Gas related news items and information about the gas industry and related topics

Is there a Link between Earthquakes and Shale Gas Drilling?


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – Communications Specialist, CHEC, GSPH; DrPH Student, GSPH

While we don’t typically post about earthquakes on FracTracker’s blog, as public health professionals, we should be prepared for such incidents. Apparently, various towns have reported unusual seismic activity near shale gas drilling operations. For example, Residents in Guy, Arkansas are experiencing “swarms” of earthquakes – sometimes at rates of three to four a minute. While this isn’t the first time in history that the town, which sits in the middle of a tectonic plate in the Fayetteville Shale, has had an earthquake, residents cite the natural gas industry as the cause. (The deputy director of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission sees circumstantial evidence related to the deep well injection that is occurring there, as well.) The true trigger of these minor earthquakes is the focus of researchers from the University of Memphis and the Arkansas Geological Survey.

A quick Internet search shows that similar speculations about the link between the natural gas industry and earthquakes have been voiced in West Virginia, Texas, and several other states experiencing an influx of deep well injection (a liquid waste disposal system). Is there really a connection between the two? Do the geologic formations that make shale gas drilling possible have higher rates of earthquakes naturally? (Probably not in PA based on the hazard map produced by the USGS.)

The map below from the DataTool shows all of the shale gas plays in the continental U.S. By clicking on the “i” in the gray toolbar and then on a pink region, you can inspect each play. Just click “view” when the pop-up box appears to learn more.
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Presently, we do not have drilling data from the Fayetteville Shale on FracTracker. If any person / organization has already obtained this information and would like to share it, we invite you to upload it onto FracTracker’s DataTool (Registration is required on our site, but at least it is free.)

Here is a quick list of articles from Google Scholar about induced seismicity if you’re interested, and a really interesting documentary website about people who live and work in shale gas plays across the U.S.

Science Advisory Board Members Announced for the EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Study


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Reposted Email Update from the U.S. EPA

On September 10, 2010, the Science Advisory Board (SAB) Staff Office posted a List of eighty-five Nominated Candidates for a Panel under the auspices of the SAB that will provide independent expert advice on EPA’s draft Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan to investigate the potential public health and environmental protection research issues that may be associated with hydraulic fracturing. Download the List of Candidates (PDF).

(Some of the people that we know who are serving on that committee include Michel Boufadel (Temple), Dave Dzombak (CMU), Tony Ingraffea (Cornell), Sandra Steingraber, John Stolz (Duquesne), Jeanne VanBriesen (CMU), and Radisav Vidic (Pitt).)

While public comments on the initial list is closed, the SAB Staff Office is seeking public comment on an additional list of candidates to be considered for this SAB Panel. The additional list of candidates is located here.  Comments should be submitted to the attention of Mr. Edward Hanlon,Designated Federal Officer, no later than November 22, 2010. E-mailing comments ( is the preferred mode of receipt.

Click here for more information on the EPA hydraulic fracturing study. To report non-emergency suspicious activity related to oil and gas activity, please call the EPA Eyes on Drilling toll-free tipline at1-877-919-4EPA or send email to

Is a Severance Tax in the Future for Pennsylvania?

By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – Communications Specialist and DrPH student, Center for Healthy Environments & Communities (CHEC), University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health


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

Last week the PA House of Representatives voted in support of a severance tax of 39 cents for every thousand cubic feet of natural gas extracted. This proposed bill now awaits its fate in the Senate. Governor Edward Rendell recently sent a letter to Senate leaders urging them to move forward on the bill.

“A week ago the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to impose a severance tax on natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. Since that time, in spite of the expressed commitment made by the you in the fiscal code, your comments, and those made by your staff, do not offer a shred of evidence that you have any intention of living up to this commitment you made to put the severance tax to a vote in the Senate before you adjourn the session.” Read more.

Industry representatives have stated that the proposed tax is too high and would hinder the extraction process in the Commonwealth. Supporters of this tax, however, feel it is necessary to counter the costs to local infrastructure and protect the environment and public health.

Methane and Other Types of Pipelines Being Proposed as a Result of Shale Gas Expansions

Environmental and Environmental Health Considerations and Sources of Data on Pipeline Incidents

By Conrad (Dan) Volz, DrPH, MPH


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

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Two recent articles highlight this activity. The first, published by Greater Binghamton NY, describes a pipeline that would run through Forest Lake, Susquehanna County, PA and Great Bend PA into Broome County, NY connecting to the Millennium Pipeline in Windsor, NY. The proposed pipeline would require construction of three compressor stations in Windsor NY (see the article’s correction). The second story published in the Wayne Independent announces that Penn State Cooperative Extension will host a workshop titled “Understanding Natural Gas Pipelines and Rights of Way” in Honesdale, PA on Wednesday, September 8 at the Wayne County Park Street Complex. This meeting will start at 6:30 pm and will include representatives from the Cooperative Extension, Tennessee Gas Pipeline, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Wayne Conservation District and the law firm of Tressler-Saunders LLC, Scranton. Topics of discussion of this meeting will be the Tennessee Gas Pipeline looping project, federal pipeline regulations and understanding right of way agreements.As the shale gas industry continues to develop and expand, and in some areas to expand to produce byproduct gases and organic compounds, pipelines are needed to connect these new producing areas with major supply lines. Byproduct gases and other useful organic chemicals will also need to be more efficiently transported to petrochemical facilities, and/or new petrochemical facilities will need to be built. This also means that new compressor plants will need to be established.

Installing pipeline – Photo from

Methane gas pipelines and pipelines carrying other organic gases and vapors, their site requirements, and proximity to population centers have important public health implications for both occupational and environmental health and community and behavioral health and have been the subject of public health research in the past (Binder S, 1989). Also, gas pipelines can have significant impacts on forests, fragmentation of habitat and endangered and threatened species and severe ramifications for wildlife systems in the event of catastrophic releases (Dey PK, 2002). Pipeline explosions and fires and acute inhalation of gases, which can have immediately dangerous to life and health consequences, occur at varying frequencies throughout the United States and in fact around the world. A branch of public health termed “emergency preparedness” is dedicated to the prevention of accidental or intentional incidents resulting in infrastructure failures and includes nuclear power plants, water treatment systems as well as oil and gas pipelines. More info: see Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Preparedness for All Hazards and the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Public Health Preparedness (UPCPHP) that trains public health professionals, including professionals in related organizations, to respond to public health threats and emergencies. This project is funded through the Center for Public Health Practice by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cooperative agreement number U90/CCU324238-05.

In the United States the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), acting through the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), administers a regulatory program to assure the safe transportation of natural gas, petroleum, and other hazardous materials by pipeline. OPS develops regulations and other approaches to risk management to assure safety in design, construction, testing, operation, maintenance, and emergency response of pipeline facilities. PHMSA is committed to a data-driven approach to developing and refining pipeline safety programs.

On PHMSA’s stakeholder communication website, there are extensive pipeline incident and mileage reports. These reports present information and trend analyses for pipeline incidents over the past 20 years. Categories of important data and reports are grouped by:

In the last category of all reported incidents, the reports provided are generated from numerous data sources maintained by PHMSA and span decades of collection, evolving methods of oversight and multiple reporting formats. To generate these reports, PHMSA has standardized the data over various file formats, normalized incident costs over time to a common basis year- 2009 dollars, and standardized incident cause categories – all with the goal of producing a coherent and meaningful picture of National and State-specific trends in pipeline incidents. If you prefer to produce your own analysis, the raw data used in these reports are available to the public.

On this site PHMSA offers access to significant incident data. This is a treasure trove of important data that are all available to the public. In addition to 2010 data to present, there are data on flagged and significant incidents from 2006 to 2/17/2010. Below is the gateway to each year’s incident reports:

These files are a flagged version of all operator reported incident files that can be accessed from the PHMSA FOIA On-Line Library (a Freedom of Information Act library). The above flagged version of files differs from the FOIA on line library in they have been flagged to indicate incident significance, flagged to indicate fire-first Gas Distribution incidents, and include indexed costs in addition to raw (nominal) costs.

The 2010-present PHMSA flagged dataset reports 38 total incidents across the country. Thirty Three (33) or about 87% of these incidents were reported as significant incidents. Reported in this dataset is an explosion and fire at a major natural gas pipeline; it occurred June 7, 2010 in Johnson County, Texas near Cleburne. The blast and fire killed one worker and injured seven others. It was caused by utility workers digging holes for utility poles. There was only one home within ½ mile of the explosion and fire, and it was not affected. CHEC recently converted some of this data from excel spreadsheets to comma separated values so that it could be displayed and visualized on FracTracker’s data tool:

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A whitepaper produced by principle investigator Mark Stephens of C-FER Technologies under contract with the Gas Research Institute presents an approach to sizing ground area potentially affected by the failure of high pressure natural gas pipelines (Stephens M, 2000). It states that rupture of a high pressure natural gas pipeline can produce threats to both people and property in the area where the failure occurs. In this whitepaper an equation was developed relating both the diameter and operating pressure of a pipeline to the area that is affected in the event of a real world worst case failure incident. The model on which the hazard area equation is based depends on three factors:

  1. “A fire-based model that relates the gas release rate from the pipe to the heat intensity of the resultant fire,
  2. An effective release rate model that provides a representative steady-state approximation to the actual transient release rate, and
  3. A heat intensity threshold that establishes the sustained heat intensity level above which the effects on people and property are consistent with the adopted definition of a High Consequence Area.”
The equation given in the manuscript is as follows:

This whitepaper used actual explosions and fires to demonstrate the usefulness of their model. These incidents are excerpted from the manuscript to show the types of incidents possible and the damage and fatalities that can result.

Table - Pipeline Incident Reports


  • Understanding Natural Gas Pipelines and Rights of Way
  • Public hearing to be conducted for proposed natural gas pipeline and the article’s correction [links removed]
  • Natural gas pipelines – understanding the infrastructure development [link removed]
  • BINDER, S, 1989, Deaths, Injuries, and Evacuations from Acute Hazardous Materials Releases, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 79, No. 8.
  • Dey, Prasanta Kumar, 2002, An integrated assessment model for cross-country pipelines. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Volume 22, Issue 6, November 2002, Pages 703-721.
  • Stephens, MJ, 2000, A model for sizing high consequence areas associated with natural gas pipelines. C-FER Technologies, 200 Karl Clark Road, Edmonton, Alberta, T6N 1H2 Canada, C-FER Report 99086; GRI 8600 West Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60631-3362, GRI document number 00/0189.

For More Information

Mike Benard has written a blog post on some of the unanswered questions surrounding pipelines, as well as lessons learned from other shale regions. Read more.

Conservation department says no state forest lands are left for gas leasing

Reposted- Published: August 13, 2010


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

There are no unleased acres left in Pennsylvania’s state forests where Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling sites, pipelines and access roads could be built without damaging environmentally sensitive areas, according to a new analysis by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Nearly 139,000 acres of state forest have been leased for gas drilling since 2008 and money from those lucrative leases – a total of $354 million – has been used to help balance the last two state budgets. But DCNR Secretary John Quigley said the era of leasing large parcels of state forests for gas drilling is over. “We may do some little stuff here and there,” he said, “but in terms of large-scale leasing, we’re done.”

The department’s findings, demonstrated in a series of overlain maps on DCNR’s website, show the forests in northcentral Pennsylvania above the gas-rich Marcellus Shale crowded by leased land, parcels where the state does not own the mineral rights and places where development must be restricted.

Of the 1.5 million acres of state forest underlain by the shale, 700,000 acres have already been leased or the mineral rights under them are controlled by an owner other than the state. An additional 702,500 acres are in ecologically sensitive areas – places with protected species, forested buffers, old growth or steep slopes. Another 27,500 acres are designated as primitive and remote lands, 49,600 acres were identified through a forest conservation analysis as priority conservation lands, and the last 20,400 acres are so entwined with the other sensitive areas that they cannot be developed without damaging them. Read more.

Gas Well Explosion – Indiana Township, PA


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

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

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

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Components of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid

Frac fluid containers - Image from:


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

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

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

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

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

Today is a good day in PA


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

Frequently Asked Questions on Marcellus Shale Drilling


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