A complete list of all FracTracker posts.

Quick Update – Postponing WV FracTracker Mtg

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The FracTracker meeting that we planned to host on August 13th in West Virginia has been postponed. We will let you know when this meeting is rescheduled. In the meantime, please give us your feedback: malone@fractracker.org.

Gas Well Explosion – Indiana Township, PA

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On Friday a two-year-old shallow gas well exploded in Indiana Township (Allegheny County), PA killing two workers. According to sources, multiple parties are involved in the investigation, including the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Allegheny County fire marshal and Huntley & Huntley Inc., the Monroeville company that employed the workers. Read more>

This incident follows the EPA’s public comment meeting on Thursday, which was convened to gather citizen input on an EPA study that will assess the safety of hydraulic fracturing (and related issues) involved in Marcellus Shale gas extraction. Additionally, two hearings are planned today in PA. One will review emergency response procedures and the other will assess proposed state regulations. While Friday’s tragic accident did not occur at a Marcellus-depth well, it highlights why appropriate safety measures must be put in place as the Marcellus Shale play is explored further.

In an attempt to track and visualize the vital importance of drilling safety, CHEC is compiling a database of Marcellus incidents on FracTracker’s data tool. Additional organizations are participating in this process. If you have data that you would like to contribute to the dataset, please email (malone@fractracker.org) or call us (412-624-9379).

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Public Meetings on Marcellus Shale

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Fellow Pittsburghers – If you are one of the many people interested in the issue of hydraulic fracturing & how it could affect the environment & public health, be sure to attend the following meeting:

  • Thu, July 22, 6pm – 10pm
    Hilton Garden Inn, 1000 Corporate Drive, Canonsburg, PA 15317
The EPA is looking for your input into developing its proposed plan to study the relationship between hydraulic fracturing & drinking water. You are being asked to pre-register for the meeting at least 72 hours ahead of time either by visiting: [link removed] or by calling the toll-free number 1-866-477-3635.

UPDATE: CHEC’s own Dr. Charles Christen attended the July 22nd meeting held by the EPA. See what the Pittsburgh Business Times had to say about the gathering that drew a crowd of over 1,200 people!

Thanks to a post from our readers, we were made aware of a meeting that the PA DEP is hosting to gather community input in this area about proposed regulatory changes. Be sure to check out the post from that reader below for the additional meetings being held across the commonwealth:

  • Mon, July 26, 7pm – 9pm
    Waterfront Conference Room A & B, 400 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222-4745

Comments may be submitted electronically to the Board at RegComments@state.pa.us & must also be received by the Board on or before August 9, 2010. A subject heading of the proposed rulemaking & a return name & address must be included in each transmission.

 

Fractracker Must Thrive and Survive by Your Comments

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There has been some very good comments from Fractracker contributors, and I would like to share and help to facilitate further commenting…

1) Many of the data sets currently uploaded to Fractracker are from the PADEP’s “2010 Permit and RIG Activity,” under “Reports” from the Bureau or Oil and Gas Management Home Page. These are open to the public.
2) The PADEP provides permit information prior to the January 1, 2007 date, but NOT in the form of “RIG” reports. The RIG report includes an explicit location such as latitude and longitude that is necessary for visualization in Fractracker. The PADEP did not start transferring hard-copy forms into digital data sets of permits and drilled locations until 2007. Therefore, any Marcellus Shale drilled prior to the January 1, 2007 digitizing date is not included in the permit or SPUD data on Fractracker.
3) We have received comments that the Permits and Drilling locations data sets are missing data, incomplete, and or the locations can be off by as much as 15 miles. These are great comments and are integral to sharing and regulating good vs. bad information. It is certainly possible that these data sets are incomplete, missing data, and are not as precise as we hope.
4) Possibilities of seemingly incomplete data sets and maps; drilled wells and permit locations may not exist in Fractracker because they are wells that predate the January 1, 2007 digitizing date (see above), human error in transferring data to digital version, uploading to the host, data sets simply are incomplete, and location accuracy of drilled wells may be generalized.
5) The power of crowdsourcing programs such as Wikipedia, Netflix and Amazon ratings, Facebook, OpenStreetMap, and of course Fractracker allows the “crowd” or many people to assist by contributing their knowledge or experience to refine tasks, regulate information, and develop highly quality controlled outputs.
6) Comments and collaboration on the blog as well as within individual data sets, snapshots, etc., is not only encouraged, it is crucial to the principle of Fractracker.

Components of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid

Frac fluid containers - Image from: www.donnan.com

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On June 30th, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection made public the fluids used to hydraulically fracture the ground in PA. You can find that list on the DEP’s site here. However, some controversy ensued due to a mix up between the DEP & the material safety data sheets. Diesel fuel, which is listed in the linked document above for example, is only stored on site for other purposes – not injected into the ground.

“The original list was a compilation of the chemicals identified on safety documents called material safety data sheets that hydraulic fracturing contractors must submit to the department, but he [Scott Perry, the director of DEP’s Bureau of Oil and Gas Management] did not realize that it included substances the contractors use both above and below ground on a well site, he said. The second list was winnowed by a DEP chemist, who recognized that some of the chemicals on the initial list are not among those injected underground during the fracturing process.” …

CHEC’s director, Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH, said he understands that the department is trying to respond to an “absolute clamor out there to get this information,” but he said the list posted Wednesday is more an attempt to “mollify people’s complaints that they are not releasing information” than to provide data that citizens can use if they want to test their drinking water before & after drilling. “What to me is valuable is to get information on not only what goes down but also what comes up” from the wells in the form of salt & metals-laden waste fluids, he said. (The Times-Tribune)

The map below shows all of the public & private water wells in PA in blue & the Marcellus Shale wells drilled to date in black (as well as vividly demonstrates why we need to be vigilant of the potential impact that this industry can have on our quality of life). [image removed] 
In response to growing frustration over the lack of industry disclosure of these chemicals, Range and Chief plan to disclose the chemicals it uses to hydraulically fracture methane gas wells in the Marcellus Shale region.

September 9, 2010 Update: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it has issued voluntary information requests to nine natural gas service companies regarding the process known as hydraulic fracturing. Read more.

Marcellus Shale Drilling – Citizen Experiences

Photo Left: Fire that erupted on a drill pad in Hopewell Township PA. Photo courtesy of local resident. Atlas Energy drilling site. 3-31-10

CHEC’s Marcellus Shale Documentary Project

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One of the exciting tasks that we are working on right now is a documentary project surrounding gas extraction activities in the Marcellus Shale region. This project aims to collect & share citizens’ experiences that they have had with the industry. As an environmental public health entity, we are of course interested in the potential health & environmental impacts that this type of drilling may cause. However, CHEC researchers are documenting all types of stories from people living near gas extraction activities, including: road degradation, privacy concerns, social or cultural changes in nearby towns, environmental threats, water contamination, & even positive leasing experiences. Learn more about the process of drilling for methane gas in this region.

The project’s scope focuses on the stories of people living in Western PA, but we have started to make contacts in Central & Northeastern PA lately, as well. Soon there will even be a dataset in the data tool that lists all of the documentaries we have done so far & shows geographically where they have taken place (along with key words & dates). We will be following the project’s progress on this blog, so check back often. If you have an experience with drilling that you would like to share with CHEC, please contact us at 412-624-9379 or malone@fractracker.org.

Check out one of the audio/visual recordings we have done:
[media removed]

Field Researchers

The fantastic researchers currently working on this endeavor are:

  • Kyle Ferrar, MPH
  • David Higginbotham
  • Shannon Kearney, MPH
  • Dolores Kirschner
  • Marah Kvaltine

Now for the technical part: The Methodology

Working through local key informants in Washington, Greene, Bedford, & Fayette Counties, who are trusted contacts in the affected community, the Center for Healthy Environments & Communities will recruit residents, local authorities, law enforcement officials, business owners, & farmers in regions impacted by the Marcellus shale gas extraction industry. The recruiter will inform the potential project participant of the purpose of the project, the process of the documentation procedure, the voluntary nature of their participation, & that their responses may be anonymous if they desire. Once the potential participant agrees to be interviewed, the interviewer will obtain written informed consent, which includes an agreement to have the interview videotaped or digitally recorded, along with consent for the ability to publish the interview on the Center’s website & publications. Once the interviewer has obtained written informed consent, a date, time & place will be established for the formal interview. The interview will take place then in a mutually agreeable manner with the participant agreeing to either be videotaped or digitally recorded. If there is documentation the participant has already obtained, the interview will request copies.

CHEC Philosophy & Practice

By Charles Christen, DrPH, MEd – CHEC’s Director of Operations

The philosophy of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) is to conduct environmental public health research utilizing both a bottom-up & top-down approach. This approach is rooted in the philosophy of public health practice, which emphasizes prevention. The bottom-up approach identifies the concerns & problems affecting the health & quality of life of a community. A community can be a group of people with a shared interest or shared geography. A conceptual model, the first step in exposure assessment, is created to determine the most significant pathways of exposure to the contaminants related to these problems & concerns. The purpose of this bottom-up approach is to generate hypotheses for more advanced research. The top-down approach utilizes the hypotheses generated through community involvement. Research design & methodology are developed in order to test these hypotheses potentially providing insight into the potential risks to health from exposure to the identified contaminants. This philosophy provides the foundation for the mission of CHEC, which is to advance a community-based participatory environmental agenda comprised of exploratory, applied & translational research for the purpose of developing outreach & environmental health programming, as well as policy guidance to improve the environmental public health of the diverse populations in the region of Southwestern PA.

Currently CHEC is involved in a bottom-up approach to environmental public health research by conducting a project to document the perceived impacts of people who live in proximity to industrial operations related to gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale. The purpose of this project is to create a database of these impacts & ultimately a map associating these impacts with active well sites connected with Marcellus Shale gas extraction in order to better comprehend the big picture of how this industry is affecting people throughout the state of PA & in fact across the entire Marcellus Shale region. Examples of impacts that have been reported by individual citizens & groups include well water contamination, air quality problems & odors related to off gassing of volatile organic compounds from fracking ponds & condenser units, & road degradation related to increased truck traffic.

This bottom-up approach informs the top-down work that CHEC is launching to scientifically evaluate if perceived impacts are due to Marcellus Shale gas extraction operations. For example, one of the most reported problems of people living in the vicinity of Marcellus Shale drilling operations is private well water contamination. CHEC’s initial conceptual work certainly indicates that there is potential for exposure through ingestion of water to elements like strontium & barium, organic compounds such as benzene, inappropriate disposal of flowback & produced fluids, & even radionuclide’s of uranium & radium from faulty drill casings, spills & leaks, To scientifically evaluate the connection between gas drilling & extraction operations & private well water contaminants, CHEC must state a null hypothesis that there is no effect on any of the potential contaminants in well water versus a research hypothesis that there is an effect. Testing this set of questions then involves sampling enough wells for the contaminants of concern to rule out any contaminant specific results that could be due to chance (we will use a probability of .05 or 1/20 to reject the null hypothesis & accept the research hypothesis).

CHEC is working on a novel spatial statistical design to carry out this research. Please check back in the near future for information on the study design. If you would like to volunteer to have your private well water sampled as part of this study please write us at or email us to enlist. Since this is a scientific study, please be aware that you may or may not be asked to participate in the study dependant on the study design. However, CHEC will let all volunteers know if they are selected for the study, & all study participants will be notified of the concentrations of contaminants of concern in their well water.

Geo Animation: Marcellus Shale Permits in PA Over Time

By Josh Knauer, Rhiza Labs CEO (Reposted)

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Here at Rhiza Labs, we’re really excited to have a whole bunch of new public projects launching with our clients. These clients are pioneers who are exploring new ways to encourage communities of interest to aggregate data & share it publicly, while also providing these communities with incredibly powerful data analysis & visualization tools. One of the latest projects to launch, FracTracker.org, involves many dozens of community organizations that want to tract the impacts of Marcellus Shale gas wells in their communities.

I wanted to see how widespread this type of gas well drilling practice was, so I took the Marcellus Shale gas well permit data from the PA Dept of Environmental Protection and created a quick snapshot of the data, & then just clicked on the Action button in the upper right corner of the snapshot page & chose the options “Download as –> KML” to bring it into Google Earth. I then just hit “play” on the time slider within Google Earth.

The geo animation I created is captured below:

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Concerned Groups Meet to Discuss Impacts, Options, and FracTracker

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On Tuesday, June 29, 2010, CHEC & the Foundation for PA Watersheds will be hosting one of the most diverse meetings ever assembled to address Marcellus Shale gas extraction concerns. The meeting is also to officially launch this blog! (We’re calling both components “FracTracker” for simplicity purposes.)
Serious economic, environmental & public health concerns surround the gas extraction process. These concerns include road infrastructure degradation, explosions & blowouts, agriculture & hunting & fishing impacts, water contamination from the disposal of waste fluids into surface waters, & human exposure to volatile organic compounds that off-gas from production facilities.
FracTracker will enable people to better assess documented & predicted impacts & correlate them with the geographic location of wells drilled & accompanying production facilities. For the first time ever, researchers across many disciplines will be able to collaborate directly with communities & citizens in the collection & analysis of data that track these impacts across the Marcellus Shale play. FracTracker also has the potential to significantly influence future research & policy formulation.
Additional FracTracker Meetings

Four additional meetings of a similar nature will be held in NY, Western PA, Eastern PA, & WV during July & August of 2010. See schedule below for more information. All meetings will occur from 10am – 4pm.

  • July 22, 2010 — Pittsburgh, PA
  • July 29, 2010 — Danville, PA
  • August 10, 2010 — Ithaca, NY
  • August 13, 2010 — Charleston, WV
If your organization would like to participate in one of those meetings, please email or call us at (412) 802-0273 to request an invite – pending available space.

Today is a good day in PA

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The Independent Regulatory Review Commission just passed two revisions to Chapter 102 & one to Chapter 95 that help to protect our waterways from natural gas drilling. The new rules will require that drillers treat the wastewater produced from hydraulic fracturing to drinking water standards if they want to dispose of it in PA’s waterways. Why is this important? The other rules will require some developers to maintain or create a 150-foot natural vegetative buffer beside PA’s best rivers & streams. The regulations now go to the Pennsylvania Senate & House environment committees & then to the Attorney General’s office.

Frequently Asked Questions on Marcellus Shale Drilling

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Here is an additional resource from the PA DEP if you have been approached about signing over your mineral rights or if you don’t have the oil and mineral rights for your surface property: Landowners & Oil & Gas Leases in PA
Have more questions? Feel free to email us.