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

FracTracker is Seeking Paid Spring Interns

Update: The online application process has ended. Candidates who submitted applications will hear from us by January 22, 2016.

Are you a current or recent college grad, and do you enjoy working with datasets, visualizations, maps, or even writing about oil and gas issues? If so, please consider applying for one of FracTracker’s paid internships this spring. These internships run from February 15 through August 15, 2016. This year we are seeking paid spring interns for the following offices: Cleveland, OH; Pittsburgh, PA; and Washington, DC. See where we work.

Deadline to apply: January 18, 2016 at 5:00pm eastern.

Why Join Us

Internships at the FracTracker Alliance offer students invaluable resume-building work experience and networking opportunities. Not only will you work closely with members of our team, but you will also have the opportunity to learn about and contribute to many aspects of our oil and gas work. Interns will also have the opportunity to participate in events that increase their professional networks and interact with our partner organizations. Meet our current interns.

Responsibilities

The responsibilities of paid interns revolve around the daily work of the other FracTracker staff as well as time-sensitive projects. Due to FracTracker’s web and mapping focus, the primary skills we seek out of internship applicants are those that would allow them to do GIS mapping, communications projects, or a combination of the two.

Interns will work 15 hours per week for ~26 weeks and will be compensated $11/hour. This position is not eligible for health benefits.

Update: The online application process has ended. Candidates who submitted applications will hear from us by January 22, 2016.

Trust vs Uncertainty in Argentine Communities

By Sam Rubright, MPH, CPH – with contributions from Ana Wieman and editing by Cecilia G. Flocco, PhD

While the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is a globally critical issue (link updated in 2018) with significant implications for the oil and gas industry, the same industry encounters on-the-ground challenges in many places where extraction occurs. Argentina is now experiencing those challenges firsthand.

Argentina, South America’s 3rd largest economy, could have 801.5 trillion cubic feet of wet shale gas (more than unproven US reserves), and 27 billion barrels of tight oil.1 Oil and gas companies are excited about the prospects. Argentina has even started to produce its own sand for the hydraulic fracturing process in an attempt to reduce the cost of drilling and attract investors. Already, however, community concerns about environmental health and safety are rising to the surface.

Allen, Argentina

Allen is a city in the Río Negro (“Black River”) province of Argentina, located at the northern edge of the Patagonia region. It is known for its rich fruit production and hosts approximately 27,000 inhabitants as of the most recent census.2,3 Allen is also home to shale oil and gas drilling currently being conducted by Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), Argentina’s renationalized energy company.

On July 21, 2015, two separate incidents occurred near Allen. In the first case, a violent decompression at the well4 triggered what was likely a blowout. The spray that resulted caused hydrocarbons to be deposited into a lagoon that flows into the Black River, the province’s namesake and one of the main water sources for the arid Patagonian plateau. Clean up efforts took place immediately, although there was a lack of awareness that a rural community, Calle Ciega #10, lives very close to the drilling activity.5 Less than 24 hours later, Ysur, a YPF contractor, damaged an aqueduct near the town, leaving coastal area residents without drinking water.6

Mirroring community concerns near drilling operations in the US, residents of Calle Ciega #10 have felt the effects ever since the industry came to town; living near such intense industrial activity, they say, has put them all on edge. They worry about everything from cracking foundations, fire and explosions, potential gas leaks, to the heavy truck traffic. Organic farmers are even having trouble selling their produce due to the proximity of oil and gas operations to their fields. The uncertainty of it all is the biggest problem; residents have gone so far as to protest the recent incidents by blocking access to one of wells in the area (EFO 250).7 The neighbors’ concerns were brought to a civil court by Rio Negro province’s Ombudsman, action resulting in ordering environmental impact investigations and in ceasing activities at the well (EFO 280).8

Below you will find some photos from Allen, showing the trucks that transport water for the drilling, a warehouse for sand and ceramics, the well where there were two explosions in recent history, and piping that goes into a neighbor’s yard – Submitted by Ana Wieman:

Trust vs Uncertainty

Argentine communities are fighting a battle between trusting that the industry and government will properly manage oil and gas operations and being left in the dark about public health and safety risks. In addition to the incidents in Allen, a major cyanide spill from a gold mine9 in San Juan province in September (exploited by Canadian Barrick Gold Corp.) has added fuel to public concerns about how Argentine natural resources, as well as the response to incidents and information, are being handled. Inconsistent messages elevate community tensions, leaving a trail of doubt and uncertainty in their wake.

“Vos y yo, bebemos la misma agua.” = “You and I, we drink the same water.”
– Facebook sentiment by Elvio Mendioroz, Argentina


Footnotes and Additional Resources

  1. World Shale Resource Assessments. (2015). US EIA
  2. Rio Negro Province Census (2010)
  3. Geographic coordinates: 38°58′00″S 67°50′00″O
  4. Excavadora dejó dos barrios sin agua (Excavator left two neighborhoods without water). (2015). Rionegro.com.ar
  5. EFO well 280 located between the rural road 11 and Route 22
  6. Escape de petróleo cayó a una laguna en Allen (Escape of oil fell to a lagoon in Allen). (2015). Rionegro.com.ar
  7. Allen: “La vida cambió para peor” alertan vecinos por petrolera (Allen: “Life changed for the worse” Neighbors alert the oil company’s presence). Rionegro.com.ar
  8. La Justicia buscará determinar el posible impacto ambiental del pozo EFO 280. (The Justice will determine the possible environmental impact of well EFO 280). (2015). defensoriarionegro.gov.ar
  9. Cyanide Spill Resources:
    1. Argentina: El cianuro llega al río (Argentina: Cyanide reaches the river). (2015). Biodiversity in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    2. Jáchal y San Juan reclaman la prohibición de la minería a cielo abierto tras el derrame de cianuro en la mina de Barrick Gold (Jáchal and San Juan demand the ban on open pit mining after the cyanide spill at Barrick Gold mine). (2015). lavaca.org.
    3. Por el derrame de cianuro en San Juan, piden incluir los delitos ambientales en el Código Penal (For the cyanide spill in San Juan, they ask to include environmental crimes in the Penal Code). (2015). Cronista.com.
    4. Derrame de Cianuro en San Juan (Cyanide spill in San Juan). (2015). About the cyanide spill in the Veladero mine, San Juan – TV news show
    5. Jáchal, cuando ya nadie te nombre (Jáchal, when no one will say your name – anymore). (2015). De Tierras y de Utopias Viaje Documental – From Lands and Utopies, documentary of the spill in Jáchal that resulted in years of existing water problems
    6. Jorge Lanata’s interview with Simón Ernesto about the spill in Veladero. (2015) by Canal Zeta y Cero, Argentina

Please note: Many of the resources we accessed to write this story, as well as most correspondence, were in Spanish. Please alert Sam to any translation errors: malone@fractracker.org.

Additional Oil & Gas Photos on FracTracker

One of the many services that FracTracker offers is access to oil and gas photos. These have been contributed to our website by partners & FracTracker staff and can be used free of charge for non-commercial purposes. Please site the photographer if one is listed, however.

Over the last few months we have added additional oil and gas photos to the following location-based albums – and more photos and videos are coming soon! Click on the links below to explore:

Germany  |  Netherlands  |  Ohio  |  Pennsylvania  |  West Virginia

If you would like to contribute photos or videos to this collection, please email us the files along with information on how to credit the photographer to: info@fractracker.org.

 

Drilling, Emergency Preparedness, & Public Engagement

By Danny Kallich, Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project

This article examines whether emergency responders are prepared in rural areas for oil and gas drilling emergencies, how people may be put at risk if the proper procedures aren’t in place, and other critical safety questions that citizens in Southwest Pennsylvania should be asking.
Drilling and populations as they relate to emergency preparedness in SW PA

Maps of wells per sq. mile and people per well in Washington County, PA

The rapid spread of unconventional natural gas development (UNGD) across Pennsylvania has highlighted the need for state, county, and municipal agencies to regulate industry activity and protect the public on several fronts. In particular, comprehensive emergency preparedness and response specific to natural gas development is an obvious necessity for residents living within close proximity of wells, compressor stations, and other stages of UNGD.

While experts in the field of emergency planning are rightfully responsible for creating and executing emergency plans, the Federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA) defines citizens’ rights to engage in the process, both through open records requests and public meetings with local emergency planners. EPCRA establishes roles and requirements for emergency planners while clarifying the rights of citizens to engage in dialogue with those responsible for safety about potentially harmful industrial activity in their community.

Unique Emergency Preparedness Challenges

UNGD presents a unique set of challenges for residents and emergency planners. The high likelihood that UNGD will be located in a rural area not typically supporting industrial use argues for the need for special treatment by emergency planners. Furthermore, responding to a UNGD emergency requires specialized training that is not mandated for local first responders, often volunteer fire fighters. While local first responders cannot be expected to specialize in UNGD related emergencies, it takes many hours for the contracted well-fire specialists, Texas-based Wild Well Control, to arrive and mitigate an emergency situation. The interim period between the arrival of local and county first responders and the arrival of Wild Well Control is, nonetheless, a critical time during which a system for consistent updates to nearby residents should be a priority. An emergency situation, as demonstrated by the February 11, 2014 Chevron Appalachia well fire, discussed below, can affect a community in a variety of ways, even if evacuation is not necessary.

Chevron Appalachia Incident, Greene County, PA

Testing The System:

Using Right-To-Know requests to gauge transparency & citizen awareness

The opportunities for citizen comment and engagement with emergency planners are limited and not well publicized. The dearth of clear and consistent means of communication between residents and those responsible for emergency planning provides a noteworthy opportunity to test the provisions of EPCRA as they relate to UNGD.

In this regard, testing the emergency response system related to oil and gas drilling emergencies is intended to analyze existent emergency plans, municipal preparedness, communication between county, municipal, and industry emergency planners, and perhaps most importantly, how much of this information is available to citizens.

The transparency of the system was tested by filing Right-To-Know requests. These public information requests were filed with nine municipalities in various counties across the state of Pennsylvania. All filed requests specifically asked for “all available county, municipal, and company generated emergency plans” in relation to specific well sites. One request asked for emergency plans generated by an elementary school in relation to a well site within approximately a half-mile.

Of these nine requests, three were fulfilled with returned emergency plans. Of the remaining six requests, five were not fulfilled because no emergency plan existed on record in the municipality. Initially, the request for the elementary school emergency plan was unable to be met by the municipal open records officer because no plan existed. Two months after that request, an unsolicited response from the same individual was received stating that the now-existent plan could not be shared because of security issues. A final question posed to the open records officer asked what concerned parents might be able to do to prepare themselves for emergency situations. This question, too, was deemed unanswerable due to security reasons. Another unmet municipal request was redirected to a county emergency planner who stated that the company generated plan was not theirs to distribute. Of the three emergency plans received, only one made any specific mention of residents living within close proximity; this response merely stated the number of nearby houses. Excluding GPS coordinates, no plan addressed any other infrastructure specific to the surrounding area, indicating a broad generality to their application.

The fact that six out of nine queried communities in PA were unable or unwilling to provide emergency response plans is highly concerning. These findings, when considered in the broader national context, indicate a significant chance that UNGD specific emergency planning and necessary communication with the public is deficient, particularly on the municipal level.

What Communities Need

Lack of specificity, inter-agency communication, and transparency indicate that the potential of EPCRA to benefit citizens has been largely untapped during the Marcellus Shale boom relative to emergency planning. Residents living within close proximity to UNGD should not only be apprised of emergency risk and strategy before an emergency arises, they should have a clearly accessible venue through which to voice concerns, needs, and recommendations. Furthermore, residents have valid reason to demand greater public oversight of current emergency planning efforts when the overwhelming majority of publicly available emergency plans fail to provide any information useful to a layperson.

Currently, there are communities in which the questionable practice of locating UNGD within a half-mile of elementary schools and other sensitive areas continues. In such areas, every effort must be made to develop, institute, and practice emergency plans prioritizing the concerns, safety, and coordination of local residents. Recommendations for improved transparency include:

  1. Make publicly available site-specific plans,
  2. Hold regular public meetings, and
  3. Prioritize communication between emergency responders and residents during emergency events

We encourage residents who are concerned about what their community is doing for UNGD-specific emergency planning to contact their local emergency responders and attend Local Emergency Planning Committee meetings in their county to advocate for such measures.

About EHP

The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (EHP) is a nonprofit environmental health organization created to assist and support Washington County residents who believe their health has been, or could be, impacted by natural gas drilling activities. Their Mission is to respond to individuals’ and communities’ need for access to accurate, timely and trusted public health information and health services associated with natural gas extraction.

A Fresh Look at Oil and Gas Drilling from Europe

By Ted Auch, Kyle Ferrar, and Samantha Rubright with Max Gruenig

Fourteen days is not nearly enough time to fully understand the complex differences between oil and gas drilling issues and policies in the United States and several European Union countries. The EU’s drilling policies, geography, and the industry’s level of activity are quite distinct from those of the States in some cases. Still, as part of the Our Energy Solutions project, four staff from FracTracker Alliance and Ecologic Institute attempted to understand and share as many lessons-learned in Europe as we could in the first two weeks of September. Our interest covered all aspects of oil and gas development, but focused on those relating to the use of stimulation techniques (hydraulic fracturing – fracking) in unconventional reservoirs. Even with significant differences between the US and EU, there is still much to be gleaned in sharing our regulatory approaches, community concerns, and environmental challenges.

“Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered” ― José Saramago, The Double 

London, England Meetings

The House of Commons meeting was held in Parliament, just below London's Big Ben

The House of Commons meeting was held in Parliament, just below London’s Big Ben. Photo by Sam Rubright

Our European tour started in London with Ecologic Institute’s Max Gruenig. The first stop was a meeting with University of Salford Professor of Regeneration and Sustainable Development Erik Bichard outside of The Palace of Westminster. Erik has worked extensively to understand and chronicle common threads that weave together community response(s) to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) proposals. Much of Erik’s research in the UK has focused on the efforts of the leading shale gas extraction company in the EU, Cuadrilla Resources, to employ hydraulic fracturing technologies, as well as local oppositions to this development. The major points of contention are in Lancashire County, Northwest England and Balcombe in West Sussex. Erik pointed to the fact that Cuadrilla admitted their claims that the 4% decline in UK energy cost was a result of Lancashire oil and gas exploitation were significantly overstated. Such manipulative statements appear to be cut directly from North American energy’s playbook.

House of Commons meeting, London

House of Commons meeting, London. Photo by Sam Rubright

We then attended a spirited Fracking with Nature Meeting at The House of Commons hosted by 21st Century Network and convened by MP Cat Smith (photo right). Many, if not all, of the attendees were concerned about the negative impacts of fracking and oil and gas development in general, but perhaps the event’s purpose self-selected for those attendees. We found the conversations to be very advanced considering that the UK has not seen nearly the same level of oil and gas activity as the US. Most questions centered on the potential for fracking to negatively impact ground water, followed by the induction of earthquakes. Air quality was not discussed as often, despite the serious risks that oil and gas air pollutants pose to health, and the frequency and severity of ambient degradation reported in the US. With the UK’s move to cut subsidies for renewables and a push toward fracking, these concerns may soon become a reality.

We later met with one of the speakers at the House of Commons meeting, Damien Short LLB, MA, PhD, Director of the University of London’s Human Rights Consortium[1] and the Extreme Energy Initiative.[2] NGO’s, we learned, are on the forefront of the issue, debating the need to prioritize community health over corporate profits. They have had quite a lot of success on this front, despite Tory projections.[3] The past state of UK politics under the direction of PM David Cameron, was supportive of extractive industries and corporate interests, blocking any attempt to introduce regulations. Even with the defeat of David Cameron’s administration, new “fast-tracking” rules to accelerate permits for fracking passed in August.[4] The overwhelming victory of democratic socialist Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the opposition Labour Party – means that the tenure of the current fracking moratoria in North Yorkshire, as well as in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland[5] could be brief.

Our time in London was filled with several other meetings, including one with Greenpeace UK’s new fracking coordinator, Hannah Martin. During our meeting she indicated that while Greenpeace was sympathetic to the views and tactics of Mr. Corbyn, they were concerned that his election would further divide Labour. In her opinion this change could allow the oil and gas sympathetic – and united – Tories to expedite their vision for fracking in the UK.

Regardless of the similarities between community concerns and industry tactics, however, one difference between the UK and US was crystal clear; no matter their view on the use of fracking, Brits support a substantial Petroleum Revenue Tax (PRT) rate to the tune of 50-60%. The PRT will fall to 35% in January, 2016, however. This latter figure is a sizeable decrease but would still be 40% higher than the average in the US.  California for example, the fourth largest producing state, does not and has never levied a severance tax.[6] Unfortunately, the UK is seeing similar conflict of interest issues and deliberate attempts to de-democratize the rule-making around fracking, as demonstrated in a recent move to prevent a proper parliamentary debate about drilling under protected areas in the UK.

Brussels, Belgium Workshop and Meeting

After the European Commission meeting

Geert, Max, Kyle, and Ted after our meeting with the European Commission in Brussels. Photo by Sam Rubright

The next phase of OES Europe took us to Brussels to host a community workshop and meet with members of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment. Both events brought to light many concerns and questions about drilling’s safety.

The European Commission is currently drafting a best available techniques reference document (BREF) regarding hydrocarbon extraction for the European Union to consider in December 2015. The recommendations will build upon the “Minimum Principles,” published in January, 2014.[7] Representatives from the European Commission asked us about a variety of concerns that have arisen from drilling in the US, and how Europe might have similar or different experiences. The Commission was most interested in environmental health risks and research focused on exposure to air pollutants, as well as other degraded environmental media (drinking water, soil, etc.). We also shared figures about water consumption, land use, and waste management. It was immediately apparent that the lack of high quality publicly accessible data in the US is making it very difficult for the Commission to make well-informed decisions or policy recommendations. This meeting was arranged by Geert De Cock, of Food and Water Europe, and – interestingly – was one of the first times that the European Commission met with non-industry representatives. (Several major oil and gas players have offices near the European Commission’s in Brussels.)

Rotenburg (Wümme), Germany Workshop

Presentations during Rotenburg Germany workshop, Sept 2015. Photo by Kyle Ferrar

Max presenting during the Rotenburg Germany workshop, Sept 2015. Photo by Kyle Ferrar

Our next stop in Germany was Rotenburg. Lower Saxony also has a long lineage of drilling, with the first well drilled in 1953 and the majority of natural gas development dating back to the mid 1980’s. Currently, this is an area were unconventional oil and gas drilling (fracking) is being heavily proposed and lobbied.

This workshop was by far the most well attended event. A variety of groups and stakeholders, including the town’s mayor, were in attendance and extremely well informed about environmental and public health risks that drilling could pose. They’ve been dealing with a series of environmental health concerns for some time, including high mercury levels in drilling waste and cancer clusters of questionable origin. A systematic statistical analysis has even suggested that cases of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma are higher in an area heavy with oil and gas wells and development.

See maps below for more information about drilling in Germany and Europe at large.

Unconventional gas production, conventional gas drilling, fracking and test boring in Europe
Map by Gegen Gasbohren (Against Gas Drilling)

View Gegen Gasbohren’s map fullscreen

A dynamic map similar to the one above was created by us to show simply where unconventional drilling is occurring in the UK and Netherlands:
View FracTracker’s map fullscreen

Rotenburg Field Tour

The following morning we set out with a local advocate, Andreas Rathjens, to tour over eight different oil and gas drilling sites and facilities in and around Rotenburg. This area is vey rural and a major agriculture hub, hosting 162k people, 200k cows, and 600k pigs according to our guide.

In recent years Germany has received very positive scores for its environmental policies and shift toward renewables. However, this tour highlighted some of the country’s lingering and poorly-regulated drilling history, which experienced a sharp increase in development here in the 1980’s. The pictures below will give you an idea of the issues that German residents are is still seeing from the country’s older oil and gas drilling operations. Click to enlarge the photos:

Rotenburg, Germany surface water runoff pond on a gas well pad in production

This pit is used to capture rainwater and runoff from the well pad. Since runoff from the pad will carry with it any contaminants spilled on the site, runoff must be quarantined for removal and proper disposal. Unfortunately, these tanks are rarely pumped and drained, and the runoff instead spills into local streams in small watersheds. Such is the case with this tank, with the spillway visible in the lower left corner of the photo.

IMG_0063

This site was recently renovated to improve the drainage off of the wellpad. The drainage leads to an excavated waste pit used as an overflow catchment.[8] In these types of waste pits pollutants evaporate into the air and percolate into groundwater sources. The waste from drilling in this region is known for its high levels of mercury.

Andreas showing us the site where he says 80,000 metric tonnes of solid waste from oil and gas drilling was mixed with residential waste and then disposed of in a field on top of a hill. Residents have tested the site and found troubling levels of arsenic and radioactive elements, but to Andreas’ knowledge no governmental or company testing has been done to-date.

Andreas showing us the site where he says 80,000 metric tonnes of solid  drilling waste was mixed with residential waste and then disposed of in a field on a hilltop. Residents have tested the site and found troubling levels of arsenic and radioactive elements, but to Andreas’ knowledge no governmental or company testing has been done to-date.

Andreas and community members all conveyed their support of domestic energy production but said they were disappointed in how the oil and gas industry has conducted itself historically in the region. They are very frustrated with how difficult it is to get their concerns heard, a sentiment echoed in many boomtowns across the US. One local politician even discussed the intentionally misleading statements made by the German state governments around environmental health issues. These residents are dedicated and driven despite the barriers, however. They are investigating and studying the problems directly at times, as well as searching for other technologies that can help improve their methods – such as the use of drones to measure air quality.

Badbergen, Lower Saxony, Germany Workshop

Fracking-freies Artland hosted our next workshop in Badbergen Germany. In addition to our presentation about drilling experiences in the US, these community gatekeepers led a presentation summarizing the work and struggles that have been occurring in their region due to both historic and modern drilling. The level of community engagement and activism here was quite impressive, mirroring that of NY State’s anti-drilling groups. These members help to inform the rest of the community about environmental and drilling issues, as Exxon is now considering fracking here again.[9]

Schoonebeek Tour, Netherlands

Our final border crossing brought us to the Schoonebeek region in the Netherlands. While the Groningen gas field is by far the largest of the fields in this Western European country, Schoonebeek is the only active field being drilled unconventionally in the Netherlands.

OES-Europe-Home

Interestingly, the entire field was recently shut down by NAM Shell/Exxon JV to fix this wastewater pipeline. It was discovered that the pipeline was leaking wastewater in nine places due to corrosion caused by the high sulfur content of the wastewater.

Upon starting our tour we were informed of the fact that the Dutch have an even higher extraction tax than the UK! The Netherlands retains a 50% State Profit Share for revenue and taxes the remaining production at a rate of 20% on the first $225,000 in revenue and “25% on the excess.” In comparison, the highest production tax rate on oil and gas drilling in the US is in Alaska at 35%. Most states have significantly lower severance taxes.[10]

Political support for higher taxes on the extractives industry may be explained by the fact that the state owns all subsurface mineral rights in these European countries. Regardless of other influences on perception, such high taxes disproves the notion here in the US that energy companies “won’t do business in a state [or country] with a newly-enacted punitive severance tax.” What do the states do with this extra revenue? The Netherlands and many Northern European countries have invested these monies for the rainy day when the oil and gas supply is depleted or extraction is no longer justifiable. The best examples are Norway’s $850 billion Government Pension Fund and Netherland’s $440 billion pension fund or $169,000 and $26,000 per capita, respectively.

Additional support for severance taxes is likely due to these countries’ history with oil and gas exploration. They are familiar with the boom-bust cycles that come with the initial expectations and long-term reality on the ground. When the music stops, Europeans are determined not to be the ones left standing.


About the Our Energy Solutions Project

This trip to Europe and our previous expeditions to Florida, North Carolina, Argentina, and Uruguay are part of a larger, collaborative project with Ecologic Institute US called Our Energy Solutions. OES is creating an informed global community of engaged citizens, organizations, businesses, governments, and stakeholders to develop ideas and solutions to keep our society moving forward while preserving our planet for the future. Learn more at: ourenergysolutions.org.

On a more personal note, our sincerest thanks goes out to the many groups and individuals that we met on our Europe tour, including those we did not directly mention in this article. We are forever indebted to all of the people with whom we met on these OES trips for sharing their time and knowledge with us.

Endnotes and References

  1. Dr. Short is currently advising local anti-fracking groups in the UK and county councils on the human rights implications of unconventional (extreme) energy extraction processes such as fracking.
  2. Dr. Short and collaborators were recently granted an opportunity to put fracking on trial at hearings to be held by The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) in the UK and the US.
  3. Much of the ammunition used by the anti- or undecided fracking community in the UK – and the EU writ large – is coming from proofs of concept in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and North Dakota.
  4. Gosden, Emily. 8/13/15. Fracking: new powers for ministers to bypass local councils. The Telegraph. Accessed 10/25/15.
  5. Strachan, Peter. Russell, Alex. Gordon, Robert. 10/15/15. UK government’s delusional energy policy and implications for Scotland. OilVoice. Accessed 10/25/15.
  6. California, instead, imposes a statewide assessment fee.
  7. European Commission. 1/22/14. Fracking: minimum principles for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons using high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Eur-Lex. Accessed 10/26/15.
  8. A practice that is supposedly now being investigated for soil contamination issues.
  9. Exxon originally wrote in the local/regional paper that there was to be no unconventional shale drilling (fracking), but now the company is reconsidering.
  10. Please note that the cited article was last updated in 2012. Some tax rates have changed since the time that the article was published, but the table still adequately represents an estimation of production taxes by state.

Parked Oil Trains in Berks County, PA

By
Matt Kelso, Manager of Data & Technology
Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community Based Research & Engagement

The Risks of Crude Oil Trains

As new oil fields boomed across North America in recent years, drillers looked for ways to get the product to refineries thousands of miles away. One solution was to use the nation’s rail infrastructure to ship hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil per day. The flow of oil was so great that thousands of additional tanker cars were ordered to get the oil to market. And yet, this solution of transporting crude by rail brought additional problems. Shipping large quantities of highly volatile and combustible crude oil on often antiquated rail lines has resulted in numerous accidents, at times spectacular in scale. In recent months, however, thousands of these oil tankers have been sitting idle on the tracks around the country, partially due to dropping oil prices, leading refineries to opt for cheaper imported oil and less expensive ways to get the domestic product to market such as through pipelines.

Communities Along the Tracks

The interactive story map below investigates a stretch of oil trains that have been parked for months in close proximity to homes, schools, and busy intersections in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Altogether, 30,494 people live in the seven communities through which the tracks in question pass. We began this project in response to concerns from residents who contacted FracTracker for assistance in understanding why these trains were located in their community, what hazards they might pose, and to help people bring this story to the public to foster meaningful discussions about the risks of parked oil trains.

Berks_staticmap


FracTracker has covered the risks of oil trains in a series of other articles. Click here to learn more.

Maps of Updated Central Penn Pipeline Emphasize Threats to Residents and Environment

By Sierra Shamer, Guest Author

The Atlantic Sunrise Project or Central Penn Line is a natural gas pipeline Williams Companies has proposed for construction through eight counties of Central Pennsylvania. Williams intends to connect the Atlantic Sunrise to their two Transco pipelines, which extend from the northeast to the Gulf of Mexico. FracTracker discussed and mapped this controversial project as part of a blog entry in June of 2014; since then, the Atlantic Sunrise Project has been, and continues to be, a focus of unprecedented opposition. While supporters of the pipeline stress how it may enhance energy independence, economic growth, and job opportunities, opponents cite Williams’ poor safety records, their threats of eminent domain, and environmental hazards. This article provides details and maps pertaining to these threats and concerns.

Atlantic Sunrise: Project Overview

The Atlantic Sunrise Project would add 183 miles of new pipeline through the construction of the Central Penn Line North and the Central Penn Line South. The proposed Central Penn Line North (CPLN) begins in Susquehanna County, continues through Wyoming and Luzerne counties, and meets with the Transco Pipeline in Columbia County. With a 30 inch in diameter, it would allow for a maximum pressure of 1,480 psi (pounds per square inch). The proposed Central Penn Line South (CPLS) begins at the Transco Pipeline in Columbia County, and continues through Northumberland, Schuylkill, and Lebanon counties, ending in Lancaster. It would be 42 inches in diameter with a maximum pressure of 1,480 psi. The Atlantic Sunrise project also involves the construction of two new compressor stations, one in Clinton Township, Wyoming County, and the other in Orange Township, Columbia County. Finally, to accommodate the daily 1.7 million dekatherms (1 dekatherm equals 1,000 cubic feet of gas or slightly more than 1 million BTUs in energy) of additional natural gas that would flow through the system, the project proposes the expansion of 10 existing compressor stations along the Transco Pipeline in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Although the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline would be entirely within Pennsylvania, it is permitted and regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) because through its connection to the Transco Pipeline, it transports natural gas over state lines.

Updated Central Penn Pipeline Route

On March 31, 2015, Williams filed their formal application to FERC docket #CP15-138. Along with the formal application came changes to the pre-filing route of the pipeline that was submitted in the spring of 2014. The route of the Central Penn Line North has been modified since then by 21%, while the Central Penn Line South has been rerouted by 57%.

Williams’ application comprised of hundreds of attached documents, including pipeline alignment sheets for the entire route. Here is one example: 

alignment_sheet_example

These alignment sheets show the extent of William’s biological investigation, the limits of disturbance, the occurrence of stream and wetland crossings, and any road or foreign pipeline crossings. Absent from the alignment sheets, however, is the area around the right-of-way that will be endangered by the presence of the pipeline. This is colloquially known as the “burn zone” or “hazard zone”.

What are “Hazard Zones”?

A natural gas pipeline moves flammable gas under extreme pressure, creating a risk of pipeline rupture and potential explosion. The “potential impact radius” or “hazard zone” is the approximate area within which there will be immediate damage in the case of an explosion. Should this occur, everything within the hazard zone would be incinerated and there would be virtually no chance of escape or survival. Based on pipeline diameter and pressure, the hazard zone can be calculated using the formula: potential impact radius = 0.69 * pipeline diameter * (√max pressure ).

Based on this formula, the hazard zone for the Central Penn Line North, with its diameter of 30 inches and maximum pressure of 1,480 psi, is approximately 796 feet (243 meters) on either side of the pipeline. The hazard zone for Central Penn Line South, with its diameter of 42 inches and maximum pressure of 1480 psi, is 1,115 feet (340 meters) on either side.

Many residents are unaware that their homes, workplaces, and schools are located within the hazard zone of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline. Williams does not inform the public about this risk, primarily communicating with landowners along the right-of-way. The interactive, zoomable map (below) of the currently proposed route of the Atlantic Sunrise, Central Penn North and South pipelines depicts the pipeline right-of-way, as well as the hazard zones. The pipeline route was digitized using the alignments sheets included in Williams’ documents submitted to FERC. You can use this map to search home, work, and school addresses to see how the pipeline will affect residents’ lives and the lives of their communities.

Click in the upper right-hand corner of the map to expand to full-screen view, with a map legend.

Affected Communities

Landowners & Eminent Domain

Landowners along the right-of-way are among the most directly and most negatively impacted by the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, and other similar projects. Typically, people first become aware that a pipeline is intended to pass through their property when they receive a notice in the mail. Landowners faced with this news are on their own to negotiate with the company, navigate the FERC permitting and public comment process, and access unbiased and pertinent information. They face on-going stress, experiencing pressure from Williams to sign easement agreements, concern about the effects of construction on their property, and fear of living near explosive infrastructure. They must also consider costs of legal representation, decreases in property value, and limited options for mortgage and refinancing.

Sometimes, landowners in a pipeline’s right-of-way choose to not allow the company onto their property to conduct a survey. Landowners may also refuse to negotiate an agreement with the pipeline company. In response, the pipeline company can threaten to seize the property through the power of eminent domain, the federal power allowing private property to be taken if it is for the “public use.”

The law of eminent domain states that landowners whose properties are condemned must be fairly compensated for their loss. However, most landowners feel that in order to be fairly compensated by the company, they must hire their own land appraiser and attorney. This decision can be costly, however, and may not be an option for many people. The legitimacy of Williams’ intent to use eminent domain is contested by opponents of the project, who cite how “public use” of the property provides no positive local impacts. The Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline is intended to transport gas out of Pennsylvania through the Transco, so the landowners in its path will not benefit from it at all. Further, it connects to a network of pipelines leading to current export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as controversial planned export facilities like Cove Point, MD .

Throughout Pennsylvania, communities have responded to the expansion of pipelines, and to the threats of large companies like Williams. The need for landowner support has been addressed by organizations such as the Shalefield Organizing Committee, Energy Justice Network, the Clean Air Council, the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, and We Are Lancaster County. These organizations have worked to provide information, increase public awareness, engage with FERC, and develop resistance to the exploitation of Pennsylvania’s resources and residents. Director Scott Cannon of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition has documented firsthand the impacts of unconventional drilling in Pennsylvania through a short film series called the Marcellus Shale Reality Tour. The most recent in the series relates the stories of two landowners impacted by the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in the short film Atlantic Sunrise Surprise.

Environmental Review

Theoretically, environmental review of this proposed pipeline would be extensive. Primary decision-making on the future of the Atlantic Sunrise rests with FERC. Due to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), all projects overseen by federal agencies are required to prepare environmental assessments (EAs) or environmental impact assessments (EIAs). Because FERC regulates interstate pipelines, EA’s or EIA’s are required in their approval process. These assessments are conducted to accurately assess the environmental impacts of projects and to ensure that the proposals comply with federal environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Air and Water Acts. On the state level, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) issues permits for wetlands and waterways crossings and for compressor stations on regional basis.

Core Habitats, Supporting Landscapes

The route of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline will disturb numerous areas of ecological importance, including many documented in the County Natural Heritage Inventory (CNHI). The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources conducted the inventory to be used as a planning, economic, and infrastructural development tool, intending to avoid the destruction of habitats and species of concern. The following four maps show the CNHI landscapes affected by the current route of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline (Figures 1-4).

Figure 1

Figure 1. Columbia & Northumberland counties

Figure 3. Lebanon County

Figure 2. Lebanon & Lancaster counties

Figure 3. ddd

Figure 3. Threatened Core Habitats

Figure 4. Schuyklill

Figure 4. Schuyklill & Lebanon counties

The proposed pipeline would disrupt core habitats, supporting landscapes, and provisional species-of-concern sites. According to the Natural Heritage Inventory report, core habitats “contain plant or animal species of state or federal concern, exemplary natural communities, or exceptional native diversity.” The inventory notes that the species in these habitats will be significantly impacted by disturbance activities. Supporting landscapes are defined as areas that “maintain vital ecological processes or habitat for sensitive natural features.” Finally, the provisional species of concern sites are regions where species have been identified outside of core habitat and are in the process of being evaluated. The Atlantic Sunrise intersects 16 core habitats, 12 supporting landscapes, and 6 provisional sites.

Active Mine Fires

Map5-GlenBurn

Figure 5. Glen Burn Mine Fires

The current route of the Atlantic Sunrise intersects the Cameron/Glen Burn Colliery, considered to be the largest man-made mountain in the world and composed entirely of waste coal. This site also includes a network of abandoned mines, three of which are actively burning (Figure 5).

The pipeline right-of-way is roughly a half-mile from the closest burning mine, Hickory Swamp. These mine fire data were sourced from a 1988 report by GAI Consulting Inc. The time frame for the spread of the mine fires is unknown, and dependent on environmental factors. Mine subsidence — when voids in the earth created by mines cause the surface of the earth to collapse — is another issue of concern. Routing the pipeline through this unstable area adds to the risk of constructing the pipeline through the Glen Burn region.

Looking Ahead

The Atlantic Sunrise Project has received an unprecedented level of resistance that continues to grow as awareness and information about the threats and hazards develops. While Williams, FERC, and the PA DEP negotiate applications and permits, work is also being done by many non-profit, research, and grassroots organizations to investigate the environmental, cultural, and social costs of this pipeline. We will follow up with more information about this project as it becomes available.


This article was written by Sierra Shamer, an environmental mapper and activist. Sierra is a member of the Shalefield Organizing Committee and holds two degrees from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County: a B.A. in environmental studies and an M.S. in geography and environmental systems.

Public Herald’s #fileroom Update

Crowdsourcing Digital PA Oil & Gas Data

FracTracker Alliance worked with Public Herald this spring to update and map oil and gas complaints filed by citizens to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) as of March 2015. The result is the largest release of oil and gas records on water contamination due to fracking in PA. Additionally, Public Herald’s investigation revealed evidence of Pennsylvania state officials keeping water contamination related to fracking “off the books.”

Project Background

The mission of Public Herald, an investigative news non-profit formed in 2011, is two-fold: truth + creativity. Their work uses investigative journalism and art to empower readers and hold accountable those who put the public at risk. For this project, Public Herald aims to improve the public’s access to oil and gas information in PA by way of file reviews and data digitization. Public Herald maintains an open source website called #fileroom, where people can access a variety of digital information originally housed on paper within the PA DEP. This information is collected and synthesized with the help of donors, journalists and researchers in a collective effort with the community. To date, these generous volunteers have already donated more than 2,000 hours of their time collecting records.

The site includes complaints, permits, waste, legal cases, and gas migration investigations (GMI) conducted by the PA DEP. Additionally, there is a guide on how to conduct file reviews and how to access information through the “Right-to-Know” law at the PA DEP. They have broken down complaints and permits by county; wastes and GMI categories by cases, all of which include test results from inspections; and correspondence and weekly reports.

Some partners and contributors to the file team include Joshua Pribanic as the co-founder and Editor-in Chief, Melissa Troutman as co-founder and Executive Director, John Nicholson, who collects and researches for several databases, Nadia Steinzor as a contributor through Earthworks, and many more. Members of FracTracker working on this project include Matt Kelso, Samantha Rubright, and Kirk Jalbert.

#fileroom’s update expands the number of complaint data records collected to 18 counties – and counting!


View Map Fullscreen

Volunteers counting trucks supplying a new well pad in PA

3 Community ‘Sentinels’ Honored with FracTracker’s Environmental Stewardship Award

By Brook Lenker, Executive Director

In my earlier conservation work, I was always inspired by the activities of certain volunteers. Whether it was a guy who touched the lives of scores of kids through his outings and mentorship or a watershed maven who was the queen of planting and restoration, there are people who go above and beyond to make a difference, help others, and heal the planet. Some call them saints, others call them stewards, but whatever you call them they deserve our praise.

In this spirit, FracTracker Alliance created an award – in partnership with the Halt the Harm Network – to honor three ‘sentinels’ amongst the thousands of volunteers across the United States working in their communities and cherished places to observe, measure, document and report impacts caused by activities of the oil and gas industry. In the complex universe around these issues, volunteers fill regulatory gaps in oversight and do extraordinary things. Everyday insights from citizens lead to the discovery of problems unnoticed or ignored, to enforcement and remediation, and to new perspectives and initiatives for environmental protection. Whether mapping or monitoring, capturing photos or video, a sentinel is someone watching tirelessly, caring boldly – an indispensable ally in informing science, understanding, and action.

Community Sentinel Nominations

The nomination process launched in July and closed on August 17th, with 27 nominations received from around the country but especially the Northeast. The nominee lineup was a tour de force:

  • Ling Tsou, United for Action – New York, NY
  • Craig Stevens, Food & Water Watch, NYAF, PAF and other organizations – Herndon, VA
  • Diane Sipe, Marcellus Outreach Butler – Evans City, PA
  • Therese Vick, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League – Raleigh, NC
  • Vera Scroggins – Brackney, PA
  • Jim Rosenberg, Fayette Marcellus Watch – Grindstone, PA
  • Kel Pickens, Stop Fracking Payne County – Stillwater, OK
  • Dick Martin, Pennsylvania Forest Coalition – Boiling Springs, PA
  • Leatra Harper, Freshwater Accountability Project – Grand Rapids, OH
  • Michael Fitzgerald, The Finger Lakes Times and Subject2Change Media – Watkins Glen, NY
  • Dory Hippauf, Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition – Dallas, PA
  • Frank Finan, Breathe Easy Susquehanna County – Hop Bottom, PA
  • Karen Edelstein, FracTracker Alliance – Lansing, NY
  • Dana Dolney, Friends of the Harmed – Pittsburgh, PA
  • John Detwiler, Marcellus Protest – Pittsburgh, PA
  • Malinda Clatterbuck, Martic Soul – Holtwood, PA
  • Anne Marie Garti, Stop the (UN) Constitutional Pipeline – East Meredith, NY

An esteemed panel of judges carefully considered the outstanding choices without pause to geography. Judges included:

  • Paul Feezel – Chair, Carroll Concerned Citizens
  • Julie Weatherington-Rice – Senior Scientist, Bennett & Williams
  • Jennifer Krill – Executive Director, Earthworks
  • Francisco “Paco” Ollervides – Leadership Development Manager, River Network
  • Ben Stout – Professor of Biology, Wheeling Jesuit University & FracTracker Alliance Board of Directors
  • Phil Pritchard – Retired, Nature Conservancy et al  & FracTracker Alliance Board of Directors

Award Recipients

In the end, in what were admitted to be very difficult decisions, three winners were chosen.

Dory Hippauf, Therese Vick, and Craig Stevens became the first recipients of the Community Sentinel Awards for Environmental Stewardship. Let’s make the ground shake with seismic applause! In the weeks to come, FracTracker plans to highlight each of these conservation heroes, sharing their experiences and inspiring others.

The Community Sentinels will be duly recognized at a FracTracker Film Night event in Mechanicsburg, PA on Saturday evening, September 12 where they will receive very special artisan-made awards fit for proud display. If you can, please join us for this celebration.

[ticket sales closed]

I’m gratified for the chance to meet and honor these dedicated individuals and lift up the names of all the nominees. I also appreciate the time and thoughtfulness of the nominators who presented such worthy candidates. While this was the inaugural year for the Sentinel Awards, we intend to give them annually and continue to affirm the good performed by good people in communities near and far.

Bird’s eye view of a sand mine in Wisconsin. Photo by Ted Auch 2013.

Quick Sand: Frack Sand Mining in Wisconsin

Each silica sand mine displaces 871 acres of wetlands and more than 12 square miles of forests and agriculture land in Wisconsin to provide the shale gas industry with fracking proppant.

By Juliana Henao, Communications Intern

Silica sand is used by the oil and gas industry as a way to prop open the fractures made during fracking – and is also referred to as a proppant. The industry’s demand for silica sand is steadily increasing (i.e., 4-5K tons per shale lateral, +86 tons per lateral per quarter), directly affecting the Great Lakes, their ecosystems, and land use. Silica sand is often found in Wisconsin and Michigan, which have felt the effects of increased sand mining demands through altered landscapes, impacted ecosystem productivity, and altering watershed resilience; these impacts will only continue to increase as the demand for silica sand increases.

To better understand frack sand mining’s current and potential effects, FracTracker’s Ted Auch and intern Elliott Kurtz, with generous support from the Save The Hills Alliance, explored mining and land use changes data in West Central Wisconsin (WCW). In their research paper, Auch and Kurtz show the current and future environmental impacts of increased sand mining in WCW in order to supply the oil and gas industry with sand. Not only does this research illustrate what is at risk in the WCW landscape, it also showcases what sand mining has already done to the region.

Key Frack Sand Mining Findings

Land alterations due to silica sand mining in WI

Sixteen percent, or 2,396 square miles, of the West Central Wisconsin (WCW) is made up of wetlands or open waters. These and the other existing WCW landscapes are unquestionably profitable. The forests buffer climate change impacts – to date accumulating between 4.8-9.8 billion tons of CO2 assuming they are 65-85 years old – and have a current stumpage value of $253-936 million.

The 25 producing silica mines in this region occupy 12 square miles of WCW and have already displaced:

  • 3 mi2 of forests
  • 7 mi2 of agricultural land-cover
  • 1.36 mi2 of wetlands (equal to 11% of all mined lands)
    Formerly, these wetlands were one of three types:

    • 18% (158 acres) forested wetlands
    • 41% (353 acres) lowland shrub wetlands, and
    • 41% (361 acres) emergent/wet meadows
Breakdown of the current landscape types near these expanding mines, based on an analysis of satellite imagery

Breakdown of the current landscape types near these expanding mines, based on an analysis of satellite imagery

Why Wisconsin?

There are more than 125 silica sand mines throughout WCW, a stretch of ~16,000 square miles. Previously, the mining industry focused their efforts in Oklahoma and Texas’s Riley, Hickory/Brady, and Old Creek formations, where the land is not as agriculturally or ecologically productive as WCW. Now, more and more mines are being proposed and built in the WCW region. We wanted to determine what this change would mean for such an ecosystem diverse area of Wisconsin – many of which are considered “globally imperiled” or “globally rare” including oak savanna, dry prairies, southern dry-mesic forests, pine barrens, moist cliffs and oak openings.

The St. Peter Sandstone – along with the early Devonian and much smaller Sylvania Sandstone in Southeastern Michigan – is the primary target of the silica sand industry. Carbon-rich grassland soils cover 36% of the St. Peter, where they aid the ecosystem by capturing and sorting 20.9 tons of CO2 per year, as well as purifying precipitation inputs. This ecosystem, amongst many others around sand mining activities, will be dramatically altered if silica sand mining continues at its increasing rate. We will see CO2 capturing levels drop from 20.9 tons to 10.6 tons per acre per year if the highly productive temperate forests are not reassembled and reclaimed to their original acreage, as well as a significant loss (75%) in agricultural productivity on sites that are not reclaimed properly.

Out-of-state mining companies are settling into Wisconsin and displacing the land at a very high rate. As the president of Iowa’s Allamakee County Protectors Ric Zarwell told us by email “Frac sand mining companies do not come from the area where I live.  So efforts to destroy landscapes for frac sand are going to involve Neighbors Opposing Invaders.”

A high demand in silica sand from the shale gas industry will continue to drive this influx of mining companies into WI, providing a potentially collapsed ecosystem in the future. Factors at play include additional – and often much larger – mines under consideration, the average shale gas lateral grows by > 50 feet per quarter, and silica sand usage will grow from 5,500 tons to > 8,000 tons per lateral (i.e., 85 tons per quarter per lateral). Auch and Kurtz’s research paper describes in detail where how much silica sand might be needed in the future, as well as a detailed set of maps depicting land cover and usage in WI.