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The Falcon Public Monitoring Project

Part of the Falcon Public EIA Project

In March of 2019, two and a half years after Shell Pipeline Co. announced plans for the Falcon Ethane Pipeline System, the imported pipes arrived at the Port of Philadelphia. As tree clearing and construction begins, we share frustration with residents that the project is underway while many of our concerns remain unaddressed.

Between 2010 and 2018, over 280 pipeline incidents were reported in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania (the three states the Falcon crosses). Of those incidents, 70 were fires and/or explosions. As regulatory agencies and operators fail to protect the public, communities are taking the reins.

Residents of southwest PA gather along the Falcon route

Environmental organizations are training the public to spot construction violations and appealing inadequate pipeline permits. Impacted residents are running for office, testifying in court, and even spending time in prison to protect their communities.

These grassroots efforts are contributing to a shift in public perception about the safety and need of pipelines. In some cases, including with the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline and the Constitution Pipeline, organizing efforts are helping stop projects before they begin.

We invite all residents along the Falcon route to get involved in ongoing efforts to monitor construction. Below, you’ll find a guide to reporting violations as well as high-risk areas along the Falcon route that require close monitoring.

Be a citizen watchdog

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Taking photos of pipeline development and recording your observations is a great way to monitor impacts. One tool to use while monitoring is the FracTracker mobile app (search “FracTracker” in the App Store or Google Play to download for free). The app allows the public to submit geolocated photos and descriptions of development, such as pipelines and wells, and concerns, such as spills and noise pollution. These reports help FracTracker crowdsource data and alert us to concerns that need follow up action. The app also contains a map of wells, pipelines, and compressor stations, including the Falcon pipeline route for reference in the field.

Click on the images below to view app reports of Falcon construction.

Documenting violations

During the construction phase, incidents often occur when companies cause erosion of the ground and release sediment, equipment, or discharge into waterways. Mountain Watershed Association and Clean Air Council have provided the following information on the process of looking for and documenting violations.

Step 1) Document baseline conditions. Documenting the pre-construction status of an area is crucial for understanding how it’s been impacted down the road. Document baseline conditions by taking photos, videos, and notes at different sites, and include the location and date on these materials (the Fractracker app does this for you automatically). Observing sites at different times and in different weather (such as during or after a storm) will give you the best data.

Step 2) Know what to look for. Below are images and descriptions of common construction violations.

Filtration Failure

Drilling fluid spill

For more violations, checkout Pipeline CSI’s list of Top Ten Observable Non-Compliance Issues.

3) File a Report. File an official complaint to your state environmental regulatory agency.

Your concerns can be sent to regulatory agencies using the following contact information:

4) Contact support organizations. There are several organizations ready to take action once violations have been confirmed. For confirmed violations in Beaver County, PA, contact Alex Bomstein, at the Clean Air Council (215-567-4004 x118) and for confirmed violations in Allegheny or Washington Counties, PA, contact Melissa Marshall at the Mountain Watershed Association (724-455-4200 x7#). For violations in Ohio or West Virginia, reach out to FracTracker (412-802-0273).

Reports made on the FracTracker App are shared with any app user and the FracTracker team, who look through the reports and contact users for any required follow up. App reports can also be submitted to regulatory agencies electronically. Simply visit the web version of the app, click on your report, and copy the URL (web address) of your report. Then “paste” it into the body of an email or online complaint form. The receiver will see the exact location, date, and any notes or photos you included in the report.

Where should you be monitoring?

Monitoring efforts must be limited to publicly accessible land. In general, areas that are most at-risk for environmental impact include stream and wetland crossings, steep slopes (particularly those near water crossings), flood-prone zones, and areas where storm water runoff will reach waterways. View a map of the Falcon’s water crossings here, and continue reading for more vulnerable locations to monitor.

The information below identifies high-risk areas along the pipeline route where monitoring efforts are extra necessary due to their impacts on drinking water, wetlands, undermined areas, and vulnerable species.

Drinking Water

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We found 240 private water wells within 1/4 mile of the Falcon.

While all of these wells should be assessed for their level of risk with pipeline construction, the subset of wells nearest to horizontal directional drilling (HDD) sites deserve particular attention. HDD is a way of constructing a pipeline that doesn’t involve digging a trench. Instead, a directional drilling machine is used to drill horizontally underground and the pipe is pulled through.

While an HDD is designed to avoid surface impacts, if rushed or poorly executed, it can damage surface water, groundwater, and private property. The Mariner East 2 pipeline construction left several families without water after construction crews punctured an aquifer at an HDD site.

Shell’s data highlights 24 wells that are within 1,000 feet of a proposed HDD site.

We’ve isolated the groundwater wells and HDDs in a standalone map for closer inspection below. The 24 most at-risk wells are circled in blue.

View Map Fullscreen | How FracTracker Maps Work

Testing your groundwater quality before construction begins is crucial for determining impacts later on. Two upcoming workshops in Washington County, PA and another in Beaver County, PA will discuss how to protect your water and property.

The Falcon’s HDD locations offer disturbing similarities to what caused the Mariner East pipeline spills. Many of Sunoco’s failures were due to inadequately conducted (or absent) geophysical surveys that failed to identify shallow groundwater tables, which then led to drilling mud entering streams and groundwater.

Figure 1 below shows Greene Township, Beaver County, just south of Hookstown, where the “water table depth” is shown. The groundwater at this HDD site averages 20ft on its western side and only 8ft deep on the eastern side.

Figure 1. Water table depth in Greene Township

Water Reservoirs

The Falcon also crosses the headwaters of two drinking water reservoirs: the Tappan Reservoir in Harrison County, OH (Figure 2) and the Ambridge Reservoir in Beaver County, PA (Figure 3).  The Falcon will also cross the raw water line leading out of the Ambridge Reservoir.

The Ambridge Reservoir supplies water to five townships in Beaver County (Ambridge, Baden, Economy, Harmony, and New Sewickley) and four townships in Allegheny County (Leet, Leetsdale, Bell Acres & Edgeworth). The Tappan Reservoir is the primary drinking water source for residents in Scio.

Figure 2. Tappan Reservoir and the Falcon route in Harrison County, Ohio

Figure 3. Ambridge Reservoir and the Falcon route in Beaver County, Pennsylvania

Wetlands

Wetlands that drain into Raccoon Creek in Beaver County, PA will be particularly vulnerable in 2 locations. The first is in Potter Township, off of Raccoon Creek Rd just south of Frankfort Rd, where the Falcon will run along a wooded ridge populated by half a dozen perennial and intermittent streams that lead directly to a wetland, seen in Figure 4. Complicating erosion control further, Shell’s survey data shows that this ridge is susceptible to landslides. This area is also characterized by the USGS as having a “high hazard” area for soil erosion.

Figure 4. Wetlands and streams in Potter Township, PA

The other wetland area of concern along Raccoon Creek is found in Independence Township at the Beaver County Conservation District (Figure 5). Here, the Falcon will go under the Creek using HDD (highlighted in bright green). Nevertheless, the workspace needed to execute the crossing is within the designated wetland itself. An additional 15 acres of wetland lie only 300ft east of the crossing but are not accounted for in Shell’s data. This unidentified wetland is called Independence Marsh, considered the crown jewel of the Independence Conservancy’s watershed stewardship program.

Figure 5. Wetlands and Raccoon Creek in Independence Township, PA

Subsurface concerns

Shell’s analysis shows that 16.8 miles of the Falcon pipeline travel through land that historically has or currently contains coal mines. Our analysis using the same dataset suggests the figure is closer to 20 miles. Construction through undermined areas poses a risk for ground and surface water contamination and subsidence. 

Of these 20 miles of undermined pipeline, 5.6 miles run through active coal mines and are located in Cadiz Township, OH (Harrison Mining Co. Nelms Mine, seen in Figure 6); Ross Township, OH (Rosebud Mining Co. Deep Mine 10); and in Greene Township, PA (Rosebud Mining Co. Beaver Valley Mine). 

Figure 6. Coal mines and are located in Cadiz Township, OH

For a complete map of mined areas, click here.

More than 25 of the Falcon’s 97 pipeline miles will be laid within karst landscapes, including 9 HDD sites. Karst is characterized by soluble rocks such as limestone prone to sinkholes and underground caves. A cluster of these are located in Allegheny and Washington counties, PA, with extensive historical surface mining operations.

The combination of karst and coal mines along Potato Garden Run, in Figure 7, make this portion of the pipeline route particularly risky. At this HDD site, the Falcon will cross a coal waste site identified in the permits as “Imperial Land Coal Slurry” along with a large wetland.

Figure 7. Coal mines in Imperial, Pennsylvania

Vulnerable species

Southern Redbelly Dace

The Southern Redbelly Dace, a threatened species, is especially vulnerable to physical and chemical (turbidity, temperature) changes to their environment. PA Fish and Boat Commission explicitly notes in their correspondence with Shell that “we are concerned about potential impacts to the fish, eggs and the hatching fry from any in-stream work.” Of note is that these sites of concern are located in designated “High Quality/Cold Water Fishes” streams of the Service Creek watershed (Figure 8). PFBC stated that that no in-stream work in these locations should be done between May 1 and July 31.

Figure 8. “High Quality/Cold Water Fishes” streams identified as habitat for the Southern Redbelly Dace

Northern Harriers & Short-Eared Owls

Portions of the Falcon’s workspace are located near 6 areas with known occurrences of Short-eared Owls (PA endangered species) and Northern Harriers (PA threatened species). Pennsylvania Game Commission requested a study of these areas to identify breeding and nesting locations, which were executed from April-July 2016 within a 1,000-foot buffer of the pipeline’s workspace (limited to land cover areas consisting of meadows and pasture). One Short-eared Owl observation and 67 Northern Harrier observations were recorded during the study. PGC’s determined that, “based on the unusually high number of observations at these locations” work should not be done in these areas during harrier breeding season, April 15 through August 31.

Figure 9. Surveyed areas for Short-eared Owls (PA endangered species) and Northern Harriers (PA threatened species)

Bald Eagles

A known Bald Eagle nest is located in Beaver County. Two potential “alternate nests” are located where the Falcon crosses the Ohio River. National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines bar habitat disturbances that may interfere with the ability of eagles to breed, nest, roost, and forage. The 1 active nest in close proximity to the Falcon, called the Montgomery Dam Nest, is located just west of the pipeline’s terminus at Shell’s ethane cracker facility.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested that Shell only implement setback buffers for the one active nest at Montgomery Dam (Figure 10). These include no tree clearing within 330 feet, no visible disturbances with 660 feet, and no excessive noise with 1,000 feet of an active nest. Furthermore, Shell must avoid all activities within 660ft of the nest from January 1st to July 31st that may disturb the eagles, including but not limited to “construction, excavation, use of heavy equipment, use of loud equipment or machinery, vegetation clearing, earth disturbance, planting, and landscaping.

Figure 10. Bald Eagle nest in Potter Township, Pennsylvania

Bats

The Falcon is located within the range of federally protected Indiana Bats and Northern Long-eared Bats in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In pre-construction surveys, 17 Northern Long-eared Bats were found at 13 of the survey sites, but no Indiana Bats were captured.

A total of 9 Northern Long-eared Bat roost trees were located, with the nearest roost tree located 318 feet from the pipeline’s workspace. Figure 11 below shows a cluster of roost trees in Raccoon Township, PA. For a map of all the roost trees, click here. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated that “Due to the presence of several Northern Long-eared Bat roost trees within the vicinity of the project footprint (although outside of the 150-foot buffer), we recommend the following voluntary conservation measure: No tree removal between June 1 and July 31.”

The Pennsylvania Game Commission noted in early correspondences that Silver-haired Bats may be in the region (a PA species of special concern). PGC did not require a further study for the species, but did request a more restrictive conservation of no tree clearing between April 1 and October 31.

Figure 11. Northern long-eared bat roost trees in Raccoon Township, Pennsylvania

For more information on the wildlife impacts of the Falcon Pipeline, click here.

***

To continue reading about this pipeline, visit the Falcon Public EIA Project. 

By documenting the impacts of the Falcon Pipeline, you’re contributing to a growing body of work that shows the risks of fossil fuel pipelines. Not only does this evidence protect drinking water and vulnerable species, it serves as evidence against an inherently dangerous project that will contribute to climate change and the global plastics crisis.

We hope you’re inspired to take action and add your voice to a growing team in the region committed to safer and healthier environments. Thank YOU for your dedication to the cause!

By Erica Jackson, Community Outreach and Communications Specialist, FracTracker Alliance.

Portions of this article were adapted from previous posts in the Falcon Public EIA Project, written by Kirk Jalbert.

Recording Bakken Crude Trains [protocol]

Draft Protocol developed by FracTracker Alliance and Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, modified via pilot counts with PennEnvironment
For more information please contact info@fractracker.org
Draft Last Updated: September 2, 2015

The purpose of this project is to document how many crude oil (1267) and liquefied petroleum gas (1075) train cars go through your area. These types of cars can be identified with their HAZMAT placards:

DT309N12671267 hazmat placarded cars (crude oil): DOT-1075-21075 hazmat cars (liquefied petroleum gas):

Site Selection

Select a set of sites that cover possible train paths through the area of concern with as many of the following characteristics as possible:

  • Public place off of the road
  • Good lighting at night
  • Safe at night
  • Location where trains move more slowly, if possible
  • Avoid more than 2 tracks in parallel.  Parallel tracks create the possibility of missing a train that’s obscured by another train.

Train Counting Equipment

  • 1 clipboard, several pens
  • 30 blank train reports per session
  • Two to three people
  • Phone with camera to record time for each train, and to take photographs and videos where possible (optional)
  • Radar gun (optional)
  • Video camera (optional)
  • A large umbrella or tent that can cover both the observers and the camera, when needed.
  • Chairs and other amenities to make sure observers are comfortable

How to Count Trains

  • There should be at least two, if not three people counting trains at all times. For each train that passes, fill out one Train Report Form. Align yourself perpendicular to the tracks. Capture photos and videos of the trains as you see fit.
  • Before a train arrives, fill out a new report form with all of the train counters’ names, a cell phone number or email address for one of you, and the date.
  • Counter 1 is responsible for counting cars marked with the 1267 HAZMAT placard. Counter 2 counts the cars with the 1075 placards. Counter 3 captures the train’s speed with the radar gun, and counts the total number of cars on each train – including the engine and caboose.
  • Once you hear a train coming, enter the start time on the sheet. Prepare the radar gun to capture the train’s speed as it goes by. While the train passes, count in your head how many cars pass of the type to which you have been assigned. Afterward, mark how many of each type of car the counters saw.
  • After the train passes, enter the final number of each type of HAZMAT cars on the train and the total number of cars. Also, write down the train’s speed, direction (if known), operator (company), and any additional notes about the session (such as placards that you could not distinguish clearly).
  • Turn in these tally sheets to your project coordinator. We would also appreciate it if you were to send information about your train counting results and experience to FracTracker Alliance: info@fractracker.org.

Videotaping Best Practices

If you are using a video camera, here are some suggestions for improving the recording process.

  • Even during broad daylight it might be difficult to clearly videotape the trains if they are moving quickly. Try to find a counting location where the trains move slowly (e.g. 25 mph)
  • Test out the iPhone’s new slow motion camera feature
  • Set the video camera up at least 30 frames per second. 60 frames/second is better.
  • Don’t zoom, as this results in a dark aperture. Try finding a site and setting up close enough that you can get a good shot (but far enough away for safety purposes)

Train Report Form

Before Train Passes

Date:

Time:

Location (address/GPS):

Counter 1 Name:

Counter 2 Name:

Counter 3 Name:

Email:

Phone:

During

While the train passes, count in your head how many cars pass of the type to which you have been assigned. Afterward, mark the number of each type below.

After

Train Car Types

Number

1267 Cars

1075 Cars

Total Cars

Details

Train Speed

Operator

Direction

Notes

Be sure to include information about what might be missing or uncertain — if there were two trains at once, or if you missed some cars for any reason. If you missed or couldn’t discern cars, try to include some insight on whether the situation could be improved in the future by better lighting or site selection, or if the train’s fast speed made it hard to keep up, etc. Remember to send your results to info@fractracker.org.

Oil Trains Passing Through Pittsburgh

A Pilot Train Count

By Samantha Malone – Manager of Education, Communications, & Partnerships

FracTracker Alliance and the CREATE Lab at CMU recently launched a pilot project to track the transportation of volatile crude oil as it passes through Pennsylvania and specifically the Pittsburgh region.

For a bit of background, we were specifically interested in how many cars marked with either a 1075 or 1267 placard (shown below). 1075 placards designate cars that are carrying or recently carried (not yet cleaned out) butane, LPG, propane, or a flammable gas. Alternatively, 1267 placards are warning signs for cars carrying petroleum crude oil or some sort of flammable liquid.

DOT Placard 1075 Butane, LPG, Propane, Flammable Gas, Class 2

DOT Placard 1075 Butane, LPG, Propane, Flammable Gas, Class 2

D.O.T. Placard 1267 Petroleum Crude Oil, Flammable Liquid, Class 3

DOT Placard 1267 Petroleum Crude Oil, Flammable Liquid, Class 3

Oil Train Counts

Over 11 hours we counted 28 trains, 10 of which contained at least one car with the 1075 or 1267 placard. Most of these trains were quite long, with 28 trains hauling 2,874 cars.

The largest inbound train with the 1267 placard that we identified and estimated to be full was hauling 97 crude tankers. If they were indeed full, this train carried between 2.5 and 3.4 million gallons of crude oil. As a point of reference, the Lac-Mégantic derailment that occurred in 2013 in Quebec and killed 47 people was only carrying 74 Bakken crude cars.

Of the 2,874 cars that we counted, 360 were carrying some sort of oil product. Of those oil cars, approximately 70% were of the 1267 variety (Figure 1).

Ratio of oil cars to total over 11 hours

Figure 1. Ratio of oil cars to total documented by volunteers in Pittsburgh, PA over 11 hours

Speed Matters

The fastest oil train that we observed was going approximately 50 MPH. This train was likely full, based on load estimates and the direction it was traveling. This speed violates a voluntary compliance that crude trains run <40 MPH through high-threat areas. A train that derailed in Lynchburg, VA in April was traveling just 24 mph. Our counting location would likely qualify as a high-threat area, as we were near Neville Island, relatively close to ALCOSAN and the City of Pittsburgh, and just a few yards from the Ohio River and residential homes.

While Pittsburgh certainly has its share of oil trains, concern over the dangers that these trains pose to towns along its tracks extends far beyond the Pittsburgh area. Groups as far as California have gathered together to monitor train traffic. We hope that by tracking and monitoring the number of oil trains over time, we can begin to understand the risks that these trains pose should an incident occur.

The Data Collection Process

 

Here is how we collected the above data: On October 21st our staff, interns, and generous volunteers spent designated shifts observing the passing of trains and the contents of their cars between about 7:30 AM and 6:30 PM. Under the cover of a pop-up shelter, teams of at least three participants videotaped trains as they passed in either direction, counted and recorded the number of cars that they carried, and most importantly identified and counted specific placards that labeled individual cars as oil-carrying.

Many thanks to the groups who helped with this pilot count: volunteer citizens, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Three Rivers Waterkeeper, Women for a Healthy Environment, our interns from Pitt and Duquesne, and CMU staff.

The CREATE Lab then reviewed and analyzed the collected information and video feed. You can take a look at some of the high-resolution video feed they were able to collect with their BreatheCam. If you have specific questions about the train counting protocol or would like to set up one of your own, please contact us.

About Us

FracTracker Alliance is a non-profit with an office in the Pittsburgh area whose mission is to share maps, data, and analyses to communicate impacts of the global oil and gas industry and to inform actions that positively shape our energy future. www.fractracker.org

The Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab (CREATE Lab) explores socially meaningful innovation and deployment of robotic technologies and is based out of Carnegie Mellon University. www.cmucreatelab.org

FracTracker Launches Oil and Gas Tracking App

Pittsburgh, PA – FracTracker Alliance announces the release of our free iPhone app – designed to collect and share experiences related to oil and gas drilling across the United States. As unconventional drilling or “fracking” intensifies, so too do the innovative ways in which citizens can track, monitor, and report potential issues from their smart phones.

The app allows users to submit oil and gas photos or reports. Users can also view a map of wells drilled near them and user-submitted reports. This map shows wells that have been drilled both unconventionally and conventionally.

“FracTracker’s app contributes to the collective understanding of oil and gas impacts and provides a new opportunity for public engagement,” explains Brook Lenker, Executive Director of the FracTracker Alliance. “We hope that our mobile app will revolutionize how people share oil and gas information.”

Development Partners

Several organizations and community groups helped to test and improve the app during its development. To address questions about the impacts of oil and gas development across landscapes, FracTracker joined with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) to create a crowd-sourced digital map with photos detailing the scale of oil and gas development near North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park using the app. The photo map is part of a NPCA’s campaign designed to educate citizens about the cross-landscape impacts of oil and gas development near America’s national parks. NPCA is hosting two events this week in support of this campaign work – in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

“FracTracker’s new app allows us to tell a visual story about fracking’s impacts to national parks and their local communities,” said Nick Lund, who manages the NPCA’s Landscape Conservation program. “With this week’s public events in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, we will show the dramatic impact that fracking continues to have, in just a few years, near Theodore Roosevelt National Park. These images can help inform the public and our elected officials as they finalize drilling regulations in Pennsylvania. We hope this information will lead to strong protections for our national parks, our forests, and our drinking water.”

Beta testing and reviews of the app were also conducted by Mountain Watershed Association, Responsible Drilling Alliance, Audubon PA, PA Forest Coalition, Southwest PA Environmental Health Project, and Save Our Streams PA. The app was developed in collaboration with Viable Industries, L.L.C.

Like NPCA, groups can use the FracTracker app to collect visual data and develop customized maps for their own projects. Contact FracTracker to learn more: info@fractracker.org.

Download the App

Download_on_the_App_Store_Badge_US-UK_135x40

Download the free app from the iTunes store or visit FracTracker.org to learn more: www.fractracker.org/apps. Currently the app is only available for only iPhone users, but an Android platform is due out later this year.

App Screenshots

app1

See a map of wells near you or submit a report.

app4

The legend describes the points on the map in more detail.

app2

Clicking on a dot shows the record/well

app3

Clicking the “i” shows you more information about the point

# # #

Media Contact

Samantha Malone
FracTracker Alliance
malone@fractracker.org
412-802-0273

FracTracker Alliance is a non-profit organization with offices in PA, OH, NY, WV, and CA that shares maps, data, and analyses to communicate impacts of the global oil and gas industry and inform actions that positively shape our energy future. Learn more about FracTracker at www.fractracker.org.

National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice of the American people in protecting and enhancing our National Park System. NPCA, its one million members and supporters, and many partners work together to protect the park system and preserve our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for our children and grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.npca.org.

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