Current featured articles for the home page

Drilled Wells by Operator Over Time in PA’s Marcellus

The roster of companies that drill into Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale is a long one:  there are 70 different operators listed on the Marcellus Spud Report at the PADEP website. Here is a list of each operator, complete with annual totals since 2005:


Marcellus Shale wells drilled by operator by year, through May 2, 2012

With the chart below, you can view the same data in a different way:


Percentage of each operator’s drilling activity by year. Please click the above image for a full sized view.

This graph is particularly useful for highlighting new operators, as well as those that are no longer drilling wells. When I show data trends for operators over time, I typically get multiple comments about mergers, acquisitions, and subsidiaries within the industry. Such comments are welcome, and yet any attempt to account for them on my end will almost certainly be incomplete, and therefore potentially misleading. For that reason, I have elected not to aggregate operators in any way, tempting though it may be to combine “Exco Resources PA Inc” and “Exco Resources PA Llc”.

Here are a few more observations about the data:

  • Atlas Resources drilled an industry-high 117 Marcellus Shale wells in 2009. The company is still active, but not on the same scale, drilling just 11 wells last year, and only four wells in the first four months of 2012.
  • The DEP has apparently made some retroactive changes to the operators for wells drilled in previous years. In this violations analysis from November, for example, Dominion Exploration and Production has 17 wells between 2006 and 2011. Now, the only Dominion well is for Dominion Trans Inc. The balance of Dominion wells was likely transferred to either Consol Gas Co or CNX Gas Co Llc, both subsidiaries of Consol Energy, which purchased Dominion’s Marcellus holdings in 2010.
  • Whatever prompted the DEP to reassign Dominion wells to other operators apparently didn’t apply for Shell’s 2010 acquisition of East Resources.  Or at least it didn’t apply for all of East’s wells–in November, East was credited as being the operator for 342 wells, while they currently are on record for 298.  Shell, which does business as SWEPI on this list, had no wells until 2011 on the November list, whereas now, they are listed as the operator for 21 wells that were spudded between 2008 and 2010.
  • With 545 wells drilled through the first 123 days of 2012, the industry is on pace to drill 1,617 Marcellus wells in Pennsylvania this year, down from 1,937 wells last year.

Shale Gas Trends in Ohio: Abandoning Marcellus, Embracing Utica

Ohio is on the western edge of two enormous black shale formations in Appalachian Basin: the 390 million year old Devonian Period Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale, formed from deposits in the Ordovician Period about 460 million years ago.

Image source: Ohio Environmental Protection Agency

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has made it easy to find shale gas data from these two formations.
This is provided that you are only interested in horizontal wells. ODNR sums up their opinion of the importance of horizontal wells thusly:

Effective immediately, the vertical permits (stratigraphic test well permits) have been removed from this listing. In the initial phases of both Marcellus and Utica exploration, they were listed to reflect exploratory activity. They are no longer necessary with the increase of horizontal permitting activity. As always, they are available through the Oil and Gas On-line Well Search (1).

To me, this seems like an arbitrary line in the sand for the ODNR to take, but then again, each state has its own quirks with dissemination of their oil and gas data. In Pennsylvania, for example, there is no way to determine a well’s source formation without a file review, other than whether or not the well is drilled into the Marcellus.  And in New York, the entire debate is couched around the phrase “High Volume Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing”, a specificity unmatched elsewhere in the basin, that includes well stimulations using more than 80,000 gallons of fluid.  In many respects, the ways in which the states release their data are datapoints unto themselves, but then, that is the subject of a different post altogether.

So let’s take a look at the trends in Ohio for the deep shale gas formations:


Ohio shale gas permits, including Marcellus (blue) and Utica (red). Please note that Marcellus wells include horizontal and vertical permits, while Utica includes only permits for horizontal wells. Please click the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus.


Horizontal Marcellus Shale permits issued in Ohio through 4-9-2012

Clearly, there is not nearly as much activity as there is in Pennsylvania or even West Virginia. Altogether, there have been 13 horizontal Marcellus permits issued in the Buckeye State, the most recent of which was nearly ten months ago.  Seven of the permitted locations have been drilled so far.

Here’s the data from the Utica Shale:


Horizontal Utica Shale permits issued in Ohio through 4-9-2012

Altogether, there have been permits issued for 194 horizontal Utica wells, 60 of which have been drilled so far. Moreover, it seems to be in a period of rapid expansion; a distribution is reminiscent of the Marcellus in Pennsylvania in 2006 to 2007 (see link above).

Only nine of the sixty drilled wells were in production in 2011, four of which produced some oil from early completion and flowback phases, but no natural gas as of yet. None of the horizontal Utica wells were in production for the entire year in 2011.

Here are the statewide totals from the horizontal Utica wells:


Statewide production values from horizontal Utica Shale wells in Ohio in 2011

It is worth noting that over 59 percent of the gas production came from one well publicized Harrison County gas well–its 1.5 billion cubic feet of production is reported to be the source of 2 percent of the entire state’s gas production.

While that is an impressive quantity of gas from one well, it might be the oil production that is raising eyebrows in the industry. As this post is being written, oil prices are at $104 per barrel, and natural gas is trading at $1.92 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf). While there really isn’t much data to go on to determine if the results are typical, if there continues to be oil associated with the Utica gas to that extent, we may see more drilling rigs focused on the older formation, and fewer on the Marcellus.

  1. The well database is here. There are some limitations on the utility of this database, however, as users cannot use formation as a search parameter, and searches are limited to 1,000 records. Upon request though, the ODNR did send me a DVD full of data. The information is available, it just takes some fortitude to slog through it.
Trail Logbook Project

Collaborative Trail Logbook – Reporting Gas Industry Impacts on PA Trail Experiences

(Harrisburg) – FracTracker.org and the Keystone Trails Association are proud to launch Trail Logbook: Reporting Gas Industry Impacts on Pennsylvania Trail Experiences – an effort to collect information from hikers and other trail users who have had negative or hazardous encounters while recreating in PA.

“Throughout the Marcellus Shale region, more and more we’re hearing of problems from our constituents,” said Curt Ashenfelter, Executive Director of the Keystone Trails Association (KTA) – a volunteer-directed, public service organization dedicated to providing, preserving, protecting and promoting recreational hiking trails and hiking opportunities in PA. “Pennsylvania hikers are concerned about the effect of drilling and want to play a role in monitoring the impact of this industry on PA’s forests and hiking trails.

With a simple-to-use form – available online and as a mail-in postcard – data on a variety of trail impacts related to shale gas drilling activities will be uploaded to FracTracker.org, a website providing a common portal to share data, photos, maps, and information related to the issues corollary to the shale gas industry. Photos of reported impacts can also be submitted.

“We’re pleased to be a partner in this grassroots endeavor to aggregate what have to date been mostly anecdotal but often alarming reports from our state’s extraordinary network of trails,” said Brook Lenker, Director of FracTracker. “We hope the information gathered helps to clarify the nature of the impacts and leads to sustainable solutions.”

“With over 3,000 miles of hiking trails in Pennsylvania and tourism being the Commonwealth’s 2nd largest industry, it’s critical to expose and address recurring problems caused by gas drilling activities, “ Ashenfelter added. “With a quick feedback loop like FracTracker, we can report problems to the appropriate agencies and gas drilling companies and seek remediation quickly.”

For more information on the Trail Logbook project, contact:

To  see the Trail Logbook submission page or to submit data, visit: https://stg.fractracker.org/logbook. If you would prefer to print out the logbook and mail it in, click here.

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HB 1950 votes and numbers of wells

Covert Affairs in the Commonwealth

trans·par·ent  [trans-pair-uhnt, -par-]

adjective

    1. admitting the passage of light through interstices.
    2. easily seen through, recognized, or detected: transparent excuses.

antonyms:  opaque  |  secretive  |  HB 1950

While House Bill 1950 is not actually listed as an antonym to “transparent” in the dictionary, its passing certainly acted that way. On February 8, 2012, PA’s HB 1950 was quickly bullied through the Senate and House with very little public transparency on what it contained. The lack of transparency during the move to pass the bill is similar to that of a drilled wells map for PA (yes, that’s a corny GIS joke). It now awaits the signature of Gov. Corbett – who has thanked the General Assembly for passing it. While HB 1950 institutes a sort-of impact tax that counties can decide whether or not to implement, the fee is the lowest in the country and is dependent partly on the [low] commercial price of gas. The bill also reduces the ability of local municipalities from individually zoning drilling (including pipelines). Tack onto all of that the fact that the data on these wells is just not up to speed with the pace of drilling. In one of Matt’s recent post about how many permits there are in PA right now, he notes that not even the PA DEP numbers can give you a straight answer. These numerical discrepancies make you wonder how thoroughly any permitting site assessments can be conducted when not all of the well locations can be accounted for. That issue makes the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center’s recent report looking at drilling data even more frightening. Their analysis revealed that the gas drilling industry was responsible for 3,355 Marcellus Violations  between 2008 and 2011, many of which were not simply paperwork violations. At least the money set aside in the proposed state budget for improving emergency response on drills sites will be well worth it.

Ah yes, the proposed state budget… This intriguing reading was introduced by the Governor on the 8th, as well. According to John Quigley there is much to love and even more to hate in the 2012-13 budget proposal. To start off, this version of the budget WOULD NOT reopen the state forests to more leasing, something that many environmental groups were concerned could happen to help alleviate the state’s budget deficit. However, the Keystone Fund monies ($46 million) WOULD be reallocated into the general fund. This would be a major setback to conservation work because normally the money would be granted out to land trusts and conservation groups. That means less conservation work all around – at a time when it’s is needed more than ever.

There is much more to all of these issues, but instead of reinventing the wheel, here is a nice summary about the lack of transparency related to HB 1950. If you are interested in seeing how your representative voted on HB 1950, click on these links: PA House Roll Call Votes | PA Senate Roll Call Votes or check out the map below showing two layers of data on the:

  1. Number of wells per PA Senate district on a light to dark purple spectrum (darker indicates more wells)
  2. Vote on HB 1950, with green hatching indicating “yes” votes and red hatching indicating “no” votes.
To get the most out of this map: zoom in to your area of interest, click on the identify “i” button, and then click on a place on the map that you would like to learn more about.

 

Approaching 10K Unconventional Wells in PA

How Many MS Permits Are There in PA?

People interested in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale data frequently ask me what they think is a relatively straightforward question: how many drilling permits are there for Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania? As it happens, this is actually a somewhat complicated question, as there are numerous paths to finding the answer, all of which will lead to a different result. Consider, for example:

  • If you go to the Well Permit Workload Report for the week ending 1/20/12, the answer is provided for you: 9,883. But…
  • …if you search the Permits Issued Detail Report using the same end date, you will be given the result since the year 2000 as 9,868.
  • The above item is particularly confusing when you realize that it consists of 11,209 rows of data. No problem, you say, I’ll just use my Excel skills to pivot the data by it’s unique API number, and as of today’s data we’re down to a mere 9,880 (plus two items with the wrong numerical formatting altogether).

So which number is right? In my opinion, none of them. If you follow the API link above, you will see that there are serveral components to the API number, which generally is in the format AB-CDE-FGHIJ-KL-MN, where each letter is represented by a digit ranging from 0 to 9. Here’s what they mean:

  • “AB” represents the state code. In Pennsylvania, the code is “37”, but it is not included on the DEP dataset.
  • “CDE” is the county code, which is alphabetical, and starts at 001. So for example, Allegheny County has a code of 003, since it is near the start of the alphabet, while Washington County is 125, which is near the end.
  • “FGHIJ” is the unique well indicator. In theory, this allows for 100,000 wells per county to each have their own number. If you count the distinct combination of county codes and unique well indicators, there were 8,942 well permits as of 1-20.
  • “KL” indicates the directional sidetrack code. This could represent multiple horizontal components of a well, so there is some wiggle room for argument if you want to consider each horizontal segment to be its own well. I argue against it, as the language talks about there being numerous horizontal components to a well, but for the record if you include it, then the number is 9,638.
  • “MN” represents the event sequence code, which includes modifications to existing wells that also require permit actions. The number of distinct Marcellus Shale permits if you were to include the directional sidetrack and event sequence code would be 9,878 as of the 20th of January.

So…which number is right?  My interpretation of what the code means is that to count the number of wells in any given state, you should include all of the three digit county codes and all of the five digit unique well indicators (or “CDE-FGHIJ”, as described above.)  As of January 20th, that number was 8,942 for Marcellus Shale well permits in Pennsylvania, and as of today, that number is 9,005.

Sometime this year, I expect that the number of total Marcellus Shale permits in Pennsylvania to top the 10,000 mark.  But if that claim comes within the next week or two, my opinion is that it isn’t an accurate representation of the data–even if the claim comes from the DEP itself.

The following charts contain data through the end of January 2012.  The first is based on 11,297 permit actions (or records on the permit report), while the second is classified by unique 8 digit well API numbers.

A World Without Research

When times are economically demanding, the first tendency of regulators is to suggest cutting non-essential programs. Unfortunately, many of those ‘non-essentials’ include public services and research, which are pivotal to the progress of our nation. Mostly as a mental exercise, I’d like everyone to ask themselves where we would we be if we did not fund such research:

  • You would not be reading this article on the internet, as it was pioneered by those that developed the Large Hadron Collider.
  • The paths of hurricanes and tornadoes would be terribly difficult to predict.
  • One out of every ~nine babies worldwide would be claimed by smallpox.
  • Medical MRI technology would not exist – pioneered by a chemist and a physicist.

DCNR Changes

DCNR Lands & Active Permits

Located more close to home are Pennsylvania’s recent funding cuts on ecological projects. Those in power have claimed that their regulatory decisions regarding unconventional natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale layer are based on science. However, the funding for the Commonwealth’s Department of Conservation of Natural Resources (DCNR) to provide data on the health of PA’s ecosystem is aggressively being cut by those same individuals. On January 18, 2012, NPR reported that documents obtained by StateImpact Pennsylvania (among others) suggest that the funding for scientific endeavors within DCNR currently focusing on drilling-related issues is actively being slashed by the state. The agency’s wildlife research program has been cut by almost 70%, specifically impacting the projects dealing with understanding the impacts of drilling. The rationale for why some projects were cut and not others has not been provided, nor was the reason for failing to involve the conservation team in such funding decisions. Also recently, the director of DCNR’s citizens advisory committee was fired by the Corbett administration. The committee has oversight of the state’s parks and forests. These significant changes could significantly affect the accountability of Marcellus Shale gas drilling in PA’s forests.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a major budget deficit to deal with, no doubt. However, in the face of financial crises compounded by overlapping priorities on a policy level, it is even more crucial that we use real evidence – science – to create policies and make decisions. How can we do that when we are cutting the very channels that provide us with the data? Without access to reliable data and information about how PA’s ecosystem is dealing with drilling, our policy-makers will find it more difficult to make well-informed decisions. Without programs that provide up-to-date and reliable impact data, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes that lead to today’s legacy pollution sites – for which tax-payers are now encumbered to remediate!

Read more about the DCNR cuts in NPR’s full article.

Cuts as Pace of Drilling Intensifies

Inadequate access to quality data is an issue that is only going to become more concerning as the pace of the shale gas industry intensifies. (There were 785 Marcellus wells drilled in 2009; 1,461 in 2010; and 1,920 in 2011.) Forty percent of PA’s state forests are already leased out for shale gas drilling, and there has also been some discussion about the likelihood of lifting the moratorium (ban) on further drilling. Learn more here.

As another point of reference regarding the scale of shale gas drilling in PA, below is a map of all of the Marcellus Shale wells drilled in the state as of 1-12-12 created with data from the PA DEP using Data.FracTracker.org


Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH is a doctorate student in the Environmental and Occupational Health department of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health and the Communications Specialist for FracTracker.org. She can be reached at: malone@fractracker.org  |  412-648-8641

Ethylene Cracker Would Contribute Jobs, Air Pollution

Last year, Shell Chemicals announced its intentions to build a multi-billion dollar ethylene cracker “in Appalachia”, effectively setting the stage for a bidding war between Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. There have been numerous other plans for such plants in the area, including a recent partnership trying to get Aither Chemicals catalytic cracking process up in running, once again, “in Appalachia.”  The interest in the region is mostly due to the Marcellus and Utica shale gas produced in the region, which contains mostly methane (so-called natural gas used for heating, cooking, etc.), as well as other hydrocarbons that must be removed from the methane before the gas is put into pipelines.  These other hydrocarbons are mostly ethane, propane, and butane, which are converted into ethylene, propylene, and butadiene, respectively, through a process called cracking, and are then used for the creation of plastics, synthetic rubber, and other petrochemicals.

Whichever state lands these massive facilities stands to gain several thousand temporary construction jobs and several hundred permanent positions at the facility.  It seems reasonable to take a look at other similar facilities in the country, not only to get a reasonable idea of the economic contribution, but also to gain insight on the facility’s contribution to air pollution in the region.

I have chosen to look at the cracker in Norco, Loisiana, also run by Shell Chemicals. Norco is the ultimate company town, named for the now defunct New Orleans Refining Company, it contains not only the Shell plant, but also major petrochemical facilities owned by Dow, Hexion, and Valero. There is also a presence by Motiva, but all indications are that this is functionally part of the Shell plant that is simply owned by a different company.


Norco, LA as seen from Google Earth

According to the Shell page linked above, the facility employs 600 full time workers and 160 contractors for an annual payroll of $50 million. It also contributes $22 million in state, local, and property taxes to the community. That’s all very significant, albeit a far cry from the 17,000 jobs, $1 billion in wages, and $169 million in tax revenues that the good people of Ohio are being promised–perhaps those figures are over the estimated life of the facility, who knows? I’m guessing the proposed facility in Appalachia won’t be 22 times larger than the one in Norco, Louisiana though.

In terms of air emissions, it is hard to know what to expect. Emissions may wind up being quite different from Norco’s due to a different chemical composition of the feedstock, for example.  However, to get the conversation started, I have compiled the EPA’s 2008 National Emissions Inventory (NEI) estimated emissions for Norco, as well as a well known polluter that’s already in the area, Clairton Coke Works. I should mention that based on my experience, I don’t have a lot of faith of the validity of NEI data, especially for data in Pennsylvania (see this discussion about Clairton, for example), but it is what’s available.  Also, I need to mention that the data for Shell is aggregated between the Norco East, Norco West, and Motiva facilities, because from looking at the the websites for Shell and Motiva, the whole operation seems to be focused around cracking.  Let’s take a look:


2008 USEPA National Emissions Inventory for the Coke Works in Clairton, PA and the Shell ethylene cracker in Norco, LA

Now before you go to the EPA site to research these 84 pollutants, I didn’t put these up for direct comparison, since the facilities are obviously quite different. The point is that in an area that still largely in nonattainment for fine particulate matter and just recently re-entering attainment for ozone, the prospect of adding another major emitter of particulates and ozone and particulate precursors (as well as a whole host of other junk) isn’t going to help.

Where is public health at the Marcellus table?

Missing from the Table: Role of the Environmental Public Health Community in Governmental Advisory Commissions Related to Marcellus Shale Drilling

Below is the abstract for an article submitted by Goldstein, Kriesky, and Pavliakova to Environmental Health Perspectives, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal about today’s most pressing environmental health issues. Or, download the entire article (PDF).  Note: As of 6-25-12, the EHP link above is not working because their website is down. The link to the full PDF will be provided as soon as possible.

This is Public Health stickerThe Marcellus Shale is a vast natural gas field underlying parts of Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland. Rapid development of this field has been enabled by advances in hydrofracking techniques that include injection of chemical and physical agents deep underground. Response to public concern about potential adverse environmental and health impacts has led to the formation of state and national advisory committees.

We review the extent to which advisory committees formed in 2011 by the US Department of Energy and the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania contain individuals with expertise pertinent to human environmental public health. We also analyze the extent to which human health issues are of concern to the public by reviewing the presentations to the public meeting of the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board Natural Gas Subcommittee.

At a public hearing held by the President’s Natural Gas Subcommittee 62.7% of those not in favor of drilling mentioned health issues. Although public health is specified to be a concern in the executive orders forming these three advisory committees, we could identify no individuals with health expertise among the 52 members of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission; the Maryland Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission; or the Secretary of Energy’s Natural Gas Subcommittee.

Despite recognition of the environmental public health concerns related to drilling in the Marcellus Shale, neither state nor national advisory committees selected to respond to these concerns contained recognizable environmental public health expertise.

Read more»


Full Citation: Goldstein BD, Kriesky J, Pavliakova B. 2012. Missing from the Table: Role of the Environmental Public Health Community in Governmental Advisory Commissions Related to Marcellus Shale Drilling. Environ Health Perspect :-. http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1104594.  Received: 07 October 2011; Accepted: 10 January 2012; Online: 10 January 2012

Community Foundation for the Alleghenies Announces Director for its New FracTracker Fund

Community Foundation for the Alleghenies logo

The Community Foundation for the Alleghenies has named a former state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources official to manage its newest fund, FracTracker.org, effective this week.

Brook Lenker, who served as manager of education and outreach in the department for nearly eight years, will manage FracTracker.org staffing and operations; expand the website capabilities; coordinate and develop content; publicize and expand use of the website by journalists and other users; broaden community and academic outreach; and undertake additional strategic initiatives.

“We are pleased to be able to engage a talented and committed environmental leader such as Brook and to work with donors such as The Heinz Endowments, whose generosity can be put to use through important community tools like the FracTracker.org Fund,” Angie Berzonski, program & communications officer for the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, said in making the announcement today (Friday, December 9, 2011).

“FracTracker is an invaluable resource to all who care about our future and the complex challenges associated with the shale gas industry,” said Lenker. “I’m honored to lead it and hope to expand its utilization, grow its capabilities, and build powerful partnerships that enhance its effectiveness.”

In his previous work, Lenker had extensive experience collaborating with groups as diverse as conservationists, businesses and hunting-fishing interests. “It was my responsibility to help lead a program to engage all Pennsylvanians in better environmental stewardship practices,” he said, “and I look at my work with the diverse stakeholders connected to FracTracker in the same way.”

The FracTracker website is hosted by the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds. The web portal is a combination data and blog tool that allows users to interact with, upload, analyze and visualize data that have been located geographically in relation to gas extraction activities in the Marcellus Shale region and oil and gas extraction nationally. The portal is also a hypothesis generating tool for academics; a storytelling device for journalists; and a resource for industry and government agencies. The hub serves as a center of data aggregation so that impact can be viewed and understood at scale and, through analysis and exposure, informs all levels of society and social discourse.

“We are looking forward to Brook’s leadership in the future development and use of FracTracker.org.,” said Caren Glotfelty, director of  The Heinz Endowments’  Environment Program, which has provided nearly $1.5 million for the project since it began two years ago. “The website has become an important, independent, fact-based source of information on the effects of Marcellus Shale natural gas production, and we expect it will become even more useful under Brook’s management.”

Additional support for various aspects of the FracTracker project comes from the Philadelphia-based William Penn Foundation, which has awarded a $300,000 grant.

The Community Foundation for the Alleghenies is a nonprofit public foundation. Through the charitable giving of its donors, it builds professionally managed assets to support the communities it serves. Grants typically are advised by donors or are entrusted to the Foundation to use its community knowledge and engagement to place their giving toward greatest needs, emerging issues or to best leverage additional support. The Foundation is overseen by an active volunteer board and committees. The Foundation is also among those community foundations achieving compliance with national standards as established by the Council on Foundations.

For information about grantmaking or to inquire how to establish your own charitable fund at the Foundation, please contact the Foundation at 814-536-7741 or visit its website, www.cfalleghenies.org.

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Samantha Malone and Matthew Kelso welcome Brook Lenker into the FracTracker.org team. They are excited about the experience and passion he brings to the table and look forward to working with him in making FracTracker.org a key player into the shale gas world.

Summary: GSPH Shale Gas Conference 2011

2nd Annual Health Effects of Shale Gas Extraction Conference
Hosted by: University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health
November 18, 2011 – Pittsburgh, PA

Presentation Summaries (in presentation order below) | Conference Website | Presentation Videos | Photos (coming soon)

Bernard D. Goldstein, MD 
Emeritus Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health department

“Public Health, Sustainability and the Marcellus Shale”

Goldstein works in the areas of sustainability and Marcellus shale issues, where he sees much overlap. However, in his sustainability work he sees hope for the future – and in his Marcellus shale work he worries that we have not learned from our past.

There is confusion around Marcellus Shale gas extraction. Most of this confusion centers around two keys issues: what do people mean when they say ‘fracking’, and how old is this technology. Fracking can be narrowly defined as just the fracturing of shale with highly pressurized fluid, or meant more widely as the entire process from pad creation to the production of natural gas. The technology used to extract gas from the Marcellus shale is a new twist on an old technology. This lack of definition and clear communication leads to mistrust.

When communities and individuals who are against Marcellus shale drilling are asked about the source(s) of their concern, health is high on their list. However, health professionals are rarely on local, state, or national advisory committees on the subject. Public health professionals must be at the table when talking about Marcellus shale issues.

According to Goldstein, there are three certainties in moving forward with the Marcellus Shale: surprises, disease clusters, and less pollution over time. A prospective study now would be preferable to a retrospective study after the disease clusters appear. Therefore, resources must be spent now on gathering data and conducting research to develop evidence-based recommendations.

Sustainability has much in common with the public health goal of prevention. Therefore, we must look to lessons in sustainability when thinking about and solving Marcellus shale problems.

Robert Jackson, PhD 
Nicholas Professor of Global Change, Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment

“Shale Gas, the Environment, and Human Health”

Jackson’s presentation focused on the need for cooperation and interaction of state regulatory agencies with university researchers and also his own research on groundwater analyses and contamination. He began with a background of the pros and cons of the issue, asking, “Why might we want natural gas to power the world?” There are many incentives, especially when considering legacy pollution caused by the coal industry with mountain top mining and acid mine drainage.

Jackson explained that the geology and density of people in Pennsylvania and Texas are different from Wyoming’s tight sand shales, and in PA the drilling setback limit is 250 feet. The density of wells within PA also differs among areas. Whereas the legacy of conventional gas wells is mostly located in western PA, the majority of Marcellus Shale gas wells are located in Northeast PA, so this is where his researched has been conducted.

He posed the research question, “If you are near a natural gas well is your water quality different?” To try to answer the question he used three methods: stray gas forensics (methane, ethane, and propane), isotopic composition, and tracking the fate of hydraulic fracturing fluid. He began by establishing geochemical and isotopic tools for tracing gases and fluids from produced water. His team took samples and conducted field readings but most analytical work was done in the lab. The team analyzed well water samples for isotopes of Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Boron, Strontium, as well as analyses of other elements and radionuclides. Isotopic ratios can to be used as fingerprints, since they are different depending on the geological source of the sample, i.e. surface water or from deep underground.

Their findings indicated no evidence of hydraulic fracturing fluids or produced water in wells, but did suggest a relationship between distance to a wellhead and concentration of methane, ethane, and propane in homeowners’ drinking water. The gas was identified as thermogenically created, with a different isotopic signature than most “surface methanes.”  Jackson also noted that most homeowners do not typically have problems.  “What is the cause of this difference?” The issue is something that can be addressed first by fixing the most likely mechanism for the leaks – poorly constructed wells.

Jackson then went on to discuss some of the new regulatory changes to well construction and cementing in PA. There is not a consensus on the possibility of an intermediary fracture that connects with a fissure that leads to the surface and groundwater, and most agree this pathway is less likely than issues with well construction. Faulty casing and cementing is the likely to be the most common source of groundwater contamination.

Jackson discussed the state of future unconventional drilling in his home state of North Carolina, if NC legalizes horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. His recommendations for NC included to collect generous pre-drilling data, have aggressive zone and setbacks to protect property, to plan for water disposal, to require full disclosure of chemicals, have fees to cover monitoring, and provide landowners with better information as there are not any oil and gas lawyers in NC.

Other work that Jackson and researchers at Duke are pursuing includes using isotopic ratios to investigate sources of methane seeps. The surface seeps do not appear to look like Marcellus Shale deep methane. Using a mobile air monitor, methane leaks and losses from pipelines have also been mapped with colleagues at Boston University by driving the monitor around city blocks. In Boston there were hundreds of leaks identified that need to be fixed. Air quality is also being researched as methane extraction leads to the release of precursors of ozone.

Jackson finished his presentation with recommendations. There are certain data needs that should be filled, including: identifying mechanism for migration (such as well casing failures), making more data publically available, gas isotope data, chemical and isotopic profiles with depth, data disclosure (including “frac” fluid constituents). Health studies still need to be conducted, including the following studies: chronic, low-level exposure to methane have not to his knowledge been completed; air quality effects, including VOC’s; longitudinal health studies; and green-house gas accounting. There also needs to be better collaboration among industry, universities, and regulators.

Allen Robinson, PhD
Professor, Carnegie Mellon University, Engineering and Public Policy and Mechanical Engineering, Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies

“Regional air pollution emissions from the development and production of Marcellus Shale”

There is a lot of attention on water quality impacts from Marcellus, and rightly so, however, we also need to consider the impacts on air quality from the natural gas boom especially when considering our already pollutant saturated region. There are certainly end-use benefits to natural gas usage over coal and other fuel sources, and these benefits must be considered into the prudence of energy production types. There are many sources of emissions throughout the complete cycle of unconventional gas drilling to production and those sources are distributed all over Pennsylvania. Impacts can be localized to nearby communities, but also air pollution can travel and mix with other sources across larger spatial scales. “The emissions are all interconnected in a way, whether its distance or a functional connection such as a pipeline, regardless there are good reasons for emissions to be aggregated,” says Robinson. The emissions are also distributed across a very large area, so we also need to consider the contribution to other areas such as Philadelphia, New York, etc. The pollutants of concern with oil and gas development are:

    • Criteria Pollutants
      • Ozone
      • PM2.5
    • Hazardous Air Pollutants/ Air Toxics
      • Diesel particulate matter
      • Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes
      • Formaldehyde, acrolein
    • Climate Change
      • Methane
      • Black Carbon

Unconventional gas drilling has occurred in other areas of the US, and significant research has occurred in the last 10 years on the impacts in these areas. NOx and VOC emissions in the Barnett Shale region in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are a large source of pollution once the sources are aggregated. The combined emissions of NOx and VOCs for the aggregate emissions in the areas of shale development are comparable to the mobile emissions from cars and trucks in the metro area of Dallas-Fort Worth (Armendariz, 2009). The synergy between meteorology (weather) and emissions plays a major role in ozone concentrations in general. This synergy was apparent in the Jonah-Pinedale Anticline in Wyoming where for the first time, ozone levels in the winter were above the health-based NAAQS, putting this area in non-attainment for 8-hour ozone concentrations (Pinto, 2009). Some of the rural areas around some of these operations are experiencing elevated levels of benzene for example. These levels are not incredibly high, but in some of these areas it is 4-5 times higher than it should be. Living in Grand Junction, CO is therefore somewhat comparable to living next to Neville Island.

To estimate the relative contribution of emissions from natural gas operations in Pennsylvania, emissions inventories for all the sources, their activities and respective emissions factors must be calculated, estimated, and averaged. Once these estimations are verified, computer model simulations can predict the relative contribution or perturbations of pollutants concentrations in the air to their respective sources. The majority of the emissions of NOx are related to drilling activities as calculated in 2009, but emissions in 2020 is predicted to be caused more by production activities such as compressor stations. The regional median NOx emissions increase was estimated to be about 5% attributable to Marcellus Shale drilling operations in 2009. In 2020, the median increase is predicted to be around 17.5% current NOx emissions. In developing a state implementation plan (SIP), these contributing sources must certainly be taken into account.

Adam Law, MD
Owner, IthacaMed; Clinical Assistant Professor, Weill Cornell Medical College; Founding board member, Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy

“Endocrine and Metabolic Disruption”

As a clinical endocrinologist, Law treats many chronic diseases of the endocrine system. The endocrine system consists of the pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands as well as the ovaries and testes. Law is concerned with Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC) in the environment which can interfere with the body’s natural estrogen, androgen, and thyroid hormone production and functionality.

Law is concerned that some gas companies are less than forthright with revealing all chemicals in their proprietary fracking fluid. This limits the ability of scientists to determine effects of these chemicals in our environment. There are three chemicals in hydrofracking fluid that are known EDCs: cadmium, arsenic, and thiourea. Cadmium causes prostate cancer in rats; arsenic interacts with seven hormone receptors and has been linked to Type II diabetes; and thiourea reduces production of the thyroid hormone, as well as causing adverse pregnancy outcomes.

EDCs are also of great concern because of their non-linear dose-response curves and their ability to bioaccumulate in fat deposits. A non-linear dose-response curve means that a small dose of these chemicals has unusually large effects on the body. Accumulation in fat deposits leads to these chemicals being released again into the body when fat is used for energy – namely during pregnancy, breast feeding, and during illnesses. Additionally, there likely are unknown synergistic effects of many of these chemicals acting together.

In light of this information, Law would like to see industry disclose all of the chemicals in their fracking fluid. This would allow scientists to further study, identify, and restrict the EDCs being released into our environment.

Charles Werntz, DO, MPH
Associate Professor, Clinical Emphasis, West Virginia University, School of Medicine, Community Medicine & the Institute of Occupational & Environmental Health department

“Worker Health Concerns in Marcellus Shale Work”

In his presentation, Werntz from the Institute for Occupational and Environmental Health (IOEH) at the University of West Virginia considered the health impacts of a group that is significantly affected by the Marcellus Shale but not often discussed: the people who work on the well sites themselves. Werntz’ occupational health data comes from people who have come into the IOEH seeking medical attention from a variety of afflictions, from events occurring throughout the entire life cycle of the well from the development of the well pad through post production activities.

Common health issues include injuries from slips and falls, traumatic accidents related to heavy equipment and ATV usage, and skin and respiratory ailments due to chemical exposures. Werntz indicates that there has been some progress in this last category, as the industry has trended away from hand mixing of hazardous chemicals for the hydraulic fracturing process of well stimulation. According to Werntz, it was common for workers to mix these chemicals by hand, protected only with surgical style latex gloves, whereas now such tasks are completed in enclosed mechanical mixers. The IOEH hasn’t had a hand mixing injury in two years, he said, reflected improved practices in the field.

Werntz also asserted that in an environment such as an active drilling site, the nature of injuries cannot always be predicted. To exemplify this point, he discussed the so-called sparkly cloud incident, in which three of six workers on site were hospitalized after being exposed to a cloud that is thought to have occurred from an exploding lithium battery. Two years after the incident, two of the three hospitalized workers still cannot work on drill sites without triggering chemical asthma.

Many steps can be taken to improve the health and safety of workers on the job site. And while not all chemical exposure injuries can be prevented, Werntz indicates that treatments can be dramatically improved by fully disclosing the chemicals used for each hydraulic fracturing action, so that physicians do not have to sift through the potential reactions of hundreds of different chemicals on the approved list of hydraulic fracturing chemicals.

William Burket, CFPS
Regulatory Affairs Manager, EOG Resources, Inc.

“Industry Safety Initiatives and Community Emergency Preparedness”

Burket outlined multiple elements of the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s Industry Safety Initiative in his remarks. Burket prefaced this discussion with a quick summary of the regulations already in place at the upstream (well development), midstream (gas production), and downstream (delivery to homes and businesses for use) phases of natural gas production. He then explained that the Marcellus Shale Coalition is an organization with includes 260 companies, about 40 of which are producers, and the rest of which are contractors which provide services to producers.

The Coalition participates as a state chapter of the national STEPS (Service, Transmission, Exploration, Production, Safety Network). Its members are asked to adopt best management practices that have been developed in the industry. Burket provided illustrations of these best practices, which typically exceed regulatory requirements, in each area of activity. For example, transportation regulations specify speed limits, hours during which headlight use is required, and requirements for logging hours worked for long-distance drivers. The STEPS best practice standard calls for lower speed limits in inclement weather, use of headlights whenever in transit, and logging requirements for local and well as long-distance drivers.

Burket explained that the industry is seeking “green chemistry” to use in the drilling mud and hydro-stimulation processes. He also noted that while flaring will continue to be used in emergency situations, the industry is working toward the development of “green completions.” Finally, Burket summarized the efforts the Coalition has made in the area of emergency preparedness. In the last 3 years, in collaboration with the State Fire Academy and State Fire Chief, the Coalition has helped to facilitate the training of 2200 county-based emergency responders from 42 counties and has worked on other community preparedness measures.

Simona Perry, PhD 
Research Scientist, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

” ‘It’s like we’re losing our love’: Documenting and Evaluating Social Change in Bradford County, PA during the Marcellus Shale Gas Boom (2009-2011)”

Perry presented on the ongoing ethnographic research she began in July 2009 in Bradford County, PA. Perry seeks to explore the relationship that the marginalized residents of Bradford County have with the Susquehanna River and surrounding area. The timing of her study is propitious in that it began at roughly the same time as the Marcellus Shale gas drilling boom. Over the last 2 years, the county has been virtually “occupied” by the natural gas industry, changing both the landscape and the lives of those interviewed one-on-one and in focus groups conducted by Perry.

Bradford County is a rural community. It has a history of land-based and extractive industries (agriculture, lumber, and mining), racial homogeneity, and a population whose families had lived in the community for generations (with declining population in recent decades). Their ties to the land and the value they placed on clean air and water, fertile soil, and a rural way of life were well-established prior to the arrival of the gas drilling activities in 2009. Initially residents believed that local government would be able to regulate the increase in traffic and out-of-town workers, and light and noise pollution resulting from around-the-clock drilling, and that the industry would improve the local economy. Residents even saw it as their patriotic duty to welcome the industry which promised to make the country energy independent.

Within the next year, their experiences with traffic, destruction of roads, noise, toxic chemical releases in water and air, and destruction of the landscape created such stress among residents that Perry characterizes their impact as similar to the trauma suffered by domestic abuse on the individual level, and collectively like the trauma observed in communities experiencing significant natural disasters. She has observed that the cycle of abuse observed in intimate relations – tension building, leading to an incident, followed by reconciliation, the a calm period followed again by tension building – is evident in the community at large in her field notes over the last 2 years. Perry concludes that the residents who have chosen or have no choice but to remain in the community need the assistance of mental health and environmental professionals who can help them protect their rights and prepare them for future impacts.

Kathy Brasier, PhD
Associate Professor of Rural Sociology, Pennsylvania State University, Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology department

“Community Impacts of Natural Gas Development in the Marcellus Shale: A Research Summary”

Over the last 2 years, Brasier has worked with a team of researchers in her institution to study community impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling using mixed qualitative and quantitative methods. She has a particular interest in community risk perception and trust in social institutions. Brasier’s research team is seeking to conduct longitudinal research in communities across Pennsylvania starting with “pre- or early state-Marcellus Shale boom period” forward. The team is using the “boom town” literature developed in the 1970s and 80s in the western US, although it recognizes that its applicability to the East may be limited.

Using case studies conducted in 6 counties and a geographically broader household survey, the research explores the social disruption caused by stress on infrastructure and social relations in areas of Marcellus Shale activity. Results from both types of investigation indicate that the deterioration of roads, increased traffic, housing shortages and concern about the future environmental and community impacts are greatest community concerns. Changes in the population – more and different kinds of people with a different connection to place – are both changing relationships in the community and increasing stress on local human service systems.

The economic impacts are viewed as favorable insofar as the drilling boom has brought jobs and income to previously depressed communities. The opportunities for young people to remain in their home communities upon completing their education are improving. Yet there is also evidence that the gas industry’s higher wages have bid skilled workers away from existing employers creating shortages in some places. Additionally, it is not clear whether existing struggling industries, such as dairy farming, will survive. While some farmers use income acquired from leasing mineral rights to revive their farms, others use it to get out the business and/or community completely. The future of tourism is likewise uncertain, depending upon the impact of drilling on the quality of the environment.

The survey data collected thus far indicates that respondents’ assessments of the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling depend on location. Considerations of access to a metro area, the history of extractive industries, whether the community is a hub for company headquarters or drilling activity all influence perceptions. Overall, about twice as many people have a positive attitude toward the industry compared to a negative assessment (45% vs. 21%). But Brasier notes that this leaves one-third of the sample undecided about their perception, and that responses to this question differ regionally as well. The research will continue to explore whether the industry, regulators, and other institutional players are viewed as competent to manage risks and predictable in how they do so. These factors contribute to institutional trust which is critical to the future of the industry.

Tom Biksey, MPH
Director Risk Assessment, EHS Support, Inc.; Doctorate Candidate, University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health department

“A Risk Assessment of Fracing Fluid Flowback Water from an Operation in an Asian Pacific Setting”

Biksey presented a risk assessment model of exposure pathways from a Marcellus Shale well pad. He began the presentation with an explanation of the Risk Assessment paradigm and the importance of risk assessment for regulatory processes. The model was based on the conservative assumption that a drill rig can be placed next to a residence. It was also assumed that the residence had potable groundwater source, as well as a surface water, or stream, adjacent to the site, to include pathways including surface water contamination. Multiple scenarios were tested. They included dermal contact by a trespasser exposed to the surface water, workers repairing lines, and the impact on livestock and native fauna, such as cattle drinking from the surface water source. Two phases of exposure were modeled. First, a mass balance was calculated for the hydraulic fracturing chemicals returning to the surface as flowback . At that point the water quality monitoring program was not yet established for sampling sources of the water. Material safety data sheets (MSDS) and other specifications of chemical risks were used to derive a cumulative risk., Next, modeling was designed to track the fate and transport of the chemicals in the flowback to determine where they go and at what concentration.

Three scenarios with different flowback fluids of differing contaminant concentrations were included in the model. One exemplified flowback fluid prior to any type of treatment, the second a blended mixture of wastewater streams, and the third flowback water after reverse osmosis. Biksey presented a diagram of the model to show exposure source locations. The five modeled receptors included a trespasser, worker, livestock, wildlife (medium sized such as a deer), wildlife (small mammal), each with their own exposure time frame and dermal contact (exposure route).

There is a necessity for transparency of these evaluations due to the many variables. The EPA has an approved worksheet for presentation of the data. All the data for a receptor goes into an intake equation all info in gives you dose and what type of exposure. An unknown variable was the amount of mass that would be recovered/returned from the well, so both 20% and 80% return were included. Inputs included an empirical list of detected chemicals of particular concern (COPCs) including constituents from the formation materials. The only poly-aromatic hydrocarbon was naphthalene. For certain COPC’s, oral RfD’s for the Toxicity Assessment had to be derived.

For the risk characterization, a cumulative carcinogenic risk was evaluated. A risk of less than 1×10-6 was considered acceptable. A risk of less than 1×10-4 requires a best practice control measure for reduction, and a risk of greater than 1×10-4 is unacceptable. The maximum carcinogenic risk determined from the model with maximum exposure was 3.7×10-5 from surface water. This theoretical showed a limited risk for maximum exposures at the well-site but there is room for improvement with the model.

Myron Arnowitt, MPH
PA State Director, Clean Water Action

“Review of the Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission board report”

Arnowitt is the Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action. His presentation took a look at the efforts of the Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission board report and discussed the reason for its formation. The 16-member commission was set up by numerous nonprofit organizations, and is co-chaired by two former state representatives, Dan Surra (D-Clearfield and Elk Counties) and Carole Rubley (R-Chester and Mongomery Counties).

The Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission was set up to provide an independent perspective and provide an opportunity for the public to participate in the review process, features that were notably lacking from the process for Governor Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. To this end, the commission conducted 5 public hearings, attracting over 400 participants from 48 counties in Pennsylvania, according to Mr. Arnowitt.

Largely based on this public participation, the Commission have put forth a number of recommendations on their report, including air quality issues, the handling of public lands, ground and surface water contamination, economic issues and health issues. Arnowitt says that much of the report can be summarized by the phrase “slow it down”. This applies both to the expedited permitting process as well as the frenetic pace of the industry in general.

Summary Writers

  • Kyle Ferrar, MPH
  • Matt Kelso, BA
  • Jill Kriesky, PhD
  • Lynne Marshall, MS
  • Drew Michanowicz, MPH, CPH