A complete list of all FracTracker posts.

Pennsylvania Wells and Violation Discussion


Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Industry Overview


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

Oil and Gas Wells in Pennsylvania since 1998. Click on the image for more details. [image removed]

The extraction of oil in Pennsylvania has been ongoing since before the Civil War, and the natural gas industry is also well established. The boom in production due to the hydraulic fracturing of gas from the Marcellus Shale formation is, however, quite recent.

A proper analysis of the oil and gas industry starts with the question, “How many wells of each type are there?” Unfortunately, the figures for non-Marcellus Shale and total wells are approximate. On their website, the Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access (PASDA) maintains a list of over 123,000 oil and gas locations in the state, based on Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) data. Through our efforts, CHEC has found over 6,000 more locations from permit information available on the DEP website, bringing the total of oil and gas locations to over 129,000.

Some of these 129,000 locations were undoubtedly never spudded, but that level of information is not available at this time. There is data as to which Marcellus Shale wells have been spudded, as all of the Marcellus Shale wells are recent enough to have digital information about them on the DEP website.

I compiled this information about drilled wells from information that is on the DEP website, and it indicates that there are only ten wells that were drilled horizontally that were not extracting from the Marcellus Shale formation.  I have seen comments in violation data indicating that wells not flagged as Marcellus had become Marcellus wells by drilling deeper. I do not have data to suggest that this situation accounts for all ten horizontal wells that are not flagged as Marcellus Shale, but I would not find that surprising.

Violation Information

[image removed]
Fire in Hopewell Township PA – Atlas Energy drilling site 3-31-10

In the past few days, the DEP has posted oil and gas violation data on their website. Several weeks ago, the DEP provided CHEC with a comprehensive list of 9,370 violations in the period between January 1, 2007 and September 30, 2010. This is more than ten times the number of violations that has been obtained from both Utah and West Virginia, although the nature of this list is also far more complete than that of the other two states. Additionally, Pennsylvania has a more extensive oil and gas industry than either of the other two states.

For example, the table above shows over three thousand administrative violations, one thousand instances of failing to plug a well, and four hundred cases where the well operator failed to restore a site after the conclusion of drilling operations. The nature of the violation information from the other two states leads me to suspect that their violation lists were simply compiled differently, and that these problems that the Pennsylvania DEP regulators have seen so much of are not absent in the other states.

I have condensed the original list of 109 violations categories into 12 in order to facilitate analysis. Some of these distinctions were relatively simple to collapse.  For example, wastewater spills and brine spills clearly belong together. Other examples were less clear. One of the original categories was “Improper storage of residual waste”, which does not explain whether or not a spill had occurred. For that reason, it was included with, “Inadequate pollution prevention”, although the violation might well have been issued after an impoundment overflow.

Where are the Violations?

In terms of geographical distribution, we see that three contiguous counties in the northeast quadrant of the Commonwealth—Bradford, Susquehanna, and Tioga—account for a majority of the Marcellus Shale violations, Two northwestern counties—McKean and Venango—have noticeably more violations than the rest of the counties in terms of oil and gas operations that are drilled into other formations.

Violation Analysis

For states where the oil and gas industry is relatively recent, it is straightforward task to compare violations to the number of permits or spudded wells. With the long history of mineral extraction in Pennsylvania, the results of that comparison here is somewhat problematic.  For example, while the 1,111 instances of failing to plug a well issued during this 45 month timeframe is a frankly staggering total, only five of those were for Marcellus Shale wells. This makes sense, as the more recent Marcellus wells are more likely to still be productive, while a violation for an uncapped well could potentially be issued for a long abandoned well that was recently discovered.

The point of bringing up this example is to suggest that due to the long timeframe of oil and gas operations in Pennsylvania, a straightforward comparison of Marcellus Shale to non-Marcellus Shale violations by the number of wells of each type is probably misleading. And, as mentioned above, we are not altogether clear on how many conventional wells that there are in the state in the first place.

However, if we look at the number of violations per well against the more limited scope of wells which are in violation, some interesting trends come to light, and the issue of severely skewed results due to the antiquity of the conventional oil and gas industry in the state seems effectively mitigated in this analysis as well.

To be clear, this does not suggest that there are an average of 2.56 violations per well in Pennsylvania. It does indicate that when the DEP sees a situation in which violations must be filed, there are typically more than one problem at a time. As the data above shows, wells drilled into the Marcellus Shale have a higher number of violations per offending well than do those in other formations, and the horizontally drilled Marcellus wells have more still.

West Virginia Wells and Violations Discussion


West Virginia Permits and Wells


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

According to their website, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Office of Oil and Gas is responsible for over 55,000 active and 12,000 inactive oil and gas wells in the state. To obtain a scope of the Marcellus Shale activity, I queried that state’s online permit and well databases on November 1, 2010.

The search of permitting data yielded 11,836 records, however a closer look at the data shows that there have been only 1,474 permit applications received from 1,464 wells, with the rest of the dataset providing detailed information about the same locations. Of the total number of applications, a total of 590 are horizontal. There are a total of 1,338 permits that have been issued, of which 533 are horizontal.

From the well database, there are 1,463 Marcellus Shale wells, 1,334 of which are gas wells, one is a commercial brine disposal well, and the remaining 128 wells of an unspecified type. Since as of November 1, 2010 there are only 1,338 permits issued for the Marcellus Shale, those unspecified wells are a curious presence.
Results of Permit Applications. Green dots are approved permits, yellow dots are permits that have been returned, and red dots are rejected permits. Click the map for more information.

Violation Data

Unlike other states in which violation data has had to be requested, the West Virginia DEP has separate spills and violation databases available on their website. The spills database includes 463 records between the dates of January 1, 2000 and September 30, 2010, while the violation data includes an additional 245 records from the same time frame.

Even together, these totals are less than one tenth of the number of violations that have occurred in Pennsylvania since 2007, although these lists do no not seem to include much of the administrative and abandoned well violations that are so prominent in the Pennsylvania data. I should also note that the 67,000 current and abandoned wells that West Virginia oversees is roughly half of Pennsylvania’s 129,000 known oil and gas locations.

I condensed the original list of 134 different spill types into six categories to facilitate analysis. Most of the instances of merging categories were straightforward. For example, brine spills and wastewater spills clearly belong together. A few, such as “Substance from gas well” required some degree of guesswork.

The other violation database includes the relevant West Virginia legal code. Most of the categories seem logical, however a few, such as “Libraries” and “Religious, Educational, and Nonprofit” seem to be illogical oil and gas violation categories. Libraries may well be a mistake, having come up only once, but with 41 instances, it seems likely that the latter legal chapter has some relevant code for the oil and gas industry.

As with the spills data, this dataset includes numerous entries with multiple violations, resulting in a total number of violations that is higher than the number of records in the online database.

Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project

By Veronica Coptis, Mountain Watershed Association


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

The Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project (MSCP) has been developed to empower citizens to take steps to protect their property, their health, and the environment, principally our water resources, from impacts of extracting Marcellus shale in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project will be a model so that other watersheds and communities can easily replicate the project in their region.

The Mountain Watershed Association is currently piloting the project in the Youghiogheny River watershed. Collaborators include the Center for Healy Environments and Communities, Three Rives Waterkeeper, Clean Water Action, PennEnvironment, Group Against Smog and Pollution, and the Fayette County Conservation District.

Our goal is to hold informational meetings on Marcellus shale throughout the Youghiogheny River watershed in order to ensure that people have the tools necessary to protect themselves and their properties from drilling. Additional informational meetings will be held in the Somerset, PA and Farmington, PA areas in Spring 2011. We are following these informational meetings with visual assessment training. The visual assessment trainings are designed to involve citizens in using their senses in providing oversight of drilling operations, for example, learning to recognize illegal water withdrawals or spills or air pollution. At these trainings citizens are provided with in-depth information on permitting, regulations, air and water impacts, a safety briefing, the Fracktracker data system, and an overview of our MCSP data reporting forms, through which citizens can report impacts to us and also to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

To date, Mountain Watershed Association has sponsored two informational meetings in Connellsville, PA and Greensburg, PA. Approximately 60 people attended these meetings, and each received a toolkit with valuable information on topics including private water well protection, health impacts, and permitting and regulations. This packet is available for download at our website: www.mtwatershed.com. Presentations at the informational meetings included:

Visual assessment training

We have also sponsored one Visual Assessment training session in Mount Pleasant, PA. Fifteen people attended and each person received our Citizen Surveillance Manual, an 80 page manual designed to provide an in-depth overview of Marcellus shale and also instructions for how to safely and effectively conduct visual assessments. This training session was designed to be very interactive, and there was excellent discussion with those in attendance regarding Marcellus development throughout the Yough River watershed. The Citizen Surveillance Manual is also available on our website at www.mtwatershed.com.

Presentations include:

  • Chuck Christen from the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities, the drilling process and the potential public health impacts from Marcellus shale extractions
  • Ned Mulcahy from Three Rivers Waterkeeper: regulations and laws related to the natural gas industry
  • Myron Arnowitt from Clean Water Action: water impacts from Marcellus shale activity
  • Sue Seppi from Group Against Smog and Pollution: air impacts from Marcellus shale activity.
  • Heather Fowler from the Fayette County Conservation District: well site hazards and safety

The Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project gives citizens in Southwestern Pennsylvania an opportunity to take action to protect their watersheds and communities from the impacts of Marcellus drilling. For more information on the MCSP you can email veronica@mtwatershed.com or call at 724-455-4200 ext 4#. We also encourage those interested to join our mailing list in order to receive updates on this project. Visit www.mtwatershed.com to join. The data gathered from this process will eventually be uploaded onto FracTracker’s DataTool [link removed]. Check it out to see the other data presently available to registered users.

Forced Pooling vs. Organic Farming

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


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

Shale gas drilling involves injecting large amounts of high-pressured water and various chemicals into the shale layer to release the natural gas trapped there.

Although there are some obvious economic benefits to producing energy in our own country, 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?

Organic Certification for Farms

Organic farming means that farmers must avoid using most synthetic chemicals when producing their crops, such as synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, sewage, organisms that have been genetically modified, or exposing food to high doses of radiation. No synthetic chemicals could have been used on the farmland for a few years. Organic farmers are subject to periodic inspections, as well. (For more information about the benefits and costs associated with eating organic food, check out this website.)

Forced Pooling

Currently, PA is one of the only remaining states in the U.S. where active natural gas drilling is occurring that has not enacted any kind of severance tax on the industry. Keep in mind, however, that while a severance tax is being considered in Harrisburg, the natural gas industry is lobbying to have forced pooling tied to any severance tax legislation. (The likelihood of either proposal being passed before a new term begins is highly unlikely at this point, however.)

Forced pooling would require people to enter into lease agreements in an area where the majority of other lease-owners have leased to a natural gas drilling company. This would be advantageous to the industry because it makes leasing more orderly and allows them to more easily access areas where the mineral rights have been fragmented. While this could reduce the environmental footprint of drilling in some ways, it could be incredibly problematic for organic farmers whether they own their mineral rights or not. At least without forced pooling, organic farmers have more of a choice about whether they will lease their mineral rights.

The Predicament

The problem, therein, is that any violation on the part of industry that pollutes the land, air, or soil on or near a farm – especially an organic farm – could have serious repercussions for the farmer and the farm’s economic viability.

PA Wastewater spills by county
Frac pond and lining

And when you add in the forced pooling concept, the problem becomes more complex.

Does a spill or blowout on the farm destroy the organic certification, and if so for how long? Who is responsible for the economic hardships of such an incident? What are the public health implications of consuming food that has been contaminated either with the chemicals used to fracture the shale or the constituents of the wastewater that returns to the surface and is held in large ponds? (Wastewater can contain heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, total dissolved solids, and is high in salinity.) For example, the Department of Agriculture quarantined several PA cattle in July that came into contact with one of the holding ponds in order to reduce the risk of those chemicals being passed along through the food chain.

I acknowledge that there can be benefits to drilling for farmers in this blog post. However, from our experience, many farmers are only being educated by the industry about the benefits to leasing. E.g. “You can have your cake and eat it, too.” But as our one friend put it, “What are the odds that the cake cannot be eaten?”

To find an organic farm near you, visit this site. If you have geo-located data showing where organic farms are located, add it to the DataTool or contact us at malone@fractracker.org so that we can load the dataset for you.

From Spectra Energy Watch: Gas Exec ‘Willing to Engage in the Debate’

Reposted with permission from Mike Benard, Spectra Energy Watch


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

Spectra Energy Watch recently conducted an email interview / conversation with Ben Wallace. Ben Wallace is Chief Operating Officer (COO) of PENNECO, an oil and gas exploration company headquartered in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

PENNECO owns interests in more than 1,200 wells in 5 states, according to its website, and most of its wells are hydraulically fractured.

‘A Belief That Industry Will Not Answer Direct Questions’

In an exchange of three e-mails with Spectra Energy Watch’s blog, Wallace noted: “… I sense that one of your great frustrations is a lack of access to industry – or a belief that the industry will not answer direct questions…”

Yes – industry will not answer direct questions. It prefers platitudes like this one from Spectra Energy: Safety is our franchise. It’s what we ‘do.’

The gas industry wants it both ways. For example, on one hand it says hydraulic fracturing has been in use for 60 years with no adverse effects.

This is a half truth at best. Hydraulic fracturing has evolved as a technique over several decades. Slickwater, high-volume hydraulic fracturing began in the mid-to-late ’90s in Texas; and there is ample evidence that it has adverse effects on water and air.

Despite the gas industry’s claim of 60 years of hydraulic fracturing, it then claims to be a “nascent industry” that needs time to grow in states like Pennsylvania and New York (without a severance tax).

What is so hard about telling the truth about hydraulic fracturing?

PENNECO COO Ben Wallace was sincere in answering questions directly, but many of his responses illustrate how wide the gulf (no pun intended) is between the gas industry and those who experience the adverse effects of high-volume, slick-water hydraulic fracturing from shale gas wells.

For example, here are excerpts from Wallace’s comments:

  • “I personally have no objections to injecting frac fluid into oil and gas bearing reservoirs and I, as a private citizen, am quite comfortable with the regulations in force by the individual states regarding this activity. Hydraulic fracturing presents no threat to clean safe drinking water.”
  • “It does not bother me that a Marcellus fracture treatment uses 20 tons of chemicals diluted in 1,000,000 gallons of water and that the slurry is injected into a natural gas bearing formation multiple thousands of feet below any fresh water aquifers isolated by steel casing and cement.”
  • “I would not support requiring closed loop systems to eliminate plastic lined ponds nor would I support installing vapor recovery units on tanks. Again, the relative risk is minimal and it only serves to increase the cost of energy to the consumer.”
  • “In general, I do not support restrictions on drilling beyond those that currently exist. Sufficient zoning regulations are already in place within individual communities to govern this activity.”

Ben Wallace, like many of his industry colleagues, speaks in absolutes with complete confidence that only the ‘perfect world’ model exists in gas industry operations.

Then he offers comments like this:

I suggest that all those who are opposed to drilling and to the extractive process cease using energy. Turn of [sic] the cell phones. Turn of [sic] the lights. Power down the laptops. Park the cars. Turn of [sic] the air conditioner. Eat raw food. Stop using refrigeration. Until the critics are willing to do that, they are hypocritically pointing the finger of blame. The energy industry simply provides the product to which our society is complicity addicted.

The defect of that kind of emotional venting is that it can fly back in your face – tit for tat. Gas execs argue that the hydraulic fracturing fluid – chemo frack fluid, laced with toxic chemicals – is benign. Great. Drink it yourself.

In fact, PENNECO COO Ben Wallace is on the record in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggesting (carefully) that, “hydraulic fracturing chemicals in dilute solution” is comparable to Coca-Cola.

He agrees, of course, “it would be foolish to drink frac fluid.”

Okay, we got carried away. Don’t drink the frac fluid. But what about leadership by example from the gas industry? If “Study after study has found hydraulic fracturing to be safe,” as Wallace says in his letter to the EPA, why is this blog still unable to identify executives (senior managers) who have such operations on their property, near their home?

Ultra NIMBYs of the Gas Industry

As Wallace acknowledges: “I do not have a shale gas drilling rig on my property.” Nor is there a frac pond on his property.

Imagine gas industry execs with hydraulic fracturing operations near their homes who step up and acknowledge that they believe so strongly in the inherent safety of shale gas extraction that they “live” the principle, so to speak.

The great shame of the gas industry is that its execs want these wells on YOUR property, but not THEIR property. Gas industry senior managers are the new ultra NIMBYs.

Public Opinion Turning Against Gas Industry

No wonder Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, while declaring himself a “protector” and a “good spokesman” for the gas industry, worries that “public opinion is starting to turn [against the gas industry] because I don’t think the industry’s done a great job of public relations.”

While the industry and Penneco’s Ben Wallace declare hydraulic fracturing to be safe, the “protector” and “good spokesman” for the gas industry admits there are “five challenges” – all of them environmental.

The five “challenges” of shale gas extraction, in Rendell’s own words:

  1. How to divert the millions of gallons of water that are necessary to operate the drilling?
  2. How to prevent gas migration?
  3. What do we do with the frac water – how do we dispose of it or beneficially reuse the frac water?
  4. What about the infrastructure? What about the roads with the heavy truck traffic that’s coming in and out of shale drilling areas – mostly in our northern tier itself which is a fairly undeveloped part of Pennsylvania? And
  5. How do we protect the natural beauty of the state? Pennsylvania was given by the Lord an incredible bounty of natural and wild lands. There are more natural and wild acres in Pennsylvania than the entire states of Connecticut and Rhode Island put together. And Pennsylvanians feel very strongly about that. We’re a great sportsmen’s state – fishing and hunting; and our wild and natural areas are very treasured.

Rendell made his remarks in a roundtable discussion with gas and oil execs in Dallas on March 25. If the “protector” of the gas industry in Pennsylvania acknowledges multiple risks to the environment, why can’t the gas industry?

Links and Resources

Do you want to be trained to use FracTracker?

If you would like to know how to navigate the FracTracker system, upload and download data, and visualize that data into snapshots and charts, please contact us: malone@fractracker.org. There is no charge to attend or request our training sessions. They typically last 2 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, of course.

You can request a training in your area by contacting me: malone@fractracker.org (Email requests preferred.)

Want to know more about FracTracker?  Read | Demo and Tutorials

Earthworks says, Gas leasing: if you’re going to do it, do it right

Reposted with permission from Nadia Steinzor, Earthworks, OGAP


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

When the landman comes knocking, it’s tempting to open the door wide. The promises made can be beguiling: fast cash, payments for years to come, and hardly any change on your property. Just sign up now…

But harsh reality can set in fast. Maybe it’s a road built right behind the house or through a crop field. Or barrels of toxic chemicals stored next to a drinking well. Perhaps the wastewater pond wasn’t fenced, so thirsty livestock got sick. And when the royalty check arrives, it’s far smaller than expected.

Across the Marcellus Shale region and beyond, there’s abundant evidence that a rush to drill without strong regulations causes environmental and health problems. Less well-known is how the rush to lease in the absence of information, legal advice, and safeguards is harming many landowners, as well as their neighbors and communities.

For more than a decade, OGAP has worked to inform property owners about their rights and what to consider before signing a lease — most recently at landowner workshops in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Citizens turned out to hear how leases can contain legally binding guidelines for precisely how and where gas development occurs. They learned from OGAP staff about what’s happening across the Marcellus region and nationwide. Attorney and leasing expert Bob Miller detailed what protective leases can look like, and why we all benefit when they exist. Petroleum accountant Mary Ellen Denomy explained the “fine print” of gas payments and how to make sure that companies pay landowners what they deserve. These presentations provide key information for anyone considering leasing or interested in leasing practices.

OGAP is all too aware of the many problems wrought by oil and gas development—and works much too hard to prevent and solve them—to be in the business of encouraging leasing. But we also know that because many people make the choice to lease, it’s far preferable to have it done in a way that protects land, water and air quality, and health, and which doesn’t leave impacted landowners financially high and dry.

Let’s face it—gas companies rarely do the right thing voluntarily on their own. They usually have to be pushed (and pushed) by policymakers, landowners, and the public to drill responsibly. This is the only way to keep citizens in the driver’s seat, ready to put on the brakes, as the gas development train rushes down the tracks.

If you would like to contribute a blog post like this to FracTracker, please contact us at malone@fractracker.org, 412-624-9379.


Featured Upcoming Event – A Community and University Symposium


Marcellus Shale and a Sustainable Future: Balancing Energy, the Economy, and the Environment

November 2-5, 2010


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

Locations: Indiana University of PA Student Union (the HUB); Eberly Auditorium; and the Indiana Theater – Downtown Indiana, PA
CHEC Speaker: Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH – “Marcellus Shale Extraction, the Fracking Process, and Potential Well Water Contamination” and “Using the FracTracker Website”

The gains from natural gas from Marcellus Shale are well known — jobs, energy, and economic gains for secondary business and industry. A four-day symposium, “Marcellus Shale and a Sustainable Future: Balancing Energy, the Economy, and the Environment,” explores the lesser-known aspects, such as the historical, social-environmental, legal, political, and health issues related to gas extraction. The conference includes a balanced series of topics, with speakers and panelists from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Duquesne University, and SUNY–Oneonta, plus University of Pittsburgh faculty, other regional scholars, state-elected and agency officials, corporate executives, and representatives from statewide environmental groups, as well as community members and students.

Free admission to all events. One of the speakers will be Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities. Learn more [link removed]

New Violation Datasets at our DataTool


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

Three new datasets have been added to our DataTool: Utah Oil and Gas Violations, West Virgina Spills, County by Year, and West Virginia Spills Data.

The Utah dataset contains information including violation type, and oil and gas related injury and fatality records.  The West Virgina Spills, County by Year dataset is a set up to be easy to visualize, however, those interested in analyzing the West Virginia data itself will want to look at the West Virginia Spills Data dataset.

Earlier, we posted a separate WV Marcellus and O&G Violation by County dataset. I suspect that the West Virginia data is incomplete, due to the relatively small number of records.  There are 463 records of spills and 259 other violations since January 1, 2000, for a total of 722 offenses.  Compare that to the dataset from Pennsylvania, where there are over 9,300 violations recorded, and those are all since January 1, 2007.

Prezi Presentation – Origins and Purpose of FracTracker


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

Are you interested in knowing why we at CHEC started this hairbrained project with the Foundation for PA Watersheds and Rhiza Labs to develop FracTracker? Check out the presentation below to learn more:

If you’re having trouble viewing the presentation, click play at the bottom of the screen twice. Prezi will move you from one “slide” to the next. And if you’re still having trouble, visit Prezi to learn more.