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Allegheny County Lease Map from 2016

Supporting accessible oil and gas lease data in Allegheny County

New bill introduces public O&G lease registry

PITTSBURGH, PA – At last night’s County Council meeting, Councilwoman Anita Prizio unveiled a new bill to create an oil and gas lease registry for Allegheny County, which would help the area’s residents and municipalities better plan for oil and gas development within their communities.

The legislation, which has been referred to committee, would establish a publicly-available database of drilling leases across the county, organized by address, municipality, and company lease holder.

In 2016, FracTracker Alliance noted many issues with the county’s existing system during a lease mapping project and supports the move to make county lease data more transparent. For example, entries in the current database recorded after 2010 do not list street addresses or parcel IDs, which are necessary for proper mapping of local drilling activity.

“The proposed oil and gas lease registry would be a step in the right direction for improving the industry’s transparency and accountability in an area surrounded by extensive drilling,” remarked FracTracker’s Manager of Data and Technology and Allegheny County resident, Matt Kelso. “These agreements are already public data, but they’re burdensome to access and essentially impossible to analyze in any comprehensive fashion.”

Industrial-scaled oil and gas development has steadily increased in Allegheny County, with permits for 258 unconventional wells, more than half of which are now operational. Based on its earlier mapping work, FracTracker estimates that 63,014 acres – roughly 18% of the county – are already under some kind of mineral rights lease or pipeline rights-of-way agreement, a calculation that did not include parcels that were not identified due to missing data.

The lease registry, which would disclose permitting statuses and well type, would also play a large part in supporting local zoning efforts and helping public safety officials prepare for incidents that could put residents and infrastructure at risk.

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About FracTracker Alliance

FracTracker Alliance is a national organization with regional offices across the United States in Pennsylvania, Washington DC, New York, Ohio, and California. Our mission is to study, map, and communicate the risks of oil and gas development to protect our planet and support the renewable energy transformation. We accomplish this by supporting advocacy groups at the local, regional, and national level – informing actions to positively shape our nation’s energy future. Check out FracTracker’s 2016 Allegheny Lease Mapping Project.

The Falcon: Methods, Mapping, & Analysis

Part of the Falcon Public EIA Project

FracTracker began monitoring Falcon’s construction plans in December 2016, when we discovered a significant cache of publicly visible GIS data related to the pipeline. At that time, FracTracker was looking at ways to get involved in the public discussion about Shell’s ethane cracker and felt we could contribute our expertise with mapping pipelines. Below we describe the methods we used to access and worked with this project’s data.

Finding the Data

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Finding GIS data for pipeline projects is notoriously difficult but, as most research goes these days, we started with a simple Google search to see what was out there, using basic keywords, such as “Falcon” (the name of the pipeline), “ethane” (the substance being transported), “pipeline” (the topic under discussion), and “ArcGIS” (a commonly used mapping software).

In addition to news stories on the pipeline’s development, Google returned search results that included links to GIS data that included “Shell” and “Falcon” in their names. The data was located in folders labeled “HOUGEO,” presumably the project code name, as seen in the screenshot below. All of these links were accessed via Google and did not require a password or any other authentication to view their contents.

Shell’s data on the Falcon remained publicly available at this link up to the time of the Falcon Public EIA Project‘s release. However, this data is now password protected by AECOM.

Google search results related to Falcon pipeline data

Viewing the Data

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The HOUGEO folder is part of a larger database maintained by AECOM, an engineering firm presumably contracted to prepare the Falcon pipeline construction plan. Data on a few other projects were also visible, such as maps of the Honolulu highway system and a sewer works in Greenville, NC. While these projects were not of interest to us, our assessment is that this publicly accessible server is used to share GIS projects with entities outside the company.

Within the HOUGEO folder is a set of 28 ArcGIS map folders, under which are hundreds of different GIS data layers pertaining to the Falcon pipeline. These maps could all be opened simply by clicking on the “ArcGIS Online map viewer” link at the top of each page. Alternatively, one can click on the “View in: Google Earth” link to view the data in Google Earth or click on the “View in: ArcMap” link to view the data in the desktop version of the ArcGIS software application. No passwords or credentials are required to access any of these folders or files.

As seen in the screenshot below, the maps were organized topically, roughly corresponding to the various components that would need to be addressed in an EIA. The “Pipeline” folder showed the route of the Falcon, its pumping stations, and work areas. “Environmental” contained data on things like water crossings and species of concern. “ClassLocations” maps the locations of building structures in proximity to the Falcon.

The HOUGEO GIS folders organized by topic

 

Archiving the Data

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After viewing the Falcon GIS files and assessing them for relevancy, FracTracker went about archiving the data we felt was most useful for our assessing the project. The HOUGEO maps are hosted on a web server meant for viewing GIS maps and their data, either on ArcOnline, Google Earth, or ArcMap. The GIS data could not be edited in these formats. However, viewing the data allowed us to manually recreate most of the data.

For lines (e.g. the pipeline route and access roads), points (e.g. shutoff valves and shut-off valves), and certain polygons (e.g. areas of landslide risk and construction workspaces), we archived the data by manually recreating new maps. Using ArcGIS Desktop software, we created a new blank layer and manually inputted the relevant data points from the Falcon maps. This new layer was then saved locally so we could do more analysis and make our own independent maps incorporating the Falcon data. In some cases, we also archived layers by manually extracting data from data tables underlying the map features. These tables are made visible on the HOUGEO maps simply by clicking the “data table” link provided with each map layer.

Other layers were archived using screen captures of the data tables visible in the HOEGEO ArcOnline maps. For instance, the table below shows which parcels along the route had executed easements. We filtered the table in ArcGIS Online to only show the parcel ID, survey status, and easement status. Screen captures of these tables were saved as PDFs on our desktop, then converted to text using optical character recognition (OCR), and the data brought into Microsoft Excel. We then recreated the map layer by matching the parcel IDs in our newly archived spreadsheet to parcel IDs obtained from property GIS shapefiles that FracTracker purchased from county deeds offices.

Transparency & Caveats

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FracTracker strives to maintain transparency in all of its work so the public understands how we obtain, analyze, and map data. A good deal of the data found in the HOUGEO folders are available through other sources, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Census, as well as numerous state and county level agencies. When possible, we opted to go to these original sources in order to minimize our reliance on the HOUGEO data. We also felt it was important to ensure that the data we used was as accurate and up-to-date as possible.

For instance, instead of manually retracing all the boundaries for properties with executed easements for the Falcon’s right-of-way, we simply purchased parcel shapefiles from county deeds and records offices and manually identified properties of interest. To read more on how each data layer was made, open any of our Falcon maps in full-screen mode and click the “Details” tab in the top left corner of the page.

Finally, some caveats. While we attempted to be as accurate as possible in our methods, there are aspects of our maps where a line, point, or polygon may deviate slightly in shape or location from the HOUGEO maps. This is the inherent downside of having to manually recreate GIS data. In other cases, we spent many hours correcting errors found in the HOUGEO datasets (such as incorrect parcel IDs) in order to get different datasets to properly match up.

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FracTracker also obtained copies of Shell’s permit applications in January by conducting a file review at the PA DEP offices. While these applications — consisting of thousands of pages — only pertain to the areas in Pennsylvania where the Falcon will be built, we were surprised by the accuracy of our analysis when compared with these documents. However, it is important to note that the maps and analysis presented in the Falcon Public EIA Project should be viewed with potential errors in mind.

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Related Articles

Map of PA drilling complaints - collaboration with Public Herald

PA Fracking Complaints are Increasing, Systemic

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) logs incoming complaints from residents about drilling activity in the Commonwealth, and Public Herald has spent a great deal of time aggregating and making that information public. A recent investigation by Public Herald into that data, with help from FracTracker, has highlighted a number of concerning issues related to fracking in Pennsylvania unfortunately.

Concerning Complaints

Firstly, the data they reviewed indicate that complaints from residents about unconventional drilling (how most fracked wells are designated) are more common than those about traditional wells. Secondly, it seems that complaints about fracked wells are increasing over time, even though the number of new wells has decreased.

There may be several reasons for such trends, and Public Herald discusses some of them in their new report. Are fracking wells more likely to fail, resulting in a higher proportion of complaints from nearby residents? Or has tracking simply improved in recent years? What these trends undoubtably indicate, however, is that the impacts from drilling have been systemic, according to Drs. Ingraffea and Stolz, who also reviewed the data.

Probably the most troubling finding unearthed in this investigation is that the PA DEP was not transparent about complaint data. The information they released to Public Herald differed wildly from the spreadsheets previously obtained by other requestors. Learn more about this and other issues in Public Herald’s Hidden Data Report.

Digging into the Data

Below we have included a map showing where those complaints originated, as well as a table that parses out the data by county.

Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Complaint Map

View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

The above map by Public Herald and FracTracker Alliance shows the density of citizen complaints reported to the Department of Environmental Protection from 2004 – 2016. It includes conventional and unconventional well complaints. Clicking on a township reveals a database of complaints where viewers can download files.

In addition to the report issued by Public Herald, you can explore the data mapped above in the table below. It fleshes out how many complaints have been issued by residents, where these complaints originated, and how many are specific to water issues.

Table 1. PA Unconventional Well Complaint Statistics Logged by the PA DEP

DEP Office County Total Complaints (#) Water Complaints (#) Municipalities w/Complaints (#) Drilled Unconventional Wells, Jan 2004 – Nov 29 2016
TOTALS
PENNSYLVANIA 47 9442 4108 893 10027
SWRO 3653 1427 328 3587
NWRO 3197 1159 284 1027
NCRO (ERO) 2592 1522 281 5413
BY COUNTY
SWRO Washington 1066 460 51 1478
ERO Susquehanna 648 393 32 1326
ERO Bradford 647 468 43 1371
SWRO Greene 576 156 26 1082
NWRO McKean 550 121 21 134
SWRO Westmoreland 538 219 43 270
NWRO Warren 443 106 26 3
NWRO Butler 419 186 35 497
SWRO Armstrong 388 208 38 223
SWRO Indiana 367 153 32 48
ERO Tioga 349 212 30 907
SWRO Fayette 335 121 28 291
NWRO Mercer 276 153 31 61
NWRO Venango 273 108 25 6
NWRO Crawford 258 141 35 3
NWRO Jefferson 244 113 29 56
ERO Lycoming 242 110 32 927
SWRO Allegheny 228 30 53 100
NWRO Clarion 186 89 23 28
NWRO Forest 177 56 8 22
ERO Clearfield 175 70 34 150
ERO Wyoming 167 92 19 258
NWRO Erie 164 17 30 0
NWRO Elk 143 37 9 146
ERO Potter 108 60 25 91
ERO Sullivan 86 47 8 127
SWRO Beaver 67 44 25 62
NWRO Lawrence 64 32 12 71
SWRO Somerset 44 16 18 26
SWRO Cambria 43 20 13 7
ERO Clinton 40 16 8 107
ERO Bedford 36 25 7 1
ERO Centre 33 10 9 65
ERO Luzerne 19 1 10 2
ERO Wayne 14 4 7 5
ERO Lackawanna 6 3 3 2
ERO Columbia 5 1 2 3
ERO Blair 4 3 2 6
ERO Cameron 4 2 2 64
ERO Huntingdon 2 2 1 1

SWRO = Southwest Regional Office; NWRO = Northwest Regional Office; NCRO (ERO) = North Central/Eastern Regional Office. Find your office here.

Stay Tuned

Public Herald will be releasing Part 2 of their Hidden Data report soon!

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

New Frac Sand Resources on FracTracker.org

We’ve added several new frac sand resources for visitors to our website this month, including a map of frac sand mines, as well as geolocated data you can download. Explore these resources using the map and links below:

Updated Frac Sand Mining Map


View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

On the map above you can view silica sands/frac sand mines, drying facilities, and value-added facilities in North America. Click view map fullscreen to see the legend, an address search bar, and other tools available on our maps.

Additional data shown on this map include addresses and facility polygons. Wisconsin provides sand production data for 24 facilities, so that information has been included on this map. The remaining Wisconsin and other state facilities do not have production or acreage data associated with them. (Most states lack disclosure requirements for releasing this kind of data. Additionally the USGS maintains a confidentiality agreement with all firms, preventing us from obtaining production data.)

The sandstone/silica geology polygons (areas on the map) include a breakdown of how much land is currently made up of agriculture, urban/suburban, temperate deciduous forest, and conifer forests. At the present time we only have this information for the primary frac-sand-producing state: Wisconsin. We should have details for Ohio and Minnesota soon.

Data Downloads

Click on the links below to download various geolocated datasets (zipped shape files) related to the frac sand industry:

  1. SIC and/or NAICS related violations and inspections
  2. Resin Coating Facilities
  3. Silica Sand Mine Time Series polygon expansion over time (in Wisconsin, Illinois, Arkansas, Minnesota, and Missouri)
  4. Existing Silica Sand Mine Points
  5. Existing Silica Sand Mine Polygon land-use
  6. St. Peter and Sylvanian Surficial Sandstone Geologies
  7. Frac Sand Mine Proposals – inventory of frac sand mine proposals in LaSalle County, IL; Monroe County, IL; Arkansas; and Minnesota
  8. Western Michigan frac sand mines within or adjacent to sensitive dunes
  9. Mid or downstream frac sand industry participants (PDF) – detailed descriptions of 34 US and 4 Canadian firms

Interview with Therese Vick – Sentinel Award Winner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fighting for Government Transparency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parked Oil Trains in Berks County, PA

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

The Risks of Crude Oil Trains

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

Communities Along the Tracks

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

Berks_staticmap


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

Public Herald’s #fileroom Update

Crowdsourcing Digital PA Oil & Gas Data

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

Project Background

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

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

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

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


View Map Fullscreen

FracTracker map of the density of wells by U.S. state as of 2015

1.7 Million Wells in the U.S. – A 2015 Update


 

Updated National Well Data

By Matt Kelso, Manager of Data & Technology

In February 2014, the FracTracker Alliance produced our first version of a national well data file and map, showing over 1.1 million active oil and gas wells in the United States. We have now updated that data, with the total of wells up to 1,666,715 active wells accounted for.

Density by state of active oil and gas wells in the United States. Click here to access the legend, details, and full map controls. Zoom in to see summaries by county, and zoom in further to see individual well data. Texas contains state and county totals only, and North Carolina is not included in this map. 

While 1.7 million wells is a substantial increase over last year’s total of 1.1 million, it is mostly attributable to differences in how we counted wells this time around, and should not be interpreted as a huge increase in activity over the past 15 months or so. Last year, we attempted to capture those wells that seemed to be producing oil and gas, or about ready to produce. This year, we took a more inclusive definition. Primarily, the additional half-million wells can be accounted for by including wells listed as dry holes, and the inclusion of more types of injection wells. Basically anything with an API number that was not described as permanently plugged was included this time around.

Data for North Carolina are not included, because they did not respond to three email inquiries about their oil and gas data. However, in last year’s national map aggregation, we were told that there were only two active wells in the state. Similarly, we do not have individual well data for Texas, and we use a published list of well counts by county in its place. Last year, we assumed that because there was a charge for the dataset, we would be unable to republish well data. In discussions with the Railroad Commission, we have learned that the data can in fact be republished. However, technical difficulties with their datasets persist, and data that we have purchased lacked location values, despite metadata suggesting that it would be included. So in short, we still don’t have Texas well data, even though it is technically available.

Wells by Type and Status

Each state is responsible for what their oil and gas data looks like, so a simple analysis of something as ostensibly straightforward as what type of well has been drilled can be surprisingly complicated when looking across state lines. Additionally, some states combine the well type and well status into a single data field, making comparisons even more opaque.

Top 10 of 371 published well types for wells in the United States.

Top 10 of 371 published well types for wells in the United States.

Among all of the oil producing states, there are 371 different published well types. This data is “raw,” meaning that no effort has been made to combine similar entries, so “gas, oil” is counted separately from “GAS OIL,” and “Bad Data” has not been combined with “N/A,” either. Conforming data from different sources is an exercise that gets out of hand rather quickly, and utility over using the original published data is questionable, as well. We share this information, primarily to demonstrate the messy state of the data. Many states combine their well type and well status data into a single column, while others keep them separate. Unfortunately, the most frequent well type was blank, either because states did not publish well types, or they did not publish them for all of their wells.

There are no national standards for publishing oil and gas data – a serious barrier to data transparency and the most important takeaway from this exercise… 

Wells by Location

Active oil and gas wells in 2015 by state. Except for Texas, all data were aggregated published well coordinates.

Active oil and gas wells in 2015 by state. Except for Texas, all data were aggregated published well coordinates.

There are oil and gas wells in 35 of the 50 states (70%) in the United States, and 1,673 out of 3,144 (53%) of all county and county equivalent areas. The number of wells per state ranges from 57 in Maryland to 291,996 in Texas. There are 135 counties with a single well, while the highest count is in Kern County, California, host to 77,497 active wells.

With the exception of Texas, where the data are based on published lists of well county by county, the state and county well counts were determined by the location of the well coordinates. Because of this, any errors in the original well’s location data could lead to mistakes in the state and county summary files. Any wells that are offshore are not included, either. Altogether, there are about 6,000 wells (0.4%) are missing from the state and county files.

Wells by Operator

There are a staggering number of oil and gas operators in the United States. In a recent project with the National Resources Defense Council, we looked at violations across the few states that publish such data, and only for the 68 operators that were identified previously as having the largest lease acreage nationwide. Even for this task, we had to follow a spreadsheet of which companies were subsidiaries of others, and sometimes the inclusion of an entity like “Williams” on the list came down to a judgement call as to whether we had the correct company or not.

No such effort was undertaken for this analysis. So in Pennsylvania, wells drilled by the operator Exco Resources PA, Inc. are not included with those drilled by Exco Resources PA, Llc., even though they are presumably the same entity. It just isn’t feasible to systematically go through thousands of operators to determine which operators are owned by whom, so we left the data as is. Results, therefore, should be taken with a brine truck’s worth of salt.

Top 10 wells by operator in the US, excluding Texas. Unknown operators are highlighted in red.

Top 10 wells by operator in the US, excluding Texas. Unknown operators are highlighted in red.

Texas does publish wells by operator, but as with so much of their data, it’s just not worth the effort that it takes to process it. First, they process it into thirteen different files, then publish it in PDF format, requiring special software to convert the data to spreadsheet format. Suffice to say, there are thousands of operators of active oil and gas wells in the Lone Star State.

Not counting Texas, there are 39,693 different operators listed in the United States. However, many of those listed are some version of “we don’t know whose well this is.” Sorting the operators by the number of wells that they are listed as having, we see four of the top ten operators are in fact unknown, including the top three positions.

Summary

The state of oil and gas data in the United States is clearly in shambles. As long as there are no national standards for data transparency, we can expect this trend to continue. The data that we looked for in this file is what we consider to be bare bones: well name, well type, well status, slant (directional, vertical, or horizontal), operator, and location. In none of these categories can we say that we have a satisfactory sense of what is going on nationally.

Click on the above button to download the three sets of data we used to make the dynamic map (once you are zoomed in to a state level). The full dataset was broken into three parts due to the large file sizes.

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Fracking’s Most Wanted – An NRDC Issue Paper

Lifting the Veil on Oil & Gas Company Spills & Violations

NRDC Issue Paper • April 2015

Today Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report in conjunction with work by those of us at FracTracker Alliance.

We launched this investigation to determine what information about oil and gas company violations is publicly available on the Internet, how accessible it is, and whether it provides an adequate understanding about the practices of different companies.

This report highlights the information gaps about the frequency and nature of oil and gas company violations; such data is only publically accessible in 3 states – even though 36 states have active oil and gas development.

To take the review one step further, we analyzed the data that was available from these states – Pennsylvania, Colorado, and West Virginia. The results show that companies have been issued a series of violations, some of which were quite severe.

Of these companies, the following 10 had the most violations overall, in order of most to least:

  1. Chesapeake Energy (669)
  2. Cabot Oil and Gas (565)
  3. Talisman Energy (362))
  4. Range Resources (281)
  5. EXCO Resources (249)
  6. ExxonMobil (246)
  7. EQT Corporation (245)
  8. Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (235)
  9. Shell (223)
  10. Penn Virginia Corporation (186)

Find out more information, including the top violators in PA, CO, and WV, on NRDC’s website or by reading the full report (PDF)

Contact: Kate Slusark Kiely, 212-727-4592 or kkiely@nrdc.org

 

An Open Letter to FracFocus

FracFocus.org is the preferred chemical disclosure registry for the oil and gas (O&G) industry, and use of your website by the industry is mandated by some states and regulatory agencies. As such, we hope you’ll be responsive to this call by FracTracker, other organizations, and concerned citizens across the country to live up to the standards of accessibility and transparency required by similar data registries.

A Focus on Data Transparency

Recent technological advances in high volume hydraulic fracturing operations have changed the landscape of O&G drilling in the United States.  As residents adjust to the presence of large-scale industrial sites appearing in their communities, the public’s thirst for knowledge about what is going on is both understandable and reasonable. The creation of FracFocus was a critical first step down the pathway to government and industry transparency, allowing for some residents to learn about the chemicals being used in their immediate vicinities.  The journey, however, is not yet complete.

Design Limitations on FracFocus

Query by Date

Even with the recently added search features there is no way to query reports by date. Currently a visitor would be unable to search by the date hydraulic fracturing / stimulation was performed, or when the report itself was submitted. Reports can only be viewed one PDF at a time, which would take someone quite a while to view all 68,000+ well sites in your system.

Aggregate Data Downloads

In October 2013, you informed us that “each registered state regulatory agency has access to the xml files for their state but they are not distributable from FracFocus to the public.” We must ask the reasonable question of “why not?” We understand that setting up a downloadable data system is a time-intensive process, as we manage one ourselves, but the benefits of providing such a service more than compensate for the effort expended. It is no longer possible to aggregate data, either automatically or manually, because of bandwidth limitations that keep users from downloading more than an arbitrarily limited number of reports in a single session. Considering public concern over the composition of frac fluid, as well as the volume and geographic extent of complaints of drinking water complaints to be related to O&G extraction, prudence would suggest making the data as accessible as possible. For example, making the aggregated data available to the public as a machine-readable download would greatly reduce the load on your servers, because users would no longer be forced to download the individual PDF reports. Changes in the way the reports are curated would also improve efficiency and reduce your server load; we would be more than happy to discuss these changes with you.

An Issue of Money?

The basic infrastructure to provide this service via FracFocus.org is already in place. An organization like the Groundwater Protection Council with a website serving some of the world’s wealthiest corporations loses credibility when making claims that “we have no way to meet your needs for the data.”  Withholding data from the public only serves to compound the distrust that many people have with regards to the oil and gas extraction industry.  Additionally, agencies that use FracFocus as a means of satisfying open government requirements are currently being short changed by the lack of access to your aggregated datasets; restricting access to data that is in the public interest is fundamentally at odds with data transparency initiatives, including the President’s 2013 Executive Order on Open Data.

One Small Step for a Company…

Within this discussion is a simple realization:  The Ground Water Protection Council, Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, participating companies and states, and the federal government should recognize that data transparency is not merely a lofty ideal, but an actual obligation to our open society.  Once that realization has been made, the path of least resistance becomes clear:  you, FracFocus, should make all of your aggregate data available to the public, beginning with the easiest step: the statewide datasets that are already being provided to government agencies.

FracTracker operates in the public interest. We – and the thousands of individuals and organizations who use our services and yours – request no less from you. Thank you for addressing these critical matters.

Sincerely,
-The FracTracker Alliance-

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