A complete list of all FracTracker posts.

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This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.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

PA Water Quality Monitoring Efforts – A Meeting Summary


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

Pennsylvania side of the Delaware Water Gap

By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – CHEC

Despite the concerns that shale gas drilling can or has deteriorated our water quality in the Marcellus Shale region, I think it is also important to recognize the incredible efforts underway to improve and protect our water. A few weeks ago, I attended a Marcellus Shale Water Monitoring Programs Meeting hosted by the Somerset Conservation District in Johnstown, PA. Below is a summary of the meeting and future plans.

I want to first thank Melissa Reckner, Director of the Kiski-Conemaugh Stream Team, for coordinating the meeting and allowing me to present during it.
One of the points that really struck me about this meeting and the Marcellus Shale drilling boom, in general, is the effect that this industry is having on water monitoring and private well water testing; according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), approximately a million households rely on private water supplies. Private wells are not regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however. As a result, private wells can often contain contaminants such as coliform bacteria. Since shale gas drilling has increased in the Commonwealth, we have also seen an increase in the rate that people are testing their private water wells and monitoring surface water quality. Although this is mostly due to how close drilling can occur near drinking water sources and surface waters, as a public health professional, I am just glad to see that people are paying more attention to the quality of their water. Here is additional information about private water wells from the PADEP.

To give you a better idea of the extent of this meeting and the level of interest expressed regarding monitoring PA’s surface waters, below is a portion of the groups represented in the Johnstown Area Heritage Association’s beautiful building that day:

  • Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (Dickinson College)
  • Armstrong Conservation District
  • Blacklick Creek Watershed Association
  • Cambria County Conservation District
  • Cambria County EMA
  • Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (Univ. of Pgh.)
  • Concurrent Technology Corp.
  • Evergreen Conservancy
  • Foundation for PA Watersheds
  • Greater Johnstown Water Authority
  • Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
  • Kiski-Conemaugh Stream Team
  • Kiskiminetas Watershed Association
  • PA Department of Environmental Protection
  • PA Senior Environmental Corps
  • Shade Creek Watershed Association
  • Somerset Conservation District
  • Southern Alleghenies Conservancy
  • Southern Alleghenies Resource Conservation and Development Council
  • Stewardship and Sustainability for Goodness Sake
  • Stonycreek Conemaugh River Improvement Project
  • Trout Run Watershed Association
  • Trout Unlimited
  • Tubmill Trout Club
  • United Bowhunters of PA
  • University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the various watershed groups and organizations to the options presently available for collecting water monitoring data, ways to store and share that data (where FracTracker’s DataTool came in), and the training programs available to get people started.

ALLARM Volunteer Monitoring Protocol

Jinnie Woodward, Assistant Director of ALLARM – the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring at Dickinson College, provided a summary of ALLARM and highlighted their Marcellus Shale Gas Extraction Volunteer Monitoring Protocol that debuted in Bradford County this summer. Woodward said the objectives of ALLARM’s Marcellus Shale Monitoring Program are to:

  1. Provide an early detection of contamination in small streams, not rivers, because river dynamics are so variable;
  2. Prevent future environmental impacts through the presence of watchful residents; and
  3. Document stream quality.

The parameters that indicate contamination according to Woodward are: conductivity, Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), Barium, and Strontium. Volunteers can feasibly measure conductivity, TDS, and flow. Conductivity measures the ability of water to pass an electrical current. TDS measures the amount of ions dissolved in water. Monitoring both makes data more usable. Barium and Strontium occur naturally deep underground and are indicators of the presence of Marcellus Shale flowback fluid should it reach surface waters.

Volunteers can also conduct visual assessments of areas where they are monitoring. Visual assessments attempt to identify potential impacts and report suspicious activities. Impacts could include:

  • Earth Disturbances – at the well pad, storage and staging areas, streams, and access roads. Look for unstable outlets, sediment plumes, and little or no gravel on the roads.
  • Spills and discharges – Consider odor, discoloration, foam, bubbles, etc.
  • Water withdrawals, especially in unusually low flow areas – Interestingly, western PA does not have signs posted at streams indicating approved water withdrawal areas.
  • Gas migration or leakage – Look for bubbling.

ALLARM trains volunteers how to access permits from the PADEP and will help determine monitoring locations based on gas well location and stream access. Learn more about ALLARM’s water monitoring program here [link removed].

Water Quality Monitoring Joint Venture

[image removed]
Somerset Conservation District
Manager Len Lichvar with an
in-stream data logger prior to its
placement in a Somerset County
waterway. (Submitted photo)
Source: Daily American

Len Lichvar, District Manager of the Somerset Conservation District and Eric Null, Aquatic Biologist with the same, spoke of the District’s Water Quality Monitoring Joint Venture, of which the Kiski-Conemaugh Stream Team and United States Geologic Survey (USGS) are primary partners.

Lichvar stated that over a year and a half ago, these partners started conversations on how to monitor Marcellus Shale and other pollution sources in an effort to be proactive, not reactive, and innovative, using technology, as was done decades ago with Abandoned Mine Drainage. These groups decided to utilize in-stream data loggers, manufactured by Solinst. These loggers can collect conductivity, temperature and water level.

While Marcellus Shale drove the initiative, it is useful for other types of pollution, including historic sources and new mines. This project can bring to light other issues and serve as an early warning system. It can also fill in data gaps. Lichvar emphasized the importance of prevention – potentially saving millions of dollars by warding of catastrophe – as opposed to fixing major environmental problems once they occur.

Objectives of the Water Quality Monitoring Joint Venture:

  1. Provide an efficient, continuous water quality monitoring network throughout Somerset County.
  2. Monitor other effects of deep mine seeps, Marcellus Shale drilling, and historic pollution sources.
  3. Establish a publicly accessible database.

The District is obtaining these objectives by:

  1. Deploying continuous recording data loggers.
  2. Strategically placing loggers in areas of known disturbance.
  3. Decreasing the number of volunteers necessary to monitor streams 24/7.
  4. Decreasing hours invested and the cost of monitoring.
  5. Partnering with USGS to incorporate this project with their data collection at water quality stations. (USGS will incorporate the District’s data onto their website and is retrofitting gauging stations in Somerset County to also collect conductivity in real-time.)

Null spoke about the rational for monitoring conductivity, from which TDS can be derived. Mining increases TDS, and Marcellus Shale flowback water has high TDS. Conductivity is a life-limiting factor. Null said coalmine discharges generate conductivity levels between 1,500-10,000 us/cm and that 3,500-5,500 us/cm is most common. He said 10,000 us/cm is the upper limit for freshwater life, but Marcellus Shale flowback water can have conductivity levels of over 50,000 us/cm, 5x the upper limit of freshwater life! Null had a copy of flowback data provided by a gas company. He noted that chlorides are the biggest component and threatens to turn our freshwater streams to saltwater.

The District has an established groundwater monitoring program in which water levels at 16 wells throughout Somerset County are monitored monthly. This year, the District purchased a $1,300 Solinst meter to not only monitor the water levels in these wells, but collect conductivity and temperature readings. The meter can detect slight seepage of TDS if it occurs in the wells.

Benefits of the data loggers:

  1. They can monitor conductivity levels from 0-80,000 us/cm (+/- 20 us/cm), making them very accurate.
  2. They can monitor in time increments of your choice. The District has their loggers set to monitor every 15 minutes, 24/7.
  3. The loggers have a 5-year battery life.
  4. They can store at least 30,000 data sets. The District downloads data every two weeks.
  5. They are small and portable.
  6. Only one person is needed to download data.
  7. One logger might equal the manpower of five volunteers.
  8. Temperature readings can also be used to show if a stream is a coldwater fishery!

The Somerset Conservation District now has eight loggers in its possession, six of which are deployed. The other two will be installed within the next two weeks. They are collecting baseline data. The USGS is retrofitting existing Hydrologic Stations with conductivity probes. There are five USGS stations in Somerset County. Three of them are currently online, streaming conductivity to the USGS website.

Lichvar and Null cautioned that if you see a spike, it could be historic pollution. Investigate the cause or source before ‘crying wolf’. Learn more about the data loggers here [link removed].

Trout Unlimited Marcellus Monitoring Training Program

David Sewak, Trout Unlimited’s Marcellus Shale Field Organizer, then presented. The PA Council of Trout Unlimited worked with ALLARM to create a Coldwater Conservation Corps (CCC), complete with field manuals and trainings.

Sewak is working with Trout Unlimited chapters across the state to host volunteer trainings. The trainings are one-day and include information about:

  • Marcellus Shale – what it is and where it is.
  • Erosion and sedimentation, and other issues with the industry that go beyond the well pad(s).
  • Water usage and land uses (Sewak said a vertical well might use 80,000 gallon of water per well, whereas a horizontal well can use up to 5 million gallons per well.)
  • Who to contact. Volunteers are not police, but reporters.
  • Maintain validity.
  • Safety.
  • Water monitoring (TDS, pH, temperature, cross sections).
  • Getting latitude/longitude for each monitoring site.

After lunch, participants receive hands-on training on how to use the equipment provided in each kit. Trout Unlimited chapters that host a training will receive two kits, and additional ones can be purchased for about $300.

Most Marcellus Shale activity is occurring where transmission lines are in place (Tioga and Green Counties). Trout Unlimited wants to get as many people as possible trained. Volunteers who are trained serve as stream stewards by accepting monitoring and surveillance responsibility for one or more stream segments. Each Trout Unlimited chapter should appoint a Marcellus Shale Coordinator who can manage data generated by CCC volunteers and serve as a liaison with Sewak, Deb Nardone, and the PATU environmental committee.

Sewak stated that local action tied into a larger strategy allows personalized inputs to connect to statewide effort. Baseline data are critical! He said data gathered will be synthesized with other data and incorporated into TU’s Conservation Success Index (CSI). Analysis will produce a blueprint for action to conserve fish, fisheries, and coldwater resources.

Upcoming TU trainings:

  • January 15 at the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve in Latrobe (Forbes Trail TU)
  • January 29 in Dubois
  • February 12 in Washington County
  • March 19 in Lucinda (Clarion County)

You must pre-register for these trainings. The cost is only $17.50, which is an introductory rate of half the price of an adult TU membership. Volunteers must be TU members for liability reasons. Trout Unlimited will provide a Decision Tree pocket guide that provides guidelines for who (what agency) to approach when problems arise.

Trout Unlimited Chapters are working with counties to monitor Marcellus Shale activities and create more partnerships. At this time, Pennsylvania’s Trout Unlimited is not sharing information and data gathered with other states in Eastern U.S. only because PA is the only state with detailed data and an understanding of the topic.

FracTracker and its Trainings

FracTracker DataTool in use,
displaying pipeline incidents
Jan-July 2010.
(The pop-up box is showing info
about one record on the map.)

I then went on to discuss the features of FracTracker, not just as a data repository but also as a way to share information using maps. Learn more about how the system works by clicking here or visiting the DataTool directly.

The Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) is in charge of managing FracTracker – both the blog (this site) and DataTool components. We are also responsible for training people how to use it. If you would like to know how to navigate the blog and DataTool, upload and download data, and visualize that data into snapshots, please contact us! There is no charge to attend or request our training sessions. They typically last 3 hours and can be conducted for groups of 10 to 50 people. Venues must have Internet access so that participants can access the blog and DataTool online. CHEC has conducted training and informational sessions about FracTracker across PA, NY, OH, and WV, so geographic location is not an issue.

You can request a training in your area by contacting me directly: malone@fractracker.org, 412-624-9379. (Email requests preferred.)

Exploratory Gas Drilling in the Delaware River Basin


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

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has been preparing to defend the appropriateness of the commission to regulate any “exploratory” gas wells drilled in the Delaware River Basin (DRB). Instead, the gas industry, which was questioning DRBC’s right to oversee such matters, has withdrawn from the hearing scheduled for January 18, 2011. It is not clear yet whether the operator of one of the grandfathered well sites will continue to push for the right to drill exploratory wells in the basin without DRBC oversight.

Expert testimony was provided to the DRBC by Dr. Conrad Dan Volz and several others regarding the potential for exploratory drilling to negatively impact the DRB’s ecosystem.

Expert Witnesses for DRBC:

  • Robert M. Anderson, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Danielle Kreeger, Ph.D., Partnership for the Delaware Estuary
  • Patrick M. O’Dell, P.E., National Park Service
  • Erik L. Silldorff, Ph.D., Aquatic Biologist, Delaware River Basin Commission
  • Bernard W. Sweeney, Ph.D. and John K. Jackson, Ph.D., Stroud Water Research Center
  • Conrad Daniel Volz, DrPH, MPH, University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health

Their testimonies can be read online in the DRBC report.

CHEC Discussed Potential Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction at CalU Event


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

At an event hosted by the Institute for Law and Public Policy of California University of Pennsylvania on Friday, CHEC speakers Dr. Conrad Dan Volz, Dr. Charles Christen, and Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH discussed the various public health and environmental public health concerns regarding shale gas drilling, as well as tools to help people address those concerns.

Learn more by checking out their presentations: Volz | Christen | Malone

Delaware River Basin Commission Approval to be Needed for Gas Operations


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

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has written a draft of new legislation to help regulate natural gas extraction that could occur within that agency’s boundary, which includes part of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. If finalized, the new legislation will be known as Article 7, the full draft for which is available here.

What is the DRBC?

“The DRBC is a federal-interstate compact government agency that was formed by concurrent legislation enacted in 1961 by the United States and the four basin states (Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware). Its five members include the basin state governors and the Division Engineer, North Atlantic Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who serves as the federal representative. The commission has legal authority over both water quality and water quantity-related issues throughout the basin.”


In essence, Article 7 will require all natural gas development projects within the basin to obtain approval from that entity, in addition to the regular process that is required by the home state. This will include not only drilling for gas, but also exploratory wells, any well-site activities, and associated water withdrawals and wastewater deposits as well. The Commission already has the authority to protect the waters in the basin from pollution, but since the issues of natural gas and clean and healthy rivers are as complicated as they are fundamental, the new regulations were deemed appropriate.

Since this basin includes some of the far eastern edge of the productive Marcellus Shale gas play in Pennsylvania and New York, the new regulations could have an immediate impact—both on the natural gas industry and the Delaware Basin itself.

Public Comments

Written comments on the proposed Article will be accepted through 5 p.m. March 16, 2011. Three public hearings will be scheduled, and details on those will be posted on the DRBC website as soon as the dates are finalized.

New Feature Announcement: Geocoding of address data on FracTracker’s DataTool


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

By Josh Knauer – Rhiza Labs

Rhiza Labs is proud to announce the addition of an important new feature to its Rhiza Insight tool (the program that powers FracTracker’s DataTool): geocoding. Users are now able to import a spreadsheet of street addresses within Rhiza Insight, and the tool will automatically assign a latitude/longitude for each valid address. This means you can now create a maps of customers or members, or any other set of locations that are important to you. This feature is currently limited to US-based locations for the time being.

Here’s exactly how this feature works. Let’s say you have a spreadsheet of addresses that you would like to see on a map. In this case, I have a spreadsheet of the addresses of non-profit organizations in Santa Fe, NM, along with their assets, revenue and expense numbers (btw, we got this data from the nice folks at Socrata):

Read more »

What’s the Big Deal with FracTracker’s Snaphots?


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

A picture might be worth a thousand words for most purposes, but when you are talking about spatial data, pictures are sometimes the only way to explain things. This goes well beyond the simple question of where things are, and into the realm of how things relate to one another. Fundamentally, what makes the snapshots on FracTracker’s DataTool so important is their ability to answer questions that users have about the oil and gas industry, and to share those results with everyone else.

So what kinds of questions can be answered with a FracTracker snapshot?

Comparative Analysis
Are the ozone monitoring stations going to detect Marcellus Shale activity? Marcellus Shale Wells and Ozone Monitoring Stations [link removed]

Finding Locations
Have there been any oil and gas violations near where I live? Pennsylvania DEP violations by well type [link removed]

Multiple Datasets
What is the extent of the Marcellus Shale gas industry when you cross state lines? Marcellus Shale: Drilled sites in PA and Approved Permits in WV [link removed]

Satellite Imagery
What does a full brine pit look like? Full Pit Near Evans City, PA [link removed]

How accurate are the location data on FracTracker? Well Site Closeup Near Evans City, PA [link removed]

Understanding Impacts
It seems like there is gas drilling activity everywhere. Are some locations more affected by the industry than others? Total Violations by County, Utah [link removed]

Investigating the US gas drilling boom video


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

[media removed]

Complements of Nadia, EARTHWORKS. This video is being shown widely in Britain, as Europe moves into shale gas exploration (involving the investment of U.S. companies).


Recap of the GSPH Shale Gas Conference (Afternoon)


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

If you were unable to attend the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s all day conference, Health Effects of Shale Gas Extraction: What is known, and what can we predict?, here is a recap of the afternoon sessions for you provided by CHEC’s staff.
Program | Morning Summary | Afternoon Summary (below) | Presentation Videos | Survey Results

“Air Quality Monitoring Strategies”

Robert Field, PhD, a research scientist at the University of Wyoming’s Department of Atmospheric Science, spoke about factors leading to the creation of wintertime ozone in Sublette County, Wyoming. The sudden appearance of the phenomenon was surprising to residents, since ozone is usually an urban problem during the summertime. Dr. Field examined the link between the ozone production and the natural gas industry in the state.

The conditions to create ozone are known, and include the presence of ozone precursors, sunlight, and other atmospheric conditions. Rural Wyoming made for a convenient laboratory to determine the scope of the contribution of the gas industry, because unlike Pennsylvania, it was not already present in the air from other industrial activities. Dr. Field indicated that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has already been using the information to predict days favorable to the creation of ozone, and has even worked to prevent it by asking operators to limit their polluting activities on those days.

Responding to questions from the audience, Dr. Field indicated that environmental conditions in Pennsylvania are less favorable for wintertime ozone in particular, although ozone in the summer remains a concern.

“Addressing Combined Effects of Air Pollution and Social Stressors Exposures on Health in Communities Affected by Natural Gas Fracturing”

Jane Clougherty, MSc, ScD, a new faculty member of the University of Pittsbrugh’s Graduate School of Public Health, presented Friday on her previous work concerning air monitoring in New York City and the culmination of indirect impacts to various users. Dr. Clougherty’s work focused on air pollution monitoring schemes, needs and assumptions of air monitoring for multiple-source emissions.

Passive ambient air monitoring can produce powerful data if strong variability is present, as well as numerous monitoring locations. The focus of her talk was not to demonstrate how monitoring could be implemented in or around gas extraction sites, but was to provide a case study to encompass impacts across communities and regions and how stress can relate to these various levels. Indirect or non-primary effects, social stressors, and potentially synergistic social-environmental effects, can certainly apply to the Marcellus Shale boom. Health research has indicated that chronic stress can affect the immune, endocrine, and respiratory systems, and even susceptibility to the common cold. Dr. Clougherty implied very well that the indirect effects of a new industry – such as natural gas extraction – can among other impacts, lead to stressed social interactions. These types of interactions include increases in:
  • heavy construction,
  • truck and vehicular traffic,
  • noise,
  • services demanded, and
  • potential changes in community coercion and composition.

Her research and others have suggested that social stressors combined with pollution exposures may act synergistically by altering an individual’s susceptibility.

Dr. Clougherty proposed that in addressing impacts such as those posed by this industry, we must look at all of the affected users. Her examples included the end users in the New York City limits. City officials have proposed regulations to ban the use of lower quality heating fuels, stating that just 1 percent of NYC buildings account for about 87 percent of the pollution attributed to the combustion of these oils. Regulations would encourage cleaner burning sources, such as natural gas. This could positively affect pollution levels in these areas, specifically Manhattan, though upfront costs remain an issue. This example demonstrates a positive end user effect for the people of NYC, that Dr. Clougherty claims must be added to the impacts equation. However, she also stresses this is not panacea for energy consumption; renewable energy should be the focus.

Understanding social-environmental interactions is a complex and entangled field of study. It is crucial that researchers like Dr. Clougherty are working on these issues and are asking provocative questions while proposing multi-factorial grand perspectives.

“Short-Term Air Quality Impacts from Marcellus Shale Operations in Southwest PA”

Chief of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (PA DEP) Air Quality Monitoring Division, Nick Lazor, addressed the Department’s efforts to conduct short term air quality sampling near Marcellus Shale drilling operations. The PA DEP sampled five counties in Southwestern PA using an array of gas chromatography and mass and infrared spectroscopy instruments to assess concentrations of ambient (outdoor) air target pollutants.

Preliminary data indicates methane, propane, ethane, and benzene were present at Marcellus Shale compressor sites. Additionally, methyl-mercaptan was detected above odor threshold, while carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and ozone were not detected above National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The PA DEP recognizes the importance of this initiative and plans to evaluate further monitoring efforts after a comparative analysis between all five sites has been concluded.

“Use of Health Impact Assessment to Help Inform Decision Making Regarding Natural Gas Drilling Permits in Colorado” (Roxana Witter, MD, MSPH; John Adgate, PhD; and Jim Rada)

Previously, Samantha Malone wrote a blog post about their presentations after attending the American Public Health Association conference in Denver, CO this year. Check it out!

“Spatial Data Infrastructure for Evaluating the Health Impact of Gas Well Drilling in North Texas”

David Sterling, PhD, CIH is the Director or the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Saint Louis University School of Public Health. Dr. Sterling knows Texas because he is from Texas and there are issues in Fort Worth, Texas due to the development of the Barnett Shale. Over-development has resulted in close proximity of drilling and wells to homes, elementary schools, other buildings, and other populated locations. Conducting retrospective (after-the-fact) exposure analyses on these types of locations can provide starting points for hypotheses.

Drilling in the Barnett Shale has occurred since the 1970s, and in densely populated areas, including Denton, Tarrant, and Johnson counties since 1999. There are over 16,000 wells in these counties, 26,000 wells in the Barnett shale and other shales, and 20,000 permitted wells. Current issues involve encroaching proximity. High benzene levels have been measured in Dish, TX, and other locations such as on an organic goat farm.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) maintains monitoring website for air emissions but more information and the development of a spatial data infrastructure is necessary for air and hydro (water) models. The data collection also needs to be reported, made visual, and have transparency. One of the many research goals should be to connect this data with health outcomes. Data challenges in the Barnett region include gathering good population estimates, information on how many wells are contaminated, and getting hold of malleable data. And finally, Dr. Sterling emphasized the need for this information to be available for decision makers.

“Research Methods and Results of the Baseline Socioeconomic Study of the Impact of Marcellus in Pennsylvania”

Teri Ooms is the Executive Director of The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development. Ms. Ooms recently undertook a project to assess the current social and economic conditions relating to gas well development in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania, with the goal of obtaining baseline data for future longitudinal assessment of subsequent community changes that occur in Appalachian counties. The study consisted of a survey of Marcellus residents and interviews with key informants (elected and appointed leaders, representatives of human service and educational agencies, and civic organizations) in five Pennsylvania counties (Lackawanna, Luzerne, Westmoreland, Greene, and Susquehanna) and five counties in other shale-rich states (Texas and Arkansas). This study was conducted to gather and assess the perceptions of current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts associated with large scale natural gas development.

Of the many study results that Ms. Ooms discussed, people living in the Marcellus region generally knew very little about the nature and development of the industry. Few people actually sought out objective information from authoritative sources. Many felt that as a result of the industry coming into PA, the quality of their natural environment and drinking water would worsen, while employment options and training would improve. Ms. Ooms noted there was tension within communities because of varying lease and royalty rates and tension when there is a separation between land ownership and mineral rights (called a “split estate”). Most participants supported a severance tax in PA, and almost all of them agreed that if a severance tax is enacted, some of the money should be allocated for local government expenses.

Results from Texas and Arkansas both indicated that people felt there were strong economic benefits to drilling. The separation of land and mineral rights has also created tension in those states. Participants have seen education programs change to help local people obtain industry jobs. Other problems identified by those participants are similar to those highlighted by PA participants. You can find out more about the Institute and its study here.

“How Should We Think About the Economic Consequences of Shale Gas Drilling?”

Susan Christopherson, PhD is an economic geographer whose research and teaching focus on economic development, urban labor markets, and location patterns in service industries, particularly the media industries. According to Dr. Christopherson’s presentation, the southern tier of New York state is already experiencing the impact of the Marcellus Shale boom. Truck traffic has increased and land values are rising, even though drilling is located in Pennsylvania and still excluded from New York. Money is coming into these areas and those surrounding areas with active drilling, but certain questions need to be answered, including: “What is the cost? For what period? What jobs will be created? What are the long-term outcomes?”

In order to appropriately address these questions, the factors that influence the pace and scale of drilling must be determined. These can include transportation costs, industry competition, regulatory capacity and requirements, taxes, and shortages. Current policy is projecting a boom and bust cycle from the shale gas drilling industry. The drilling cycle is “front-end” loaded, to drill as quickly as possible while Pennsylvania does not have a severance tax. Fifty percent of the total gas produced by a well is extracted within the first year, and production beyond five years is uncertain. The repetitive short-term process of drilling multiple wells must be considered, which means the majority of jobs are only temporary. Also, Dr. Christopherson advised analyzing the spending patterns for landowners who have received lease money. Large sums, rather than multiple disbursements, have the potential to be splurged.

The total cost to the communities has not been fully realized. Funding for schools and roads are currently the only area where there is any leverage from established policy. The boom and bust cycle will strain local economic systems. After the bust, communities are left with too many schools, police, teachers, and services without a population and funds to support them. Responsible economic development comes from population growth, income growth, and economic diversity. In gas-producing counties, incomes actually grow more slowly. Evidence from western states shows less economic diversity and decreased ability for alternative investments in counties with drilling. On the other hand, economies in Texas grow when drilling and gas production expands in other states, because Texas is center for executive operations of the natural gas industry and therefore has the highest paying jobs. Plans to prevent accelerated, short-term production cycles need to be proposed. Policy does matter! Communities need to be savvy to industry activity and plans. Local economies need to capture all available revenues, ensure remediation, and set up tax systems.

Conversation with participants about the gaps in the science and future directions from the afternoon speakers

Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH was the moderator for the afternoon sessions. Due to time restrictions, audience questions and research gaps are being requested in a follow up survey. Would you like to contribute your own comments about the conference? If so, fill out this survey. [link removed]

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