A complete list of all FracTracker posts.

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


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.


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.

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

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.

Talisman and Chief Fined by DEP



In response to separate incidents, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued fines to two of the larger natural gas companies in the Commonwealth: Talisman Energy USA, Inc. and a subsidiary of Chief Oil and Gas.

Talisman’s $24,608 fine was announced on January 6, 2011 in reaction to a large diesel spill at a Marcellus Shale site. According to the DEP, the March 2010 spill contaminated 3,800 tons of soil and 132,000 gallons of water.

Chief Gathering LLC, a subsidiary of Chief Oil and Gas, was fined a $34,000 for illegally discharging hydrostatic water on August 11, 2010. According to the DEP report, hydrostatic water is used to test for leaks in gas pipelines before they are used for gas. There were five related violations with the incident, including:

  • Failure to minimize the flow rate from the discharge point and allowing the formation of a 150-foot erosion channel
  • Failure to submit accurate, detailed Notice of Intent project information
  • Discharging hydrostatic test water with a total chlorine residual greater than 0.05 parts per million
  • Allowing an unknown industrial waste to co-mingle in five storage tanks with the hydrostatic test water, which was subsequently discharged
  • A failure to monitor the discharge for the specified effluent parameters at the minimum frequency required.

In my earlier analysis of violations per drilling operator, both of these companies were fairly high in terms of violations per well, but relatively low in terms of violations per million cubic feet of natural gas produced.

From fractracker

Violations per Marcellus Shale gas well, 1-1-07 to 9-30-10.

From fractracker

Violations per million cubic feet (MMcf) of natural gas produced, All violations are from 1-1-07 to 9-30-10, while all production values are from 7-1-09 to 6-30-10.

How is PA handling shale gas wastewater?


Jim Riggio, plant manager for the Beaver Falls Municipal
Authority, shows a sample of solid materials removed from
the Beaver River during treatment Dec. 15 at his plant.

On January 3rd, Associated Press writer, David Caruso, criticized the efforts underway in Pennsylvania to protect surface waters from shale gas drilling wastewater – especially because in most other states the primary means of disposal is deep well injection.

On January 4th, both the Marcellus Shale Coalition (the industry’s PR group) and DEP Secretary John Hanger defended the Commonwealth’s actions and current regulations.

What do you think?

Do you want to know where shale gas wastewater is permitted to be disposed of into surface waters near you? Below is a snapshot that I made in August 2010 using FracTracker’s DataTool of the facilities within PA that are permitted to receive shale gas drilling wastewater:

To learn more about a particular site, click on the inspect button in the gray toolbar – the “i” – and then click on a red diamond. A white box will pop up. Within that box, click on “view” to see who operates these facilities and how much wastewater per day they are permitted to receive. (“MGD” stands for Million Gallons Per Day. “GPD” means Gallons Per Day.)

And finally, here are two blog posts written by CHEC staff about the challenges facing our surface waters – and potentially our health – as a result of both fresh water withdrawals and wasterwater disposal:

What’s the Impact of One Spill?


Most of what I post on this site has to do with numbers: Pennsylvania’s 9,370 violations in less than four years; which drilling operators have the most violations per well; Marcellus Shale wells are 1.5 to 4 times more likely to have violations than conventional wells; and so on.

But of course, numbers only tell part of the story of the impact of gas drilling. It doesn’t really even begin to explain what a single violation means to people who live near these wells. The best way to get that qualitative information is to read the stories of the people who live there. What follows is a first-hand account from Bonnie Burnett of Bradford, PA.

To Whom It May Concern or Who Cares:

My husband and I own a little farm (125 acres) we planned to retire on in Granville Summit, Bradford County, PA. In March of 2009, when the drilling started in Bradford County, there were 2 spills on a well pad next to our property, that rushed down the hill side into our pond, killing all the fish and aquatic life. A deadly swath was carved from the drilling pad to our pond, killing everything. Big old oak trees to tiny peppermint plants that we planted.

A little history: Before Chesapeake started drilling my husband wrote to DEP and asked them the protect our little pond and our property. We saw how they were installing the drilling pad, cutting down over 5 acres of forest and trying to burn the stumps, to no avail, then burying the unburned stumps. Hauling tons of fill and crushed stone to make the pad…..on and on.

Then there was an fracking spill, all noted and recorded -(Chesapeake called it a
human error) causing about 50,000 gallon of second hand fracking water to flow through the woods, downslope into our pond and over the breast of the pond, down into the wetland and into the little creek that flows into the town of Towanda. Two weeks later there was an acid spill of approximately 600 gallons of hydrocholoric acid, all noted and recorded, that again flowed through the pad and seeped through the woods and into our pond. I’m not sure if they labeled this a human error or an accident!

From that date to today, after every rain event water from their pad flows into our pond. On 12/2/10 after a rain storm, water from their pad was flowing across their property into our pond at approximately 95 gal per min., as per their engineer report. After hundreds of telephone calls, on our part, and meetings with Chesapeake and a lot of promises-guess what-it’s winter and the ground and pond is frozen. To top it all off, our well water has been contaminated also. DEP send us a letter and told us not to ingest our well water. Oh well. Chesapeake is making money and the politicians are lining their pockets and are happy and OUR (your and mine) water is being contaminated!!!! I don’t know how old you are and I really don’t care, my husband and I are in our 60’s, but my little grandbabies are the ones I am really concerned about. If the water is
contaminated there will be no life. No one seems to understand that. Life needs water!!

By the way, my husband has had several meetings with DEP, EPA, CNN, CBS, the BBC, PBC (you can find them all on the internet) Guess what-they all say the same thing- This can’t be happening!  I’m one of the first ones to admit, I do NOT want more rules and regulations from the government. However, when a big powerful money laden company comes and starts to destroy our countyside and starts to pollute our water, then it’s time for some regulations. The average AMERICAN, who works and gives everything for our country and wants to be safe, needs to have someone help protect us.

You now know some of the mess we have acquired from a huge money making endeavor, a company that happens to be owned by some foreign country and they are laughing all the way to the bank!!

Respectfully submitted,

Bonnie Burnett

If you or anyone you know has first hand stories about gas drilling, send it to me and I will share it with our readers. We are interested in hearing your stories.

New Datasets on FT’s DataTool


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

Several new datasets have been added to our DataTool in the past few days, including:

  • Municipal Waste Operations
  • AML Point Features
  • PA Marcellus Well Permits since 2007 (2010-12-16)
  • Pennsylvania Unemployment
  • Air Emission Plants

For dynamic, clickable views of the following data, please click on the thumbnails. [links removed]

The “Municipal Waste Operations” dataset includes a variety of data, including the different types of facilities (pictured here) and which locations are in a state of compliance. I was hoping to see which of these facilities accepts residual waste from drilling facilities, but that information does not appear to be included on this list. It still has some use though, because like natural gas drilling, landfills and related facilities contribute are sources of pollution. There are over 2,500 facilities on this list in Pennsylvania.

“AML Point Features” is a list of abandoned mines in Pennsylvania. Abandoned mines could potentially act as a conduit for gas migration into surface waters and aquifers, and also pose a number of health issues in their own right. This dataset contains information on the priority of the threat posed by these abandoned mines (show here) along with dozens of categories of the specific nature of that threat. There are over 11,000 points in this database.

“PA Marcellus Well Permits since 2007 (2010-12-16)” is an update of the previous dataset of permits for Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania. As of December 10, there are over 5,663 records in this dataset. Snapshots made with previous datasets should have updated automatically.

“Pennsylvania Unemployment” contains October 2010 unemployment figures by county in the Commonwealth. These numbers are not seasonally adjusted, and vary greatly by county. A snapshot showing an overlay of the Marcellus Shale formation shows no apparent effect of the industry on unemployment in the state. This dataset was obtained from the US Department of Labor, and is included on FracTracker for comparative purposes.

“Air Emission Plants” includes sites that burn fossil fuels, fuel storage sites, pollution control and monitoring devices, and other related facilities. Like “Municipal Waste Operations”, this dataset contains facilities that contribute to polluting Pennsylvania. There are over 109,000 records in this dataset.

When the Landman Comes Knocking


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

Especially this time of year, it is easy to see the appeal of the landman. A stranger comes knocking on your door, offering you money for something you didn’t know you had, and that you won’t have to work for. How do you beat that? Regular readers of this space know, though, that there are many problems that can be associated with gas drilling, including explosions, spills, road degradation, property devaluation, and gas migration into streams and aquafers.  If operators want to drill on your land, assume that their representative:
  1. Is familiar with the relevant regulations
  2. Has some sort of an idea of what to expect from your land (including how much gas will be produced)


While the regulations are available online, this is not the time to try the do it yourself approach. The only way to level the legal playing field is with an informed mineral rights attorney. Should you ever find yourself entertaining a landman’s offer, go get one right away. There could potentially be a lot of money (or a lot of headaches) at stake. Drilling operators in Pennsylvania are required to give the mineral rights owner at least 1/8th of the wellhead price of gas that is produced, but how much would they be willing to spend per acre(1)? That depends on the production that they anticipate from your land.


[media removed]
Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale natural gas production interpolation. Please click on the tabs with the compass rose and double carat to remove the gray boxes.

Of course, no one knows exactly how much gas a well will produce until it has been drilled, but that doesn’t mean that the industry is blindly poking holes in the ground. The map above is an interpolation map that estimates the amount of gas that would be produced from the Marcellus Shale at any given point in Pennsylvania. This is based on self-reported production data from drilling operators that was posted on the Pennsylvania DEP website.

I made this map with a process called kriging, which compares the value of points with other points on the map, and interpolates the values of the areas in between dots. Because of this, the closer a projected value (blue to red contour lines) is to a measured value (black dots), the more accurate it is. In this map, there are several “bubbles” that look like high production areas in the middle of the state that are probably misleading, since there are no actual wells nearby (2).

It is probably safe to assume that the industry has more and better data to work with, but even so, some information is better than nothing at all. To effectively use this map, zoom in to the area of interest, click the “i” in the blue circle, and click on the lines on either side of the area in question. A box will pop up with a value, which will be in thousands of cubic feet (Mcf). How much a well on your property would produce is critical in determining whether you would be offered $500 or $5,000 per acre. And for the land owner, it is critical in determining whether or not the whole endeavor is worthwhile at all. After all, why have your peaceful home disturbed by a few months of round-the-clock industry for a couple of hundred bucks? Now that you have some idea of what might be produced from wells on your land, you can get an idea of what you might earn with a royalty calculator.



It is just a fact that sometimes things go wrong once drilling gets underway. Upon request, the Pennsylvania DEP provided us with a list of 9,370 violations from 2007 to the end of September, 2010. And while who the drilling operator is will tell you something of how likely a violation is, geographically speaking, the wells with a lot of violations are somewhat randomly distributed throughout the Marcellus Shale formation.
[media removed]
Number of violations per offending Marcellus Shale well, 1-1-07 through 9-30-10. Please click on the tabs with the compass rose and double chevrons to remove the gray boxes.

The map above includes only the Marcellus Shale gas wells that were issued violations by the DEP in the dataset mentioned above. The number of violations per well range from 1 to 37, with smaller values depicted by small blue circles, while the most outrageous wells are large red circles. Obviously, there are some visible clusters in the southwest and northeast of the Commonwealth, because that is where the most wells are being drilled. But a closer look at the map reveals that wells with a lot of violations are actually fairly randomly distributed, with several of the worst offenders in the less productive central part of Pennsylvania (3).


The take-home message from these two maps is that while the production of gas from a well on your property can be predicted, wells that cause a lot of problems could happen anywhere. Moreover, there does not seem to be a correlation between the two, as some of the worst offenders are in parts of the Commonwealth where the Marcellus Shale play is relatively unproductive. If you have been approached by the industry’s landmen, then the decision of whether or not to lease is yours. Since the stakes are so high, getting a mineral rights lawyer is essential; if legal counsel seems too expensive, then the lease probably isn’t worth the negative impact of drilling anyway. If you are interested in hearing an offer, estimate the amount of gas that will be produced with the map above, plug the range of numbers into the royalty calculator (4), then decide whether moving forward with a lease is worthwhile for you or not.

  1. There are other factors that can be negotiated, including which geologic formations are included.
  2. This happens because there are two high density areas of production in the state, in the northeast and southwest. When the kriging computation was made, a high density area between these two areas was assumed, because there are not any low density production values in between. In short, it is due to the curve of the Marcellus Shale field in the state.
  3. I actually tried to krig this map as well, but the result was nonsense. It projected Philadelphia to be a high violation area, although the nearest Marcellus Shale well would be hundreds of miles away. This nonsensical map is consistent with a random distribution.
  4. The first royalty calculator that I looked for took itself offline because they noticed sharp decreases in production of natural gas after the first year, and wanted to get a handle on the rates of decline. This would indicate that a gas well might just be a short-term financial windfall, which should be another factor to consider.