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Over 1.1 Million Active Oil and Gas Wells in the US

Many people ask us how many wells have been hydraulically fractured in the United States.  It is an excellent question, but not one that is easily answered; most states don’t release data on well stimulation activities.  Also, since the data are released by state regulatory agencies, it is necessary to obtain data from each state that has oil and gas data to even begin the conversation.  We’ve finally had a chance to complete that task, and have been able to aggregate the following totals:

Oil and gas summary data of drilled wells in the United States.

Oil and gas summary data of drilled wells in the United States.

 

While data on hydraulically fractured wells is rarely made available, the slant of the wells are often made accessible.  The well types are as follows:

  • Directional:  Directional wells are those where the top and the bottom of the holes do not line up vertically.  In some cases, the deviation is fairly slight.  These are also known as deviated or slant wells.
  • Horizontal:  Horizontal wells are directional wells, where the well bore makes something of an “L” shape.  States may have their own definition for horizontal wells.  In Alaska, these wells are defined as those deviating at least 80° from vertical.  Currently, operators are able to drill horizontally for several miles.
  • Directional or Horizontal:  These wells are known to be directional, but whether they are classified as horizontal or not could not be determined from the available data.  In many cases, the directionality was determined by the presence of directional sidetrack codes in the well’s API number.
  • Vertical:  Wells in which the top hole and bottom hole locations are in alignment.  States may have differing tolerances for what constitutes a vertical well, as opposed to directional.
  • Hydraulically Fractured:  As each state releases data differently, it wasn’t always possible to get consistent data.  These wells are known to be hydraulically fractured, but the slant of the well is unknown.
  • Not Fractured:  These wells have not been hydraulically fractured, and the slant of the well is unknown.
  • Unknown:  Nothing is known about the slant, stimulation, or target formation of the well in question.
  • Unknown (Shale Formation):  Nothing is known about the slant or stimulation of the wells in question; however, it is known that the target formation is a major shale play.  Therefore, it is probable that the well has been hydraulically fractured, with a strong possibility of being drilled horizontally.

Wells that have been hydraulically fractured might appear in any of the eight categories, with the obvious exception of “Not Fractured.”  Categories that are very likely to be fractured include, “Horizontal”, “Hydraulically Fractured”, and “Unknown (Shale Formation),” the total of which is about 32,000 wells.  However, that number doesn’t include any wells from Texas or Colorado, where we know thousands wells have been drilled into major shale formations, but the data had to be placed into categories that were more vague.

Oil and gas wells in the United States, as of February 2014. Location data were not available for Maryland (n=104), North Carolina (n=2), and Texas (n=303,909).  To access the legend and other map tools, click the expanding arrows icon in the top-right corner.

The standard that we attempted to reach for all of the well totals was for wells that have been drilled but have not yet been plugged, which is a broad spectrum of the well’s life-cycle.  In some cases, decisions had to be made in terms of which wells to include, due to imperfect metadata.

No location data were available for Maryland, North Carolina, or Texas.  The first two have very few wells, and officials in Maryland said that they expect to have the data available within about a month.  Texas location data is available for purchase, however such data cannot be redistributed, so it was not included on the map.

It should not be assumed that all of the wells that are shown in  the map above the shale plays and shale basin layers are actually drilled into shale.  In many cases, however, shale is considered a source rock, where hydrocarbons are developed, before the oil and gas products migrate upward into shallower, more conventional formations.

The raw data oil and gas data is available for download on our site in shapefile format.

 

Almost Heaven

By Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance

Touring Doddrige County, West Virginia

On September 26th, FracTracker staff and board member, Brian Segee, traveled to Doddridge County, West Virginia for an eye-popping tour. This endeavor was led by Diane Pitcock of West Virginia Host Farms and local activists who are deeply concerned about the fate of their region – an area overwhelmed by shale gas development.

Approaching West Union on route 50, a giant flare roars above the roadway and about every fourth vehicle, mostly pickups, tankers, and dump trucks, suggest association with the shale gas industry.  At the café in town, vehicles baring EQT logos fill the lot.  Nearby, Middle Island Creek flows thick and brown despite an absence of rain for the past five days. Diane says it’s frequently muddy from the constant pipeline construction upstream.

Mark West site

The first stop is a Mark West complex with a cryogenic plant burning off excess hydrocarbons, a yard for loading CNG on tanker trucks, one well pad, and another in the works (see photo right). To build the latter, a hillside is being disemboweled.  The heavy equipment and a train of idling trucks release diesel emissions. A stream once coursed through the field in the foreground, but the previous landowner had filled and relocated it without a permit. Watching and photographing from the adjoining rail trail, irony rules. The trail sign is topped by a company-placed “No Trespassing” sign. From the discussion and observations, it’s clear that the environment is being devalued and degraded in Doddridge County.

The tour continues on to a water withdrawal site. According to the permit numbers plastered beside the conduit, the site hosts approximately 50 unconventional gas wells – each requiring millions of gallons of water to crack the shale and hasten the flow of gas.

Right-of-Way?

Next, we traverse gravelly back roads widened by the industry.  The roadway expansion often requires the purchase of right-of-way from landowners.  Our guides tell us that if a landowner says no, sometimes they are told “if you don’t sell, we’ll take it by eminent domain.”  The threat is hollow if not deceitful, since in such circumstances the industry has no right to exercise eminent domain. The industry does have the right to access mineral rights they may own, however, even if they don’t own the property on the surface. In West Virginia, these “split estate” situations are as common as country music, only they project a much more somber note to the landowner, especially when the gas company comes knocking.

A Neighbor’s Perspective

Well pad visit

A freshly cut and clearcut road travels onward and upward across a half mile or more of former forest where a nice lady owns the land but not the natural gas being accessed more than a mile below.  Piles of logs line the roadside, a reminder of what was. The road ends at a fenced impoundment holding thousands of gallons of impaired water.  An odor, akin to antifreeze, hangs in the dry, dusty air. The lady tells the group about the wildlife she has seen, including the songbirds that rest on the high fence and likely drink from the poisonous reservoir.

Downhill lies an expansive well pad, big enough for a football game if there wasn’t the metallurgical din and sprawl of a towering drill rig and the pipes and machinery that accompany it. The landowner’s presence enables our group to enter the working well pad where workers, sleeping off a long shift, emerge from a trailer. While over 30 of her roughly 80 acres are affected by drilling-related activities, only a payment for timber is in negotiation. Meanwhile, she pays the taxes on the land – a parcel that will never quite be the same. Tom Bond, a local and well-informed activist, wistfully comments, “This is just the beginning.  Eventually there will be well pads everywhere.” He may be right.

Pipeline Construction

A golden afternoon closes crossing steel plates over an open trench and green pipeline.  The corridor is an undulating, exposed ribbon of ground spanning ridge to ridge in each direction. There are many more just like it snaking across the hills and hamlets of West Virginia from one compressor station to another.

From witnessing the industry’s heavy footprint to the stories we hear of problems emerging in home water wells, somehow a happy John Denver tune now seems melancholy.

Additional Resources

West Virginia Map Updated

At FracTracker, we are constantly adding new content to our maps page. In recent weeks, we have added new content for Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arkansas. Now, we have updated our West Virginia Shale Viewer as well.


West Virginia Shale Viewer. Please click the expanding arrows in the top right corner to access the legend and other map tools.

The map above shows some detail about Marcellus Shale operations in the Mountain State, including:

  • Permits issued (purple).  To date, there have been 3,079 permits issued statewide since 2000 where the Marcellus Shale is the target formation.
  • Completed wells (orange).  Of the permits that have been issued, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) has received a completion form for 1,840 wells, or just under 60 percent.
  • Wells in noncompliance (yellow).  196 Marcellus wells were given the noncompliance flag in the dataset.  There are no details on what might have led to this status, however.
  • Public comment wells (blue).  35 Marcellus Shale wells in West Virginia are flagged as having received a public comment of one sort or another.  As with the wells in noncompliance, this dataset offers no details on these wells.

Here’s a look at the number of completion reports received by WVDEP by month:

Marcellus Shale completions by month in West Virginia

Marcellus Shale completions by month in West Virginia

The largest number of completions per month for Marcellus Shale wells is 97 in April 2009.  The next highest total was the following month, with 81 completions.  From January through August of this year, there are an average of 40.5 completions per month in West Virginia.

The information that is distributed in this West Virginia data is typical, however, a good deal of data are being collected by WVDEP.  To see the kinds of things that the state knows about completed wells, take a look at what is required for submission on form WR-35.

A Rare Resource in WV Host Farms

Fire on McDowell B well site near Wetzel County, WV. Burned for 9 days. (Sept. 2010) Wetzel County Action Group photo, copyright of Ed Wade, Jr.

Fire on McDowell B well site near Wetzel County, WV. Burned for 9 days. (Sept. 2010) Wetzel County Action Group photo, copyright of Ed Wade, Jr.

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

While I am a full-time staff member of FracTracker Alliance, like many other people I wear several hats. One of these is as an academic researcher and doctorate student in environmental health at Pitt. My academic research focuses on unconventional natural gas extraction and its potential impacts on health. However, trying to conduct research in such a controversial arena can be frustrating – at best. Access to well pads, pipelines, or other industrial areas is limited for a variety of reasons in Pennsylvania. The opportunity to discuss concerns with workers and residents is stifled by fear, red tape, and/or the desire to protect precious assets. I don’t blame people for being cautious about with whom they speak, but I truly wish it were easier to get close to drilling activity in person, without putting anyone’s lives or jobs in danger. My lamenting on that very subject one day resulted in a colleague telling me about The West Virginia Host Farms Program, a grassroots project launched by volunteer home owners residing near drilling activity.

The purpose of the program is to provide environmental researchers and the media with the chance to conduct research or simply to photograph a well pad in person from the safety of an adjacent host farm. In short, the network of volunteers help to develop research partnerships to better understand the impacts of drilling. Diane Pitcock, the program’s administrator, recognized the need for this initiative a few years ago as a surface rights owner. In WV many people are in “split-estate” situations, meaning that most surface owners do not own the mineral rights beneath their land. This issue is compounded by the fact that most of the minerals in WV are owned by people that do not even live in state. As such, the people who own the surface rights feel that their homes and livelihoods in some cases are at risk – without the potential for financial reimbursement from the sale of the mineral rights below their land. The program aims to show people that unconventional drilling using hydraulic fracturing is not our grandfather’s gas extraction process, and it can’t be treated as such.

The project operates out of 14 West Virginia counties where drilling is most active. The network of volunteers has aided in academic research based out of several universities including Yale and Duke. The project has also hosted out of state reporters and even international photojournalists, people who possess platforms to advance the outreach and public education effort surrounding unconventional drilling. For example, Jolynn Minaar, who produced the documentary,  Un*earthed, visited from South Africa in 2012 as part of her field work. Journalists from alternet.org  and polidoc.com have been among the area’s many inquirers, as well.  Even if you don’t plan on taking a tour of WV drilling sites, you can still benefit from the project’s extensive, online photo gallery (see image above).

Despite the controversial nature of shale gas drilling, the growing utilization of the program is surely a success story. Based on the WV Host Farms model, additional host farm networks are being coordinated in PA and OH as we speak. Engaging people who can volunteer 30-40 hours per week is no easy task, however. As more federal research like the US EPA’s hydraulic fracturing study begins to get off of the ground and into the well, perhaps even more people will support and recognize the value of such an integral, on-the-ground resource in the WV Host Farms Program. I know this researcher does!

For more information:

Diane L. Pitcock, Program Administrator
The WV Host Farms Program
P.O. Box 214, West Union, WV, 26456
304-873-3764
(e) wvhostfarms@yahoo.com
(w) www.wvhostfarms.org

Updated West Virginia Permits Data

UPDATE: The DataTool is no longer active. Explore WV maps here instead.

Permits data for Marcellus Shale wells in West Virginia has recently been updated on FracTracker’s DataTool

[map archived]

Astute viewers will note that there is a well drawn in the Athens, OH area, a good 20 miles from the West Virginia border as the crow flies. As it turns out, this is not the most egregious error; if you zoom out, you will see purple dots in Indiana and North Carolina as well, neither of which are are even contiguous with West Virginia. There were also about five wells that I deleted the location data for, because I could tell at a glance that they would have drawn well south of the Tropic of Cancer.

These data errors are a shame, because they compromise the experience of an otherwise slick data delivery system, where viewers can pick permits from a given formation, see them draw on a map, and then download the data. The data are fairly bare-bones in nature, consisting of just six columns, but this is not something that I have a quarrel with, as it includes the information that most people want to know, including where the well is, who is responsible for it, when the permit was issued, and the unique well number. And we already know, based on download parameters, what the target formation of the well is.

While only a handful of wells are affected by faulty location data, 330 out of 2,688 wells in the dataset lack permit issue dates, or just over 12 percent of the wells. This is significant enough to make the result of any trend analysis questionable. Nonetheless, let’s proceed to have a look, keeping relevant caveats in mind:


Marcellus Shale permits issued per month in West Virginia

While the number of permits per month is fairly erratic in West Virginia, it is clear that the last full month–July 2012–saw the largest number of permit issued in the Marcellus ever, and that June 2012 is tied for second. West Virginia clearly is not seeing the same contraction of unconventional gas activity that Pennsylvania is.

Like its neighbors, Pennsylvania and Ohio, Chesapeake has the largest number of permits for unconventional gas permits. Unlike Ohio, where the operator’s share was over 70 percent of the total of the Utica, here the plurality is just 17 percent of Marcellus Wells.

Jobs Impact of Cracker Facility Likely Exaggerated

This past January, when Ohio was still in the midst of the bidding war for the proposed cracker facility, Toledoans saw the following blurb in their paper, the Toledo Blade:

Gov. John Kasich is pursuing the multibillion-dollar ethane-cracker facility that Shell Chemicals LP plans to build in Ohio, West Virginia, or Pennsylvania to capitalize on the increasing harvest of natural gas from Marcellus shale. The American Chemistry Council estimates that the plant would generate 17,000 jobs in chemistry and other industries as well as $1 billion in wages and $169 million in tax revenue.

That’s some financial impact, right?  And now we are hearing the same figure coming out of Harrisburg via the Post-Gazette:

Estimates from the American Chemical Council have projected that a $3.2 billion ethane-processing facility, similar to the one that Shell is considering for Beaver County, would create more than 17,000 new jobs at the plant itself and among spinoff businesses along the supply chain.

Too bad it is isn’t very realistic.

Although the planned Monaca plant is one of several new cracker facilities planned in North America, currently, there are just a handful on the continent. In January, I posted about one of them, a Shell facility in Norco, Louisiana.  On their website, the multinational giant proudly proclaims the following, in bold type:

Shell Chemicals’ Norco facility is located in St. Charles Parish. The facility has over 600 full-time employees, more than 160 contractors, and generates an annual payroll of $50 million. The company pays more than $16 million in state and local taxes and $6M is property taxes that help fund public education as well as police and fire departments.

As I mentioned five months ago, those are significant contributions, to be sure. But it is a far cry from the projections of the American Chemistry Counsel (ACC) state above.  Shell also operates another cracker in Deer Park, Texas, which claims:

Shell Deer Park is a 1,500-acre complex located in Deer Park, Texas, approximately 20 miles east of downtown Houston along the Houston Ship Channel. Founded in 1929, Shell Deer Park is now home to 1,700 employees who operate a fully integrated refinery and petrochemical facility 24 hours a day.

That’s a lot of jobs, but as an integrated facility, it already accounts for some of the “spinoff businesses along the supply chain”.

Nova Chemicals operates another cracker in Sarnia, Onterio, which according to their website employs about 900 people who earn an estimated $86 million in wages and benefits each year.

So how silly is the claim of 17,000 jobs and $1 billion in wages? Consider that with all of its existing crackers and other facilities,

Shell chemicals companies staff total 8,500 worldwide. The majority of these support our manufacturing operations.  This does not include joint venture employees.”

Even with the JV employees not being counted, we are talking about major petrochemical plants in nine locations around the world, plus three technology centers.  So just who are these experts at the ACC who keep getting quoted for the 17,000 job figure? According to website:

The American Chemistry Council’s (ACC’s) mission is to deliver business value through exceptional advocacy using best-in-class member performance, political engagement, communications and scientific research.

Well played, ACC.  You have put on a best-in-class performance with your exceptional advocacy.  But for the rest of us, it is time to start considering more realistic jobs numbers when talking about the proposed ethylene producing facility.

West Virginia Marcellus Shale Data Updated

Three new West Virginia datasets have been added to the DataTool to keep up to date with Marcellus Shale activities in that state. The West Virginia DEP is the source for all three datasets. Included are:

West Virginia Marcellus Shale Permits (large)
Marcellus Shale permits in West Virginia through September 6, 2011. Please click the image for a dynamic view.

The permits list was filtered online to include only Marcellus Shale permits, then filtered on the desktop to reflect only “Permit Issued” actions, thereby ignoring applications, renewals, and other actions for the same well. I also converted the coordinate system from UTM’s to the more familiar system decimal degree latitude and longitude. There are 1,868 records in the dataset. One well apparently was given the wrong coordinates, and appears to be in Pennsylvania instead of West Virginia.

West Virginia Marcellus Shale Drilled Wells (large)
Marcellus Shale drilled wells in West Virginia through September 6, 2011. Please click the image for a dynamic view.

Each triangle in the map above represents a Marcellus Shale gas well that was listed as an active well. Location data was determined by matching the unique well numbers to the permits list, above.

Marcellus Shale Violations in West Virginia (large)
Marcellus Shale violations in West Virginia through September 6, 2011. Please click the image for a dynamic view.

The violations list did not mention whether or not the well was a Marcellus Shale well, nor did it give location information. Both of these categories were determined by matching the well number to the permits list.

Paid Marcellus Programming to Play in West Virginia

Who doesn’t love a good half hour commercial? But it’s not just for OxiClean and musical compilations of 70’s disco tunes anymore–the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association is getting in on the act too.

In addition to the half hour weekly episode of “Inside Shale”, in which callers ask questions of industry insiders, there will be a “Marcellus Minute” that airs 10 to 20 times per day. Both programs are scheduled to launch on 49 radio stations throughout West Virginia.

Talking about the Marcellus Shale on the radio is certainly not off limits, but the industry sponsored call in show does sound questionable, in that the format mimics a news format, and it could be confused as such.  It’s a shame that the industry didn’t push for actual moderated discussions, with guests arguing from a variety of perspectives.  That is something that there’s a real need for, not just in West Virginia, but wherever shale gas extraction is occurring.

There are real impacts of drilling.  Some people are giddy with prospective royalty checks.  Others are bitter with the presence of compressors, condensers, and fouled water wells on property that they own, but not the mineral rights for.  There’s a lot to talk about, and communities that might be affected by the industry deserve to hear both sides.

A Look at Horizontal Well Production in Virginia

Horizontal gas wells in Virginia in 2008 to 2009. Note that they are all clustered in the extreme western portion of the Commonwealth.

According to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy’s (DMME) Division of Gas and Oil, there are 30 horizontal gas wells that produced gas between January 2008 and December 2009 (1). While this is not a large number of horizontal wells, the dataset is interesting, since Virginia publishes monthly production data online.

Of the 30 wells, only nine were in production for at least 12 of the 24 months that I looked at. This is, admittedly, a small sample size, but is as good an entry point as any into the discussion of how gas production changes over time.


Chart 1: Production in Thousands of Cubic Feet (Mcf) of Horizontal Gas Wells in Virginia, with at least 12 months of production between 2008 to 2009.

Many of the wells in this analysis have a spike in production within the first few months of production, followed by a gradual decline.


Chart 2: Maximum, Minimum, and Mean Production of Horizontal Gas Wells in Virginia, with at least 12 months of production between 2008 to 2009.

For wells with at least 12 months of production, the mean production value tends to be closer to the minimum value than the maximum. This is particularly true for those wells which show a significant spike in production, such as VH-520008.


Chart 3: Ratio of Most Recent Monthly Production to Peak Monthly Production of Horizontal Gas Wells in Virginia, with at least 12 months of production between 2008 to 2009.


Ratio of December 2009 production to each well’s maximum monthly production for all horizontal gas wells. Please click the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus. Click the “i” tool then any map feature for more information.

For these nine horizontal gas wells in Virginia, the average production of the most recent month (December 2009) is slightly less than 30 percent of the peak monthly production. This figure is skewed on the one side by a well with a tremendous production spike (VH-530008, 6.93%) and on the other by a well with low but relatively steady production (VH-536927, 42.75%). When all wells are considered (as with the map) the range of values is much greater.

Each of these wells had been in production between 12 and 24 months as of December 2009, and none of them produced even half as much gas in that month as the month for their respective maximum production values. The complete production data is available on FracTracker’s DataTool.

  1. The most recent production data currently available is for January 2010, one month after the end of this analysis.

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