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Bill Hughes giving tour to students in shale fields, WV

A Cross-Country Ride to Support Oil and Gas Tours in West Virginia

Bill Hughes giving tours of gas fields in West Virginia. Photo by Joe Solomon. https://flic.kr/s/aHskkXZj3z

Bill Hughes giving a tour of gas fields in West Virginia. Photo by Joe Solomon.

As many of you know, educating the public is a FracTracker Alliance core value – a passion, in fact. In addition to our maps and resources, we help to provide hands-on education, as well. The extraordinary Bill Hughes is a FracTracker partner who has spent decades “in the trenches” in West Virginia documenting fracking, well pad construction, water withdrawals, pipeline construction, accidents, spills, leaks, and various practices of the oil and gas industry. He regularly leads tours for college students, reporters, and other interested parties, showing them first-hand what these sites look, smell, and sound like.

While most of us have heard of fracking, few of us have seen it in action or how it has changed communities. The tours that Bill provides allow students and the like to experience in person what this kind of extraction means for the environment and for the residents who live near it.

Biking to Support FracTracker and Bill Hughes

Dave Weyant at the start of his cross-country bike trip in support of WV tours

Dave Weyant at the start of his cross-country Pedal for the Planet bike trip

In the classic spirit of non-profit organizations, we work in partnership with others whenever possible. Right now, as you read this posting, another extraordinary Friend of FracTracker, Dave Weyant (a high school teacher in San Mateo, CA), is finishing his cross-country cycling tour – from Virginia to Oregon in 70 days.

Dave believes strongly in the power of teaching to reach the hearts of students and shape their thinking about complicated issues. As such, he has dedicated his journey to raising money for FracTracker. He set up a GoFundMe campaign in conjunction with his epic adventure, and he will donate whatever he raises toward Bill’s educational tours.

Help us celebrate Dave Weyant’s courage, vision, and generosity – and support Bill Hughes’s tireless efforts to open eyes, evoke awareness, and foster communication about fracking – by visiting Dave’s GoFundMe page and making a donation. Every gift of any size is most welcome and deeply appreciated.

100% of the funds raised from this campaign will go to support Bill’s oil and gas tours in West Virginia. FracTracker Alliance is a registered 501(c)3 organization. Your contribution is tax deductible.

And to those of you who have already donated, thank you very much for your support!

Clearing land for shale gas pipeline in PA

A Push For Pipelines

By Bill Hughes, WV Community Liaison

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

Problems With Proposed Pipelines

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

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

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

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

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

Part I: How Did We Get To This Point

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

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

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

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

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

A Word On Surveyors

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

Part II: Surveyor Stakes and Flags

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

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

A surveyor stake alongside my access road.

A surveyor stake alongside my access road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part III: What Happened & How?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Part IV: Lessons To Be Learned

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

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

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

The Inherent Contradictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surveyor Symbols & Signs – A Guide

The following guide is a simplified description of a variety of markings that are used by land surveyors. Throughout an active shale gas field, the first signs of pending expansions are the simple markings of stakes, flags, and pins. Many months or even years before the chain saw fells the first tree or the first dozer blade cuts the dirt at a well pad location, the surveyors have “marked the target” on behalf of their corporate tactical command staff.

The three most commonly used markings are the simple stakes, flags and pins. These surveyor symbols are common to any construction project and guarantee that everything gets put in the right place. In an active gas field, these marking tools are used for all aspects of exploration and production:

  • access roads to well pads,
  • widening the traveled portion of the roadway,
  • well locations,
  • ponds and impoundment locations,
  • temporary water pipeline paths,
  • surface disturbance limits,
  • compressor stations,
  • gas processing sites, and
  • rights-of-way for roads and pipelines.

Quite frequently these simple markings are undecipherable by themselves, especially by non-professionals. One cannot just know what is happening, what is likely to occur, or how concerned one should be. Context and additional information are usually needed. Sometimes the simple colors and combinations of colored tapes might only make sense in conjunction with similar markings nearby. Sometimes public notices in the newspaper and regulatory permits must be used to decipher what is planned.

For an example, the proposed 30″ diameter EQT pipeline called the Ohio Valley Connector seems to be regularly marked using a combination of blue and white (see figure 10 below) surveyors tape to mark the actual pipeline location, then green and white (see figure 4 below) to mark all the proposed access roads along the routes that will be used to get pipe trucks and excavation equipment into the right of way. These access roads might be public roadways or cut across private leased property.

Common surveyor symbols & signs (click on images to zoom in)

Surveyor flags and tape: Sometime the flags or streamers are just attached to trees, fence posts, or put on a stake to make them visible above the weeds. There might be no markings on the stake, or only simple generic markings. This could just mean that this is the correct road and turn here. It could also signal a proposed or approximate location for some future work.

Simple surveyor’s flags or tape

Simple surveyor’s flags or tape

Surveyor flags and tapes: These are a selection of typical surveyor tapes, also called flags or ribbons. Many other specialty color combinations are available to the professional surveyor.

A selection of surveyor tapes

Stakes with simple markings: Flags with some type of identification (it might be names or numbers). This one was used for a proposed well pad access road location. There are no dimensions given on these.

Stake with simple markings

Stakes with simple flags and basic identification: The stakes shown here all indicate an access route to be used for equipment and trucks to get to a proposed pipeline right of way. The “H310″ is the EQT name for the 30” OVC pipeline.

Stakes indicating an access route

Control points: These three stakes are identifying a control point that is outside the limits of disturbance (LoD). These markings surround a pin to be used for reference.

Control point stakes

Controls points: This stake is also identifying a control point location. All control points will have some type of driven metal rod, usually with a plastic cap identifying the surveyor. Frequently there are three stakes with extra flags or tape. They are always set off to the side of the intended work area. They are not to be disturbed.

Control point stake and pin

Control points: Another set of three stakes marking a Control Point location. It is common to see triple stakes with elaborate, multiple flags. Even if only two stakes are present, there always will be a driven steel pin and identifying cap.

Control point stakes and pin

Control points: This shows a close-up of the identifying cap on a metal driven steel pin. Control point locations are not meant to be disturbed as they are for future and repeated reference. They might give the latitude and longitude on the stake plus the altitude above sea level.

Control point pin and cap

Control points: This is another, older control point location. This represents a typical arrangement where the stakes somewhat try to protect the metal pin from a bulldozer blade by warning its operator.

Control point pin protection

Limit of disturbance: The “L O D” here means the limits of disturbance. Beyond this point there should not be any trees cut or dirt moved. The stakes shown here indicates that this is the outside limit of where the contractor will be disturbing the original contour of the surface soil.

Limit of disturbance stakes

Limit of disturbance: The “L O D” means the limits of disturbance of the proposed pipeline right of way. Beyond this point there should not be any trees cut or dirt moved. This could also be used for the outside edge of well pads or access roads or pond locations.

Limit of disturbance ROW stakes

Pipelines: Stakes with flags and “center line” markings are usually for pipelines. Here you see the symbol for center line: a capital letter “C” imposed on the letter “L”.

Pipelines center line

Pipelines: Again you see the capital letter “C” super imposed on top of the letter “L” used frequently for pipe line center lines, but can also be used for proposed access roads.

Pipelines center line

Pipelines: As shown here, “C” and “L” center line flags can also be used for future well pad access roads.

Road access center line

Precise location markings: Stakes like this will usually have a steel pin also associated with it. This stake gives the latitude, longitude, and elevation of the site.

Precise location stake

Permanent property lines: You may also find markings, like this one inch steel rod with an alum cap, that denote permanent property lines and corners of property.

Permanent property rod

Permanent property lines: Another kind of permanent property line or corner marker is the “boundary survey monument.” This is likely an aluminum cap on top of a one inch diameter steel bar.

Boundary survey monument

Mess is near Stone Lantz pad, WV. - Photo by Bill Hughes

Stream Crossings – Oil and water don’t mix

By Bill Hughes, WV Community Liaison, FracTracker Alliance

West Virginia has generously allowed the shale gas industry to occupy parts of our private land (for profit), namely the Lewis Wetzel Wildlife Management Area (LWWMA). This area is known for 13,500 acres of slopes, trails and forests, providing its inhabitants with great opportunities to hunt, fish, hike and camp.

The state of West Virginia does not own the mineral rights for the LWWMA, and the citizens of West Virginia can only manage so much; therefore, it is the responsibility of the Department of Natural Resources, on behalf of all WV citizens, to care for and manage public lands like LWWMA. With much surprise, the DNR has not only allowed oil and gas occupation of LWWMA, but has not been permitted to impose any regulation, supervision, or any other type of state-initiated enforcements. This approach is primarily due to the lack — or absence of inspectors in the Office of Oil and Gas — division of the Department of Environmental Protection. Often the inspectors that are available are simply playing catch up since the industry and market made some unexpected changes, according to DEP spokeswoman, Kathy Cosco.

Where is the reclamation?

I have been of the impression that once drilling and fracturing is done and the wells are put into production, that some form of reclamation must occur. To my dismay, no part of the drilling industry has taken responsibility for stream crossings, and clearly has no intention in doing so. Everybody has ostensibly packed their bags and gone home, leaving a mess of abandoned stream crossings behind. It is very apparent that no improvements will be done voluntarily by the companies that have created all the well pads in the area. Now the question remains: are we stuck with the stream crossings the way they are now? Or can the state order that these abandoned, inadequate stream crossings be removed?

How Not to Do Stream Crossings

The four photos below depict the deplorable, unacceptable, and disgraceful conditions of the stream crossings left behind by the drilling industry. The DNR and the State of WV have known about these conditions for years, yet have not required that any improvements to be made. Click on each poor stream crossing image to enlarge it:

Near Dry Ridge, API 47-103-02433. All of the water is flowing around the pipes.

Near Dry Ridge, WV. API 47-103-02433

Near Sees Run at Buffalo Run, WV

Near Sees Run at Buffalo Run, WV

Stone Energy well pad on Buffalo Run near Lantz Farm and LWWMA

Stone Energy well pad on Buffalo Run near Lantz Farm & LWWMA

Mess is near Stone Lantz pad, WV

Stream crossing mess near Stone Lantz pad, WV

These examples might be why some folks are more than just a little incredulous when the DNR said that it was going to lease public lands under the river for drillers to take advantage of, promising and assuring that they protect the Ohio River from any drilling-related problems. If the DNR cannot handle the size of the stream water flow, or find a better way to enforce responsible behavior from the drillers, then the Ohio River and the citizens of West Virginia are surely in trouble.

In Need of Higher Standards

The picture below is a depiction of a good stream crossing, installed by someone other than a drilling company. Is there any hope that we will ever expect drillers to do this quality of reclamation to the places we cherish and call home? From an enforcement standpoint, it is clear that these actions will not be voluntary. West Virginia’s DEP has several divisions that focus on land reclamation, environmental remediation and land restoration; however, all of these encourage voluntary action, something we don’t expect to see from drilling companies in the near future.

Buffalo Run crossing going to the William WGGS compressor station. This is what all the permanent stream crossings should look like.

Buffalo Run crossing going to the William WGGS compressor station. This is what all the permanent stream crossings should look like.

Name that oil and gas storage container [quiz]

By Bill Hughes, WV Community Liaison

We were recently asked if there is a reliable way to determine what constituents are being housed in certain types of oil and gas storage containers. While there is not typically a simple and straightforward response to questions like this, some times we can provide educated guesses based on a few photos, placards, or a trip to the site.

One way to become better informed is to follow the trucks. The origins of the trucks will determine whether the current stage in the extraction process is drilling or fracturing (the containers cannot be for both unless they are delivering fresh water). Combine that with good side-view photos of the trucks will tell you if they are heavier going into the site or heavier leaving. Look for the clearance between the rear tires and the frame. Tanker trucks can typically carry 4000 gallons or 100 barrels.

For a quick guide to oil and gas storage containers, see the “quiz” we have compiled below:

Storage Container Quiz

1. What is in this yellow tank?

Photo 1

Q1: Photo 1

Q1: Photo 2 (same tank zoomed in)

Answer: This yellow 500-barrel wheelie storage tank in photos 1 and 2 is a portable storage tank, identified in the placard in photo 2 as having held oil base drill mud at one time. Drillers prefer to keep certain tanks identified for specific purposes if at all possible. This is especially true if they have paid extra to get a tank “certified clean” to use for fresh water storage. A certified clean tank does not mean that the water is potable (drinkable).

Other storage containers that hold fresh water are shown below:

Shark Tanks

Shark Tanks

Shark Tanks

Shark Tanks from the sky

2. What is this truck transporting?

Q2: Truck

Q2: Truck

Answer: This type of truck is normally used to haul solid waste – such as drill cuttings going to a landfill. Some trucks, however do not make it the whole way to the landfill before losing some of their contents as shown below.

Truck-spill

Truck spill in WV

3. How about these yellow tanks?

Q3: Photo 1

Q3: Photo 1

Q3: Photo 2

Q3: Photo 2

Answer: The above storage containers are 500-barrel liquid storage tanks, also called “frac” tanks.

In photo 2 you can see that at least one tank is connected to others on either side of it. In this case you need to look at the overall operation to see what process is occurring nearby — or what had just finished — to determine what might be in the container presently.

The name plate on photo 1 says “drill mud,” which means that at one time that container might have held exactly that. Now, however, that container would likely have very little to do with drilling waste or drill cuttings. The “GP” and the number on the sign refers to Great Plains and the tank’s number. These type of tanks do not have official placards on them for the purposes of DOT labeling since they are never moved with any significant liquid in them.

4: What about these miscellaneous tanks?

Q4: Photo 1 – Tank farm with 103 blue tanks

Q4: Photo 2 – Red tanks with connecting hoses

Q4: Photo 3 – Red tanks, no connections

Answer: There is no way to know – unless you have been closely following the process in your neighborhood and know the current stage of the well pad’s drilling process. Tank farms are usually just for storage unless there is some type of filtering and processing equipment on site. The drilling crews (for either horizontal or vertical wells) do not mix their fluids with the fracturing crew. That does not mean that one tank farm could not store a selection of flowback brine—or produced water, or drilling fluids. They would be stored in separate tanks or tank groups that are connected together – usually with flex hoses.

Since I am in the area often, I know that the tanks in photos 1 and 2 were storing fresh water. Both sets were associated with a nearby hydraulic fracturing operation, which has very little to do with the drilling process.  You will never see big groups of tanks like this on a well pad that is currently being drilled.

The third set of tanks with no connections on an in-production well pad are probably just empty and storing air – but not fresh air. These tanks are just sitting there, waiting for their next assignment – storage only, not in use. Notice that there are no connecting pipes like in photo 2. The tanks in photo 3 could have held any of the following: fresh water, flowback, brine, mixed fracturing fluids, or condensate. Only the operator would know for certain.

Where have all the guardrails gone?

Guardrails vs. Trucks

Wetzel County in northwestern West Virginia is remarkable for its steep, knobby hills and long narrow winding valleys – providing residents and visitor alike with beautiful views. Along with these scenic views, however, comes difficult roadways and dangerous traveling.

Two two-lane roads traverse the county from the west, along the Ohio River, to the east. There are very few connecting roads going north-south between these two main highways, and only one of them is semi-paved. This road is called Barker Run Road — treacherous, steep and winding. There is at least a 400-foot change in elevation in about ½ mile at one point, with multiple switchbacks.

Switchbacks have a reputation for swallowing up the long trailer component of the tractor-trailer combos, which now comprise a larger part of the traffic on Barker Run Road. Many of these trucks are heading to the HG Energy drilling sites on the ridges at the top. HG Energy has a significant footprint up there. On the east ridge there are four well pads in place and two additional pads being completed to the east, and two large ones on the ridge to the west of Barker Run Road. All that traffic must use Barker Run Road. Until the recent expansion of natural gas exploration in the area, however, I had never seen a tractor and trailer come up either side of the very steep road.

The first casualty caused by the large, long trailer trucks needed to service these well pads is always the full-time sentinels of our traffic safety – our faithful guard rails that are designed to take a beating before we and our vehicle descend over the hillside sideways or rolling over. A good example of a damaged but still useful guardrail is shown below from February on 2012 – wrinkled but useful. The very sharp turn in the roadway is also obvious here.

Figure 1. Switchback curve on Barker Run Road has seen its share of damage from the increase in truck traffic.

Figure 1. Switchback curve on Barker Run Road has seen its share of damage from the increase in truck traffic.

After leaving Route 7 heading south on Barker Run Road, one encounters a particularly sharp and steep switchback curve as shown in Figure 1. It is this kind of turn that is so sharp that it allows the driver of an overlong truck to be able to look back and check the lug nuts on the rear wheels.

On a few occasions, I have been able to actually witness the attempt of our full-time guards as they try to keep a truck somewhat close to the roadway. The below photo shows that the guardrail was barely able to keep the trailer from going completely over the hillside. The truck was stuck, causing the road to be closed for hours till help could arrive (Figure 2, below).

When that incident was over, the photo below from a few weeks later, on March 16, 2013, shows the final damaged rail (Figure 3). The guardrail and posts were replaced and were largely intact when the rail was pushed over again in May of 2013 by another oversized truck trying to get up the hill and around the turn (Figure 4). Ongoing impacts with the guardrail eventually rendered it useless. Figure 5 below is a photo taken in August of 2013.

Infrastructure Damage & Costs

When the Marcellus shale gas drilling began here in Wetzel County eight years ago, it quickly became apparent that the rapidly expanding Chesapeake Energy drilling footprint in north central Wetzel County was leaving scars in the neighborhood, particularly on the roadways. The most visible damages were the road signs, guardrails, and pavement. These effects resulted in a three-layer, road bonding program implemented by the West Virginia Department of Highways. The stipulation requires that any of the large natural gas drillers or operators must post a $1-million bond to cover them statewide, or a single highway district bond for $250,000. This bonding only applies to secondary roads. The third option is to post a bond for fixed, limited miles along specific roads. Some of the pipeline contractors who might be working in a smaller area will use the latter option. Since the DOH generally knows which companies are using the roads, the department usually knows who to approach to pay for damage. In a few cases the companies have reported the damage to the Highway department, and at other times the truckers’ insurance companies report an accident or insurance claim. .

During a recent conversation with a WV-DOH representative, I was told that he quite frequently gets good cooperation from the gas industry companies in paying for damages. He said this is true even when a number of different companies and dozens of their subcontractors are using the same road.

Usually the guardrails just need to be fixed or replaced and new posts installed. Sometimes it is not critical that it be done immediately. However, at times the repairs should be done now. A good example of when repairs are needed soon is shown below in Figure 7, right. This remnant is the shredded, mangled, twisted remains of the stubborn effort of the steel to stop a truck.

The rail has now been totally sliced open, making it an extraordinary danger to the traveling public. As we enter the winter season with a bit of snow and ice on this steep road above this section, any of my neighbors could slide into this. I am optimistic that it will be replaced soon and have had several conversations with the WV-DOH to speed up the process.

By Bill Hughes, WV Community Liaison, FracTracker Alliance
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Gas Trucks Blocking Roads

Companies Lack Truck Traffic Coordination

Recently, I was observing how Statoil was managing their gas well traffic, how well it was moving, and whether local residential traffic was being significantly delayed.

Figure 1. Road map referred to throughout text

Figure 1. Road map referred to throughout text

In Wetzel County, WV, gas trucks travel 4.5 miles from a Statoil pipe yard (Fig 1. Location A) in Uniontown to the Statoil Kuhn well pad (E). This trip can take at least 15 minutes for each truck. Rockford is also doing pipeline work along this route (B and D).

The roadway Statoil is using, even though it is small gravel lane, is a public route. Routine well pad traffic was moving between the pad and pipe yard. When I attempted to travel out to the well pad, I noticed some issues around the pipeline crossing. A large truck was blocking the road and all traffic was stopped. At 3:59 pm, a large dump truck hauling drill cuttings left the well pad coming towards the pipeline. Statoil personnel radioed the flagger at the pipe yard to stop traffic there.

The dump truck was stopped at the pipeline crossing, point D at 4:09 pm, where the road was blocked. It was not until 4:34 pm that traffic was finally able to proceed. This section of road was closed for 35 minutes, as was the lower road at the pipe yard.

For the past few days, Statoil has been stopping all traffic as soon as any truck leaves the well pad, whether the pipeliners have the road blocked or not.

Associated Issues

There are three serious factors that significantly hamper traffic flow along this route:

Statoil's Kugh Well Pad

Statoil’s Kugh Well Pad

  1. Statoil has flagger-radio personnel stationed at the pipe yard and at the pad, but not at the top of the hill (C) about a mile from the pipe yard. As a result, there was no way to allow any local traffic to come up the hill even when they intend to continue heading west or southeast. With a flagger-radio at the top of the hill, local traffic could be up the hill and long gone before any large trucks got to there. (Note: After a few weeks a traffic person was then stationed at the top of the hill).
  2. Not all Statoil subcontractors trucks are equipped with CB radios, so it is impossible to track their progress or location on this road.
  3. Rockford and Statoil do not use any common radio band. They do not appear to communicate with each other even though they are working along this same truck route.

This traffic block incident luckily did not include emergency vehicle traffic. If there had been any accident on or near the well pad or the pipeline right of way, no one would have been able to get through. It would seem that it is in the best interest of the companies and their employees to make sure the road is clear, all the time. When I discussed this with the tool pusher* on the well pad, he agreed. He was also concerned that there was no helicopter landing area nearby in the event of a serious accident. He runs a safe well drilling operation but wanted to be certain that an emergency vehicle could get through.

* A tool pusher is the boss man who runs the whole drilling operation as a subcontractor to the gas operator.


By Bill Hughes, WV Community Liaison, FracTracker Alliance
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Inadequate vapor recovery system lead to residue forming on tank from escaping fumes. Jay-Bee was finally fined in Oct 2014 for these emissions.

Finally Fined – Oct. 5, 2014

Sometimes we all need to be more patient. Enforcement of environmental regulations against a corporation rarely happens, and environmental enforcement against an oil and gas corporation is truly an amazing rarity. These do not come our way with any degree of frequency. However, here is one where an operator was finally fined – and in West Virginia.

The enforcement and fine in Tyler County, WV is especially amazing since it follows just weeks after the Trans Energy guilty pleas and fines totaling $600,000 for three violations of the Clean Water Act in Marshall County, WV.

On October 5, 2014, Jay-Bee Oil and Gas Company was fined $240,000
for violations at its Lisby Pad in Tyler County, WV.

Now, finally, after about a year and a half of deplorable operating conditions on one of the worse (readily visible) well pads that we have seen in years, some enforcement action has finally happened.

Findings of Fact

Jay-Bee Oil & Gas, Inc. owns and operates natural gas well sites known as Lisby / TI-03, RPT8, RPT5, Coffman, W701, TI213, McIntyre, and Hurley, which are located in West Virginia. Here is the timeline for inspections and complaints related to this site:

  • March 28, 2014 – Personnel from the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) conducted an inspection at the Lisby / TI-03 Well Pad in response to a citizen odor complaint.
  • April 1, 2014 – Personnel from the DAQ conducted a follow-up inspection at the Lisby 1 T1-03 Well Pad. Visible emissions were observed from the permanent production storage tanks.
  • April 17, 2014 – Personnel from the DAQ conducted a follow-up inspection at the Lisby 1 TI-03 well pad in response to additional citizen odor complaints
  • July 18, 2014 – In response to a citizen complaint, personnel from the DAQ conducted an inspection at the Lisby 1 T1-03 Well Pad. Objectionable odors and visible emissions were observed from the thief hatch of one of the permanent production storage tanks. A visible liquid leak was also observed on a pipe located at the tank nearest to the vapor recovery unit.
  • September 30, 2014 – Jay-Bee Oil and Gas Company agrees to pay a total civil administrative penalty of two hundred forty thousand dollars ($240,000) to resolve the violations described in this Order (PDF).

Of Note

This enforcement action was not done by the WVDEP Office of Oil & Gas, who seem to only politely try to encourage the drillers to somewhat improve their behavior. The WVDEP Department of Air Quality issued this Notice of Violation and enforcement.

Most of this air quality enforcement process started because of the continued, asphyxiating, toxic gas fumes that poured off the Jay-Bee Lisby pad for months. The residents were forced to move away and have not returned due to lack of confidence that it is safe to live in this area yet. These residents join the growing ranks of others, who are now referred to as Marcellus refugees.

Inadequate vapor recovery system lead to residue forming on tank from escaping fumes

Inadequate vapor recovery system lead to residue forming on tank from escaping fumes

Additional Resources

Below are links to some of the newspaper articles on the same mismanaged well pad:


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

Jay Bee Lisby Pad Inspection – Sept. 11, 2014

I regularly visit the Jay Bee Lisby pad on Big Run in Tyler County, WV. Given its significant and continuing problems over the past year, and also due to the total absence of any environmental enforcement, it is important to give all those JB well pads extra attention. In fact, I happened upon a few new issues during my recent visits and site inspections on Sept. 11, 2014 and again on Oct. 1st.

There seems to be an effort by Jay-Bee to literally bury their evidence in a ditch along their poorly constructed well pad. New dirt has recently been put into the low area along the jersey barriers (photo above). It appears that they are trying now to build some type of well pad, whereas most drillers usually build a proper well pad before they drill the wells.

An additional issue is the orange fluid pouring out of the well pad (photos below). While I have conducted my own sampling of this contaminant, regulatory sampling should be conducted soon to find out the nature of this fluid and its source from the Jay Bee Lisby pad.

Orange Liquid Seeping from Lisby Pad

Orange Liquid Close Up

Given the many spills at this pad, this issue is not surprising. However, we still need to find out what this is, as it will not be going away on its own. JB should not be allowed to bury its evidence before they are required to test and reclaim the whole area.

Please keep in mind that the law might allow a driller to force a well pad on a land owner to recover the gas, and to also locate it next to a stream, but it does not give them the right to contaminate and pollute private property – which has been done here numerous times.

MonitorResults

Readings from conductivity meter

When I sampled the fluid from the puddle below the orange stream and tested its conductivity, the meter read ~2.34 millisiemens – or 2340 microsiemens (photo right).

The orange fluid continues to flow under the fence and beyond their limits of disturbance. However, given the wide area covered in sludge after the January explosion, it is hard to say where their limits of disturbance actually stop.


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

More than an Inconvenience

The following correspondence comes to FracTracker from a community member in West Virginia. It highlights in a very personal way the day-to-day nuisances of living with intense drilling activity nearby.

This Is Home

The 170-plus acre parcel of land where we live and farm has been in our family for over 50 years. I have worked on our road that comes into our property for 40 of those years. I know what the road should look like and have put a lot of personal work into maintaining it over the years (like most folks do who live on many of these smaller roads, even though they are a legal State right-of-way). We have been experiencing a lot of problems here due to the exploration and production of the natural gas resources. We would like to see major improvement really soon.

In all my years I have never seen this amount of dust or this amount of mud and slop after a small rainfall, of all of the loose gravel that makes traction near impossible. And I have never before been blocked and delayed or stopped on my road, and my wife has never been as upset, concerned and fearful and agitated about driving down our lane because of all the big trucks and rude drivers.

I have tried to work with the gas companies and their subcontractors for some years. My Mom and I have a separate property nearby where another well pad is located. I have recently allowed a new gas pipeline to be put through my farmland. I have tried to be patient and tolerant and easy going for the past three years. However, like some neighbors on nearby roads have found out, that doesn’t always work. Some of the hundreds of drivers and employees are courteous, polite, and respectful and yield the road when we are traveling. Some others are downright rude and disrespectful. They must not live around here, and it is obvious they do not care at all about the local residents.

Dirt and Mud

Bill Hughes Muddy Road Turkey Run 2

Clumps of mud that employees of a construction and excavating company dragged off of the well pad

We will give you some examples of the problems from our viewpoint. Let’s start with dirt, mud, and dust since those have been an on-going problem since the pipeline guys started here over 6 months ago. See photos right.

Surely they knew that it was likely to happen and they knew it did happen. They left the mud on our road. The construction employees drove by and watched a neighbor pick up and carry the mud to the side of the road.

This was not a one-time occurrence. This has happened every time this summer when we had rain. Our lane has been treated like it was a private lease road. So far it seems that our WV DOH (West Virginia Division of Highways) has been ineffective in improving the situation.

Bill Hughes Muddy Road Turkey Run

Another mud tracking issue

For the most part when companies are moving dirt they seem to do a good job. All we ask is that they keep their mud on their property and off our road.

I have never before seen big mud blobs like the one to the right on our road. It is unnecessary, uncalled for and avoidable. Seeing these frequently is a visible sign that at hardly any of the industry cares about the neighbors near here. I was given some of the Engineering Plans for the well pad and its access road. It spells out that the contractor is responsible to never drag mud out onto the public road. And what to do if it happens.

I recently reviewed some well pad construction plans. To paraphrase, the plans say don’t make a mess in public, but if and when you do clean up after yourself. Sounds like stuff that was covered in Kindergarten, doesn’t it? It promotes good policy and it keeps peace in the neighborhood.

Dust Storms

The next example of another problem that we should not have to live with, occurs when all of that mud on our road dries out. DUST, as can be seen in the next three pictures, is a very common occurrence.

Guests were visiting here recently and had to follow a dust storm down the road. The trucker probable never saw her car. He probably could not see anything behind him.

Trucks

Trucks

More Trucks

More Trucks

Means Lots of Dust

Means Lots of Dust

Broken Phone Lines

Another problem that has happened over and over has been has been all the times that contractors have broken our phone line. It seemed that no one ever thought to call the 800 phone number to have utilities marked. In addition, after they were marked, no one paid any attention to where the flags were. This is a very basic task, but it seems to be beyond what some of the contractors could figure out and do. See photos below. Note the broken and temporary splice in my phone line that looks like a dozer operator did it. The phone line was then lying on the top of the gravel road.

The photos below show our phone line after it was again dug up and broken last week. Even with the phone company markers to tell the operators exactly where the line was, they dug into it. Someone is not paying attention.

Broken Phone Line Broken Phone Line Broken Phone Line

By the way, we do not own or use a cell phone, so being able to depend on a working landline is important to us. We could understand this incident happening one time, but not more often than that.

Construction Equipment on Public Roadway

Construction equipment on the road

Construction equipment on the road

We appreciate that a few weeks ago the construction contractor put some small gravel on the top part of the roadway near the well pad entrance. However we are not sure how long that gravel will last because of all the dirt that has been dropped on it, but mainly because of all the heavy construction equipment that has been running on the public road every day.

The gravel is being pulverized daily and contributes to the dust problem. Also a large pile of loose gravel and big rock is now spread out on the roadway at the sharp right, uphill turn past the compressor station entrance. This makes it difficult for smaller vehicles to get any traction. Well pad guys all drive bigger 4-wheel drive trucks, so it doesn’t seem to matter to them. But my family drives smaller cars.

A neighbor was again walking the road last week picking up clumps of mud and large rock to get them off the road.

Also, we have been told that all this construction equipment is not supposed to be using the state right-of-way anyway, at any time. Are these off road construction pieces of equipment insured, and registered and licensed to be used on a public roadway?

Blocked Roads

Turkey Run Road Block

Roadblock on Turkey Run, WV

Another frequent problem is having our roads blocked many times causing many delays.

On Election Day my wife went to get my mom to take her to vote and had to wait on yet another truck blocking the road. These truckers seem to always think they always have the right of way, the right to block our roads, and the right to stop residential traffic at any time for their convenience. Last week a flagger stopped me just to allow construction employees to exit the well pad. Good neighbors would not do that. The truck to the right had the road completely closed for over an hour, with a track hoe behind it being used to unload the pipe. There is enough land around here to get these trucks off our road when unloading them. Even our local loggers know to do that.

Being a Better Neighbor

All of these problems are nothing new to other residents here in Wetzel County. My friends in the Silver Hill area have complained about the same type of problems for years, and eventually the operator there finally figured out how to be a better neighbor.

With all the problems in many other areas by multiple companies, one would think that by now the gas drillers and all their many subcontractors would have come up with a set of what works and what doesn’t. I think they are called best practices. We should not have to continually keep doing the same inconsiderate things all over again at each well pad site in every area. It is possible to learn from mistakes made elsewhere. We should be looking for constant improvements in our operations, as these issues are more than an inconvenience.


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