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Brook Lenker at the 2017 Climate March in Washington DC

Rise for Climate – September 8, 2018

FracTracker is pleased to join thousands of other organizations across the U.S. and around the world participating in Rise for Climate – a global day of action on Saturday, September 8th – to demand our leaders at every level of government commit to building a fossil fuel free world. We encourage all of our partners, supporters, followers, and website users to find and participate in an event near them.

The time has arrived for renewable energy, heightened efficiency, and smart policies that reduce carbon emissions and encourage healthy and just economies. With unequivocal science and data on our side, the swift, frightening realities of climate change must be shared loudly and boldly. The clean energy path to prosperity must be illuminated in the public’s eye. A recent analysis by E2 shows the country had nearly 3.2 million Americans working in wind, solar, energy efficiency, and other clean energy jobs in 2017. These jobs outnumber fossil fuel jobs 3 to 1. Working together, we can add to these numbers and accelerate the transition off fossil fuels.

Rise for Climate is a chance to demonstrate your concern, speak your mind, and resolve to fight for a habitable future. FracTracker staff will be out, too, doing their part. From San Francisco to Lansing, NY and Harrisburg, PA, we’re leading and engaging in activities – because it’s too important to stay home.

What are you doing tomorrow? The future is now.


By Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance

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.

Flooded well and toppled oil storage tanks in Weld County, Colorado 2013. Rick Wilking/Reuters

Oil and Gas Flood Contamination Risk Incalculable on CO Front Range

By Sierra Shamer, Visiting Scholar, FracTracker Alliance

Historic 2013 flooding in the Colorado Front Range damaged homes, bridges, roads, and other infrastructure — including hundreds of oil and gas facilities. Companies shut down wells and scrambled to contain spills in their attempts to prevent extensive water contamination. Colorado has since adopted new regulations that require oil and gas companies to identify and secure all infrastructures located within floodplains. However, FEMA’s Flood Hazard maps, which the state uses to calculate flood risk, are largely incomplete, leaving only the industry accountable for reporting facilities that may be at risk in future flooding events. This article highlights the unknown flood contamination risk threatening the Front Range by oil and gas, and the featured map identifies known floodplain infrastructure.

Front Range Realities

CO Front Range counties re: flood contamination risk

Counties of the Colorado Front Range

The Colorado Front Range is the most populated region of the state, covering 17 counties and 7 cities including Boulder, Denver, and Colorado Springs. This region has experienced devastating flash flooding events throughout history, most notably the Big Thompson flood of 1976, which dumped 12-14 inches of rain along the Front Range in only 4-6 hours. The 2013 Colorado Front Range Flood brought almost 15 inches to the region, 9 of which falling within a period of 24 hours. A state of emergency was declared in the region and recovery projects continue to this day.

The Front Range region is not only one of the most populated in Colorado, it is also home to 40% of Colorado’s oil and gas wells. Oil and gas development occurs so rapidly that data reports on pending permits, active permits, and well locations are updated daily by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). The damage to oil and gas facilities due to the 2013 floods prompted the COGCC to adopt Rule 603.h, requiring companies to identify proposed and current infrastructure within the floodplain and to create flood mitigation and response plans. On April 1st of this year, all companies with existing infrastructure must comply with Rule 603.h. With over 109,000 wells in the state, an incomplete FEMA database, and only 22 field inspectors, the COGCC has limited capacity to ensure these reports identify all infrastructure within the floodplain.

FEMA Floodplain Gaps

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maintains a national map of the 100-year floodplain for insurance determinations that are in the process of being digitized. These maps show the extent of flooding expected from rain events with a 1% chance of occurring in any given year. They are determined by a combination of topography, satellite imagery, and maps from local jurisdictions. However, in many portions of the western US, these mapped areas are incomplete, including large regions of Colorado. FEMA maps are also the primary floodplain data source used by industry and the by the COGCC. The map below shows the oil and gas infrastructure that is located within the known digital 100-year floodplain as of early February 2016. This map underrepresents the actual number of facilities within the floodplains due to incomplete FEMA data, but provides a clear visual of a widespread problem.

Known Floodplain Infrastructure Map

View full screen map | How to work with our maps | Download map data

Although FEMA is routinely working to update their dataset, large regions with widespread extraction remain digitally unmapped. While there is accessible floodplain info for the companies to use to determine their status and for the COGCC to verify what the industry reports, the incomplete digitized FEMA data means there is no accessible or efficient way for the COGCC to know if there is infrastructure within a floodplain that hasn’t been reported. This means that more is at risk here than we can calculate. Weld County, a Front Range county and recipient of severe flooding in 2013, starkly exemplifies this reality. In the aftermath of the 2013 flood, Weld County became a disaster zone when 1,900 oil and gas wells were shut down, submerged completely by the rushing water, as thousands of gallons of oil drained out. Until January 2016, Weld County lacked digitally mapped floodplains, and currently only 16% of the river and stream network is available.

The table below lists the percentages of oil and gas infrastructure that exist in Weld County alone that can be calculated using this limited dataset. As of February of this year, 3,475 wells of 35,009 are within the known floodplain in Weld County. Of greater concern, 74% of pending permits statewide are in Weld County – 5% of those in the known floodplain – indicating either an underestimation of flood risk, a blatant disregard of it, or both.

table_v2

Flooding in the Future

According to the CO Climate Change Vulnerability Study, the state expects a 2.5–5 degree Fahrenheit annual temperature increase by 2050. While this increase is likely to cause earlier spring runoff, more rain at lower elevations, and higher evaporation rates, it is unclear if annual precipitation will increase or decrease with rising temperatures. This uncertainty makes it difficult to know if increased flood risk is in the future. Current flood risk, however, is a known threat. The CO Department of Public Safety’s Flood Hazard Mitigation Plan calculates, based on historical events, that Colorado experiences a flood disaster once every five years. This means that each year, there is a 20% chance a major flood will occur. With incomplete data, limited oversight, and uncertain future trends, oil and gas flood contamination risk is incalculable – and on the Front Range, the majority of Colorado’s population, extractive industry, and environment are in danger.

Dealing with the Unknown

The unknown risks of climate change and known risks of historical flood trends emphasize that identifying oil and gas infrastructure in floodplains must be a high priority for the COGCC. These realities also put into question whether or not future infrastructures should be permitted within floodplains at all. In April, floodplain infrastructure will be identified by the industry and when these data are made available, a more accurate analysis of risk will me made.

Feature photo shows a flooded well and toppled oil storage tanks in Weld County, Colorado 2013 – by Rick Wilking/Reuters.

Coal fired power plants in North America

NYS targets an end to coal power

By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator

It’s been just over a year since New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made public his administration’s decision to ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the state. A formal ban was established in June 2015. While Cuomo’s politics and record may be controversial on some fronts, he has most certainly shown important leadership in some facets of energy policy. Significantly, activists and environmental advocacy groups have been especially strong during the Cuomo administration, pressing the governor daily to take seriously the responsibility and planning that New York State must demonstrate in light of the realities of climate change.

On Wednesday, January 13, 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his annual State of the State address. Among the high points of the talk was a commitment to a full phase-out of coal-burning power plants by 2020. Coal, once more affordable alternative to other fossil fuels, is no longer an attractive option from both an economic and environmental standpoint. Despite advances in scrubber technology, coal burning still emits more particulate waste into the atmosphere than other fuels, and leaves behind copious quantities of fly ash containing radioactivity and heavy metals. Historically, fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization materials have been disposed of in landfills. While current disposal methods using landfill liner technologies do attempt to safeguard against groundwater contamination, during earlier decades, these waste products from burning coal were buried in unlined pits, some of which are now actively leaching into waterways and groundwater.

Existing coal burning power plants being shut down, but what’s next?

In New York State, many old, polluting coal plants are now only partially in service or completely shuttered. They did at one time, however, have the capacity to supply over 2100 MW of power to the state. While it’s generally accepted from an economic and environmental standpoint that New York should be transitioning away from coal, the next steps are more fraught with controversy. Several communities, such as those around the likely-to-be-closed Dunkirk (Chautauqua County, 520 MW),  as well as Huntley (Niagara County, 380 MW), and Cayuga (Tompkins County, 315 MW) power plants feel that a repowering of these plant with natural gas provides an important economic stabilizer for the surrounding communities. Another smaller coal-burning plant, Greenidge Generation (Seneca County, 107 MW) has been shuttered for several years. A recent local economic development initiative to re-start that plant with a conversion to natural gas met with considerable resistance from environmental groups. This development also resulted in a notification from the US Environmental Protection Agency indicating that proper procedure for restarting the plant had not been followed, setting back the timetable on the project indefinitely.

Coal Burning Power Plants in North America, Zoomed in to NYS

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Cayuga Power, which has been operating at a deficit for several years as a coal burning plant, is subsidized through a surcharge that is levied on every ratepayer within the system, with each monthly bill. According to The Sierra Club, these subsidies amount to over $4M a month charged to NYSEG ratepayers for the Cayuga plant, alone. Elected officials, as well as citizen groups concerned with the impacts of natural gas on the environment, are pressing for other viable options to repowering the plant from coal to natural gas, currently estimated to cost over $500M for the Cayuga Plant, alone. These options include solar power – or, in the case of the Cayuga power plant, upgrades to a short stretch of transmissions lines for less than $100M, in lieu of repowering. In either case, the upgrade costs would be passed on to the consumer. Transmission line upgrades would actually obviate the need for the power plant itself, conserving the energy that is now lost through inefficiencies in the system. Repowering the plant would also necessitate the construction of a highly controversial 7-mile-long pipeline from the Town of Dryden, which would significantly raise the carbon footprint of Tompkins County through due to predicted fugitive methane emissions. The power utility, itself, New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) has said that they prefer the option of upgrading the lines, rather than converting the plant to run on natural gas. Another study by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis also found the Cayuga repowering proposition unviable. Proponents of repowering cite the impacts that shutting down the plant would have on the local Lansing School district, which–unlike any of the surrounding school districts–has benefited for several decades from tax revenues generated by the plant.

Environmental concerns about continuing to invest in fossil fuel technologies like natural gas as an alternative to coal include the entire life cycle of methane extraction, from the air and water quality risks that occur during the process of unconventional drilling (high volume hydraulic fracturing), to environmental and public health impacts of pipelines and compressor stations that convey the gas to the power plants, to the addition of CO2 to the atmosphere as a byproduct of natural gas combustion at these fossil-fuel burning plants.

Of course, energy conservation and making lifestyle changes to how we individually, and collectively, approach energy consumption are at the heart of the changes that need to occur if we are to slow climate change caused by the dramatic upswing of methane and CO2 in the atmosphere during the past 50 years.

New York State’s Renewable Energy Agenda

Cuomo and the State Legislature have shown additional and ongoing interest in moving New York towards a clean energy future. They have been establishing appealing tax incentives for renewable energy, including:

Cuomo’s REV, or Reforming the Energy Vision, attempts to take a comprehensive look at an energy strategy across many sectors of New York. REV targets for 2030 include a goal of 50% of all NYS’s energy being met by renewable sources, a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas levels based on 1990 levels (and an overall emission cut of 80% by 2050), and based on 2012 levels, a 25% reduction on building energy use. The strategy also looks to support the growth of the clean energy sector, energy education to residents and businesses, natural resources protection, and job creation in the energy sector.

New York is taking important steps for a cleaner energy future, but should continue to put more resources towards incentives for renewable resources, as well as outreach and education to municipal, residential, and commercial energy consumers.

We have very little time to waste.

Aliso Canyon natural gas leak - Photo by Environmental Defense Fund

A Climate Disaster – California in state of emergency as a result of massive natural gas leak

By Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

A natural gas well equipment failure in southern California has resulted in the largest point release of methane to the atmosphere in U.S. history. California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a California state of emergency for the incident, and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has identified the site as the single largest source point of global warming.1 Since October 23, 2015 the failure has been reported to be releasing 62 million cubic feet of methane per day – 110,000 pounds per hour – for a total of about 80 million metric tons thus far. (A running counter for the natural gas leak can be found here, on Mother Jones).2,3 This quantity amounts to a quarter of California’s total methane emissions, and the impact to the climate is calculated to be the equivalent of the operation of 7 million cars.

SoCalGas (a subsidiary of Sempra Energy) reports that nothing can be done to stop or reduce the leak until February or March of 2016. As a result, the nearby community of Porter Ranch has been largely evacuated (30,000 people) due to health complaints and the rotten egg smell of tertbutyl mercaptan and tetradydrothiophen. Air quality sampling, being assessed by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard and Assessment (OEHHA), measured volatile organic compounds, specifically the carcinogen benzene, at concentrations below acute toxicity health standards.4 Exposure to benzene even at low levels presents a risk of cancer and other health hazards. Locals have complained of headaches, sore throats, nosebleeds and nausea. The LA County Department of Public Health has ordered SoCalGas to offer free temporary relocation to any area residents affected. About 1,000 people are suing the company.5 A fly over of the site has been posted to youtube by the Environmental Defense Fund, and can be seen here. The video uses a FLIR camera to take infrared video that shows the leak.

Site Description

CA gas storage and Aliso Canyon natural gas leak

Figure 1. California active natural gas storage fields most active in 2014

The source of the leak is a natural gas storage well operated by SoCalGas in the Aliso Canyon oil field – a drained oil field now used to store natural gas. SoCalGas is the largest natural gas utility in the U.S., distributing natural gas to 20.9 million.4 Aliso Canyon is the largest gas storage field in the state, but there are numerous other gas storage fields in the state that could present similar risks. In Figure 1, to the right, California’s other currently active gas storage fields are shown. Injection volumes of natural gas are summed and averaged over the area of the field, and the Aliso Canyon is shown to have injected over 1,000,000 cubic feet per km2 of natural gas since the beginning of 2014. Other high volume fields include Honor Rancho, McDonald Island Gas, and Wild Goose Gas.

The failed well, known as Standard Sesnon 25, is marked with a red star in the map of gas storage wells shown below (Figure 2). The well was drilled in October of 1953. Reports show that pressures in the well bored reached 2,516 PSI in 2015. If you use the map to navigate around the state of California, it is clear that there are numerous other natural gas storage facilities in California, with wellbore pressures similar to or higher than the reported pressure of Standard Sesnon 25 and other wells in the Aliso Canyon Field. Beyond California, the state of Michigan is reported to have the most natural gas storage by volume, at 1.1 trillion cubic feet.6 The incident that caused the leak was a well casing failure, although the cause of the well casing failure has not yet been identified. There have been numerous editorials written that have painted SoCalGas as a model for contemporary corporate greed and corruption for several reasons, including the removal of safety valves, reports of corrosion, and lack of resources for inspections and repairs.7 Rather than this being a unique case of criminal neglect, casing failures are a statistical likelihood for wells of this age. Well casing failures are a systemic issue of all oil and gas development. Every well casing has a shelf life and will fail eventually.8 Additionally, leaks from gas storage wells have occurred at other SoCalGas natural gas storage facilities in California, such as Montebello and Playa Del Rey.

Figure 2. California’s gas storage wells. The size of orange markers indicates wellhead pressure, as reported in 2015. Blue markers show the volume of gas injected in 2014/2015. The Aliso Canyon leak at ‘Standard Sesnon 25’ natural gas storage well is marked with a red star. Click here to manipulate the map. After expanded, use the “Layers” menu to visualize the data with colored markers rather than size. 

Response

Fixing the problem is therefore much more complicated, overall, in this specific case. Since the well casing has ruptured deep underground, natural gas is leaking in the annular space outside the borehole and spewing from the topsoil surrounding the well head. To stop the leak the production pipe must be plugged below the rupture. All attempts to plug the well from the surface have failed due to the high pressure within the borehole, a 7” inner diameter of the production pipe. Therefore, a relief well is being drilled to intersect the well casing, to inject a mud-chemical cocktail intended to plug the well far below the casing failure. Updates on the response, claims information, and the location of the Community Resource Center can be found here. Additionally, Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, which means federal support and a requirement of the state of California to cover the costs.9

The state response to the natural gas leak has included numerous agencies. According to documents from California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the agencies leading the response are the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the Office of Emergency Services (CalOES), California Air Resources Board (ARB), California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA), the California Energy Commission (CEC), and the CPUC. DOGGR is conducting an independent investigation of the incident. The investigation will include a third party analysis for root-cause issues. CARB is monitoring total methane emissions while the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment with CalEPA are collecting and reviewing air quality data. Coordinated response information can be found on the CalOES site. SoCalGas has submitted a proposal to regulators to raise customer rates in order to raise $30 million for a more proactive approach to inspections and repairs.10

This event is the largest, but is not the first major methane/natural gas leak to occur at a wellsite. Leaks can result from a number of natural and anthropogenic (man made) causes. Besides the natural degradation of well integrity with age, acute events can also cause casing failures. There are documented cases where seismic activity has caused casing failures.

As a result of an earthquake natural fractures in the region can grow and disrupt well bores. In areas of dense drilling, fracture stimulations that propagate improperly or intersect unknown faults. When two wells become interconnected, known as “downhole communication” or a “frack hit” when it occurs due to hydraulic fracturing, spills and leaks can occur due to over-pressurization. In many states, these risks are mitigated by having setbacks between wells. California, the most seismically active state, has minimal setbacks for drilling or fracking oil and gas wells. In previous research, FracTracker found that over 96% of new hydraulic fractures in 2013 were drilled within 1,200 feet of another well, which would even violate setback rules in Texas!

Climate Impacts

Natural gas is hailed by the fossil fuel industry as the bridge fuel that will allow the world to transition to renewables. The main argument claims natural gas is necessary to replace coal as our main source of generating electricity. Burning both coal and natural gas produce carbon dioxide, but natural gas is more efficient. For the same amount of energy production, natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide emissions. The legitimate threat of climate impacts comes from fugitive (leaked) emissions of methane, before the natural gas can be burned. Since methane is a gas, it is much harder to contain than oil or coal. Methane is also more insulating than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (34-86 times more insulating), making it a more potent greenhouse gas. The leaked natural gas from the Aliso Canyon well is currently equivalent to 7,000,000 tons of CO2 (Updated here, on Mother Jones).

Current estimates show methane is responsible for 25% of the world’s anthropogenic warming to date. Proponents of the bridge fuel theorize that if methane leakage can be kept under 4% of total production, natural gas power generation will provide a climate-positive alternative to coal. EPA estimates set the leakage rate at 2.4%, but independent research estimates actual rates up to 7.9%.11 The EDF has been conducting an $18 million project focused on quantifying methane leaks from the natural gas industry. A team of 20 researchers from 13 institutions conducted the 2 year study measuring emissions from the Barnett Shale. Details can be found on the Environmental Defense Fund’s Page.12

Natural Gas Leak References

  1. Goldenberg, S. (2016). A single gas well leak is California’s biggest contributor to climate change. The Guardian. Accessed 1/6/16.
  2. Environmental Defense Fund. (2015). Aerial Footage of Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Leak. via YouTube. Accessed 1/5/16.
  3. Lurie, J. (2016). Thousands of Californians are Fleeing an Enormous Methane Leak. Here are 8 Things You Need to Know. Mother Jones. Accessed 1/6/16.
  4. CalOES. (2015). Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Leak. Accessed 1/8/15.
  5. BBC. (2015). California state of emergency over methane leak. Accessed 1/8/15
  6. Ellison, G. (2015). Michigan has most underground natural gas storage in U.S. MLive. Accessed 1/8/15.
  7. Reicher, M. (2015). SocalGas knew of corrosion at Porter Ranch gas facility, doc shows. LA Daily News. Accessed 1/5/16.
  8. Ingraffea et al. (2013). Assessment and risk analysis of casing and cement impairment in oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, 2000-2012. PNAS. Vol.111 no.30.
  9. Cronin, M. (2015). Why Engineers Can’t Stop Los Angeles’ Enormous Methane Leak. Accessed 1/4/16.
  10. CUUC. (2015). Appendix A. Accessed 1/5/15. [please note that some CPUC files are being taken offline for unknown reasons]
  11. Howarth et al. (2011). Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Climatic Change. 106:679-690.
  12. Song, L. (2015). Texas Fracking Zone Emits 90% More Methane Than EPA Estimated. InsideClimate News.

Feature Image: Aliso Canyon natural gas leak – Photo by Environmental Defense Fund

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.

Hope Rising

By Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance

We came to make a stand. People of every age from every corner of the country amassed in New York City on September 21, 2014 – 400,000 people transported by hope. It may have been the autumnal equinox, but the event was a solstice of human expression and determination.

Down Central Park West, across 59th Street, south on Avenue of the Americas, onward to Times Square. Like the circuitous path of the people’s climate march, lawmakers and society at large have meandered around our fossil fuel dependency for too long but take notice: the era of wasting time and wasting away the planet is over.

You could see it in the eyes of college students, parents, grandparents, and children, and I could see it in my daughter, an unfrackable resolve, stronger than any geology. A man remarked that he hadn’t seen so many young people mobilized since the Vietnam War. It will take the involvement of many, many more to move institutions and the public beyond the status quo – to adopt better technologies, modify lifestyles, and accept wholesale conservation.

Images from the Peoples Climate March, September 2014. Photo by Savanna Lenker Images from the Peoples Climate March, September 2014. Photo by Savanna Lenker Images from the Peoples Climate March, September 2014. Photo by Savanna Lenker
Images from the March. Photos by Savanna Lenker

I believe we’ve reached a tipping point with the atmosphere and mankind. The former may be hemorrhaging, getting worse before any sign of recuperation – and that’s downright frightening (from rampaging weather to rising seas, life on earth is in for a helluva ride). But the latter has found a partial cure: intergenerational power lifting and embracing renewable energy and lighter ways for civilization.

Change starts with humility and introspection and gains with peer support. In the one-day, peaceful occupation of midtown Manhattan, warm hearts of spectators and a world in solidarity pushed us ahead. Feel the inertia. Join the ride. Because going forward, nothing will be the same.

Images from the Peoples Climate March, September 2014. Photo by Savanna Lenker

Images from the March. Photo by Savanna Lenker

Missing from the Conversation - Renewables

Missing from the Conversation

By Mary Ellen Cassidy, Community Outreach Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

After spending the afternoon travelling to drilling pads and compressor stations for the extraction and processing of unconventional oil and gas in our nearby communities, I travelled to the Niehaus Farm in the beautiful hills of West Virginia to visit with Rich and Felicia Niehaus. As the discussion centered on energy issues, it became evident that there is something crucial missing from the conversation about unconventional oil and gas issues:

energy conservation, energy efficiency, or renewable energy.

Conversations usually cover either fracking or energy conservation, efficiency, and renewables (ECER). It’s the exception for both to be covered in tandem even though they are the two sides of the same coin (Here, and here are examples of that exception). So, how did our conversation at the farm end up turning to ECER? Well, it turns out that this particular farm in West Virginia is entirely solar powered (photo above). Energy for the two barns and a beautiful home comes from rooftop panels installed in May of 2011. After finding funding and rebates to help with the upfront installation costs and participating in a renewable credits program, as of last year the Neihaus family spent $0.00 on utility bills. Their farm even generated a surplus of electricity, which they sold to the utility company as Solar Renewable Energy Credits – or SREC.

Missing from the Conversation

Solar farm tour in Cameron, WV

Missing from the Conversation

Reviewing the energy produced

Missing from the Conversation

Inside the barn

Missing from the Conversation

Discussing renewables with Rich

Perceived Barriers to Renewables

Why don’t more people follow this route? I only have anecdotal answers right now. When discussing fracking or unconventional oil and gas with folks, I ask why they haven’t considered solar as an energy source. Their responses vary but generally look like:

  • It never even entered my mind.
  • I’ve heard about solar and wind but heard they are really expensive.
  • No one sells or installs them around here.
  • Seems like a lot of work and expense.

Unlike the landman from the oil and gas company who calls or visits your home to talk to you about the benefits of selling your mineral rights for fracking or pipelines, no “sunman / windman / efficiencyman” calls or comes to your home to share the benefits of ECERs. There are few billboards or stories in our local or national media telling us how renewables can power the nation and keep the lights on. However, there are few or no print advertisements for solar, no polished TV ads on the clean energy of solar, wind or geothermal.

Basically, while coal, oil and gas are promoted – and receive generous federal incentives – at every turn or click, the benefits of ECER are truly missing from our conversation, locally and nationally.

Dependability

What if we decided to include the benefits of ECER in all of our conversations about fracking and fossilized sources of energy? Here are just a few items to keep in mind when sharing information that would move us to a more positive energy system future.

First, remember that coal, gas and, nuclear plants are highly intermittent over long time periods, such as their operating year or life span, requiring planned and unplanned maintenance and repair. An article in Cleantechnica tells us that as a result of this downtime, nuclear plants only generate electricity 83% of the time; combined cycle natural gas plants, 86% of the time; and coal plants, 88%. “Coupled renewable systems, like wind with solar tied to baseload power like hydropower, geothermal and solar thermal (with molten salt energy storage) are examples of reliable, dependable energy systems. Solar thermal plants are up and running 98% of the time; hydroelectric dams, 95%, and geothermal plants, 91%.1 According to a FracTracker analysis of Ohio wind potential:

If OH were to pursue the additional 900 MW public-private partnership wind proposals currently under review by the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), an additional 900,000-1.2 million jobs, $1.3 billion in wages, $3.9 billion in sales, and $102.9 million in revenue would result. If the state were to exploit 10% more of the remaining wind capacity, the numbers would skyrocket into an additional 5.5-7.1 million jobs, $8.1 million in wages, $23.8 billion in sales, and $627.9 million in public revenues.

Enough Energy to Power a Nation

Sustainably harnessing enough power to fuel a nation requires conservation and efficiency. According to a recent analysis by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the US actually wastes 61-86% of the energy it produces. This figure is especially outrageous because the tools and technology needed to save a significant portion of this wasted energy are available right now and would easily fall under President Obama’s “shovel ready” label. For instance, in the past few years, net-zero buildings — those that produce as much (or more) clean energy on site as they use annually — have been gaining momentum. More than 400 such buildings are documented globally, with about one-fourth in the U.S. and Canada.

Knowing the considerable negative impacts of fracking, it is incomprehensible that a targeted national energy conservation and efficiency conversation has yet to take place, and that state policies promoting ECER like those in Ohio are actively being undercut. Energy conservation and efficiency, when coupled with renewables have the capability to power the nation.2

Gas – Nonrenewable, Finite, Declining

Missing from the Conversation: Renewables

Unlike ECER, oil and natural gas are finite resources. Additionally, highly productive, economically recoverable shale wells have very high geological depletion rates and will become more difficult and more expensive to access.3 “The average flow from a shale gas well drops by ~50-75% in the first year, and up to 78% for oil”, said Pete Stark, senior research director at IHS Inc (a global information company with expertise in energy and economics). In neighboring Ohio, first-year oil and natural gas production declined by 84% (21-48 barrels of oil per day), with respective declines of 27% and 10% in subsequent years, while freshwater usage increases by 3.6 gallons per gallon of oil. Even the United States’ most productive Bakken shale requires 2,500 new wells per year to maintain 1 million BDD, while traditional fields in Iraq require a mere 60 new wells per year. ECERs, on the other hand, are renewable systems with decline rates calculated in the billions-of-years time frame.

Fossilized Energy – Costs Exceed Benefits

Water Pollution Control Permit

Often you will hear that fracking and fossilized energy are “cheap and affordable.” According to a report by Environment America, the reality is that externalized costs of fossilized energy, were they included on the balance sheet, would make gas, oil and coal costly and unaffordable. Alternatively, 53 Fortune 100 Companies report savings of $1.1 billion annually through energy efficiency and renewable energy.4

Some reports indicate that due to the nature of fossil fuel extraction compared to renewables, there are more jobs to be had in renewables.5 There is also the [significantly higher job, tax revenue, and income] multiplier effect associated with renewable energy technologies. The Union of Concerned Scientists reminds us that,

In addition to creating new jobs, increasing our use of renewable energy offers other important economic development benefits. Local governments collect property and income taxes and other payments from renewable energy project owners. These revenues can help support vital public services, especially in rural communities where projects are often located.

Along with externalized costs, natural gas also gets a preferred boost from our nation’s R&D funding compared to ECER research. This issue does not even include the de facto subsidies provided by our military escapades, which Joe Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes recently put at $3 trillion. In Scientific American’s article, Fracking Hammers Clean Energy Research, David Bello looked at the budget of the ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) and found that five years in, “the gassy revolution was becoming apparent,” with funding going to natural gas research rather than ECER breakthroughs. Bello is of the opinion:

It is also exactly in times of overreliance on one energy source that funding into alternatives is not only necessary, but required. ARPA–E should continue to focus on transformational energy technologies that can be clean and cheap even if political pressures incline the still young and potentially vulnerable agency to look for a better gas tank.

Also, globally, the UN Environmental Program reports that the world spends six times as much money subsidizing fossilized energy as they do renewables. Despite having less government support, renewables have achieved record growth since 2000. The EIA reports that renewables are the fest-growing power source based on percentages, and in 2018 is estimated to rise to 25% of the global gross power generation. The EIA reports that, “On a percentage basis, renewables continue to be the fastest-growing power source… Globally, renewable generation is estimated to rise to 25% of gross power generation in 2018.” Germany alone generates 27% of its energy demand from renewables.

MailPouch

Climate Change – Sources & Solutions

Recent NOAA research suggests fugitive methane leaking from natural gas activity may be substantial, with leakage rates of 4-9% of the total production. This figure is significantly above the 2% recommended level for potential climate change benefits. Ken Caldeira, atmospheric scientist with the Carnegie Institution for Science recently noted:

We have to decide whether we are in the business of delaying bad outcomes or whether we are in the business of preventing bad outcomes. If we want to prevent bad climate outcomes, we should stop using the atmosphere as a waste dump. If we build these natural gas plants, we reduce incentives to build the near zero emission energy system we really need. It is time to start building the near zero emission energy system of the future. Expansion of natural gas is a delaying tactic, not a solution. A switch to natural gas would have zero effect on global temperatures by the year 2100.

Caldiera and Myhrvold’s paper on transitional energy concludes, “If you take 40 years to switch over entirely to natural gas, you won’t see any substantial decrease in global temperatures for up to 250 years [due to the CO2 inertia effect]. There’s almost no climate value in doing it.”

No Longer Missing

To make a short story long, that is what’s missing from the conversation – the great story of the benefits and solutions of ECER. How can we move towards a more positive and diversified energy future if we continue to bury the lead? The real solutions to our energy challenge cannot be relegated to a sidebar conversation. A disconnect between what is and what can be will keep us on the path to dire economic and public health impacts.

Back to the Niehaus farm…

As we were enjoying the fresh air, the pastoral beauty and soft sounds of nature that evening, I tried to picture what this landscape would look like, smell like, sound like, feel like, if instead of enjoying this farm fueled by solar, we were sitting back at one of the many homes bordering a drilling pad or processing facility that I had visited earlier in the day. I tried to envision what the wildlife, streams and skies would look like, what the children’s legacy would be, wondering if we were perhaps too distracted calculating costs instead of values.

When speaking of his investment in solar and his approach to life, Rich shares with us that he subscribes to the ancient Indian proverb, “We do not Inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; we Borrow it from our Children.”

After this “renewed” experience at the farm that evening, I reaffirmed my efforts to not miss any more opportunities to raise the profile of ECERs when people are debating the pros and cons of fracking and fossils. Energy Conservation, Efficiency and Renewables can no longer go missing from our conversations or we allow the myth to flourish that only fossils can “keep the lights on.” With ECERs in the conversation we may actually transition from this “transition fuel,” to a truly transformational future.

As Buckminster Fuller once said:

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. 
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.


Additional References

  1. To learn more, go to the Rocky Mountain Institute website.
  2. Mark Jacobson, a founder of The Solutions Project continues to crunch the numbers to demonstrate, How to Power the World without Fossil Fuels.
  3. According to the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies
  4. report by WWF, Ceres, Calvert Investments and David Gardiner and Associates finds that
  5. Addressing the issue of job creation, the Union of Concerned Scientists reports, “Compared with fossil fuel technologies, which are typically mechanized and capital intensive, the renewable energy industry is more labor-intensive. This means that, on average, more jobs are created for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels.”

Geopolitics, Shale Gas, and Pipelines

By Ted Auch, OH Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

The “Why?”

Recently, the US has proposed to ship American shale gas abroad to buffer Europe’s 15-30% reliance on Russian gas imports in the face of the annexation of Crimea by Russia – and parallel 80% increases in LNG prices paid by Eastern Europeans to Russia’s Gazprom. The FracTracker map below illustrates all proposed and existing hydrocarbon pipelines across South America, Africa, Europe, the Persian Gulf, and Asia/Russia1. Creating such a map seems the least we could do given that this conflict has been called the “worst crisis with the West since the end of the Cold War.” The situation in Crimea is a chronic crisis; folks like Oxford University’s Jonathan Stern have suggested:

  1. Ukraine owes Gazprom $2 billion for already delivered hydrocarbons,
  2. Russia can easily turn their supplies to Japan which will pay a premium relative to what they are getting from the European Union, and
  3. The duration of European oil and gas contracts with Gazprom, which extend 15-35 years, can’t be broken (Einhorn, 2014; Henderson and Stern, 2014).

The rhetoric framing here in the US has been lead by – and regurgitated by media outlets such as NPR who suggested “Putin Could Send Europe Scrambling For Energy Sources” –  the likes of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass and the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Jones. Both of these entities have the ears of congress domestically and global decision makers at gatherings such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (Gwertzman, 2014; Wade and Rascoe, 2014).

Stepping up hydrocarbon and extraction technologies is not universally espoused:

This is not an immediate-term solution. It’s not even an intermediate-term solution. – Paul Bledsoe, German Marshal Fund, in The New York Times

Fracking is unlikely to reduce gas prices to the extent its proponents desire. – London School of Economics (LSE) (Krauss, 2014; McDonnell, 2014)

Originally, shale gas production was proposed as a way for the US to become “energy independent,” but the dogma has rapidly and in a coordinated fashion shifted to the export of shale gas itself and the technology used to get it out of the ground. This rhetoric is now the focus not just of Washington, DC think tanks but academics (Bordoff, 2014) .

This is a graph depicting global CO2 emissions as a function of per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (US$) across 204 countries CO2 emissions data were gathered from the United Nations Statistics Division (http://unstats.un.org/unsd/ENVIRONMENT/datacollect.htm) and the US Department of Energy's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) (http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/meth_reg.html)

Figure 1a) Global CO2 Per Capita Emissions (Tons) Vs Per Capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (US $)

The above regions are ripe for – or currently experiencing – significant political uprisings from the Niger Delta and Venezuela to the percolating anger associated with increasing economic stratification and political elite disconnect in countries like Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Mediterranean Africa writ large, Sudan, and Oman2. Often this discontent is emanating out of citizens’ concerns as to where oil revenues are going and how often the hydrocarbon largesse is concentrated in a handful of political elites and/or oligarchs (Nossiter, 2014). The EIA estimates Russia and China sit atop an estimated 107 billion barrels of shale oil and 1,400 TCF of shale gas. Much of this resource will be required if they are to continue > 2-5% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth. The remainder they will undoubtedly use as a cudgel to deflect the west’s suggestions and/or demands within their borders or their “near abroad.” In the case of Russia, the “near abroad” generally refers to the eight former Communist pliable nations – and are incidentally home to nontrivial shale oil and gas reserves – that act as a physical and ideological buffer between them and NATO/European Union states. In an effort to combat the asymmetric hydrocarbon supply and demand issues and secure access to the sizable shale reserves in eastern Europe, the European Union continues to push the European Neighborhood Policy meant to create a “ring of friends”3  – with Ukraine just the latest significant test and the only successes being Tunisia and Moldova (Charlemagne, 2014). With respect to China, their “near abroad” nations include shale oil and gas rich nations like Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam, along with ex-Soviet region Central Asian countries which provide China with 80% of its natural gas needs. However, the east-west tug of war has come down to the willingness of the east to offer larger instant loans, cheaper gas, and labor/technology needed to develop pipeline networks. The nexus between these two eastern giants is the proposed – and recently agreed upon – $400 billion Sino-Russian energy cooperation natural gas and oil pipeline. This proposal will stretch across heretofore relatively undisturbed and isolated communities and the ecosystems they have evolved with across the Eurasian Steppe and Siberia (Einhorn, 2014).

This is a graph depicting global CO2 emissions as a function of Oil Consumption Per day (Barrels) across 204 countries CO2 emissions data were gathered from the United Nations Statistics Division (http://unstats.un.org/unsd/ENVIRONMENT/datacollect.htm) and the US Department of Energy's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) (http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/meth_reg.html) Oil consumption data drawn from EnerDatas' World Energy Statistics "Global Energy Statistical Yearbook 2013" (http://yearbook.enerdata.net/)

Figure 1b) Global CO2 Per Capita Emissions (Tons) Vs Oil Consumption Per Day (Barrels) across 204 countries

The fomenting anger and geopolitical combativeness that result from these conditions put the global hydrocarbon transport network at risk. Analogies to R.A. Radford’s The Economic Organization of a P.O.W. Camp can be made here, where the economy that Mr. Radford created flourished until the input stream from the Red Cross stopped. It was at this time that the economy collapsed due to its singular reliance on one input source. Similar analogies exist across emerging, P5+1, and frontier markets worldwide, with many countries largely dependent upon hydrocarbon imports or exports to stoke GDP. Such imports, along with oil consumption, account for 98% of per country CO2 emissions (Table 1 below, Figure 1a-b).  Revolution or even temporary and targeted political instability will fuel the type of hydrocarbon transport/production disruption that will produce the kind of jump condition described by Mr. Radford. A jump condition occurs in situations when suitable hydrocarbon stocks/flows are lost, pipelines are turned off, and alternative transport channels are deemed too perilous. Such a crisis is one that no industrialized or industrializing nation is prepared to manage, making the 2007-08 Financial Crisis look and feel like child’s play. Thus, many private and state actors are proposing new and expanded hydrocarbon pipeline networks to reduce reliance on single-large networks emanating from or traveling through volatile regions. Proposals range from the large Nabucco pipeline proposal connecting Asia and Europe or the Nord Stream AG Baltic Sea Gas Pipeline to small regional or inter-state proposals in Africa, the Persian Gulf, and Eastern Europe.

The “When?”

With this map, which was initiated in January 2014, we have attempted to accurately quantify as many existing and proposed pipeline routes as possible in Europe, Africa, South America, Asia, and the Persian Gulf.  We will be updating this map periodically, and it should be noted that all layers are predetermined aggregations of regional pipelines. Given the recent EIA global shale oil and gas estimates, it is only a matter of time before: a) European nations like Germany, Ukraine, Poland, and Romania begin to explore shale gas extraction in the name of “energy independence,” and b) Argentina hands over the proverbial keys to its 16.2-22.5 billion barrels of oil in the Vaca Muerta shale basin to the likes of Shell or Repsol-YPF (Canty, 2011; Gonzalez and Cancel, 2013; Romero and Krauss, 2013; Staff, 2013). This conversation will be accompanied by additional pipeline proposals for inter- and intra-region transport, all of which we will incorporate into this map on a quarterly basis. If you know of proposals that are not currently shown on the map, please let us know.

Table 1. Major Worldwide Flows of Oil (Thousand Barrels Per Day).

Country

Production (a)

Consumption (b)

(b)/(a)

Export

Import

Saudi Arabia

11726

2861

24

8865

United States

11105

18490

167

7386

Russia

10397

3195

31

7201

China

4372

10277

235

5904

Canada

3856

2281

59

1576

Iran

3589

1709

48

1880

UAE

3213

618

19

2595

Iraq

2987

752

25

2235

Mexico

2936

2144

73

Kuwait

2797

383

14

2414

Brazil

2652

2807

106

Nigeria

2524

270

11

2254

Venezuela

2489

777

31

1712

Norway

1902

218

12

1684

Algeria

1875

328

18

1547

Japan

4726

4591

India

3622

2632

Germany

2388

2219

South Korea

2301

2240

France

1740

1668

Indonesia

1590

616

United Kingdom

1503

Angola

1738

Qatar

1389

Kazakhstan

1355

Libya

Singapore

1360

Spain

1260

Italy

1198

Taiwan

1058

Netherlands

949

Turkey

614

Belgium

607

Compiled from U.S. Energy Information Administration World Overview (http://www.eia.gov/countries/)


References

Bordoff, J., 2014. Adding Fuel to the Fire: How the American shale gas boom can weaken Russia’s hand in Ukraine, Foreign Policy Magazine, Washington, DC.

Canty, D., 2011. Repsol hails largest ever 927 million bbl oil find, ArabianOilandGas.com. ITP Business Portal.

Charlemagne, 2014. How to be good neighbours: Ukraine is the biggest test of the EU’s policy towards countries on its borderlands, The Economist, London, UK.

Einhorn, B., 2014. How the Ukraine Crisis Could Help Clear Beijing’s Smog, Bloomberg Businessweek. Bloomberg LP, New York, NY.

Gonzalez, P., Cancel, D., 2013. Shell to Triple Argentine Shale Spending as Winds Change, Bloomberg Magazine. Bloomberg LP, New York, NY.

Gwertzman, B., 2014. How to respond to Ukraine’s Crisis, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, DC.

Henderson, J., Stern, J., 2014. The Potential Impact on Asia Gas Markets of Russia’s Eastern Gas Strategy, Oxford Energy Comment. The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, Oxford, UK, p. 13.

Klein, N., 2008. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Picador.

Klein, N., 2014. Why US Fracking Companies Are Licking Their Lips Over Ukraine: From climate change to Crimea, the natural gas industry is supreme at exploiting crisis for private gain – what I call the shock doctrine, The Guardian, London, UK.

Krauss, C., 2014. U.S. Gas Tantalizes Europe, but It’s Not a Quick Fix, The New York Times, New York, NY.

McDonnell, A., 2014. Fracking is unlikely to reduce gas prices to the extent its proponents desire, The London School of Economics and Political Science – British Politics and Policy. The London School of Economics, London, UK.

Nossiter, A., 2014. Nigerians Ask Why Oil Funds Are Missing, The New York Times, New York, NY.

Romero, S., Krauss, C., 2013. An Odd Alliance in Patagonia, The New York Times, New York, NY.

Staff, 2013. Argentina’s YPF: Swallowed Pride, The Economist, London, UK.

Wade, T., Rascoe, A., 2014. Global gas trade may soften foreign policy of Russia, China, Reuters, New York, NY.


[2]  The EIA estimates Mediterranean Africa contains 5,772 TCF of estimated wet shale natural gas and 1,373,770 million barrels of oil, the Former Soviet Union 4,738 TCF and 310,567 million barrels, and South America 2,465 TCF and 643,864 million barrels 73% of which is in Brazil and Argentina’s Vaca Muerta.

[3] According to The Economist “The Europeans should also rethink the neighbourhood policy, which lumps together disparate countries merely because they happen to be nearby. In the south it may have to devise a wider concept of its interests stretching out to the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. Here Europe has no real friends, lots of acquaintances and not a few enemies. To the east it needs better ways of helping those who want to move closer to the EU.”

Water Use in WV and PA

Water Resource Reporting and Water Footprint from Marcellus Shale Development in West Virginia and Pennsylvania

Report and summary by Meghan Betcher and Evan Hansen, Downstream Strategies; and Dustin Mulvaney, San Jose State University

GasWellWaterWithdrawals The use of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas extraction has greatly increased in recent years in the Marcellus Shale. Since the beginning of this shale gas boom, water resources have been a key concern; however, many questions have yet to be answered with a comprehensive analysis. Some of these questions include:

  • What are sources of water?
  • How much water is used?
  • What happens to this water following injection into wells?

With so many unanswered questions, we took on the task of using publically available data to perform a life cycle analysis of water used for hydraulic fracturing in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Summary of Findings

Some of our interesting findings are summarized below:

  • In West Virginia, approximately 5 million gallons of fluid are injected per fractured well, and in Pennsylvania approximately 4.3 million gallons of fluid are injected per fractured well.
  • Surface water taken directly from rivers and streams makes up over 80% of the water used in hydraulic fracturing in West Virginia, which is by far the largest source of water for operators. Because most water used in Marcellus operations is withdrawn from surface waters, withdrawals can result in dewatering and severe impacts on small streams and aquatic life.
  • Most of the water pumped underground—92% in West Virginia and 94% in Pennsylvania—remains there, lost from the hydrologic cycle.
  • Reused flowback fluid accounts for approximately 8% of water used in West Virginia wells.
  • Approximately one-third of waste generated in Pennsylvania is reused at other wells.
  • As Marcellus development has expanded, waste generation has increased. In Pennsylvania, operators reported a total of 613 million gallons of waste, which is approximately a 70% increase in waste generated between 2010 and 2011.
  • Currently, the three-state region—West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio—is tightly connected in terms of waste disposal. Almost one-half of flowback fluid recovered in West Virginia is transported out of state. Between 2010 and 2012, 22% of recovered flowback fluid from West Virginia was sent to Pennsylvania, primarily to be reused in other Marcellus operations, and 21% was sent to Ohio, primarily for disposal via underground injection control (UIC) wells. From 2009 through 2011, approximately 5% of total Pennsylvania Marcellus waste was sent to UIC wells in Ohio.
  • The blue water footprint for hydraulic fracturing represents the volume of water required to produce a given unit of energy—in this case one thousand cubic feet of gas. To produce one thousand cubic feet of gas, West Virginia wells require 1-3 million gallons of water and Pennsylvania wells required 3-4 million gallons of water.

Table 1. Reported water withdrawals for Marcellus wells in West Virginia (million gallons, % of total withdrawals, 2010-2012)

WV Water Withdrawals

Source: WVDEP (2013a). Note: Surface water includes lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers. The dataset does not specify whether purchased water originates from surface or groundwater. As of August 14, 2013, the Frac Water Reporting Database did not contain any well sites with a withdrawal “begin date” later than October 17, 2012. Given that operators have one year to report to this database, the 2012 data are likely very incomplete.

As expected, we found that the volumes of water used to fracture Marcellus Shale gas wells are substantial, and the quantities of waste generated are significant. While a considerable amount of flowback fluid is now being reused and recycled, the data suggest that it displaces only a small percentage of freshwater withdrawals. West Virginia and Pennsylvania are generally water-rich states, but these findings indicate that extensive hydraulic fracturing operations could have significant impacts on water resources in more arid areas of the country.

While West Virginia and Pennsylvania have recently taken steps to improve data collection and reporting related to gas development, critical gaps persist that prevent researchers, policymakers, and the public from attaining a detailed picture of trends. Given this, it can be assumed that much more water is being withdrawn and more waste is being generated than is reported to state regulatory agencies.

Data Gaps Identified

We encountered numerous data gaps and challenges during our analysis:

  • All data are self-reported by well operators, and quality assurance and quality control measures by the regulatory agencies are not always thorough.
  • In West Virginia, operators are only required to report flowback fluid waste volumes. In Pennsylvania, operators are required to report all waste fluid that returns to the surface. Therefore in Pennsylvania, flowback fluid comprises only 38% of the total waste which means that in West Virginia, approximately 62% of their waste is not reported, leaving its fate a mystery.
  • The Pennsylvania waste disposal database indicates waste volumes that were reused, but it is not possible to determine exactly the origin of this reused fluid.
  • In West Virginia, withdrawal volumes are reported by well site rather than by the individual well, which makes tracking water from withdrawal location, to well, to waste disposal site very difficult.
  • Much of the data reported is not publically available in a format that allows researchers to search and compare results across the database. Many operators report injection volumes to FracFocus; however, searching in FracFocus is cumbersome – as it only allows a user to view records for one well at a time in PDF format. Completion reports, required by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), contain information on water withdrawals but are only available in hard copy at PADEP offices.

In short, the true scale of water impacts can still only be estimated. There needs to be considerable improvements in industry reporting, data collection and sharing, and regulatory enforcement to ensure the data are accurate. The challenge of appropriately handling a growing volume of waste to avoid environmental harm will continue to loom large unless such steps are taken.

Report Resources

Complete Report  |  Webinar

This report was written on behalf of Earthworks and was funded by a Network Innovation Grant from the Robert & Patricia Switzer Foundation.

This FracTracker article is part of the Water Use Series

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