-rich deposits accumulated in what is now the Appalachian Mountains, but was at that time a shallow sea.  Down below the base of the Marcellus lies the Utica Shale, an Ordovician period formation, with almost the same geographic extent as the Marcellus, but the deposits were placed there about 65 million years earlier.


Utica permits and violations in Pennsylvania. Click here to access the legend and other map tools.

In neighboring Ohio, it is the Utica that gets most of the attention, with 937 permitted wells, as opposed to just 20 for the Marcellus.  In Pennsylvania, the reverse is true:  there are 16,110 permitted Marcellus wells, but only 279 permits for Utica wells.  Part of the reason for this is because the subsurface characteristics of these formations vary widely, especially in terms of thickness and depth.  With changes in depth come changes in temperature and pressure, which are key criteria in hydrocarbon formation.  In other words, the same formation that produces considerable quantities of gas and valuable liquid hydrocarbons in eastern Ohio may be economically unviable just a county or two over in western Pennsylvania.

Utica shale permits, drilled wells, violations, and violations per well for Pennsylvania, through June 19, 2015.

Utica shale permits, drilled wells, violations, and violations per well for Pennsylvania, through June 19, 2015.

Utica drilling permits have been issued in 19 different counties in Pennsylvania, with wells having been drilled in 15 of those.  The violations per well (VpW) score for Utica wells in the Keystone State is 0.9, meaning that there are nine violations issued for every 10 wells that have been drilled.  It is worth noting, however, that only 36 of the 114 drilled wells have received violations, meaning that some wells have been cited on multiple occasions.

Of particular note is Bradford county, the site of only one Utica well, but 19 items on the compliance report.  The problematic Bayles 1 well was run by three different operators before being permanently plugged.  This well also has two “Drill Deeper” permits, and as a result, it is likely that the first six violations assessed to this well were issued before it was associated with the Utica Shale, as they precede the most recent spud date for the well in June, 2005.  Most of the violations for this well seem to be for pit violations and discharges to the ground and nearby stream.

Wells drilled into the Utica Formation in Pennsylvania, by year and current status.

Wells drilled into the Utica Formation in Pennsylvania, by year and current status.

In terms of drilling activity, it appears to have peaked in 2012, calling into question whether the industry considers the formation to be economically viable in Pennsylvania.  Of the 28 wells drilled since the beginning of 2014, Tioga County has seen the most activity with 11 wells drilled, followed by five wells in Butler County, then three in Lawrence County.  If we think of drilling activity as a sort of positive feedback from the industry – meaning that they like what they see and want to keep exploring – then only Tioga County seems to be holding the attention of the various operators who have been active in the Utica Shale.  Given the Utica activity in Ohio, one might have thought that counties on the western edge of the state – especially Beaver, Lawrence, and Mercer – would have shown the most promise, but this appears not to be the case.

Frac

Fracking’s Most Wanted – An NRDC Issue Paper

Lifting the Veil on Oil & Gas Company Spills & Violations

NRDC Issue Paper • April 2015

Today Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report in conjunction with work by those of us at FracTracker Alliance.

We launched this investigation to determine what information about oil and gas company violations is publicly available on the Internet, how accessible it is, and whether it provides an adequate understanding about the practices of different companies.

This report highlights the information gaps about the frequency and nature of oil and gas company violations; such data is only publically accessible in 3 states – even though 36 states have active oil and gas development.

To take the review one step further, we analyzed the data that was available from these states – Pennsylvania, Colorado, and West Virginia. The results show that companies have been issued a series of violations, some of which were quite severe.

Of these companies, the following 10 had the most violations overall, in order of most to least:

  1. Chesapeake Energy (669)
  2. Cabot Oil and Gas (565)
  3. Talisman Energy (362))
  4. Range Resources (281)
  5. EXCO Resources (249)
  6. ExxonMobil (246)
  7. EQT Corporation (245)
  8. Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (235)
  9. Shell (223)
  10. Penn Virginia Corporation (186)

Find out more information, including the top violators in PA, CO, and WV, on NRDC’s website or by reading the full report (PDF)

Contact: Kate Slusark Kiely, 212-727-4592 or kkiely@nrdc.org

 

What can violations data tell us?

By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – Manager of Education, Communications, & Partnerships

The rate of violations by fracking companies has been of significant interest to many groups including our own. But why? What can violations data tell us about oil and gas safety that a news article about a particular incident cannot?

When companies do not follow regulatory standards and protocols – and either self report the issue or are caught – they may be issued a citation of some sort by the state regulatory agency where the violation occurred. While data of this kind is not always readily available, we can gain key insights into the environment of a particular company and the related state agency by reviewing these violations more closely.

The Stories Behind the Data

Violation trends can be indicators of environmental and public health risks, by looking into spills or illegal air emissions. The degree of transparency both within the oil and gas industry, as well as in the state regulatory agency, can be gleaned based on the quality and quantity of data available about company violations. And of course, the degree to which a company complies with our state and federal laws says a lot about their corporate environment and safety protocols.

In Pennsylvania, for example, we have seen a decline in violations per well over time (Figure 1, below). At first glance, this trend appears to be a step in the right direction. There could be several reasons behind this change, however, including but not limited to:

  • Improved compliance among operators – Great!
  • Decreased regulatory inspections – Not so great
  • Decreased regulatory reporting of violations during those inspections – Not so great
  • Changes in what qualifies as a “violation” or how violations data is collected/shared
  • Less self reporting by the companies when something goes wrong – Not so great
  • Larger, more established operators with better safety protocols have bought out smaller, resource-limited companies
  • Improved control technologies or infrastructure (throughputs) – Great!
  • More public pressure to comply with regulations – Great!
VpW PA Over Time

Figure 1. Violations per well drilled in PA 2005-2014. Data source

Two Recent Violations Data Reports

With the insight that can be acquired by analyzing violations (and other types of data), it is not uncommon to see an increase in the organizations and researchers digging into the data.

On January 27th, for example, Environment America released a report detailing the top oil and gas violators in the United States. Among their many findings…

Houston-based Cabot Oil, a prime Halliburton contractor, committed the most total violations with 265 across the study period. Chesapeake Energy was close behind. Pittsburgh-based Atlas was guilty of the most breaches for every well drilled, while Mieka, part of Dallas-based Vadda Energy, was responsible for the most infractions per well operated. Learn more

A report that we wrote last year finally made its way through peer review and was published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part A on Tuesday last week1. We did not focus specifically on the operators committing violations like Environment America did, but on the state of the data that is or should be available to the public about these operations from state regulatory agencies. Unfortunately, we found that many states often do not release violations data – especially not in a publicly accessible manner. Learn more about this study through an article I wrote for the Sunlight Foundation’s blog or check out the abstract.

A third violations report is due out soon, so keep your eyes peeled! UPDATE: As of April 2, 2015 – The Natural Resources Defense Council report is available.

Endnotes

1. The other publications in the special issue, Facing the Challenges – Research on Shale Gas Extraction, are listed below:

Foreword
John F. Stolz Professor, Duquesne University
Pages: 433-433

Current perspectives on unconventional shale gas extraction in the Appalachian Basin
David J. Lampe & John F. Stolz
Pages: 434-446

Long-term impacts of unconventional drilling operations on human and animal health
Michelle Bamberger & Robert E. Oswald
Pages: 447-459

Human exposure to unconventional natural gas development: A public health demonstration of periodic high exposure to chemical mixtures in ambient air
David R. Brown, Celia Lewis & Beth I. Weinberger
Pages: 460-472

Reported health conditions in animals residing near natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania
I. B. Slizovskiy, L. A. Conti, S. J. Trufan, J. S. Reif, V. T. Lamers, M. H. Stowe, J. Dziura & P. M. Rabinowitz
Pages: 473-481

Marcellus and mercury: Assessing potential impacts of unconventional natural gas extraction on aquatic ecosystems in northwestern Pennsylvania
Christopher J. Grant, Alexander B. Weimer, Nicole K. Marks, Elliott S. Perow, Jacob M. Oster, Kristen M. Brubaker, Ryan V. Trexler, Caroline M. Solomon, & Regina Lamendella
Pages: 482-500

Data inconsistencies from states with unconventional oil and gas activity
Samantha Malone, Matthew Kelso, Ted Auch, Karen Edelstein, Kyle Ferrar, & Kirk Jalbert
Pages: 501-510

Scintillation gamma spectrometer for analysis of hydraulic fracturing waste products
Leong Ying, Frank O’Connor, & John F. Stolz
Pages: 511-515

Well water contamination in a rural community in southwestern Pennsylvania near unconventional shale gas extraction
Shyama K. Alawattegama, Tetiana Kondratyuk, Renee Krynock, Matthew Bricker, Jennifer K. Rutter, Daniel J. Bain, & John F. Stolz
Pages: 516-528

Updated PA Data and Trends

By Matt Kelso, Manager of Data and Technology

The FracTracker Alliance periodically takes a deeper look into the unconventional oil and gas data in Pennsylvania, in order to provide updates for some frequently requested statistics on the industry. Here we provide updated PA data and trends as of December 4, 2014. Since unconventional drilling began in the Commonwealth permits have been issued to drill 15,573 unconventional wells, according to data from the Pennsylvania DEP. Many – 8,696 (56%) – of those permits have actually been drilled. In terms of violations, there have been 5,983 entries on the statewide Compliance Report for unconventional wells throughout the state, which are attributed to 1,790 distinct wells.

Pennsylvania Shale Viewer Map


Please click here for the full screen version, with additional map tools and controls.

Additional Stats

The number of permits, wells, and violations vary significantly from month to month, but each category is well off of its peak. The largest number of unconventional permits issued in a single month was 402, which was in December 2010, more than twice as many as were issued last month. In that year, there were six months with 300 or more permits issued, whereas there has only been one such month to date in 2014.

PA unconventional O&G activity per month from Jan. 2009 to Nov. 2014.  Source:  PADEP

PA unconventional O&G activity per month from Jan. 2009 to Nov. 2014. Source: PADEP

The 210 wells spudded (drilled) in August 2011 represents the high water mark, and is more than two times the amount of wells drilled last month. In the 28 months between March 2010 and June 2012, the industry failed to spud 100 wells only once, reaching 98 in April 2011. In the first 11 months of 2014, that plateau was missed three times, with a low of 58 spuds in February.

There was a significant spike in violations appearing on the compliance report from December 2009 through August 2011. More than 100 violations were issued in 17 out of 21 months, including 196 in March 2010. The number of violations issued has slowed down considerably since then, with November 2014 being the 34th straight month with fewer than 100 violations. Only 14 violations were issued in June 2014.

Violations per Well (VpW)

Unconventional violations per well by county in PA, showing the 10 counties with the largest number of violations.  Counties with an above average Violations per Well (VpW) score are highlighted in red.

Unconventional violations per well by county in PA, showing the 10 counties with the largest number of violations. Counties with an above average Violations per Well (VpW) score are highlighted in red.

We often ask whether drilling is more problematic in some areas than others. Since the number of wells varies depending upon the location, we must approach this question by looking at the number of violations issued per well drilled (VpW). However, there is an important caveat to consider. Put simply, what is a violation? The Pennsylvania DEP publishes a Compliance Report for unconventional wells, which has 5,983 incidents listed from 2000 through December 4, 2014. However, it used to be common for the DEP to lump several incidents into the same Violation ID number, although this is not the case for more recent infractions. When the DEP counts violations issued, they look at the total number of unique Violation ID numbers that have been issued, not the total number of incidents on the report. Here, we include the more inclusive list of items on the compliance report.

Of the 10 counties with the largest number of violations issued, only 3 counties have a violations per well mark below the statewide average. Notably, each of those three counties are located in Southwestern Pennsylvania. It is unclear from these numbers what is going on in Potter County, but clearly there is a significant problem in that location – with almost three violations issued per well drilled, Potter County has a VpW score 4.3 times the statewide average.

Operator Trends

Before we look at the operators with the most violations, there is an additional caveat to consider: It is relatively common for wells to change hands over their operational lifetimes. This characteristic could be due to one company buying another out, or simply transferring some of their assets. Still, wells changing from one operator to another is a normal aspect of the oil and gas industry. Such a fact matters for this analysis because while violations issued always stick with the responsible party in the DEP data, the name of the operator changes on the Spud Report to the current operator.

Unconventional violations per well by operator in PA, showing the 10 operators with the largest number of violations.  Operators with an above average Violations per Well (VpW) score are highlighted in red.

Unconventional violations per well by operator in PA, showing the 10 operators with the largest number of violations. Operators with an above average Violations per Well (VpW) score are highlighted in red.

Because of how these datasets are maintained, we see that East Resources has 261 violations for zero wells, which is of course an impossibly large ratio. That is because East sold off its stake in the Marcellus to Royal Dutch Shell, which does business as SWEPI in Pennsylvania. SWEPI, by the way, is 13th on the list of violations in its own right, with 154 violations for 675 wells, resulting in a 0.23 VpW. If the legacy violations for the old East wells were included, the result would be a 0.61 ViW score, which is almost three times as high, but still below the statewide average. FracTracker doesn’t do the analysis that way, both because it is unfair to the new operator to charge them with violations that they had nothing to do with, as well as being nearly impossible to keep track of the various transactions that result in wells changing hands over the years.


Cover image by Pete Stern, 2013.

Comparing Unconventional Drilling in Southwestern PA

By Matt Unger, GIS Intern, FracTracker Alliance

We recently received a request  for unconventional (fracking) drilling data in Southwestern Pennsylvania counties and municipalities. Specifically, the resident wanted to know the following information:

  1. Number of drilled wells in Southwestern PA counties, and in each municipality,
  2. How many wells are producing natural gas in each municipality, and
  3. The number of well violations reported there.

The following counties in Southwestern PA were studied (based on available electronic data): Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington, and Westmoreland.

The well production data was compiled from a production report found on the Pennsylvania DEP Office of Oil and Gas website. This report detailed production values from unconventional gas wells statewide from January 2014 – June 2014. The well violation data was compiled using the Pennsylvania DEP Office of Oil and Gas’s interactive Oil and Gas Compliance report. From here, a compliance report was created using the following criteria: All PA regions, counties, and municipalities, all well operators, unconventional wells only, and wells inspected from 1/1/2000 – 9/9/2014.

Drilling Data Trends

Once all of the data was compiled, we created a spreadsheet that included a ratio of violations/wells for each municipality and county. Below are a few observations that stood out to us, followed by possible explanations for what has been reported.

  • Slightly less than 1/3 of all wells drilled in the 11 counties selected for this analysis have committed some sort of violation (.31).
  • The ratio of violations to wells drilled in Somerset County is 1.38, by far the largest ratio discovered. This means than more than one violation has been cited for every well drilled in that area, but that does not mean that every well carries with it a violation. The second largest ratio would be Cambria County at 1.00.
  • If you break down the numbers and look at municipality trends, the largest violation/wells ratio by municipality is found in Stewart Township, Fayette County (9.00). There have been 18 reported violations in association with the 2 wells drilled in the area.
  • Of the 60 municipalities that recorded no violations, South Buffalo Township in Armstrong County has the most wells drilled with 20.
  • Across the 11 counties studied, Allegheny County has the lowest ratio of violation/wells (.007).
  • Violations were reported in Somerset Township, Somerset County. No wells were drilled in this area, however.
  • Violations were reported in Wayne Township, Greene County, yet no wells were reported to be drilled in the municipality.

Explaining Some Data Caveats

Why is Allegheny County seeing such a low violation/well ratio?

Across the 11 counties studied, Allegheny County has the lowest ratio of violation/wells (.007).

Allegheny is the most populated county studied in Southwestern PA. Oil and gas drillers in the county, therefore, have the largest audience watching them. This may be encouraging the drillers to be more cautious or follow rules and regulations more strictly. Another possible explanation is that inspectors may be more lenient when reporting violations in in Allegheny County. Additionally, drillers operating primarily in Allegheny County may be are more likely to or are more capable of drilling according to the regulations. A final possibility is that Allegheny County is one of the last counties in this region to be heavily drilled, perhaps allowing for more best practices to be implemented on site compared to well pads established early on.

Violations With No Wells?

Violations were reported in Somerset Township, Somerset County. No wells were drilled in this area, however. These violations could have occurred when constructing the well pad. If construction has stopped at this site since the violation, there would not have been any wells drilled. Additionally, there may be an error in the dataset as to the actual location (e.g. county) of the well pad.

Violations were reported in Wayne Township, Greene County, yet no wells were reported to be drilled in the municipality. The PA DEP has informed FracTracker that these violations were actually reported for a well pad located in Center Township, Greene County. The entry for Wayne Township was a recording error on their part. Our data has been updated to reflect the proper number of violations reported in Center Township, as well as the removal of any activity in Wayne Township.

Download the Spreadsheet

The spreadsheet we supplied to this resident can be downloaded as a compliance report.

Updated PA Map

Explore our map of PA unconventional wells and violations by clicking on the map below:

Last updated: September 19, 2014

 

In-depth Review of the Statoil Well Pad Fire

Commentary on Shale Gas Operations: First in a Series of Articles
By Bill Hughes, Community Liaison, FracTracker Alliance
Statoil Well Pad Fire: June 28-29, 2014

The early riser residents along Long Ridge Road in Monroe County are among the first in Ohio to see the sun coming up over the West Virginia hills.  It rose about 6:00 am on the morning of June 28th.  Everyone assumed that this would be a normal Saturday morning.  Well, at least as normal as it had been for the better part of two years since the site preparation and drilling started.

For those residents on Long Ridge who were not early risers, the blaring sirens, the smell of acrid smoke, and the presence of fire trucks and other emergency vehicles shortly after 9:00 am must surely have made them wonder if they were in the midst of a nightmare. A quick glance outside toward the Statoil Eisenbarth well pad and they would have seen this view:

Statoil 1

Figure 1. View from the southeast, as the fire spread on Sat. June 28th

The image in Fig. 1 would be enough to make most folks feel somewhat panicky and consider evacuating the neighborhood. That is exactly what soon happened – definitely not the start of a normal Saturday morning.

Adjusting to the New Normal

The traffic in the area had been a problem ever since site preparation started on the nearby well pad. The State expected the drillers to keep up the road. Crews also provided lead escort vehicles to help the many big trucks negotiate the narrow road way and to clear the residential traffic. Access to the well site required trucks to climb a two-mile hill up to the ridge top.

Statoil 2

Fig. 2. Neighbors’ views of the fire

Until June 28th, most folks had become accustomed to the extra noise, diesel fumes, and congestion and delays that always come with any shale gas well exploration and development in the Marcellus shale gas active area. Most of the neighbors had gotten used to the new normal and reluctantly tolerated it. Even that was about to change, dramatically.  As the sun got higher in the eastern sky over WV, around 9:00 AM, suddenly the sky started to turn dark. Very dark. Sirens wailed. Red trucks started a frenzied rush down Long Ridge from all directions. There was a fire on the well pad. Soon it became a very large, all consuming fire.  Smoke, fire, bitter fumes, and no one seemed to know yet exactly what had happened, and what was likely to happen soon.

This gas well location, called the Eisenbarth pad, recently changed operators. In January 2013, the well pad property and its existing well and equipment were bought out by Statoil, a company based in Norway.  Statoil had since drilled seven more wells, and even more were planned.  The original single well was in production.  Now in late spring and early summer of 2014 the new wells were to be “fracked.”  That means they were ready to be hydraulically fractured, a procedure that follows the completion of the drilling process.

Statoil hired as their fracturing sub-contractor Halliburton. All of the fracturing pump trucks, sand kings, Sand Castles, and control equipment were owned and operated by Halliburton.  The fracturing process had been ongoing for some weeks when the fire started. The eastern Ohio neighbors now watched ~$25 million worth of equipment go up in smoke and flames (Fig. 2). The billowing smoke was visible for over 10 miles.

Industrial accidents are not rare in the Ohio Valley

Many of the residents nearby had worked in the coal mining industry, aluminum plants, chemical plants, or the coal fired power plant that were up and down the Ohio River. Many had since retired and had their own industrial accident stories to tell. These were frequently private stories, however, which mostly just their co-workers knew about. In an industrial plant, the common four walls and a roof kept the dangerous processes confined and enabled a trained response to the accidents. The traditional, industrial workplace had well-proven, customized workplace safety standards.  Professional maintenance personnel were always nearby.  In stark contrast, unconventional gas well pads located in our rural communities are very different. They are put in our hayfields, near our homes, in our pastures and just down the road. You cannot hide a community accident like this.

Sept 2014 Update: Video of the fire, Copyright Ed Wade, Jr.

Print Media Coverage of the Fire

Within days, many newspapers were covering the well pad fire story. The two nearby weekly newspapers, one in Monroe County, Ohio and the other in Wetzel County, West Virginia both had detailed, long articles the following week.

Statoil 3

Fig. 3. View from the east as the fire started

The Monroe County Beacon on July 2, 2014 said that the fire spread quickly from the small original fire which was totally surrounded within the tangled complex of equipment and high pressure piping.  Early Saturday morning, the first responder would likely have seen a rather small somewhat localized fire as shown in Fig. 2. The photo to the right (Fig. 3) is the view from the east, where the access road is on Long Ridge road. This point is the only access into the Statoil well pad. The view below, showing some still intact tanker trucks in the foreground, is looking west toward the well location. Pay attention to the couple of trucks still visible.

The Monroe County emergency director said it was his understanding that the fire began with a ruptured hydraulic hose. The fluid then ignited on a hot surface. He said, “…by 9:10 AM the fire had spread to other pumps on the location and was spreading rapidly over the well pad.”   Emergency responders needed water now, lots of it. There is only one narrow public road to the site at the top of a very long, steep hill and only one narrow entrance to the densely congested equipment on the pad.  Many Volunteer Fire Departments from both Ohio and West Virginia responded.  A series of tanker trucks began to haul as much water to the site as possible.  The combined efforts of all the fire departments were at best able to control or contain but not extinguish the powerful, intensely hot and growing blaze.  The Volunteer firemen did all they could. The EMS director and Statoil were very grateful for the service of the Volunteer Fire Departments. There was a major loss of most equipment, but none of the 45-50 workers on site were injured.

Statoil 4

Fig. 4. Well pad entrance

The article from the Wetzel Chronicle also praised the coordinated effort of all the many fire departments. At first they attempted to fight the fire, and then prudently focused on just trying to limit the damage and hoping it did not spread to the well heads and off the well pad itself. The New Martinsville fire chief also said that,  “… the abundance of chemicals and explosives on the site, made attempts to halt the fire challenging, if not nearly impossible… Numerous plans to attack the fire were thwarted each time by the fires and numerous explosions…”  The intense heat ignited anything nearby that was at all combustible. There was not much choice but to let the fire burn out.

Eventually the view at the well pad entrance as seen from the east (Fig. 3) would soon look like the overhead view (Fig. 5). This aerial imagery shows what little remained after the fire was out – just some aluminum scrap melted into the decking is left of the original, white Hydrochloric Acid tanker truck. Everything near it is has almost vaporized.

Statoil 5

Figure 5. Post-fire equipment identification

Efforts to Limit the Fire

Statoil 6

Fig. 6. Protected white trailer

An excellent example of VFD’s successfully limiting the spread of the fire and controlling the extreme heat can be seen in the photo to the right (Fig. 6). This white storage trailer sure seems to be a most favored, protected, special and valuable container. It was.

It was filled with some particularly dangerous inventory. The first EPA report explains it thus:

A water curtain was maintained, using pump lines on site, to prevent the fire from spreading to a trailer containing 1,100 pounds of SP Breaker (an oxidizer), 200 pounds of soda ash and compressed gas cylinders of oxygen (3-2000 lb.), acetylene (2-2000 lb.), propane (6-20 lb.), among miscellaneous aerosol cans.

Statoil 7

Fig. 7. Post-fire pad layout

Yes, this trailer got special treatment, as it should. It contained some hazardous material.  It was also at the far southwest corner of the well pad with minimal combustibles near it.  That was also the closest corner to the nearby holding pond, which early on might have held fresh water. Now the holding pond is surely very contaminated from flowback and runoff.

The trailer location can be seen in the picture to the right in the red box (Fig. 7), which also shows the complete well pad and surrounding area. However, in comparison to the one white storage trailer, the remainder of the well pad did not fare so well. It was all toast, and very burned toast at that.

Columbus Dispatch and the Fish Kill

Besides the two local newspapers, and Wheeling Jesuit researchers, the Columbus Dispatch also covered the story and provided more details on the 3- to 5-mile long fish kill in the stream below the well pad. Additional facts were added by the two EPA reports:

Those reports list in some detail many of the chemicals, explosives, and radiological components on the well pad.  Reader note: Get out your chemical dictionary, or fire up your Google search. A few excerpts from the first EPA report are provided below.

…Materials present on the Pad included but was not limited to: diesel fuel, hydraulic oil, motor oil, hydrochloric acid, cesium-137 sources, hydrotreated light petroleum distillates, terpenes, terpenoids, isoproponal, ethylene glycol, paraffinic solvents, sodium persulfate, tributyl tetradecyl phosphonium chloride and proprietary components… The fire and explosion that occurred on the Eisenbarth Well Pad involved more than 25,000 gallons of various products that were staged and/or in use on the site… uncontained run-off was exiting the site and entering an unnamed tributary of Opossum Creek to the south and west and flowback water from the Eisenbarth Well #7 was spilling onto the well pad.

Reader Warning:  If you found the above list overly alarming, you might choose to skip the next equally disturbing list. Especially since you now know that this all eventually flowed into our Ohio River.

The EPA report continues with more specific chemical products involved in the fire:

Initial reports identified the following products were involved and lost in the fire: ~250 gallons of hydrochloric acid (28%), ~7,040 gallons of GasPerm 1000 (terpenes, terpenoids, isopropanol, citrus extract, proprietary components), ~330 gallons of LCA-1 (paraffinic solvents), ~ 1900 gallons of LGC-36 UC (hydrotreated light petroleum distillate, guar gum), ~1000 gallons of BC-140 (monoethanolamine borate, ethylene glycol), ~3300 gallons of BE-9 (tributyl tetradecyl phosphonium chloride), ~30,000 gallons of WG-36 (polysaccharide gel), ~1,000 gallons of FR-66 (hydrotreated light petroleum distillate), ~9000 gallons of diesel fuel, ~300 gallons of motor and hydraulic oil.

Even more details of the incident and the on-site chemicals are given in the required Statoil 30-day report (PDF).

The EPA reports detail the “sheet” flow of unrestricted contaminated liquids off of the well pad during and after the fire. They refer to the west and south sides. The below Google Earth-based map (Fig. 8) shows the approximate flow from the well pad. The two unnamed tributaries join to form Opossum Creek, which then flows into the Ohio River four miles away.

Statoil 8

Figure 8. Map showing path of unrestricted flow off of the Statoil well pad due to a lack of berm

After describing some of the known chemicals on the well pad, the EPA report discusses the construction of a new berm, and where the liquid components flowed. Below is a selection of many excerpts strung together, from many days, taken directly from the EPA reports:

…unknown quantities of products on the well pad left the Site and entered an unnamed tributary of Opossum Creek that ultimately discharges to the Ohio River. Runoff left the pad at various locations via sheet flow….Initial inspections in the early hours of June 29, 2014 of Opossum Creek approximately 3.5 miles downstream of the site identified dead fish in the creek…. Equipment was mobilized to begin constructing an earthen berm to contain runoff and to flood the pad to extinguish remaining fires…. Once fires were extinguished, construction of a berm near the pad was begun to contain spilled liquids and future runoff from the well pad… Statoil continued construction of the containment berm currently 80% complete. (6-30-14)… Assessment of chemicals remaining on the well pad was completed. The earthen berm around the pad was completed,  (7-2-14)… ODNR Division of Wildlife completed their in stream assessment of the fish kill and reported an estimated 70,000 dead fish from an approximately 5 mile stretch extending from the unnamed tributary just west of the Eisenbarth Well Pad to Opossum Creek just before its confluence with the Ohio River… Fish collection was completed. In total, 11,116 dead fish were collected (20 different species), 3,519 crustaceans, 7 frogs and 20 salamanders.

The overall conclusion is clear. Large quantities of various chemicals, mixed with very large amounts of already contaminated water, when flooding a well pad that had no berms around it, resulted in a significant fish kill over several miles. After the fire Statoil then constructed a berm around the well pad. If there had been a pre-existing berm – just 12 inches high and level – around the well pad, it could have held over 600,000 gallons of runoff. That amount is twice the estimated quantity of water used to fight the fire.  (Note: my old 35 HP farm tractor and a single bottom plow can provide a 12-inch high mound of dirt in one pass.)

The significance for safe, potable drinking water, is that all the chemicals and petroleum products on the well pad either burned and went up in a toxic plume of black smoke, or were released in liquid form down into the well pad or flowed off of it. Since the original liner on the well pad also completely burned and there was no overall berm on the well pad, there was nothing to restrict the flow of polluted liquid. Therefore, it all seeped into the ground and/or ran off of the pad with the 300,000 gallons of water that was estimated to have been sprayed onto the burning equipment fire.

Follow Up Questions

Since this fire happened over 6 weeks ago, there have been many opportunities for nearby citizens and neighbors to meet and discuss their many concerns.  Many of the question have revolved around the overall lack of information about the process of shale gas fracturing, the equipment used, and the degree of risk that it all may present to our communities. These communities include the nearby residents, the travelling public, and all of the first responders. Unless someone has a well pad on or near their property and they are able to actively follow the process, it is usually difficult to find out the details of a specific gas operation. (We have even known of operators that have told landowners to get off of their own property both during drilling and fracturing operations and afterwards.)

Questions that follow incidents like this one typically look like this:

  1. Why was there no perimeter berm?
  2. Why could the fire not be put out quickly and easily? What all was lost? What did this site look like in the beginning?
  3. Why was there so much equipment onsite? Is this typical? What is it all called and how is it used?

1. Lack of Berm

The first and somewhat unanswered question concerns the absence of a simple containment berm around the completed well pad. Statoil must not have thought one would be very helpful, and/or the State of Ohio must not require them.

However, I had raised concern over this very topic more than a year ago from WV. In response, I received a letter in September 2013 from Statoil North America to the WVDEP. It provides some insight into Statoil thinking. Based on my interpretation of that letter, the official position of Statoil last year was that berms around the well pad do not help and are not needed. Given the recent fire, perhaps that position has changed. All we know for sure now is that at least their Eisenbarth well pad now does have a complete perimeter berm. We now have empirical proof, if any was ever needed, that in the presence of spills the absence of berms makes for greater and more expensive downstream problems.

2. An Obstinate Fire

Setting aside the berm problem, I will attempt to address the next set of questions: Why could the fire not be put out quickly and easily? What all was lost ? What did this site look like in the beginning?

The simplest way to start on such questions is to look at other hydraulic fracturing sites to identify what is there and why, and then to compare those with the charred remains on the Statoil Eisenbarth well pad in Monroe County.  Since Statoil’s contractor was Halliburton, it would help to look at their equipment when in process elsewhere.  In Figure 9 below is a clean, bright red and grey Halliburton fracking fleet.

Statoil 9

Figure 9. Example of Halliburton fracking fleet

It needs to be stated up front that I consider Halliburton to be among one of the more reputable, experienced, and dependable fracturing companies. We have seen way worse here in Wetzel County over the past seven years. Halliburton has good equipment and well-trained, safety-conscious employees. It seems to be a well-run operation. If so, then how did this massive fire happen? It simply seems that it is the nature of the beast; there are many inherent dangers to such operations. Plus there is an enormous amount of equipment on site, close coupled and stuffed into a small amount of real estate. Not to mention, the whole setup is temporary – with a lot of fuel and ignition sources. Therefore, many of the available engineered-in safeguards that would normally be installed in an industrial, fixed, permanent location, just cannot be incorporated on my neighbor’s hay field, creek bottom, or farmland.

The whole process has many risks, and many of them cannot be eliminated, just minimized. I do not think that anyone could have predicted a weak hydraulic hose. Some accidents are just that — unpreventable accidents. This is why we need to be very careful with how close we allow these sites in residential areas.

3. Serious Equipment

In Figure 10 below is a wide-angle composite photo of a Halliburton fracturing project in process. Given the shallow angle viewpoint, not all equipment is visible or numbered. The photo is still very representative of frac sites in general and equivalent to what can be seen in the scorched remains on the Statoil Eisenbarth site. The major qualification on the fracturing pumps above and the ones below, is that they are a newer generation of Halliburton dual fuel pumps. They can run on natural gas.

Statoil 10

Figure 10. Halliburton fracturing project in process

Just about everything seen in the above bright red and grey hardware can be seen in Figure 11’s charred leftovers on the Statoil site from July 5, 2014 below (six days after the fire). It is also all Halliburton equipment. The quantities and arrangement are different, but the equipment and process are the same. The numbers on the provided legend or chart should help identify the specific pieces of equipment. The newly constructed containment berm is also clearly visible here.

Statoil 11

Figure 11. Statoil site post-fire equipment identification

The above or a similar photo has been seen by many neighbors both in OH and WV. Hardly anyone can recognize what they are looking at. Even those people who are somewhat familiar with general hydraulic fracturing operations are puzzled. Nothing is obvious when viewing charred remains of burned iron, steel, and melted aluminum. All tires (over 400 of them) have been burned off the rims. Every bit of rubber, foam, composites, plastics and fiberglass truck cabs has been consumed – which is what made the black plume of smoke potentially so dangerous.

Statoil 12

Fig. 12. 16 fracturing pumps

Statoil 13

Fig. 13. 18-wheeler

What might not be so obvious is why the fire could not be extinguished.

If we look at a close-up of a small section of the well pad (Fig. 12) it is easy to see how crowded the well pad is during fracturing. The 16 fracturing pumps are all the size of a full-length 18-wheel tractor trailer (Fig. 13). Note the three fuel tanks.

The fire began between the blender-mixer trucks and the 16 hydraulic fracturing pumps. The blenders were between the fracturing pumps and the sand kings. Halliburton always keeps fire extinguishers available at every truck. They are put on the ground in front of every pump truck. Everyone knows where to find them. However, on any fracking project that location is also the most congested area. The fracturing pumps are usually parked no more than two feet apart. It is just enough room for an operator or maintenance fellow to get between them. With high pressure fluid spraying and the fire already started and now spreading, there is precious little room to maneuver or to work. It is a plumbing nightmare with the dozens of high pressure pipes connecting all the pumps together and then to a manifold. In those conditions, in the face of multiple fuel sources, then the many small explosions, prudence and self-preservation dictates a swift retreat.

To their credit, Halliburton employees knew when to retreat. No one was injured. We just burned up some trucks (and killed some fish). All the employees and all the first responders were able to go home safely, uninjured, to their families and friends. They survived a very dangerous situation to come back again in the service of their employer or their community. We wish them well.

Some Observations and Conclusions

  1. The hydraulic fracturing process is dangerous, even when done properly.
  2. Environmental and employee safeguards must be in place because “accidents will happen.”
  3. Setbacks from personal farm and residential buildings must be great enough to protect all.
  4. Setbacks from streams and creeks and rivers must be taken very seriously, especially when private or municipal water supply systems are downstream.
  5. Our communities must know what all chemicals are being used so that correct lab protocols are established ahead of time to test for contamination.

This now ends this first article addressing the Statoil Fire, its burned fracturing equipment, and the resulting water contamination. Later, I will show many examples of the quantity of equipment used on fracturing sites and why it is there. You patient readers thought this would never end. You now know more about Statoil, well pad fires, and fracturing hardware than you ever wanted to know. We will soon address the more generic questions of fracturing equipment.

Statoil Eisenbarth Well Pad Fire – An Introduction

By Bill Hughes, Community Liaison, FracTracker Alliance

Monroe County on the eastern border of the State of Ohio and Wetzel County in West Virginia are very much neighbors. They literally share a very deep connection, at least geologically and physically, as they are separated by a very long, deep, 1000-foot wide valley, filled by the Ohio River. A bridge connects the surface land and its residents.

But if you literally dig a little deeper, actually a lot deeper (as in 7,000 feet down), we are seamlessly joined by the Marcellus shale layer. Below this layer, we are joined by other black shale formations where the natural gas and some of its unwelcome neighbors live.

I live in Wetzel County. From where I am sitting I am surrounded by multiple shale gas operations – and have been for over seven years. I have Chesapeake to the north; EQT to the southeast; Stone Energy to the west; Statoil to the east; and HG Energy to the south. They all are primarily extracting gas from the Marcellus formation, but just a few miles to the north of here is a Utica formation well pad (situated below the Marcellus Shale layer). It is being fracked as I write this article.

Externalizing Business Costs

Setting aside the different political and regulatory differences that might exist when comparing WV & OH, the terrain, topography, and cultural history are very similar. The impact of shale gas extraction in a rural community seems to be the same everywhere it is happening, as well. We have all had traffic congestion, road accidents, problems with air and water quality, and waste disposal challenges. All of the drilling companies use fresh water from the Ohio River or its tributaries. WV gas producers take much of their brine and flowback fluids to injections wells in OH for disposal. The grateful OH drillers truck their waste products to our landfills here in Wetzel County and the operators seem pleased with the arrangement. Externalizing costs to our communities seems to be an accepted and tolerated business model.

About Statoil

Statoil is a large natural gas producer from Norway. They have wells both here in Wetzel, WV and in Monroe County, OH. On June 28 and 29 of 2014, a massive fire burned out of control on a Statoil well pad called Eisenbarth in Monroe County (map below), during a routine hydraulic fracturing operation. The size, impact, and cause of the Statoil Eisenbarth fire deserve a lot of attention. Since I have Statoil well pads near me, I am somewhat concerned. Therefore, I will be writing about this specific fire and some of the implications for all of us.

A Series of Incident Articles

This photo essay will be presented in two sections. The first will describe the fire along with some of the details and published reports. The second part will use the photos and information to help us all better understand what is meant when we simply make comments on “fracking.” Additionally, I will show which components are commonly present during the hydraulic fracturing process. Explore the in-depth look at this incident.

Location of the Eisenbarth Pad where the June 2014 Statoil Fire occurred

Location of the Statoil Eisenbarth fire that occurred in June 2014. Click to explore our Ohio Shale Viewer.

Ohio Hydrocarbon Production Well Inspections and Violations

Inspections and Violations in Ohio

Only a few states in the U.S. currently release free violations data related to unconventional oil and gas drilling. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) maintains an inventory of well inspections and violations within its RBDMS database. We examined and mapped their data with a focus on hydrocarbon (oil and natural gas) production wells and relevant Class II Injection1 wells – where the high volumes of liquid wastes produced during hydrocarbon extraction are often disposed of, deep within the earth.

By the Numbers

As of January 2013 there were a total of 5,954 hydrocarbon well inspections and 956 “True” violations. “True” violations refer to those inspections that were deemed to be in violation of the Ohio Revised Code (OAC) Chapter 1501:9-3 Saltwater Operation or Chapter 1501:9-1 Oil Well Drilling.  Violations and/or inspections tend to fall under a couple of categories including compliance notices, neighbor phone call, or routine field visits or inspections. There have been 470 and 430 “Complaint” and “Request” based inspections to date, respectively (Table 1).

This graph depicts monthly and cumulative Ohio hydrocarbon production well inspections and ODNR deemed "True" violations between September 2010 and January 2013.

Figure 1. Cumulative OH hydrocarbon production well inspections & ODNR determined true violations (Sept 2010 – Jan 2013)

The ratio of inspections to violations issued over time in Ohio has been somewhat variable, but a trend does seem to be slowly emerging. At the present time average hydrocarbon well inspections are increasing by 7 per month, while true violations are only increasing by 0.5 per month (Figure 1)2. Thus, the ratio of inspections-to-violations declined from its September 2010 high of 13.2 to 3.1 in February 2011. This ratio, however, began to rise shortly thereafter.

Assuming the current trajectory holds, the next ODNR RBDMS update should report approximately 11,696 inspections as of the end of January 2014 and more than 48,000 total inspections by January 2018. This trajectory dictates that we will see roughly 1,500-1,600 true violations by January 2014 and approximately 4,500 by January 2018.

Map Description

The map below displays a monthly updated inventory of Ohio’s hydrocarbon and relevant injection well-related violations. This map will be updated monthly around the 25th of each month. We have established fixed search criteria for the RBDMS Microsoft Access database, which is updated weekly. Inspection purposes include general complaints, civil action, compliance agreement, and criminal actions, while there are myriad inspection descriptions (Table 2).

To view the legend, metadata, and map fullscreen click on the arrows in the top right hand corner of the map.

Inspection Data Availability and Analysis

Significant data gaps exist with respect to latitude-longitude across Ohio’s current inventory of Class II and hydrocarbon well inspections (Note: Data is only available up to February 2013). Below we have analyzed the current gap between “Total” inspections and those “w/Latitude-Longitude” data. We are currently working to close these gaps. The largest gap exists for the “Salt Water Injection Wells All Time” (i.e., Hydraulic Fracturing Waste Class II’s) data with only 3.5% of all inspections accompanied by latitude-longitude coordinates.

Production Wells

  • Pre 9/1/2010 (i.e., First Ohio Utica Permits)
    • Total: 63,707
    • w/Latitude-Longitude: 24,912
    • 39% coverage
  • Post 9/1/2010 (i.e., First Ohio Utica Permits)
    • Total:  13,735
    • w/Latitude-Longitude: 5,917
    • 43% coverage

Salt Water Injection Wells All Time

  • Total: 11,939
  • w/Latitude-Longitude: 413
  • 3.5% coverage

Annular Disposal + Enhanced Oil Recovery + Orphan + Solution Mining Project + Storage Well

  • Total: 15,694
  • w/Latitude-Longitude: 5,300
  • 33.8% coverage 

Tables

The primary columns of importance to the public in the tables below are “Inspection Purpose”, “Inspection Description”, and “Notification Type.” Eighty-three percent (83%) of the state’s production well inspections were for what seem to be routine “Status Checks.” With respect to notification type, most were categorized as “Unknown” (Tables 1 and 3).
Table 1. Ohio production and Class II injection well Inspection Purposes

Code

Definition

Number of Inspections

C

Complaint

470

CAF

Civil Action Follow-up

4

CMF

Compliance Agreement Follow-up

4

NMF

Notice of Material or Substantial Follow-Up

2

NVF

Notice of Violation Follow-Up

99

OF

Order Follow-Up

4

R

Request

430

SC

Status Check

4,802

Unknown

3

Table 2. Ohio production and Class II injection well inspection descriptions

Description

Failure to maintain record of pipeline location

Inadequate pipeline strength

Failure to properly bury pipeline

Well operation causing pollution and contamination

General Safety

Well insufficiently equipped to prevent escape of oil and gas

Failure to legibly identify well

Violation of tank spacing requirements

Violation of tank fire heater spacing requirements

Unattended portable heater less than 50 feet from  tank

Violation of separator spacing requirements

Operating tank heater while oil is being produced

Improperly located oil tank

Equipment pressure rated below operating pressure

No SPCC dike/or failure to keep dike free of water or oil

Unlawful venting or flaring of gas

Failure to have required locks, bull plugs

Well incapable of production

Illegal/Unauthorized annular disposal of brine

Unlawful method of storage or disposal of brine

Dike or pit not able to prevent brine escape

Unlawful use of pit for temporary brine storage

Use of pit of dike for ultimate disposal of brine

Disposal of muds or cuttings in violation of a rule

Failure to keep dike or pit free of brine / other wastes

Illegal/Unauthorized annular disposal of brine

Non registered operator/ Bond/ Insurance

Table 3. Ohio production and Class II injection well notification types

Code

Definition

Number of Inspections

CN

Compliance Notice

470

FVI

Field Visit or Inspection

225

LET

Informal Letter

2

NOV

Notice of Violation

74

OTH

Other Notification

8

PHN

Phone Call

225

Unknown

4,810

 


Endnotes

1. Relevant Class II wells include Salt Water Injection, Annular Disposal, Enhanced Oil Recovery, Orphan, Solution Mining Projects, and Storage Wells

2. If we remove the first month of 2013, the former increases to 9 per month and the latter 0.8 per month.