A complete list of all FracTracker posts.

When Messages are in Opposition, Risk Communication Difficult

By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – Communications Specialist, Center for Healthy Environments and Communities of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH); Doctoral Student, GSPH

Two reports were issued yesterday by credible sources regarding the safety of natural gas drilling in shale formations. The one was issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) on the air emissions from natural gas operations. The other by the House Energy Commerce Committee focused on the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing fluid. While these reports do not contradict one another, they certainly do not contribute to an overall consensus on the public safety of shale gas extraction.

Report 1 – PA Department of Environmental Protection

The PA DEP’s report was based on a four-week air quality study that they conducted in northeastern PA near Marcellus Shale natural gas operations. This report states that the emission levels they surveyed would not constitute a health concern for nearby residents, acknowledging that the study’s purpose was not to address the cumulative impacts that could result from long term exposure.

Report 2 – House Energy and Commerce Committee

The Energy and Commerce Committee within the House of Representatives sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Administrator, Lisa Jackson, stating that between ’05 and ’09 oil and gas companies injected over 32 million gallons of diesel fuel or hydraulic fracturing fluids containing diesel fuel in wells in 19 states. This letter noted that at no point in time were these companies officially permitted to use diesel fuel in the hydraulic fracturing process – citing the behavior as a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The Message

The intention for this post is not to debate whether air contamination is worse than ground or water pollution, whether one report is right/wrong, or to discuss how difficult it is to accurately measure air emissions when companies know when and where you are testing. The true intention of writing this is to stress that the opposing reports only stand to ‘muddy the water’ on America’s viewpoint of the issue. Risk communication is hard enough to do properly without such inconsistency. The fact that these – and many other credible sources – cannot agree on whether natural gas drilling poses an environmental or public health threat further demonstrates that additional, unbiased research should be conducted.

FracTracker Tutorial 1 Now Available!

Interested in knowing more about how this FracTracker system works? If so, here is a great introductory tutorial by Drew about FracTracker’s blog and maps.

This comes at a great time, since the DataTool just logged over 1,500 registered users!

For a read-only version of how FracTracker works, click here. And be sure to check back soon for more tutorials and to find out when the new FracTracker webinar training series will begin!

Tracking the Effects on Farms

By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – Communications Specialist, Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC), University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH); and Doctorate of Public Health (DrPH) Student, GSPH

If done improperly (or in excess), shale gas drilling has the potential to contaminate ambient air, surface water, drinking water, and/or ground water. A healthy agricultural system relies upon all of those media in varying degrees.On any given day, I receive roughly 50 emails from people concerned about the effects of natural gas drilling. Check out this document as an example. The topics of conversation are incredibly diverse, and yet the discussion surrounding the effects that drilling may have on our local farms is occurring more and more frequently. One of the reasons for this ‘boom’ in concern about our farms, in my opinion, is that the scientific evidence that connects drilling and hydraulic fracturing to the potential contamination of the food supply is lacking – while the anecdotal evidence is not.

As a result, people have even begun to compile ‘evidence’ suggesting that drilling has affected local agriculture, or will. I believe this is a research issue of great importance, and would welcome suggestions of additional resources (either pro or con) from readers. What are the concerns or questions that people have, you might ask? In a very simplified nutshell:

  • How is the health of farm animals affected by industrial processes occurring nearby? (e.g. by accidentally drinking frac pond fluids or by the stress caused by noise pollution)
  • How will shale gas drilling and forced pooling affect farmers who are applying for or trying to keep their organic farm certifications?
  • Do the communities burdened with gas drilling truly ‘reap’ the rewards?
  • Will the royalties some farmers receive cause them to produce more or less food on their property? And as a result, will access to local and fresh foods improve or decline? (Of the many benefits, access to local, fresh foods improves health by minimizing truck traffic used to ship the products, reducing farming’s carbon footprint – which affects climate change, and providing access to seasonal foods so that consumers do not rely upon packaged, nutritionally deficient food.)
We are just beginning to understand the breadth and depth of this issue. Unfortunately, some effects caused by events today may not surface for years to come. That is a major challenge to epidemiology. We at CHEC, including many other organizations across the Marcellus Shale region, are working to conduct baseline and field research, identify areas of key concern, and prevent negative health and environmental consequences to the highest degree possible. If you are interested in learning more, please email us at chec@pitt.edu.Below is one snapshot created using FracTracker’s DataTool that highlights some of the issues raised by this new industry – and how it may affect our agricultural system:

Working with this map:

  • Minimize the legend by clicking on the button that looks like a compass.
  • Use the magnifying glasses on the left side of the gray toolbar to zoom in and out of the map.
  • You can pan the map to different regions by clicking on the image and dragging your cursor.
  • The “i” on the toolbar allows you to inspect a record (dot or colored area).
  • You can change the background of the map to show roads or a Google Earth view using the three boxes on the right side of the toolbar.
  • Clicking on the button with the arrows on the right-most edge of the toolbar will take you into FracTracker’s DataTool so that you can do more with the map, including share it!

Additional Resources

DRBC Announces Public Hearings on Draft Natural Gas Regulations

Archived

This post has been archived.

WEST TRENTON, N.J. (Jan. 24) – Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) Executive Director Carol R. Collier today announced the public hearing schedule to receive oral testimony on the proposed natural gas development rulemaking.

The public hearings will be held 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the following locations:

  • Feb. 22 – Honesdale High School Auditorium, 459 Terrace Street, Honesdale, Pa.
  • Feb. 22 – Liberty High School Auditorium, 125 Buckley Street, Liberty, N.Y.
  • Feb. 24 – Patriots Theater at the War Memorial, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, N.J.

Registration for those who wish to testify will begin one hour prior to the beginning of each hearing session (12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.). Please note that the registration process will be on a first-come basis and it is estimated that approximately 75 persons will have the opportunity to present oral testimony within the allotted time period for each hearing session. Oral testimony will be limited to two minutes per person, but can be supplemented with written comments submitted at the hearing or prior to the written comments deadline. Oral testimony and written comments will receive the same consideration by the Commissioners prior to any action on the proposed regulations. Elected government officials will be afforded the opportunity to present their two-minute oral testimony at the beginning of the hearing if they contact Paula Schmitt at (609) 883-9500 x224 prior to the date of the hearing.

The DRBC will strictly adhere to the maximum capacity numbers established by local officials for each hearing location (990 Honesdale H.S., 750 Liberty H.S., and 1,833 Patriots Theater).

Written comments will be accepted through the close of business March 16, 2011 by two methods only:

  1. Electronic submission using a web-based form available on the DRBC web site (preferred method); or
  2. Paper submission mailed or delivered to: Commission Secretary, DRBC, P.O. Box 7360, 25 State Police Drive, West Trenton, NJ 08628-0360. Please include the name, address, and affiliation (if any) of the commenter. As previously noted, paper submissions also will be accepted at the public hearings.

Due to the expected volume, comments that are faxed, telephoned, or emailed to individual DRBC Commissioners and staff will not be accepted for the rulemaking record.

All written comments submitted via the two methods described above that are received prior to 5 p.m. on March 16, 2011 along with the transcript of the oral testimony presented at the hearings will become a part of the rulemaking record and be considered by the Commissioners prior to any action on the proposed regulations. Such action will be taken at a duly noticed public meeting of the Commission at a future date.

The purpose of the proposed regulations is to protect the water resources of the Delaware River Basin during the construction and operation of natural gas development projects. The draft regulations establish requirements to prevent, reduce, or mitigate depletion and degradation of surface and groundwater resources and to promote sound practices of watershed management.

The DRBC is a federal/interstate government agency responsible for managing the water resources within the 13,539 square-mile Delaware River Basin. The five Commission members are the Governors of the basin states (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) and the Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic Division, who represents the federal government.

Additional information, including a fact sheet and the text of the proposed regulations, can be found on the Commission’s web site at www.drbc.net.

CONTACTS:
Clarke Rupert, (609) 883-9500 x260
Kate O’Hara, (609) 883-9500 x205

Vulnerable Populations and the Shale Gas Boom

What is a vulnerable population? For a term used so often, a clear definition from an authoritative source is surprisingly hard to come by. For example, the term has over 2.5 million Google hits, but no Wikipedia page. The National Institute of Health has almost 5,000 references, but the handful of pages that I looked at assumed the reader already knew the definition. In a sense, of course, it is fairly self-explanatory. The UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations(CVP) tells us that they serve:

…populations for whom social conditions often conspire to both promote various chronic diseases and make their management more challenging.


OK, that makes sense, but from the perspective of someone trying to map the effects of the natural gas industry on vulnerable populations, the term is still hopelessly vague. Who exactly are we talking about, and where do we find them?

There are probably many groups that would qualify as a vulnerable population, but for this analysis, I have included hospitals and schools as a place to start, because those are the places where those who are already sick and children congregate, respectively (1). These groups unquestionably apply to the CVP definition, above.


Vulnerable populations and the Marcellus Shale gas industry. Click on the tabs with the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus. Click on the “i” button and then one of the map icons for more information.

There’s a lot of information on that map, and, frankly, it is difficult to determine the proximity of problematic wells to these centers of vulnerable populations at this scale. For this reason, CHEC Director Dr. Volz made a series of regional snapshots, which can be found here.

 

  1. A fuller list might include parks, daycare facilities, nursing care facilities, etc.

Wells in Quebec Along the St. Lawrence

Wells along the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada. Please click the map for a larger, dynamic view.
The United States isn’t the only place where the gas drilling industry is adversely affecting the environment. I have recently uploaded a dataset from Quebec’s Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement, which includes over 600 wells, including 31 which have recently been inspected.

The CBC has correctly noted that 19 of these inspected wells–more than half–were shown to be have natural gas emissions, which is a violation in Quebec for wells that are supposed to be temporarily capped.

Even though the 31 inspected wells is a small sample size, there were other problems.

[Edit – Map removed; URL expired]

Problems identified with inspected wells along the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. Click the “i” and then click on one of the map icons for more information.

In fact, of the 31 wells, there were only three that didn’t have any reported problems at all (1). While this report doesn’t provide a lot of detail on these violations, repeated violations such as, “bolted joints in water” or , “no surface casing” makes it seem like either the drilling operators don’t care about the law, or they actually don’t have someone on site who knows what is permissible in the area that they are drilling in.

With almost every well having a violation and some having more than one, the violations per well in Quebec seem roughly in line with the 0.96 violations per Marcellus well in Pennsylvania.

Although many of the wells in this report are quite old, the natural gas industry is starting to accelerate their efforts there as Canada begins to explore the Utica shale.

  1. One of those wells erroneously appears to be in Maine, an error that probably occurred on my end when I converted from one coordinate system to another.  I will try to address that problem shortly.

Save the Date: Dr. Ingraffea to speak in Pittsburgh on March 18th

 

Dr. Tony Ingraffea

Unconventional Gas Development from Shale Plays: Myths and Realities
A. R. Ingraffea, Ph.D., P.E.
Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering
Weiss Presidential Teaching Fellow
Cornell University

Friday, March 18, 2011 — 3:00 PM
Swanson School of Engineering, Benedum Hall, Room 921,
University of Pittsburgh

Abstract

We will explore some myths and realities concerning large-scale development of the unconventional natural gas resource in Marcellus and other shale deposits in the Northeast. On a local scale, these concern geological aspects of the plays, and the resulting development and use of directional drilling, high-volume, slickwater, hydraulic fracturing, multi-well pad arrangements, and the impacts of these technologies on waste production and disposal. On a global scale, we will also explore the cumulative impact of unconventional gas development on greenhouse gas loading of the atmosphere.

Biography

Dr. Ingraffea is the Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering and a Weiss Presidential Teaching Fellow at Cornell University. He did R&D for the oil and gas industry for 25 years, specializing in hydraulic fracture simulation and pipeline safety, and twice won the National Research Council/U.S. National Committee for Rock Mechanics Award for Research in Rock Mechanics. He became a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1991, became Co-Editor-in-Chief of Engineering Fracture Mechanics in 2005, won ASTM’s George Irwin Award for outstanding research in fracture mechanics in 2006, and in 2009 was named a Fellow of the International Congress on Fracture. Recently, he has been deeply engaged in informal education regarding the topic of this lecture with over 50 public presentations over the last year.

Faculty Host

Jorge D. Abad, Ph.D., jabad@pitt.edu, 412-624-4399

PennEnvironment Update: Marcellus Shale Organizer Trainings

Last week PennEnvironment held two organizer trainings to provide citizens to empower to organize around Marcellus Shale issues in their own communities in Southwest PA.

The two events, one in Pittsburgh and the other in Connellsville, attracted about 60 people who wanted to learn more about the impacts of gas drilling in their area, how to protect their local communities from the public health impacts of drilling, and learn new skills to use as they organize their communities. The Connellsville event was even covered by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The trainings taught citizens – both through overviews and small group practice sessions – how to recruit volunteers to their cause, build power through coalitions, and get their issue covered by the media. Thursday’s training also included an introduction to FracTracker, which is an online system for citizens to connect, work together, and report local problems from drilling.

The events were cosponsored by a host of other organizations including Earthworks, CHEC, GASP, 3 Rivers Waterkeeper, Mountain Watershed Association and others.

We now plan to expand these trainings across the Commonwealth including trainings in Philadelphia, Scranton and Washington County this spring.

Please let me know if you have any questions about these trainings, are interested in helping host them or have questions about other work PennEnvironment is doing.

Sincerely,
Adam Garber
PennEnvironment Field Director
1420 Walnut St, Suite 650
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 732-5897
www.PennEnvironment.org

The Utica Shale

The Marcellus and Utica Shale Gas Plays (small)
The Marcellus and Utica Shale Gas Plays. Please click the image for a larger, zoomable view.

By now, most everyone in the Mid-Atlantic states is aware of the gas-rich geologic formation known as the Marcellus Shale.  After all, it has led to thousands of productive (and often problematic) gas wells in Pennsylvania and West Virgina, and has had some activity in New York, Ohio, and Virginia as well. Compared to other major shale gas plays such as the Barnett in Texas and the Fayetteville in Arkansas, the Marcellus covers a huge area, and several million people live right on top of it. Over the past several years, the Marcellus Shale has become big news, but there is another shale gas play in the area that is even bigger–the Utica Shale. All the gas industry has to do to get there is drill a little deeper.

Since the Marcellus is more accessible, it has rightly received much of the early attention, but the industry has already been looking ahead to the next shale gas “boom” for some time, as is evidenced by this 2002 report from New York.

And in Quebec (1), drilling in the Utica Shale has already begun. So, too, have the problems. This CBC News article reports that 19 of the 31 exploratory wells inspected by Quebec’s Ministry of Natural Resources were leaking natural gas. That ministry report is available here, in French.

This impact is really just the tip of the iceberg for the Utica Shale. After all, the formation is underneath seven US states and two Canadian provinces. But since, like the Marcellus Shale, the Utica requires hydraulic fracturing and each well produces millions of gallons of waste water, the entire effect of the future Utica Shale natural gas industry will be huge.


The Utica Shale and Major US Hydrologic Units. Please click on the gray compass rose to see the full extent.

The implications of this map are significant. Considering that pollutants flow downstream with the water, one can see how discharges in the Delaware River Basin in New York could affect municipal water sources in New Jersey, and how discharges in Ohio could have a similar impact in Indiana. These effects are, of course, already being felt with the efforts in the Marcellus Shale. In the months ahead, as talk of the Utica Shale begins to heat up, keep in mind that the formation is every bit as problematic as–but more widespread than–the Marcellus Shale.

The Utica Shale:  Differing Shapefiles (small)

  1. There are several different boundary files for the Utica Shale available online, all from reputable sources. This map, for example, show an extension of the Utica near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. We know this to be accurate, because the formation is actually being drilled there.

Upcoming Event: “Fracking” Our Food: A New Threat to Sustainable Farming

 

Speaker: Sandra Steingraber

Speaker: Sandra Steingraber – “Morgan Lecturer”
World Renowned Ecologist, Author and Cancer Survivor
A reception and book signing will follow.

New Date! February 3, 2011 — 7pm
Dickinson College, Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium, Carlisle, PA

In this lecture, Steingraber will explore the tangled relationship between petrochemicals and farming, with a special focus on how the extraction of natural gas from shale bedrock threatens the ecological conditions of our food system.

The event is co-sponsored by the Women’s Center, the Office of Institutional and Diversity Initiatives, and the Departments of Biology, American Studies and Environmental Studies.

Biography (provided by the speaker)

A world renowned ecologist, Sandra Steingraber is an expert on the links between cancer and the environment; reforming chemical policy and contamination without consent.

Ecologist, author, and cancer survivor, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized expert on the environmental links to cancer and human health. Steingraber’s highly acclaimed book, Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment presents cancer as a human rights issue. Originally published in 1997, it was the first to bring together data on toxic releases with data from U.S. cancer registries. Read more.

The Clarke Forum’s Annual Theme

Each year The Clarke Forum devotes a major portion of its resources to activities organized around an annual theme. All members of the Dickinson community, including students, are invited to propose topics for annual themes. Annual themes have included: Democratization, Race & Ethnicity, The Politics of Identity, Environmental Sustainability, Citizenship, Corporations & Globalization, War, Crossing Borders, For Richer or for Poorer: Globalization under Attack, Religion and Political Power, Energy, A Gendered World and Human Rights. The theme for 2010-11 is Thought for Food.

Click here for more information.