Our thoughts and opinions about gas extraction and related topics

Matthew Kelso and colleagues during discussions before a Senate meeting in Argentina

Staff Spotlight: Matthew Kelso

As part of FracTracker’s staff spotlight series, learn more about Matthew Kelso and why he works with FracTracker Alliance to analyze data from the oil and gas industry.

Time with FracTracker: I’ve been working with FracTracker since June 2010, when it was still a part of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health.

Nickname: Matt

Education: Humboldt State University

Office Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Title: Manager of Data and Technology

What do you actually do in that role?

I make oil and gas data more accessible and more digestible to the general public. Largely, this is accomplished by converting spreadsheets into maps and charts to see what stories are hidden in the data. I’ve found that many people have an easier time processing impacts visually, so seeing a map with wells and violations in areas that they are familiar with will have a different effect on them than reading the same data in a huge spreadsheet that was downloaded from some regulatory agency or another.

I also work with other nonprofits to help them with their data and mapping needs.

Previous Position and Organization

As mentioned above, I worked for the University of Pittsburgh from 2010 to 2012, when FracTracker was a program at CHEC. Before that, I’ve worked as an archaeologist in the Southwest, a casino auditor, and an AmeriCorps member.

How did you first get involved working on oil and gas issues / fracking?

Environmental consciousness is something that has evolved over time for me. My family moved to Pittsburgh when I was a kid at a time when the city was busy sandblasting the soot off of iconic buildings and other landmarks all over town that had been left by over a century of steelmaking and other heavy industry. Then, I went to college in California at a time when Julia “Butterfly” Hill lived in an old-growth redwood for two years to protect it from being cut down. As an archaeologist, I spent my days looking for evidence of how people from a previous time had interacted with the environment around them. But my interest in oil and gas issues in particular really began by watching the footage of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on TV, then coming to the realization that similar – if smaller – spills and contamination events were happening all over the place.

What is one of the most impactful projects that you have been involved in with FracTracker?

To my way of thinking, the true impact of the FracTracker Alliance is varied and cumulative, much in the way that oil and gas development itself impacts people’s lives. It is useful for people to hear that a pipeline leak in Santa Barbara, an oil train explosion in Lac-Mégantic, deforestation due to sand mine development in Wisconsin, well explosions in North Dakota, ground water contamination in Pennsylvania, and pipeline operators taking land away from people using eminent domain in Texas are all phenomena related to oil and gas extraction. Even though they may be dealing with a variety of issues at the local level, the impacts of development are widespread, and one of FracTracker’s biggest impacts is reminding people of the interconnected nature of the industry.

If I were to choose just one project that I was involved in, however, I would have to say the analysis of people living within a half-mile of train tracks in Pennsylvania that we did with PennEnvironment. The project really brought into focus the damage that oil trains could incur if they happen to explode in densely populated regions throughout the state.

Brook Lenker, Matthew Kelso, and intern Gianna Calisto counting oil trains as they passed through Pittsburgh, PA

Brook Lenker, Matt Kelso, and intern Gianna Calisto counting oil trains as they passed through Pittsburgh, PA

Feature image: Matt Kelso and colleagues prior to Senate meeting in Argentina

Pedal Power for the Planet

We are excited to announce that FracTracker will be the beneficiary of a cross-country cycling expedition! Starting today, Dave Weyant of San Mateo, California will set out on a 4,262 mile cross-country journey on the Transamerica Route from tidewater Virginia to the Oregon Coast. The funds raised through this ride will be used by FracTracker to conduct tours and presentations to college and high school students – to show them first-hand or through compelling maps and imagery the harms that accompany oil and gas development and the better energy options available now. If you’d like to donate, please visit Dave’s Go Fund Me page. We appreciate your contribution for this important purpose.

Interview with Dave Weyant:

We interviewed Dave to learn more about his motivations for the trek and for supporting FracTracker.

When did you start thinking about doing this adventure?

Since 1976, when the Trans Am trip was first done to celebrate the bicentennial; I was 10 years old.

What excites you most about this trip/what are you looking forward to?

The self-reliance aspect of it, the fact that all I have will be on my bike. And all those miles, slowly seeing the US landscape change. I imagine I’ll have to eat a lot, too, and I enjoy eating.

What do you think will be the greatest challenges?

Humidity, bad weather, and a few things to be determined that I hadn’t planned for.

Why are you helping out FracTracker?

I’m concerned about fracking and fossil fuel development, especially the effects on the environment, drinking water, and how all this activity tends to slow or detract from investments in renewable energy. Being a history teacher, I hate the thought of someone looking back on us and saying “what were they thinking?”

What gives you hope that we can save the planet and effectively fight climate change?

Young people who care and are informed.

What was your favorite cycling experience to date?

Cycling down the coast from San Francisco to LA. Beautiful!

Why should others take up cycling? Why is it important to you?

It is a clean source of transportation. It keeps us healthy, removes cars from the road, and takes you back to being a kid pedaling through your neighborhood.


Support Dave’s Endeavor
Donations are tax deductible and benefit FracTracker Alliance

Check back throughout the summer for more articles & info about Dave’s experiences on the road.

Staff Spotlight: Kyle Ferrar

As part of our staff spotlight series, learn more about Kyle Ferrar and why he works with FracTracker Alliance to conduct and communicate research on the public health impacts associated with the oil and gas / fossil fuel industry.  

Time with FracTracker: I’ve been working with FracTracker since its inception in 2010, and started as an official staff member in July, 2014.

Nickname: Ky

Education: BS from the University of Pittsburgh; and MPH from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, where I am currently a DrPH candidate.

Office Location: I have an office in downtown Oakland, CA.

Title: Western Program Coordinator

What do you actually do in that role?

My major role as the Western Program Coordinator consists of a variety of responsibilities of operating a FracTracker Alliance branch office. In addition to the contributions of analyses and research that is documented on FracTracker’s California (and other western states’) page, my activities include fundraising, community outreach, and acting as an expert adviser on public health impacts for policy makers, regulators, other research institutions, at conferences, and directly to the public.

Kyle Ferrar spotlight image

Kyle Ferrar (right) taking water samples

Previous Position and Organization

My previous research as a staff member with the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) at the University of Pittsburgh focused on public health impacts from various sectors of the fossil fuel industry, including Marcellus Shale development. In the picture to the right, you can see a CHEC colleague and I collecting water samples from the Allegheny River, next to a coal fired power plant.

How did you first get involved working on oil and gas issues / fracking?

As a steward to my local environment in Southwestern Pennsylvania, I was alerted of the concerns many residents were feeling as a result of the rapid increase of industrial presence in rural Pennsylvania resulting from Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction. The connections our CHEC had made in the past using community based participatory research methods to address and study other sources of environmental degradation were a vital resource for understanding what was really happening – on the ground.

What is one of the most impactful projects that you have been involved in with FracTracker?

The majority of my time is spent working on my computer, and cleaning and massaging datasets in spreadsheets. This is necessary and important, but incredibly tedious and far-removed. One project in 2015 that started this way, as most do, became much more personal. Working with a group called Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment, we identified the fact that Hispanic students and other students of color are more likely to attend schools near active oil and gas wells than white students. This was also true for hydraulically fractured (stimulated) oil and gas wells. Now, no student should have to go to school near this type of activity, but California does not have minimum setback requirements for schools or any other sensitive sites.

Meeting and working with the families of the students – and the students themselves that attend schools in the midst of the oil and gas wastelands – drives me to continue working for a future free from the fossil-fuel industry. No child should have to go to school near oil and gas fields to get an education. And as is typically the case, non-white and Hispanic communities in California bear the heaviest burden.

Check back soon to read the analysis described above. It will be the focus of my next blog piece.

Feature Image: Kyle Ferrar (left) with colleagues from CRPE

Earth week in WI Feature Image

Earth Week in Wisconsin

By Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance

Frac sand mining is a growing threat to the agricultural landscapes of the upper Midwest and a health risk to those who live near the mines. With a general slowdown in the oil and gas industry, sand mining may seem a lessening concern in the universe of extraction impacts, but a recent visit to Wisconsin during Earth Week suggested otherwise.

Frac Sand Mining Presentations

Dr. Auch presenting in Wisconsin on frac sand mining issues

Dr. Auch presenting in Wisconsin on frac sand mining issues

I joined my colleague, Dr. Ted Auch, on an informative cross-state tour that started in Milwaukee. We were presenters at the Great Lakes Water Conservation Conference where representatives from breweries around the region and across the country came together to discuss their most precious commodity: clean and abundant water. Extraction affects both the quantity and quality of water – and our insights opened many eyes. Businesses like microbreweries with a focus on sustainability and a strong environmental ethic recognize the urgency and benefit of the renewable energy transformation.

From Milwaukee, we headed west to Madison and the University of Wisconsin where Caitlin Williamson of the Wisconsin Chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology organized the first of two forums entitled “Sifting the Future: The Ecological, Agricultural, and Health Effects of Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin.” We were joined by Kimberlee Wright of Midwest Environmental Advocates to address an engaged audience of 35 people from the campus and greater community. Thanks to Wisconsin Eye, a public affairs network, the entire program was videotaped.

Brook Lenker presenting at Sifting the Future event in Wisconsin

Brook Lenker presenting at Sifting the Future event in Wisconsin

A long drive to Eau Claire revealed rolling farmland, wooded hills, and prodigious wetlands home to waterfowl and the largest cranberry industry in the nation. At the Plaza Hotel, we met Cheryl Miller of the Save the Hills Alliance, the grantor enabling us to study the regional footprint of sand mining, and Pat Popple, advocate extraordinaire and our host for the second “Sifting the Future” event. The good folks at Public Lab were also in town to facilitate citizen monitoring of silica dust from the mining process, including a free workshop and training that weekend.

The evening program attracted 50 people from as far away as Iowa and Minnesota. Their interest in and knowledge of sand mining issues was impressive, and many were heavily involved in fighting local mines. Dr. Crispin Pierce spoke of his research about airborne particulates around frac sand operations, complementing both FracTracker presentations – mine emphasizing the broad array of environmental and public health perils related to oil and gas extraction and Ted’s examining the scale and scope of sand mining, demand for proppant, and the toll of the industry on agricultural productivity, forests and the carbon cycle.

Mining Photos

During the five day trip, sand mines were visited and documented, their incongruent and expanding presence marring the countryside. Some of them can be seen in this photo gallery:

View all frac sand mining photos >

Other Sights

On Earth Day, while driving east to return to Milwaukee, Sandhill cranes, a timeless symbol of the Wisconsin wild, poked the rich prairie soils searching for food. Joined by Autumn Sabo, a botanist and researcher who assisted our Wisconsin work, we detoured to the nearby Aldo Leopold Center visiting the simple shack that inspired Mr. Leopold to write Sand County Almanac. Considering the reason for my travel, the irony was thick. Ecological consciousness has come a long way, but more evangelism is sorely needed.

Aldo Leopold Center, WI

Aldo Leopold Center, Wisconsin

2016 New FracTracker Logo

Welcome to FracTracker Alliance 2.0

By Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance

The understanding of fracking’s harms has grown dramatically in the last decade, especially since FracTracker’s formation in 2010. Across the country and around the world, environmental and human health impacts of oil and gas development have been well documented. Every day brings new cause for concern.

During this same period, scientific and public awareness about the consequences and causation of climate change has accelerated and we watch with trepidation as profound changes grip our planet. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have eclipsed 400 ppm. Temperature records are repeatedly broken. Weather extremes have become routine.

These tragic realities aren’t acceptable. Nationally and internationally, hundreds – if not thousands – of organizations are working on these issues and speaking out for transparency, accountability, and progress. Progress means informed populations, responsible policies, and an aggressive shift to renewable energy while embracing efficiency. Great things are happening. The future demands boldness.

FracTracker has always been a data-driven resource for all – to educate, empower, and catalyze positive change. The Alliance in our name underscores that we are an ally with the multitudes in that quest, but the weight of the times requires us to revisit our mission statement (below) and sharpen our message to better convey what we do and why we do it. A new logo and tagline reinforce our pronouncement.

FracTracker Alliance studies, maps, and communicates the risks of oil and gas development to protect the planet and support the renewable energy transformation.

So, welcome to the freshened words and appearance of the FracTracker Alliance. We’re the same trusted organization but striving to be bolder, to make a bigger difference for us all. The future is now.

New FracTracker Alliance 2.0 Logo without tagline


If you have questions about these organizational changes, please email us at info@fractracker.org, or call +1 202-630-6426.

Staff Spotlight: Ted Auch

As part of FracTracker’s staff spotlight series, learn more about Ted Auch, PhD and why he started researching the impacts of oil and gas development.

Ted Auch during a trip to NW Michigan's Ludington State Park to photograph and learn more about Sargent Sand's mine

Ted Auch during a trip to NW Michigan’s Ludington State Park to photograph and learn more about Sargent Sand’s mine

Time with FracTracker: 3 ½ years

College: University of Vermont BS and PhD, Virginia Tech

Office Location: Cleveland Heights, OH

Title: Great Lakes Program Coordinator

What do you actually do in that role?

My interests include topics such as environmental justice, ecosystem services, watershed resilience, and landscape alteration(s). My work here at FracTracker focuses on the Food, Energy, and Water (FEW) nexus as it relates to hydraulic fracturing and related oil & gas activities/infrastructure with a focus on waste, watershed resilience and freshwater demand, and land-use change.

Previous Position and Organization

2011-2012 Vacant Land Repurposing (VLR) Postdoc, Cleveland Botanical Garden

2012- Present Adjunct Faculty, Cleveland State University, Teaching Intro Environmental Science and Geology, Soil Ecology

How did you first get involved working on oil and gas issues/fracking?

I had experienced the environmental and socioeconomic costs of fossil fuel extraction while I was a graduate student at Virginia Tech researching strip-mine/mountain top removal reclamation best practices as part of the Jim Burger’s Powell River Project. However, it wasn’t until I moved to Ohio in 2011 that I began to become aware of similar issues associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF). I began to notice that there are many parallels between the techniques and how they alter communities, the landscape, and watersheds. Thus, when I found out about the chance to join the FracTracker team here in Ohio I saw that it was an opportunity I could not pass up.

What is one of the most impactful projects that you have been involved in with FracTracker?

The projects I am most proud in my capacity here at FracTracker would be our research into the effects of HVHF freshwater demand on the resilience/security of the Muskingum River Watershed in eastern Ohio and our work shedding light on the effects of frac sand mining across several Midwestern states. The latter topic is poorly understood on many levels, and we hope that our work has/will highlight the gaps in understanding and potential research opportunities.

Read Ted Auch’s Articles

Ted Auch and team during a trip to NW Michigan's Ludington State Park to photograph and learn more about Sargent Sand's mine

Ted Auch and team during a trip to NW Michigan’s Ludington State Park to photograph and learn more about Sargent Sand’s mine

Clearing land for shale gas pipeline in PA

A Push For Pipelines

By Bill Hughes, WV Community Liaison

For anyone who even casually follows Marcellus and Utica shale gas exploration and production, such as in the active gas fields of West Virginia or Southwestern PA or Ohio, we know there are many concerns surrounding the natural gas production process. These issues range from air pollution, water consumption and contamination, to waste disposal. We know that, after all well the pad drilling and construction traffic are done, we must also have pipelines to get the gas to compressor stations, processing plants, and to markets in the Eastern United States (and likely Europe and Asia in the near future). Gas companies in Wetzel County, WV, and in neighboring tri-state counties, are convinced that building pipelines – really big pipelines – will be the silver bullet to achieving some semblance of stability and profitability.

Problems With Proposed Pipelines

One of the new, very large diameter (42”) proposed gas pipelines getting attention in the press is the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which will originate in the village of Mobley in eastern Wetzel County, WV and extend Southeast, through national forests and over the Appalachian Mountains into the state of Virginia. Even if the residents of Wetzel County and other natural gas fields are guinea pigs for experiments with hydraulic fracturing, we know how to build pipelines, don’t we? The equipment, knowledge, and skill sets needed for pipeline construction is readily available and commonly understood compared to high pressure horizontal drilling with large volumes of slick water. So, what could go wrong?

I can answer that question first hand from my hayfield in Wetzel County. Almost two years ago, EQT wanted to survey my property for a similar proposed pipeline – this one 30” in diameter, called the Ohio Valley Connector (OVC). The application for this project has now been filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The below map shows a section of the OVC as proposed almost two years ago. The red outlined area is my property. The yellow line shows one proposed pathway of the 30” pipeline that would cross our land. Multiple routes were being explored at first. Were this version approved, it would have gone right through my hayfield and under our stream.

A section of the OVC as proposed almost two years ago.

A section of the OVC as proposed almost two years ago. The red outlined area is my property. The yellow line shows one proposed pathway of the 30” pipeline that would cross our land.

Pipeline opponents express concern about habitat fragmentation, the crossing of pristine streams and rivers, erosion and sedimentation issues, spills, gas leaks, and possible explosions. These are all very valid concerns. But the potential for other logistical errors in the building process – from very simple to potentially serious ones – are also worth consideration. In this article I will use my recent personal experience as a detailed and documented example of how a professionally surveyed location on my property contained an error of almost one mile – over 4,000 feet – as part of a pipeline construction planning project. Yes, you read that right.

Part I: How Did We Get To This Point

Before we get to my story, I should review my first contact with EQT on this issue. In February of 2014, an EQT land agent asked me for permission to walk my property for preliminary evaluation of a route that would send their 30” high-pressure pipe through our land, from south to north.

It is important to keep in mind that almost every landowner in Wetzel County has been contacted by mail, phone or in person, by land agents promising cash with a verbal assurance that all will be well. The goal is to get a landowner’s signature on a loosely worded “right of way” (RoW) lease contract, with terms favorable to the gas company, and move on. Unfortunately, pipeline lease offers cannot be ignored. Not objecting or not questioning can sometime leave the landowner with fewer choices later. This is because many of the bigger interstate transmission lines are being proposed as FERC lines. When final approval is granted by FERC, these pipelines will have the legal power of eminent domain, where the property owner is forced to comply. Just filing a FERC application does not grant eminent domain in West Virginia, as it seems to in Virginia, but the potential for eminent domain gives land agents power over landowners.

I was not ready to give them surveying permission (to drive stakes or other permanent markers). Since a natural gas pipeline would affect all my neighbors, however, I agreed to allow a preliminary walk through my property and to hang surveyor ribbons in exchange for answering my questions about the project. For instance, one of my biggest concerns was the potential for significant habitat fragmentation, splitting up the forest and endangering wildlife habitat.

[av_font_icon icon=’ue836′ font=’entypo-fontello’ style=” caption=” link=” linktarget=” size=’40px’ position=’left’ color=”][/av_font_icon] There are many questions residents should consider when approached by land agent. A list of these questions can be found in the appendix below.

I never did get answers to most of my questions in the few e-mail exchanges and phone conversations with EQT. I never saw the surveyors either. They simply came and left their telltale colored ribbons. Later, at a public meeting an EQT representative said the closest they would run the pipe to any residence would be 37.5 feet. That number is correct. I asked twice. They said they had the right to run a pipeline that close to a residence but would do their best not to. The 37.5 feet is just one half of the permanent RoW of 75 feet, which was also only part of a 125 foot RoW requested for construction. A few months later, a very short e-mail said that the final pipeline route had changed and they would not be on my property. For a time we would enjoy some peace and quiet.

A Word On Surveyors

Most folks can relate to the work and responsibility of bookkeepers or Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). They measure and keep track of money. And their balance sheets and ledgers actually have to, well, BALANCE. Think of Surveyors as the CPAs of the land world. When they go up a big hill and down the other side, the keep track of every inch — they will not tolerate losing a few inches here and there. They truly are professionals, measuring and documenting everything with precision. Most of the surveyors I have spoken with are courteous and respectful. They are a credit to their profession. They are aware of the eminent domain threat and their surveying success depends on treating landowners with respect. They are good at what they do. However, as this article will show, their professional success and precision depends on whether or not they are given the correct route to survey.

Part II: Surveyor Stakes and Flags

Over the next year we enjoyed peace and quiet with no more surveyors’ intrusions. However, in my regular travels throughout the natural gas fields here, countless signs of surveyor activity were visible. Even with the temporary slowdown in drilling, the proposed pipeline installations kept these surveyors busy. Assorted types of stakes and ribbons and markings are impossible to miss along our roads. I usually notice many of the newer surveyor’s flags and the normal wooden stakes used to mark out future well pads, access roads, compressor stations, and more recently pipelines. Given that survey markings are never taken down when no longer needed, the old ones sometimes hide the new ones.

It can be difficult keeping track of all of them and hard at first to identify why they are there. Even if sometimes I am not sure what a stake and flag might indicate, when one shows up very unexpectedly in what is essentially my front yard, it is impossible to not see it. That is what happened in August of 2015. Despite being unable to get our hay cut due to excessive rain the previous month, the colored flags were highly visible. Below shows one of the stakes with surveyor’s tape, and the hay driven down where the surveyors had parked their trucks in my field alongside my access road.

A surveyor stake alongside my access road.

A surveyor stake alongside my access road.

To call it trespassing might not be legally defensible yet. The stakes were, after all, near a public roadway – but the pins and stakes and flags were on my property. Incidents like this, whether intentional or accidental, are what have given the natural gas companies a reputation as bad neighbors. There were surveyors’ stakes and flags at two different locations, my hay was driven down, and I had no idea what all this meant given that I had no communication from anyone at EQT in over 18 months. I consider myself fortunate that the surveyors did not stray into wooded areas where trees might have been cut. It’s been known to happen.

Below shows the two sets of wooden stakes, roughly 70-80 feet apart, with flags and capped steel rebar pins. Both stakes were near the road’s gravel lane, which is a public right of way. Nevertheless, the stakes were clearly on my property. The markings on one side of the stake identify the latitude, longitude, and the elevation above sea level of the point. The other side of the stake identified it as locating the OVC pipeline (seen here as “OVC 6C):

These identifying numbers are unique to this pin which is used to denote a specific type of location called a “control point.” Control points are usually located off to the side of the center-line of the pipeline:

A control point, located off to the side of the center-line of the pipeline.

A control point, located off to the side of the center-line of the pipeline.

It seemed that somehow, without informing me or asking permission to be on my land, EQT had changed their mind on the OVC route and were again planning to run a pipeline through my property. If this was intentional, both EQT and I had a problem. If this was some kind of mistake, then only EQT would have a problem. Either way I could not fathom how this happened. Trespassing, real or perceived, is always a sensitive topic. This is especially true since, when I had initially allowed the surveyor to be on my property, I had not given permission for surveying. Given concerns about eminent domain, I wanted answers quickly. I documented all this with detailed pictures in preparation for contacting EQT representatives in Pittsburgh, PA, with my complaints.

Part III: What Happened & How?

I think it is safe to say that, in light of my well-known activism in documenting all things Marcellus, I am not your average surface owner. I have over 10,000 photographs of Marcellus operations in Wetzel County and I document every aspect of it. Frequently this leads to contacting many state agencies and gas operators directly about problems. I knew which gas company was responsible and I also knew exactly who in Pittsburgh to contact. To their credit, the person I contacted at EQT, immediately responded and it took most of the day to track down what had happen. The short story was that it was all a simple mistake—a 4,300 foot long mistake—but still just a mistake. The long story follows.

The EQT representative assured me that someone would be out to remove their stakes, flags and the steel pins. I told them that they needed to be prompt and that I would not alter or move their property and locating points. The next day, when I got home, the stakes with flags were gone. Just a small bare patch of dirt remained near the white plastic fencepost I had placed to mark the location. However, since I am a cultivated skeptic—adhering to the old Russian proverb made famous by President Reagan, “Trust but Verify”—I grabbed a garden trowel, dug around a bit, and clink, clink. The steel pin had just been driven deeper to look good, just waiting for my tiller to locate someday. I profusely re-painted the pin, photographed it, and proceeded to send another somewhat harsh e-mail to EQT. The pin was removed the next day.

After all the stakes, ribbons, and steel pins were removed, EQT provided further insights into what had transpired. Multiple pipeline routes were being evaluated by EQT in the area. Gas companies always consider a wide range of constraints to pipeline construction such as road and stream crossings, available access roads, permission and cooperation of the many landowners, steepness of terrain, etc. At a certain point in their evaluation, a final route was chosen. But for unknown reasons the surveyor crew was given the old, now abanoned, route on which to establish their control points. The magnitiude of the error can be seen on the map below. The bright blue line is the original path of the OVC pipeline through my property and the red line shows where the FERC filed pipeline route will go. A new control point has now been established near the highway where the pipeline was meant to cross.

The FERC filed OVC pipeline route vs. the accidentally surveyed route.

The FERC filed OVC pipeline route vs. the accidentally surveyed route.

 

Part IV: Lessons To Be Learned

Given the likely impact of many proposed large-diameter, very long, pipelines being planned, it seems useful to examine how these errors can happen. What can we learn from my personal experience with the hundreds of miles of new pipelines constructed in Wetzel County over the past eight years? First, it is important to ask whether or not similar problems are likely to happen elsewhere, or if this was this just an isolated incident. Can we realistically expect better planning on the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, which will run for over 300 miles? Can the residents and landowners living along these pipeline RoWs expect more responsible construction and management practices?

In general, many of the pipeline projects with which landowners, such as those in Wetzel County, are familiar with fall into the unregulated, gathering line category. They might be anywhere from six inches in diameter up to sixteen inches. As we review their track record, we have seen every imaginable problem, both during construction and after they were put into operation. We have had gas leaks and condensate spills, hillside mud slips, broken pipes, erosion and sedimentation both during construction and afterwards.

Now for some apparently contradictory assumptions—I am convinced that, for the most part, truck drivers, pipeliners, equipment operators, drilling and fracturing crews, well tenders and service personnel at well sites, all do the best job they can. If they are given the proper tools and materials, accurate directions with trained and experienced supervision, the support resources and the time to do a good job, then they will complete their tasks consistently and proudly. A majority of employees in these positions are dedicated, trained, competent, and hard working. Of course, there are no perfect contractors out there. These guys are human too. And on the midnight shift, we all get tired. In the context of this story, some pipeline contractors are better and more professional than others, some are more experienced, and some have done the larger pipelines. Therefore, despite best intentions, significant errors and accidents will still occur.

The Inherent Contradictions

It seems to me that the fragile link in natural gas production and pipeline projects is simply the weakness of any large organization’s inherent business model. Every organization needs to constantly focus on what I refer to as the “four C’s—Command and Control, then Coordination and Communication—if they are to be at all successful. It is a challenge to manage these on a daily basis even when everyone is in the same big building, working for the same company, speaking the same language. This might be in a university, or a large medical complex, or an industrial manufacturing plant.

But the four C’s are nearly impossible to manage due to the simple fact that the organizational structure of the natural gas industry depends completely on hundreds of sub-contractors. And those companies, in turn, depend on a sprawling and transient, expanding and collapsing, network of hundreds of other diverse and divergent independent contractors. For example, on any given well pad, during the drilling or fracturing process, there might be a few “company” men on site. Those few guys actually work for the gas company in whose name the operating permit is drawn. Everyone else is working for another company, on site temporarily until they are ready to move on, and their loyalty is elsewhere.

In the best of situations, it is next to impossible to get the right piece of information to the right person at just the right time. Effective coordination among company men and contractors is also next to impossible. I have seen this, and listened in, when the drilling company is using one CB radio channel and the nearby pipeline company is using some private business band radio to talk to “their people.” In that case, the pipeline contractors could not talk to the well pad—and it did not matter to them. In other cases, the pilot vehicle drivers will unilaterally decide to use another CB radio channel and not tell everyone. I have also watched while a massive drill rig relocation was significantly delayed simply because a nearby new gas processing plant was simultaneously running at least a hundred dump trucks with gravel on the same narrow roadway. Constant communication is a basic requirement for traffic coordination, but next to impossible to do properly and consistently when these practices are so prevalent.

These examples illustrate how companies are often unable to coordinate their operations. Now, if you can, just try to picture this abysmal lack of command and control, and minimal communication and coordination, in the context of building a 300-mile length of pipeline. The larger the pipeline diameter, and the greater the overall length of the pipeline, the more contractors will be needed. With more contractors and sub-contractors, the more coordination and communication are essential. A FERC permit cannot fix this, nor would having a dozen FERC permits. Unfortunately, I do not envision the four Cs improving anytime soon in the natural gas industry. It seems to be the nature of the beast. If, as I know from personal experience, a major gas company can arrange to locate a surveyed control point 4,300 feet from where it should have been, then good luck with a 300 mile pipeline. Even with well-intentioned, trained employees, massive problems are still sure to come.

The FERC approvals for these pipelines might not be a done deal, but I would not bet against them. So vigilance and preparation will still be of the essence. Citizen groups must be prepared to observe, monitor, and document these projects as they unfold. If massive pipelines like the MVP and OVC are ever built, they should become the most photographed, measured, scrutinized, and documented public works projects since the aqueducts first delivered water to ancient Rome. For the sake of protecting the people and environment of Wetzel County and similar communities, I hope this is the case.

By Bill Hughes, WV Community Liaison, FracTracker Alliance
Read more Field Diary articles.

Appendix: Questions to Ask When Approached by a Land Agent (Landsman)

These questions can be modified to suit your location. The abbreviation “Gas Corp.” is used below to reference a typical natural gas company or a pipeline subsidiary to a natural gas company.  These subsidiaries are frequently called Midstream Companies. Midstream companies build and manage the pipelines, gas processing, and some compressor stations on behalf of natural gas companies.

  1. Please provide a Plain English translation of your landowner initial contract.
  2. What will Gas Corp. be allowed to do, and not allowed to do, short term and long term?
  3. What will Gas Corp. be required to do, and not required to do?
  4. What is the absolute minimum distance this pipeline will be placed away from any dwelling anywhere along its entire length?
  5. What restrictions will there be on the my land after you put in the pipelines?
  6. Who will be overseeing and enforcing any environmental restrictions (erosion and sedimentation, slips, stream crossings, etc.)?
  7.  Who will be responsible for my access road upkeep?
  8. Who will be responsible for long term slips and settlements of surface?
  9. When would this construction begin?
  10. When would all work be completed?
  11. Who would be responsible for long term stability of my land?
  12. Will the pipeline contractor(s) be bound to any of our agreements?
  13. Who are the pipeline contractor(s)?
  14. What will be transported in the pipeline?
  15. Will there be more than one pipe buried?
  16. How wide is the temporary work RoW?
  17. How wide is the permanent RoW?
  18. How deep will the pipeline(s) be buried?
  19. What size pipe will it be; what wall  thickness?
  20. How often will the welds on the individual pipe segments be inspected?
  21. Will there be any above ground pipeline components left visible?
  22. Where will the pipe(s) originate and where will they be going to?
  23. What will the average operating pressure be?
  24. What will the absolute maximum pressure ever be?
  25. At this pressure and diameter, what is the PIR—Potential Impact Radius?
  26. Will all pipeline and excavating and laying equipment be brought in clean and totally free from any invasive species?
  27. How will the disturbed soil be reclaimed?
  28. Will all top soil be kept separate and replaced after pipeline is buried?
  29. Also, After all the above is settled, how much will I be paid per linear foot of pipeline?

Interview with Therese Vick – Sentinel Award Winner

Kirk Jalbert, FracTracker’s Manager of Community Based Research & Engagement, interviews Therese Vick, one of FracTracker’s 2015 Community Sentinels Award Winners.

Therese Vick is a highly-regarded community organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League in North Carolina. A big part of her work is serving BREDL chapters in Stokes, Anson, Lee, and Chatham counties – all frontline communities threatened by shale gas extraction. In these communities, she offers organizing assistance, training programs, and strategic campaign planning for local groups. Watch-dogging state regulatory agencies is also a significant part of Therese’s work, about which she publishes extensively on in her blog, From Where I Sit: Reports From The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission Meetings. Therese lives in Raleigh, NC, with her cats Savannah and Charity, and a very opinionated bunny named Stella.

Q: To start, can tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to the world of environmental advocacy work?

Therese: Well, I actually started out in a small town in Eastern North Carolina, working at a pharmacy. This was back in the very early ‘90s and a proposal for the world’s second largest hazardous waste incinerator landed on our county about six miles from my home. And this is a county that had no hospital. We had a volunteer fire department, but we had no haz-mat, none of that kind of infrastructure. That’s how I got involved in grassroots environmental work. I was a volunteer for years. Then I came on staff with Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) and was supported by a local organization – the North Hampton Citizens Against Pollution -through a small grant. I left my job at the drug store after about 15 years and went to work on a bunch of different issues, not just the hazardous waste incinerator, which we eventually defeated. I worked with BREDL for about three and a half years, then went back to work with my husband in his business and raised my kids but stayed active with local community groups off and on. I came here to the Triangle to complete my education in psychology and human services. I called the executive director of BREDL to let them know I was living here in Raleigh; I knew that they came to Raleigh sometimes. They offered me a job, I graduated, and I came back to work for BREDL. So that’s kind of how I ended up where I am right now. I have been volunteering and working on grassroots environmental issues for over 20 years.

Q: Now that you are back with Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, what sorts of projects have you been working on?

A: It can change from one day to the next, but my biggest areas of work are on fracking, of course, disposal of coal ash, and air quality in particular. I’m also working on pipelines. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is proposed to go through North Carolina. My co-worker and I are working with communities opposing that. And we work on myriads of other issues. We are community organizers, but we not only doing the organizing, we do a lot of research and technical assistance and watchdog regulatory agencies and things like that as well. That is another big part of my job, is public records and investigations and things like that.

Q: You also do a lot to communicate your findings to the public by way of your blog, From Where I Sit. How do you think that work has made a difference in helping community to understanding the political landscape of gas development?

A: How that blog came about was, I was attending many, many meetings. I can’t even tell you how many, I would say 100 meetings of the Mining and Energy Commission and their various committees, which were very hard to sit through and very frustrating. I wrote this really sarcastic report to our executive director and it was kind of funny too. He said, you know what, you need to start writing a blog before you lose your mind. So that is where it started. It was fun, but also serious. It’s a good organizing tool. In the court of public opinion, it is a good tool for communities to use and to let the general public know that this is something good we are doing for the community, for our community. I mean, it’s something that has to be done because we are just not being protected like we should be. And I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Fighting for Government Transparency

Q: How has all of this work that you are involved in shaped your feelings on the importance of making information and data available to the public?

A: Back in the ‘90s there were these proponents of the incinerator who were very assertive about how we needed the incinerator and how it was going to help the state and all of this stuff. People just had never known them to be active politically so they knew something was going on – all the proponents said, “oh we have nothing to gain from this, nothing. We just think it’s a good idea and blah, blah, blah.” So when I went to the state to do a file search, the first one I had ever done, nervous as I could be, and I found three options from three of the biggest proponent land owners with the company – they were selling their land to the company for the hazardous waste incinerator. Nobody knew this. And I so I paid my 25 cents a page, copied them, and hurried back home from Raleigh to the little town I lived. Long story short, it was a really big story. It was a statewide story and I got some threats, some anonymous threats, and I had a lawyer that call me saying I had no right to those documents. I ended up hanging up on him. Anyway, that kind of got me hooked on the power of having information.

Q: Have you found a similar sense of importance in working with oil and gas related data? I know, for instance, you have done a lot of writing about Halliburton having deep political ties in your area.

A: Well the Halliburton one, Greenpeace did some reporting on that piece and it got national attention. Most of the Mining and Energy Commission stuff is pretty mundane, but this one commissioner was not careful. I requested specific information about if they had met with certain individuals—all the commissioners, it was a request to all the commissioners. I wanted calendar entries and all that stuff. It took them a little bit to get me the information. But then this one commissioner he had it all in a folder that was marked Halliburton. I was stunned. There was this guy, Bowen Health, and he was a registered lobbyist for Halliburton. And this Commissioner, George Howard, he was on the Mining and Energy Commission. He had this folder marked Halliburton. Now, compared to other places of the country we had a pretty strong chemical disclosure law. And Halliburton essentially nixed that. They got that backed up. But this commissioner, he had a calendar entry on December 5th, 2012, from 5:30-6:00pm, there with Bowen Health, the Halliburton lobbyist. All of the commissioners had just maintained, over and over and over again, “We haven’t had any contact with Halliburton.” That is what led me to request the records and there it was, just in black and white. And, I tell you what, it made some of them really mad at him.

Q: What would you say, at this point, is the biggest challenge moving forward with this work?

A: I think the current anti-regulatory frenzy at the state level, the lack of care and concern for public health and the environment at the state level, and the rush to exploit oil and gas in North Carolina at any cost. Those would be the three biggest challenges you have to battle every single day. You’ve got the same philosophy at the head of the environmental agency that you have in the governor’s mansion and in the legislature. People that don’t—at least say they don’t—believe in climate change. People that think that fracking is fine. People that think that offshore drilling is great. Conservative folks, and I’m not political, but that’s one thing that kind of astounded me at the beginning of this. Forced pooling is legal in North Carolina, and it has been since the ‘40s. The fact that people who consider themselves believers in personal and private property rights support, or don’t repeal, that law just was stunning to me. I’m seeing the same thing with imminent domain and the pipelines. So the fact that all this stuff can be ignored, and with the legislature, the governor, and the Department Environment and Natural Resources having that same philosophy, makes it difficult, but not impossible.

Q: So how do you overcome the challenges of anti-disclosure and anti-regulatory sentiments?

A: You have to continue to try to expose what is going on. And, actually, I have got a huge request that I have been going through on coal ash that has some of what I was just telling you about. You have to expose what is going on to educate the public. You have to develop strategic plans within the bigger organization and at the community level, because you just have to be prepared for whatever comes next. And working at the grassroots is the most important thing – folks working in local communities with their local governments, that is the most important thing.

Q: If there was one thing that you would communicate to people or groups that are getting off the ground to deal with similar problems in other parts of the country, what would you say to those individuals?

A: We only have to last one day longer than they do. In other words, don’t give up. If you need to take a little break then take a break, but try to celebrate along the way because it’s hard work. It’s very, very hard work and it can be very depressing and stressful, especially when you are living in a targeted community or you are living with a problem. Try to have fun when you can find it.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to mention that is important to you personally?

A: I just wanted to say – about the Community Sentinel Award – I wanted to lift up the communities that I work with. Over time they become friends, and they are the heroes. They are the heroes, and I couldn’t do the kind of work that I do without them.

Happy Holidays from the FracTracker Alliance

Happy Holidays from FracTracker Alliance

Whether you are coming to our website for the first time or are a regular consumer of our work, we hope our maps, data, stories, and photos are informative, insightful, and, occasionally, inspiring.

If you’re one of the many organizations and institutions collaborating with us to expose harms, we hope our services and partnership have been of great value in your advocacy or research aims.

As 2015 closes, extraction impacts continue. While drilling has slowed in many areas, pipeline construction has accelerated and oil trains roll through our cities posing excruciating risk. Our activities – and those of the many brave groups fighting to protect their communities – remain critical. The urgency is amplified by the dire state of our climate and oceans, symptoms of fossil fuel dependency. FracTracker’s crucial role is to examine the exhaustive footprint and effects of extraction while illuminating better paths forward.

Our last name is Alliance – a word that can be defined as ‘pact.’ Our pact is with the people whose lives have been turned upside down and the advocates working nonstop for a sustainable future. It’s an Alliance for everyone who cherishes the common home we call Earth.

At this reflective time of year, we are thankful for all who take the time to learn about these heavy issues and exercise their concern. We’re grateful for cooperation and collegiality that strengthen our collective impact. We deeply appreciate the foundations and individuals who support us and enable our work, including the many patrons who attended our first-ever film night and fundraiser in September. At that event, we celebrated environmental heroes receiving community sentinel awards for their stewardship. What a difference committed people can make!

At this giving time of year, we ask you to consider a year-end contribution to the FracTracker Alliance. We ask this humbly, as we know there are many causes worthy of your support, including our sister organizations also addressing the energy and climate challenge. Every dollar helps so please give what you can, but do so knowing that your gift will be used smartly in service of our noble mission.

On behalf of the entire FracTracker team, best wishes for a peaceful holiday season!

Happy Holidays,

Sig2

Brook Lenker,
Executive Director,
FracTracker Alliance


Interview with Craig Stevens – Sentinel Award Winner

Kirk Jalbert, FracTracker’s Manager of Community Based Research & Engagement, interviews Craig Stevens, one of FracTracker’s 2015 Community Sentinels Award Winners.

CraigStevens&MarkRuffalo

Craig Stevens (on right) with actor Mark Ruffalo

Craig Stevens is a 6th generation landowner from Silver Lake Township in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Craig and his neighbors have experienced first-hand the truck traffic, noise, air pollution, and water contamination issues that often accompany shale gas extraction. Beginning in 2011 Craig began arranging tours of Susquehanna Co. to share affected residents’ stories with the press. This work has attracted citizens, journalists, elected officials, and celebrities from all over the world who now see Susquehanna Co. as an example of what could happen in their own backyards. We spoke with Craig about his work.

Q: Perhaps we can start by telling the readers your story, how you come back to Pennsylvania and how this led to your advocacy work related to oil and gas development?

Craig: Well, I was born in California in 1960, lived there for 46 years. Then my dad got sick in 2006; he was diagnosed with terminal esophageal cancer. My brother and sister and I ended up inheriting the ancestral 115-acre property. I had visited there my whole life, every couple of years, but I knew nothing about oil and gas or coal or any extraction methods and pretty much grew up at the beach in Southern California. Nobody in the family wanted to keep the family property, so I moved up here in January of 2010. The first thing I did was to check the deed to make sure that it had been transferred to our names. That’s when I found a gas lease for the property. On my father’s deathbed, he told us not to have anything to do with the industry, that he had refused to sign a lease. But then I did my research and found out Chesapeake Energy had signed my 95 year old grandmother, who was living in a nursing home, to a ten year oil and gas lease. My grandmother was a tenant but did not own the property. In Pennsylvania, and many other states, you can’t transfer mineral rights to anybody that’s a life tenant because that is part of a real estate deal. But they did it, they recorded it on our deed, tying up all of our mineral rights and giving it to Chesapeake Energy.

The second thing that got me fired up was when I was riding my three-wheeler and found a company had staked out a half-mile area right down the middle of our property. They were looking to put in a 16-inch pipeline without our permission or knowledge. So I pulled all the stakes out, went into town, and found the company. They right there offered me money. They said, well, we are going to put this in and we appreciate it if your family signed up, because we need to get this gas to market. After I refused their offer they told me all my neighbors had signed along the route already and I was going to be holding things up. Then they said, the state wants us here and they are going to give us Certificate of Public Convenience, so we are going to take your property either way. So that was my introduction to the gas industry.

Q: You have said in the past that we need to think about how we deal with shale gas extraction’s impacts as a matter of helping each other deal with civil and human rights abuses. Can you explain what you mean by that?

A: I was raised always to think globally, but act locally. Because everything that happens in our lives happens in our backyard and that is where things go. I was very politically active from a young age. My father got us all politically active. My older brother and my younger sister, at 10 years old, 8 years old, we were going to city council meetings and town council and county commission meetings, just because my dad was interested in what was going on in his community. Back then my neighbors in Dimock, PA, were having a problem. So I thought, I better find out what’s happening. Not only help them, because they are having a problem that doesn’t look like it’s resolved, but also to help prevent it from coming to Silver Lake Township. I always try to help people that are having a problem, especially with big people and bullies. So it was natural for me to stand with them and I started to tell my own story at the same time.

The Citizens’ Perspective

Q: Tell me about some of the projects you have been involved in that bring the public into shale gas debates. For instance, I know you organize regular tours of gas fields. Who attends these tours? What do you think they learn from visiting gas communities?

A: We’ve had 40 sitting assembly members and 8 state senators from New York State visit Susquehanna Co. We have had hundreds of mayors and town supervisors and country commissioners come and see first hand from a citizens’ perspective. We have had 60 countries come and send their public television stations. One of our tours was with Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono, Susan Sarandan, Arun Gandhi (Gandhi’s grandson) and Josh Fox. They had 35 journalists with them, including Rolling Stone. When they come we tell these people, also go take an industry tour, so they can see the other side. We encourage it because we don’t want them to think we are just bashing them and that they don’t get to defend themselves. Our thing was, if we highlight what is happening in our little neck of the woods then we could educate by showing the truth and affect the debate. Of course we were attacked viciously by the oil and gas industry, and by Energy in Depth, but also by the local elected officials that were pro-gas.

Q: This obviously requires a community effort. How have people and organizations in the area come together through these actions, and have they been able to develop more power by not just working as individuals?

A: Well here is the interesting thing. When I moved here, there were about 50 people that would show up at public meetings to discuss their first-hand experiences. These were people from Dimock, PA, and other surrounding areas. Besides that, there really was no collective organizing in Northeastern Pennsylvania. But we found that, by telling our stories, we brought the interest of organizations like New Yorkers Against Fracking and Mark Ruffalo’s group, Water Defense. They started to adopt us. I and other families started to travel all over, not only in New York but also in New Jersey and Ohio, to educate people. I realized that I was meant to take these stories further out. I took them to all these State Houses — North Carolina, Florida, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Ohio. In California I was allowed to go and sit with the Governor’s entire Cabinet in his executive office. I was very proud to go there since I grew up in California.

Q: In the bigger picture of protecting our environment, why do you think it’s important for concerned citizens to get involved in these kinds of activities?

A: I have four children who will not live on the same clean planet that I did; as dirty as we thought it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s when I grew up, this is going to make that look like the heyday of environmental cleanliness. I’m doing this because I really believe this is a generational suicide we’re experiencing. By not telling this story, I would be complicit. When people see the gas company’s commercials and hear the radio ads, it sounds like the truth because it’s coming from credible people. By facing up to these giants, and showing people that you can do it and win like in New York, that can start a grassroots fire all around the world. And that has happened if you look at what is happening in England and Poland and Spain and France and Germany. We are proud to be part of that movement.

Q: What would you say is the most valuable insight you have learned from working with people fighting the gas industry?

A: The most valuable lesson for me is that people power trumps corporate power. People sometimes just don’t realize that they have an inner strength – that an average person who knew nothing about this five and a half or six years ago can get involved and become leaders. I’m more excited today than ever. I went to Florida. They have some very bad chemical non-disclosure bills. Right now we have 15 counties and 35 cities in Florida that have passed resolutions for bans of fracking for oil or gas in Florida. Maryland is safe until October of 2017 because of their moratorium. So what we are doing is working. I try to remind people, and everyone out there should know this, that you are a federal citizen, the same you are a citizen of the state or Commonwealth or republic that you live in. You are protected constitutionally and legally as a federal taxpayer. So the federal government can’t just throw us to the wolves of these individual states. They have to act. If they don’t, then they need to step down and let somebody get in there that has the health and safety of their citizens at the top of their list of what they are supposed to be doing every day in their position of power.