Data driven discussions about gas extraction and related topics.

Marcellus Shale Production Data – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

By Matt Kelso – CHEC Data Manager

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As of September 7th, 55 of 73 drilling companies that operate in the Marcellus Shale field in Pennsylvania have reported their production data, which has been compiled into a single Excel spreadsheet by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP). Click here to see the list. This dataset is quite raw, and far from complete. Even so, a review of the preliminary data is a worthwhile exercise, as it gives us some insight into the industry that we were unaware of before.

Production Overview

Before getting into the specifics of production, a few overall numbers for the state would be appropriate. Altogether, there were 5,678 rows of data, representing 3,954 distinct wells. Only 3,076 of the rows have production data.

Production refers not only to oil and gas, but to waste products, as well. The spreadsheet tracks production data in the following categories: Basic Sediment, Brine, Condensate, Drill Cuttings, Drilling, Frac Fluid, Gas, and Oil. It is not known whether the final release of the data, which is scheduled for November 2010, will have a greater or fewer number of categories. The data comes unsorted and without explanation, so the units of measure for all categories are not entirely certain at this time.

Basic Sediment

The first category, Basic Sediment, is a solitary occurrence, and the volume of production is listed as 1,179. Whether this reported amount is miscategorized, irrelevant, or just exceedingly rare is not known at this time. The exact nature of what Basic Sediments refers to is not clear at this time, either.

Brine

Eight hundred-one (801) of the reported Marcellus wells produced brine, with volumes ranging from 2 to 24,165. For the moment, there is no choice but to assume that all of this is reported in the same unit, which will be assumed to be gallons. To give an idea of distribution, some arbitrary comparisons have been made here as well: 149 of the 800 wells have brine production of 100 or less, and 12 of them have production of 10,000 or more. The total brine production reported statewide was 1,196,001.19.

Condensate

Condensate is presumed to be waste water from the process of removing gas that comes to the surface embedded in water, which must then be extracted in condensate tanks. Of all of the wells in the state, 124 reported on Condensate, but the vast majority of those came back with a volume of zero. There are eight wells that reported non-zero volumes, and those range from 18.08 to 113,096.34 for a total of 187,855.85 units.

Drill Cuttings

Drill Cuttings is the term used to describe the rocks and sediments that are removed in order to make the original well. There are ten items in this category, which range in value from 250 units to 8,527, for a statewide total of 15,594.07 units. The measure of unit is again unknown.

Drilling

The distinction between Drilling and Drill Cuttings is not clear at this time. Four hundred ninety-seven (497) wells reported production in this category, yielding between 0 and 27,200 units of product for a statewide total of 898117.53. As a point of comparison, 291 of the 497 wells produced 1,000 units or less, while 15 wells produced 10,000 units or more. Uncertainties about the unit of measure that were expressed in the Drill Cuttings section apply here, as well.

Frac Fluid

The following category is Frac Fluid, which should refer to the chemical additives that make up one percent or less of the solution that is injected into the wells to release pockets of gas which are trapped in the shale deposits. According to this data, however, statewide production in this category exceeds the production of Brine, which is the term usually used to describe the salty waste water that comes up from the wells that would include the Frac Fluid as a small component. We must, therefore, question whether there might be some discrepancies in the way in which different companies report their data, or whether the results are due to a simple unit of measure issue. At any rate, there are 383 wells reporting Frac Fluid production statewide for a total of 1,621,721.19 units, with individual values ranging from 0 to 32,778. Of those 383 wells, 157 produced 1,000 units or less, while 54 produced 10,000 units or more, and gallons seems like the most likely unit of measure.

Gas and Oil Production

Production by Reporting Operator

There are 872 wells with production information for gas, of which 240 wells are reporting zero gas production. Of the remaining 632 wells, production values range from 29 to 2,841,152 units for a statewide total of 179,779,048. According to http://geology.com/usgs/marcellus-shale/, production at the wellhead level is commonly recorded in terms of thousands of cubic feet (MCF), which would put the reported production of the Marcellus Shale wells in the state at about 180 billion cubic feet (BCF) for the year. Of the 632 wells with non-zero values, 271 produced 100 million cubic feet (MMCF) or less, while 360 produced more than that amount.

There is also oil production associated with the Marcellus Shale drilling operations, and values in this category have been recorded for 385 wells in the state. Only 155 of these wells have a production value other than zero, however. Values range from 10.76 to 20,741.66 units, which are presumed to be barrels, for a statewide total of 402,253.38 barrels.

In addition to these categories, there are also 2,600 records that are included in the report but don’t have production data for any of the categories. These are distinct from items in the categories listed above with a listed production volume of zero.

A Significant Undertaking and Further Discussion

Credit should be given to the PA DEP for undertaking the project of mandating and publishing production reporting of the Marcellus Shale gas extraction industry in the state. Further credit should be given since this data was provided well ahead of the planned release date of November 1, 2010. And they should be praised for publicly listing companies that were not in compliance with the regulations that demand the production reporting in the first place (click here to see the list of 33 compliant and 40 non-compliant companies).

But when you take the time to look at the data, the thing that stands out more than anything is that it is a disorganized mess. It is clearly incomplete; all forms of production are tossed into the same column, and no units of measure are provided for anything. Compare that with the records kept by Arkansas or Texas.

9/27/10 Updates…

A non-profit stakeholder group called STRONGER, State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations, Inc., recently assessed the quality of the Pennsylvania’s hydraulic fracturing oversight program and presented the results in a report. In this report, STRONGER praised the strength of the PA DEP’s waste identification tracking and reporting process – In other states, production data are being tracked more extensively, but waste data are limited at best. Along those same lines, legislation is being proposed that will require more extensive reporting obligations on the part of well operators.

Potential Shale Gas Extraction Air Pollution Impacts

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How Organic Compounds Contained in the Shale Layer Can Volatilize Into Air, Become Hazardous Air Pollutants and Cause Ozone Formation

By: Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH; Drew Michanowicz, MPH, CPH; Charles Christen, DrPH, MEd; Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH; Kyle Ferrer, MPH – Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC), University of Pittsburgh, GSPH, EOH department

The Center for Healthy Environments and Communities has received numerous requests for information on how Marcellus shale gas extraction operations might contribute to air quality problems throughout the PA-NY-WV region, how air quality problems might develop in other shale plays around the country, and the potential human exposure to specific air contaminants generated in these processes. We are addressing this question in a very thorough academic fashion now by looking at the industrial processes involved from site clearance, to well drilling and hydrofracturing, to gas processing and methane and byproduct transport; we are developing conceptual site models of human exposure to contaminants generated by this very complicated industry with many sub-operations.
A conceptual site model is a written and/or pictorial representation of an environmental system and the biological, physical and chemical processes that determine the transport and fate of contaminants from a source, through environmental media (air, groundwater, surface water, sediment, soils, and food) to environmental receptors (humans, aquatic and terrestrial organisms can all be environmental receptors) and their most likely exposure modes (ASTM, 2008). Again, because there are many sources and types of contaminants to understand and uncover within each gas extraction process, it will take until mid-fall to complete this study. In the meantime, here is basic information on potential air quality impacts from shale gas extraction activities.
Part I of this series explains how organic compounds in the shale layer itself can be mobilized during the hydrofracturing and gas extraction process and volatilized into the air from frac ponds, impoundments, and pits, as well as from condenser tanks, cryo plants and compressor stations – and become Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP’s).

Part II explains how volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), which are HAP’s, form ozone in the lower atmosphere (otherwise known as ground level ozone) and uses maps generated for other regional studies of other precursor contaminants to lay a basis for formation ozone over the Marcellus area.

Part I: How organic compounds in the shale layer enter air and become Hazardous Air Pollutants

Since this article is on potential human exposure to airborne volatile organic compounds from shale gas operations, we will limit the following narrative conceptual model to how organic compounds in the shale gas layer itself can be mobilized by the hydraulic fracturing and above ground operations to become airborne and present an inhalation hazard.

An exhaustive search of the literature was done to obtain peer reviewed articles on Marcellus or other shale play flowback and produced water and concentrations of organic compounds in this water; no scientific articles were found that look specifically at organic compounds when well stimulation technology is used. Additionally, no papers were found that characterize organic compounds in flowback or produced water from Marcellus Shale wells over the region, which may vary significantly; anecdotal information suggests that wet gas containing organic compounds is an important byproduct in SW PA, whereas dry gas is more common in NE PA.

However, we can piece together good evidence that flowback and produced water from shale layers themselves contain organic compounds that could offgas into the environment when brought to the surface. First, gas-productive shale formations occur in Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks in the continental United States and are characterized as fine-grained, clay- and organic carbon–rich rocks that are both gas source and reservoir rock components of the petroleum system (Martini et al., 1998). Gas is of thermogenic or biogenic origin and stored as sorbed hydrocarbons, as free gas in fracture and intergranular porosity, and as gas dissolved in kerogen and bitumen (Schettler and Parmely, 1990; Martini et al., 1998). Kerogen and bitumen are extremely large molecular weight and a diverse group of organic compounds that could also be broken into many smaller organic compounds during the hydrofracturing process given the high pressures used, the temperatures at depth and the chemical additives added to make the water slick. The USGS factsheet 2009–3032 states clearly that hydrofrac water “in close contact with the rock during the course of the stimulation treatment, and when recovered may contain a variety of formation materials, including brines, heavy metals, radionuclides, and organics that can make wastewater treatment difficult and expensive” to dispose of, although no supporting documentation is provided (Soeder and Kappel, 2008).

Certainly gas shales contain numerous organic hydrocarbons; we know, for example, that the Marcellus contains from 3-12% organic carbon (OC), the Barnett: 4.5% OC, and the Fayetteville: 4-9.8% OC (Arthur et al, 2008 ). A whitepaper describing produced water from production of crude oil, natural gas and coal bed methane and prepared by researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory, reports that volatile hydrocarbons occur naturally in produced water and that produced water from gas-condensate-producing platforms contains higher concentrations of organic compounds then from oil-producing platforms (see below a description of organics from oil and gas producing platforms in the Gulf of Mexico) (Veil et al., 2004). Organic components of this produced water consist of C2-C5 carboxylic acids, ketones, alcohols, propionic acid, acetone and methanol. The concentration of these organics in some produced waters can be as high as 5,000 parts per million (ppm). This study further states that

Produced waters from gas production have higher contents of low molecular-weight aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene than those from oil operations; hence they are relatively more toxic than produced waters from oil production. (Veil et al., 2004)

The authors conclude in this section that produced water contains:

… aliphatic and aromatic carboxylic acids, phenols, and aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons. Partially soluble components include medium to higher molecular weight hydrocarbons (C6 to C15). They are soluble in water at low concentrations, but are not as soluble as lower molecular weight hydrocarbons. They are not easily removed from produced water and are generally discharged directly. (Veil et al., 2004)

A dated but very informative paper on the contaminants in produced water in the Gulf of Mexico is “Petroleum drilling and production operations in the Gulf of Mexico” by C.S. Fang (1990). Here, “produced water” is referring to formation water or water condensed from the flowing gas mixture in the production tubing string only since these wells are not stimulated. The paper states that the largest discharge by volume from an offshore platform is from produced water. The organic compounds in the produced water come from three sources:

  1. Organic compounds extracted from the crude oil,
  2. Chemicals added to produced water or put into a producing well – such as corrosion and scale inhibitors, scale solvents, biocides, antifreeze, and oil and grease, and
  3. Impurities in the chemicals used.
Further, some paraffin’s and aromatics have moderate solubility in water; as long as oil-gas and water flow upward together these can become dissolved in water. The longer the transit time (as in deep Marcellus wells) the more hydrocarbon can dissolve into water. This paper reports finding toluene, ethylbenzene, phenol, naphthalene and 2,4-dimethylphenol in produced water and states that bis(2-ethyl-hexyl) phthalate, di-n-butyl phthalate, fluorine and diethyl phthalate have been found in produced water by the EPA. Estimated pollutant concentrations and discharges of organic and non-organic chemicals from produced water are shown in a Table 3 (below) from this paper.

The authors of this paper also found significant organic compounds in ocean floor sediments near oil and gas platforms. This of course has important ramifications for what organics are contained in frac pond sludge from on shore shale gas extraction and hint that this material should be tested using TCLP methods to see if it is hazardous waste. Certainly buried pits containing sludge could continue to offgas organic vapors from this sludge material. The table below extracted from this paper shows the organic contaminants in the ocean floor sediments.

So now that we have established the mobilization of organic chemicals in flowback and produced water, how do they get into the air which we breathe? If you remember back to your chemistry class in high school or college you may remember something known as the Henry’s Law constant. The Henry’s Law constant (H) of an organic compound determines its ability to enter the air. Compounds that have high H’s can enter the air from water easily, whereas compounds with low relative H’s enter the air less well- and they enter the air from the water phase dependant on their concentration in water, their concentration in air and the prevailing temperature and pressure. Again, remember PV=nRT (pressure times volume equals the mole fraction times the gas constant times temperature in degrees Kelvin) Hang in there, I know it is coming back to all of you. They enter the air then when the concentration of the compound in air is lower than that in water, which is generally the situation unless you live on some planet that has toxic organic vapor levels in air or next to a petrochemical plant during some crisis! And they can be envisioned as entering the air by either of two models: 1) the stagnant air-water model or 2) the circulating packet model.Using either model, the flowback or produced water that returns to the surface and goes into a frac pond-pit or impoundment will offgas (become a vapor in air) its organic compounds into the air. This becomes an air pollution problem, and the organic compounds are now termed Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP’s). Additionally, separators, condensers, cryo plants and compressors can leak causing these volatile organic compounds to enter air. Incomplete combustion in flaring also adds VOC’s to air.

Part II: How volatile organic compounds act as precursor chemicals for the formation of ozone when combined with nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide

Exposure to ground level ozone has been linked in many scientific studies to:

  • airway irritation, coughing, and pain when taking a deep breath,
  • wheezing and breathing difficulties during exercise or outdoor activities,
  • inflammation, aggravation of asthma and increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis, and
  • permanent lung damage with repeated high exposures.

Ground level ozone also interferes with the ability of sensitive plants to produce and store food, making them more susceptible to certain diseases, insects, other pollutants, competition and harsh weather. It damages the leaves of trees and other plants, and reduces forest growth and crop yields, potentially impacting species diversity in ecosystems (EPA, 2008).

The best explanation for formation of ozone that I know of is contained in the 2008 EPA Air Quality Criteria for Ozone and Related Photochemical Oxidants (The entire 3 part EPA document is attached after this article). Ozone is a secondary pollutant that is formed in polluted areas by atmospheric reactions involving two main types of precursor pollutants volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Carbon monoxide (CO) from incomplete combustion of fuels is also an important precursor for ozone formation. The formation of ozone and other oxidation products (like peroxyacyl nitrates and hydrogen peroxide), including oxidation products of the precursor chemicals, is a an extremely complex reaction that depends on the intensity and wavelength of sunlight, atmospheric mixing and interactions with cloud and other aerosol particulates, the concentrations of the VOC’s and NOx in the air, and the rates of all the chemical reactions. The EPA figure below shows all the possible reaction pathways and products that might be formed in both the troposphere (the lowest major layer, extending from the earth’s surface to about 8 km above polar regions and about 16 km above tropical regions) and the stratosphere (that is from the top of the troposphere to about 50 km above the earth’s surface). What happens in the lowest sublayer of the troposphere known as the planetary boundary layer (PBL) is most important for formation of ground level ozone and other reactive species that can cause health effects and is most strongly affected by surface conditions.
VOC refers to all carbon-containing gas-phase compounds in the atmosphere, both biogenic and anthropogenic” (biological and manmade) “in origin, excluding CO and CO2. Classes of organic compounds important for the photochemical formation of O3 include alkanes, alkenes, aromatic hydrocarbons, carbonyl compounds (e.g., aldehydes and ketones), alcohols, organic peroxides, and halogenated organic compounds (e.g., alkyl halides) Remember these are given off into air from produced water and flowback water at shale gas sites. This array of compounds encompasses a wide range of chemical properties and lifetimes; isoprene has an atmospheric lifetime of approximately an hour, whereas methane has an atmospheric lifetime of about a decade” (EPA, 2008). So the majority of ground level ozone is formed when ozone precursors NOx, CO, and VOC’s react in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight. We have established that these VOC’s can come from volatilization of organic compounds from frac ponds-condensers and other gas processing equipment and compressor-transmission operation. Motor vehicle exhaust, emissions from coal powered electrical generation stations, industrial emissions and release of chemical solvents all put these precursor ozone producing chemicals into the air.

These precursors chemicals most often originate in urban areas, but winds can carry NOx hundreds of kilometers, causing ozone formation to occur in less populated regions as well. Methane, a VOC whose atmospheric concentration has increased tremendously during the last century, contributes to ozone formation but on a global scale rather than in local or regional photochemical smog episodes. In situations where this exclusion of methane from the VOC group of substances is not obvious, the term Non-Methane VOC (NMVOC) is often used. (EPA, 2008)

Now let’s examine the specific case of ozone and precursor chemicals for ozone as they exist over the Marcellus shale area without the addition of VOC’s from shale gas operations and the addition of diesel exhaust that also accompanies this process (from the thousands of truck trips to deliver water, chemicals, equipment, and sand and remove equipment and contaminated fluids – conservatively 1000 trips per well – thus over a year when 2000 wells are drilled there would be 2,000,000 truck trips). The maps that we are going to show were developed for the Pittsburgh Regional Environmental Threat Analysis (PRETA), in progress now (check back to fractracker.com in mid-September 2010 to visualize data on VOC’s, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates [PM 10 and PM 2,5], carbon monoxide and other air contaminants across the four state region of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia- these data and the maps presented below represent air contaminant means of the second highest 8-hour daily maximum values from 1998 -2008).

Map 1, 8 Hour Ozone Designation Areas shows that ozone levels in a 7 county area of Southwest PA are in ozone non-attainment right now—before the addition of new Marcellus Shale gas extraction sources. This area is one of the epicenters in PA of Marcellus Shale gas extraction.
Map 2, NO2 Levels 1998-2008 over 4 state region shows existing NO2 levels when monitoring station data are averaged and smoothed.

Map 3, NO2 Emissions in Tons for 2002 presents facilities releasing NO2 over the 4 state study area and an estimate of their NO2 emissions per tonnage category. Remember NO2 is a precursor gas for formation of ozone; areas downwind of these sites will thus have increased reactant for the formation of ozone. VOC’s from shale gas extraction activities may react with NO2 from these sources.

References

Core Habitat Biological Diversity Areas Now on FracTracker

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CHEC would like to thank the Western PA Conservancy for allowing their raw GIS data to be published online. The following snapshot was creating by layering two separate datasets:

  1. Core Habitat Biological Diversity Areas
  2. Marcellus Shale Drilling Permits in PA from 2007 to Aug. 2010

A core habitat area is the essential habitat of the species of concern or natural community that can absorb very little activity or disturbance without substantial impact to the natural features. Zoom in on the map below to view these sensitive areas and their proximity drilling permits in closer detail. (Just click on the zoom button in the gray toolbar.)

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Data uploaded by Josh Knauer, CEO of the data tool’s developer, Rhiza Labs.

Permitted Wastewater Facilities and the Monongahela River

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During a recent FracTracker training session, CHEC’s director Dr. Conrad Dan Volz used the following maps created with FracTracker’s DataTool to demonstrate the potential impact that additional oil and gas activities in Pennsylvania could have on the state’s watersheds and waterways. The first map you see below shows all of the facilities in PA that applied for and received approval from the state to accept and treat the liquid waste that results from oil and gas operations.

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Some things of note in the map above:

  1. The number of facilities in the Monongahela drainage, which is a source of drinking water for many people in the Pittsburgh area.
  2. The facilities in the Allegheny River and Susquehanna River drainage.

In the map below, we have zoomed in on the Monongahela River drainage to take a closer look at the 13 permitted facilities that could impact that area.

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The signifiant number of permitted facilities along the Monongahela River got us wondering what the cumulative impact could be on the Monongahela drainage, especially since the TDS (total dissolved solids) level fluctuated above drinking water standards in 2009; below are some approximate calculations on the amount of contaminants that could be discharged into the river from those facilities on any given day.

Major Facilities Accepting Wastewater in the Monongahela Drainage and Volume Permitted

Permitted Site 1000 Gallons/Day
1) McKeesport – Monongahela (POTW) 115
2) Clariton Municipal Authority – Peters Creek (POTW) 60
3) Mon Valley Brine (Monongahela River) 200
4) Authority of Borough of Charleroi – Monongahela (POTW) 30
5) Municipal Authority of Belle Vernon – Monongahela (POTW) (2 permits) 10
6) Municipal Authority of Belle Vernon – Monongahela (POTW) 5
7) Borough of California – Monongahela (POTW) 10
8) Brownsville Municipal Authority – Dunlap Creek (POTW) 9
9) Franklin Township Sewer Authority – South Fork Tenmile Creek (POTW) 50
10) Waynesburg Borough – South Fork Tenmile Creek (POTW) 8
11) Shallenberger-Ronco – Monongahela (NPDES permit effective. As of 10/31/09, WQM permit in progress.) 500
12) Shallenberger-Rankin Run (NPDES permit effective on 11/1/2008.) 125
13) Shallenberger Connellsville – Youghiogheny 1,000
14?) Somerset Regional Water Resources (East Branch Coxes Creek) (RO and Evaporators proposed. NPDES permit granted on 12/17/2009. Amendment to the NPDES permit is pending.) ?
Range of TGD: 612 – 2112

Concentrations of Selected Important Contaminants from Marcellus Shale Flowback Water (FBW)*

Conversions to pounds of contaminant per day into Monongahela drainage

  • 612,000 gallons FBW * 3.79 L/gallon* 161,636 mg/L dissolved solids*2.2*10-6 pounds/mg= 824,825 lbs. of TDS
  • 612,000 gallons FBW * 3.79 L/gallon* 2,950mg/L Barium*2.2*10-6 pounds/mg= 15,053 lbs. of barium
  • 612,000 gallons FBW * 3.79 L/gallon* 3,280mg/L Strontium*2.2*10-6 pounds/mg= 16,737 lbs. of strontium
  • 612,000 gallons FBW * 3.79 L/gallon* 95,400 mg/L chloride*2.2*10-6 pounds/mg= 486,812 lbs. of chloride
We will add more information to this post as we investigate the above amounts of contaminants and how they compare to the volume of fresh water in the river and to other types of discharges that regularly enter the waterway.
Related Information:

Updated Marcellus Shale Wells Drilled Snapshots

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Our GIS Specialist, Drew, has added an updated dataset from the PA DEP onto the data tool showing all of the Marcellus Shale wells that have been drilled in PA since 2007. (We don’t have the records for anything before that – YET – because all of those records are still just on paper.)

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We know that leases are already being sought after and signed within Pittsburgh’s city limits. Tell us what you think about drilling that is occurring near sensitive areas (e.g. on school properties, biologically diverse lands, or in major cities). Do you feel that the regulations and policies currently in place are stringent enough to properly protect public health? To learn more about some of the issues associated with gas extraction activities, be sure to check out the PA Land Trust Association’s incident report.

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:
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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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