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Sabal Pipeline Map

The Sabal Trail Pipeline: A Sinking Feeling

Construction is underway for a $3.2 billion, 515-mile-long interstate gas pipeline, running from central Alabama, through southwestern Georgia, and deep into Central Florida. The Sabal Trail Pipeline is a project of Duke Energy, NextEra Energy, and Spectra Energy. Spectra is the fossil fuel corporation responsible for other controversial pipelines also under construction – notably the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Project. AIM, the target of ongoing protests in the Hudson Valley (NY) and elsewhere, would run from central New Jersey to ports in the Boston, MA area, passing within a few hundred feet of Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant on the Hudson River.

The Sabal Trail project is touted by Spectra to be crucial to aiding economic development along its route, and fueling gas-fired power generators in the Southeast United States. Environmentalists, however, view the project quite differently. Such development plans rarely come without a cost to communities, and to the environment.

A Unique Geology

Reflecting its geological origins as part of a shallow ancient ocean, the southeastern United States is underlain by porous limestone bedrock, known as karst. Water running through the karst bedrock flows not only through small pores, but often through extensive underground caves. When under under pressure, water can bubble up to the surface in a multitude of freshwater springs throughout the region. It’s not hard to imagine how contamination to the limestone aquifer in one area can spread rapidly and widely.

The karst bedrock, due to the sometimes large voids in its structure, is also prone to the formation of sinkholes, some of which are small; others are large enough to swallow whole buildings. Recognizing these risks, opponents of the Sabal Trail pipeline frequently cite the inherent danger of pipelines bending and rupturing should the ground beneath them give way, leading to potentially dangerous gas leakages or explosions.

One piece of recent research from the University of Georgia maps the prevalence of sinkholes in Doughterty County, GA, one of the many counties the Sabal Trail pipeline would pass through.  For reference, FracTracker has added the path of the pipeline to the Dougherty County map, above.

In the interactive map below, we show the full proposed pipeline route and associated compressor stations. Karst geology, documented sinkholes, and springs near the route of the pipeline are also shown. The double-arrows in the upper right corner of the map will launch a full-screen view of the map, including a map legend. Use the “Layers” dropdown along the top bar of that map to turn on locations of nearby schools and hospitals that could be impacted by a nearby pipeline emergency. In addition, a “Bookmarks” dropdown menu along the same top bar that will allow zooming to locations along the pipeline mentioned in this article.

Map of the proposed Sabal Trail pipeline route, karst geology, and known sinkholes

View map full screen | How FracTracker maps work

Growing Opposition

In October 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a scathing letter detailing the impacts that the proposed pipeline would have on the Floridan Aquifer, water quality, and ecology in this region of sensitive karst geology. Two months later, however, in mid-December, the EPA suddenly reversed its position. While reasons included an endorsement of industry’s choices to avoid “many of the most sensitive areas” that could be impacted, ABC News has suggested that political favoritism could have played a role, as well.  This video, published on November 24, 2016 by ABC/FirstCoast News, describes that situation, and also includes excellent footage of construction impacts.

Currently, the construction is proceeding. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has granted eminent domain to industry to build the project through seized private property. Although all federal permits for the pipeline construction are in place, a joint lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network, and Flint Riverkeeper has challenged that permitting process. There is opposition to the pipeline in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida–the three states in which construction is occurring.

The video clips below documents the noise associated with the pipeline’s construction, as well as views of the sinkhole terrain along its route.

Sabal Trail gas pipeline noise pollution at the Santa Fe River (Nov. 25, 2016).
Credit: Merrillee on Vimeo.

Sabal Trail gas transmission, at O’Brien (Hildreth) Compressor Station in Northern Florida.
Credit: Merrillee on Vimeo.

Water Protectors

As winter descends on the northern Plains, thousands of indigenous people representing hundreds of tribes, as well as non-Native allies, have gathered in camps near the Sioux Standing Rock Reservation to pray and protest the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which would drill an oil pipeline through sacred Native lands and under the Missouri River. Participants in this movement are united by the words “Water Is Life” (Mni Wiconi), in recognition of the threats that an oil spill would present to their homeland and the source of drinking water for the tribe. Hundreds of arrests of peaceful protesters have been made there in recent months, many resulting in serious injuries to the protesters as water cannons, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, and attack dogs have been used in efforts to intimidate the activists.

Coordination among First Nations groups against other fossil fuel infrastructure is happening elsewhere, too. For example, in September 2016, at least fifty US and Canadian aboriginal groups signed a treaty, saying they will work together to fight proposals that would bring crude oil from the Alberta tar sands via pipeline, tanker, and rail.

The protests against the Sabal Trail Project are similarly themed to those at Standing Rock, but have not resulted in violence towards protesters thus far. Along the Suwanee River in Florida, peaceful protesters have assembled at the Sacred Waters encampment and, on November 12, 2016, faced off with authorities in an effort to stop pipeline drilling under the Santa Fe River between Branford and Fort White, Florida.  14 people were arrested in that protest. Demonstrations at the site continue, with a dawn march and demonstration that began just after sunrise on November 26th. No arrests were made on that day. Another protest encampment, the Crystal Waters Camp, is also in place near Fort Drum, Florida, where observers noted hydrocarbon releases from the pipeline construction into Fort Drum Creek and destruction of wildlife by a pipeline crew. Still other protests about the potential environmental risks posed by the Sabal Trail have taken place recently in both Orlando and Live Oak, Florida.

Even in the phases of construction, environmentalists in Georgia discovered that the Sabal Trail pipeline had started leaking drilling mud from a pilot hole into the Withlacooche River in late October, and continued to ooze turbid mud for at least three weeks. Environmental advocates from the WWALS (the Withlacoochee, Alapaha, Little, and Upper Suwannee River) Watershed Coalition raised concerns that if a pilot hole could cause such a leakage, what could happen once full-scale directional drilling was occurring?

By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator

Interview with Craig Stevens – Sentinel Award Winner

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

CraigStevens&MarkRuffalo

Craig Stevens (on right) with actor Mark Ruffalo

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Citizens’ Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Florida resolutions against oil drilling

Florida resolutions opposing unconventional oil drilling

By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator

Florida, where there has long been an interest in drilling for oil, has recently come into the cross-hairs for unconventional extraction several miles beneath the state. Oil drilling has had spotty and elusive success in the Sunshine State, but new technologies like hydraulic fracturing – fracking – could potentially provide access to those energy resources. Currently, Florida is in a gray zone, however, with no clear regulatory authority over unconventional drilling, but no clear mandate to prevent it either.

History

Florida well. Source: www.naplesnews.com

Dan Hughes well adjacent to Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge Source: www.naplesnews.com

In 2014, fracking came to the forefront when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection disclosed that in 2013, the Dan A. Hughes Company filed for a permit to use unconventional drilling techniques to rework an existing conventional well in Naples without a thorough review of the plans by regulators, and fracked the well later that year. As a result, the permit was revoked. Hughes had leases on 115,000 acres of land for additional wells, much of which was in environmentally sensitive areas of the Florida Everglades, bordering the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Big Cypress National Preserve. After legal pressure from the State of Florida, as well as environmental groups Preserve our Paradise, the Stone Crab Alliance, and South Florida Wildlands Association, the company abandoned their plans for drilling in the area. FracTracker covered this story in a previous blog entry.

A plan to regulate fracking in Florida was unveiled in November 2014. A slate of regulations was drafted by the Orange County League of Women Voters and students in the Environmental and Earth Clinic at Barry Law School, and drew upon examples from 14 states that had already grappled with the issue. While this plan specifies how, when, and where fracking may occur in Florida, it also leaves open the option for communities to ban the practice within its bounds altogether. Democratic Senators Darren DeSoto and Dwight Bulland introduced a bill (SB 166) in the 2015 legislative session that would ban fracking entirely, but they also emphasized the need for rules to be in place governing the practice, were that ban to be overturned. That bill did not advance beyond the Senate’s Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, but was reintroduced in August 2015, with additional components that would also prohibit well stimulation.

In April 2015, two bills were presented on the floor of the State Senate and House of representatives: one to create regulations on the practice of fracking (SB 1468), and another that would permit non-disclosure of fracking chemicals by industry (SB 1582). Both bills passed in committee in April 2015, and are set to move on to further consideration by the full House and Senate.

In late April 2015, a bill (HB 1205) passed in the Florida House that would allow fracking to continue, but would put a moratorium on the practice until a study and regulations were in place. HB 1209, would also have exempted industry from disclosure of fracking chemicals. Because the Senate did not take up discussion on either bill and due to an early adjournment of the House, however, neither the Senate nor the House moved ahead on either bill during the 2015 Legislative session.

Using a similar strategy to New York State, which successfully banned high volume hydraulic fracturing for gas in June 2015, dozens of communities across Florida have taken to passing resolutions against unconventional drilling within their municipal bounds. The resolutions cite concerns about water quality, habitat protection, and impacts on endangered species that may result from this technology that aims to extra oil from rock layers more than 14,000 feet below the surface.

In July 2015, the Bonita Springs, Florida (Lee County) took their resolution one step further; the city council unanimously approved a ban on fracking within the city limits. Collier Resources, owner of thousands of acres of land within Bonita Springs, vigorously objected, and threatened lawsuits against the city’s decision. The company is predicting that the ban will be overturned by statewide legislation that permits fracking to occur. Meanwhile, Estero Village, also in Lee County, plans to take up legislation for a similar ban this month, with a vote expected on December 16th, 2015.

On the cusp of this vote, the concerns of dozens of communities across Florida have been registered in local resolutions opposing hydraulic fracturing within their municipal boundaries. Meanwhile, bills that would remove the rights of local municipalities to regulate fracking (HB 191 and SB 318) are also proceeding through legislative channels and will be taken up by the Florida State Legislature when it reconvenes in January 2016.

Florida Resolutions Map

This map shows the locations of those communities, most recently updated November 2016. Click here for a full-screen view with map legend.

Community activists in Estero Village are in a race against time to pass this ban; opposing legislation is before the Florida State Legislature that would make it so that only the state, not municipalities, can exercise authority over oil exploration.

The 2016 legislative session will present many important debates and votes on this important issue.

Sources

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.

OES Workshops

Our Energy Solutions

14 workshops in 7 countries on 3 continents

A FracTracker team has just returned from North Carolina where fracking has been given the green light by the state’s government. Time may tell what reserves are contained within the Mesozoic basins but already landmen are knocking on doors and striking deals with willing landowners. Offshore drilling is also under consideration in a state where tourism – fueled in part by renowned beach destinations – is a $20 billion a year industry.

OES Panel in Asheville

OES panel answering questions in Asheville, NC

The visit was for Our Energy Solutions, a project bringing 14 workshops to seven countries on three continents. The aim is to help build a global community of engaged citizens and stakeholders who are informed of the risks of fossil fuels (like oil and natural gas), enlightened about renewable energy opportunities, and inspired to share ideas for a more sustainable planet.  The attendance, interest, and dialogue at the North Carolina workshops were inspiring. People young and old came out to prove there is great concern about these issues. While acknowledging the complexities of energy and climate challenges, they seemed willing to dig-in, reach-out, engage, and act. The audiences owned the “Our” in Our Energy Solutions.  Just weeks earlier, another team from FracTracker and the Ecologic Institute – the lead collaborators in Our Energy Solutions – launched the project with workshops in Florida, hosted by the South Florida Wildlands Association. In North Carolina, our partners were Environment North Carolina and MountainTrue. These regional and statewide groups offer abundant ways to get involved and illuminate a better path forward.

BackPageAlt2_windmillsBoth states are at risk from accelerated and more extreme hydrocarbon extraction, but both also bear significant potential for broad success with renewable energy. While only 0.1% of Florida’s current generating capacity comes from solar, it has some of the strongest incoming solar radiation in the country. North Carolina sports the best conditions for offshore wind energy on the east coast. The Tarheel State ranked 2nd in the nation for new installed solar capacity in 2014, and the same year, over 4,300 North Carolinians worked in the solar power industry. Already, 4,800 Floridians work in the solar industry.

Wellsbycounty-Feature

Well density by county in the U.S.

The volatile economics of oil and gas, the effects of fossil fuel combustion on the planet, and the impairment of human health and the environment caused by extraction necessitate other approaches to meet our energy needs. Our Energy Solutions will strive to showcase brighter possibilities – one workshop at a time. Next stop, Argentina – May 5-12th.

Check out Our Energy Solutions on Facebook and join the conversation!

Florida Citizens Seek Drilling Industry Transparency

By Maria Rose, Communications Intern, FracTracker Alliance

Pamela Duran waited impatiently in front of a Hampton Inn in Naples, Florida on Wednesday, June 25, 2014, with her husband Jaime, and several of their community members.  They had to wait several days for a press conference with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding natural gas drilling in their home town of Collier County.  The original meeting had been postponed and rescheduled from the day before.

Seeking Transparency

Pamela, Jaime, and community members intended to ask the DEP, headed by Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard, about future gas drilling plans in Collier County.  However, when the Durans and other community members asked to speak with the DEP at the Hampton Inn, they were asked to leave.  In an attempt to seek answers to their questions, they then invited the DEP to meet with them outside the Hampton Inn.  The DEP refused, and instead held a closed meeting 20 miles away in Rookery Bay.  Only a select few members of the press were allowed to attend, forcing the Durans and the rest of the concerned community members to return home without answers to any of their questions.  Jamie said:

We were told to move out to the curb—kind of literally being kicked to the curb—and weren’t able to meet with the DEP… There hasn’t been an exchange of ideas;  there’s no back and forth.  They only had a few people from the media which is not a press conference.  The DEP said they’re committed to transparency, but it seems more like they’re committed to invisibility. We get nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Adding Confusion to the Mix

Drilling in Florida. Photo: WeArePowerShift.org

The frustration over transparency and communication with the DEP and Collier County’s Board of Commissioners stemmed from the lack of information and confusion surrounding the recent surge of nearby drilling activity.  Natural gas drilling in Florida has occurred on and offshore since the 1940s, but concerns related to the more intense impacts of  unconventional oil and gas drilling and its associated activities  have only recently surfaced.  Currently, drilling issues are contained to southwest Florida, where seismic testing is being conducted around the Collier and Hendry counties, and outside of Naples.  These areas overlay the Sunniland basin. The fossil fuel rich layer of shale found here makes companies like Dan A. Hughes eager to invest in the area.

In April of 2013, the Durans received a letter from a company called Total Safety.  Total Safety was conducting a contingency plan for the drilling company, Dan A. Hughes.  The letter contained limited information.  The Durans were only told that they were in an evacuation zone and had to provide information to Total Safety for safety precautions.  According to Pamela notes, “We were one of the first homes to get a letter… They didn’t even tell us then, that Dan A. Hughes was a drilling company.  We didn’t know what kind of evacuation zone it even was. We thought it was hurricanes at first. The commissioners didn’t even know.”

Pamela was so surprised that she called the police, and discovered that they were unable to provide sufficient information. It wasn’t until speaking with Jennifer Jones, a representative from Total Safety, that she learned that her family and 45 others were within a one mile-radius evacuation zone around a planned well pad.  The risks of hydrogen sulfide leaks, fires, and explosions, among other things, made it necessary to have an evacuation plan for these families.  At this point, Dan A. Hughes had not yet applied for a drilling permit, but would most likely be drilling by October of 2013.  Pamela noted that,  “This was the first time we’d heard of any drilling. And I was totally overwhelmed by the problems we thought might occur.”   If approved, Dan A. Hughes would be drilling within 1,000 feet from the Durans’ home.

The Durans and several of the neighbors who received similar letters met with the Colliers in late May of 2013 . The Colliers were a family that owned the surrounding land for several generations, including the mineral rights.  The concerned residents expected to have an open dialogue and had two requests:

  1. They wanted the well to be moved so that none of the neighborhood residents would be in an evacuation zone, and
  2. They wanted the drilling company to use farm roads instead of the residential roads to avoid traffic and noise.

The Colliers denied their request, but attention had been brought to the issue, and citizens began to resist drilling in the area.  Pamela commented, “The disregard for human life out here is atrocious. This has become such a big issue because we the citizens decided we’re not just going to sit and take it.”

As the drilling became more and more prominent in the area, the Durans noticed a change in the atmosphere around the neighborhood. Pamela reports that some intimidating activities have occurred, such as workers in Dan A. Hughes’ trucks video-taping certain houses, or cars parked outside of houses for excessive amounts of time.  All of this behavior is new for the area.  Pamela asks, “There are people here in the neighborhood with cars parked in the front or side of their property, and after they call the police, they find out it’s a private investigator. Who hires private investigators?”

Cease and Desist?

The biggest issue arose at the end of 2013. On December 30, 2013, the Dan A. Hughes company began to use acid fracturing to stimulate the Collier Hogan well. In Florida, there is no special permission required to begin fracking.  However, the company had assured a very concerned public and the county commissioners that there would be no fracking.   As a result of this violation, the DEP issued a cease and desist order on January 1 of 2014.   Dan A. Hughes, however, continued to frack until the process was finished.  It wasn’t until April 8, 2014 that the DEP issued a consent order to Dan A. Hughes along with a fine of $25,000 for unauthorized fracking.  All of these details were not released to the public until the consent order was issued in April.  Dr. Karen Dwyer, a resident of Collier County, notes that there have been many opportunities since January to share such information; between January and April.  There was an EPA hearing, a Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee meeting, various Collier county commissioner meetings, and several Administrative Judge hearings where the information could have been released to the public.  According to Dr. Dwyer:

The DEP just sat on this information while everyone else was looking closely at other aspects of the Dan A. Hughes drilling.  We’ve had all these meetings looking at how reliable they are and what their training has been, but the DEP never said that Dan A. Hughes had been under this investigation.  That was wrong of the DEP.  Decisions were being made to allow [drilling] while this serious issue was going on, and we didn’t know.

Triggering Resistance

Since then, Collier County’s resistance to gas drilling has taken off.  On April 22nd, the county commissioners voted unanimously to challenge the DEP’s consent order for Dan A. Hughes to drill, which is the first challenge of gas drilling in the area.  Senator Bill Nelson called for a federal review of Dan A. Hughes on May 1st.  The next day, the state called for Dan A. Hughes to cease all of their new operations in Florida.  Two weeks later on May 13th, the county commissioners voted to challenge the Collier-Hogan well, targeting a much more specific project. The commissioners began the legal process of challenging Dan A. Hughes’ consent order on June 10th, insisting on public meetings.

Even though they have seen progress, citizens like Dwyer and the Durans do not feel that change is happening rapidly enough. For example, the state has ordered all of Dan A. Hughes’ new operations stopped, but there are still old wells that can keep producing since their inception occurred prior to this new order. Also, once the commissioners filed their challenge on Dan A. Hughes, they were unable to talk about it publicly. Because of this development, issues surrounding a lack of transparency and communication have resurfaced.

Environmental and Social Justice Concerns

At times, Pamela said she feels like the combination of the Collier County’s geography and demographics have made it an easy target for resource extraction companies.  She describes the area as a multicultural town with many immigrants—Jamaican, Mexican, Hatian, Peruvian, Columbian, and more—and a community comprised of older retirees and very young families building up savings.  These demographics, she feels, may give off the impression that the residents will not come together and fight for their rights.  Speaking to the comments directed at Colliers from the more populous Naples community, Pamela responded by saying, “This is the first time I’ve felt people think we’re poor.  It’s not like we’re an urban location with super poor people surviving on welfare, but yes, lots of people here are foreign, and we don’t have much material wealth.”

According to the Durans, the surge of gas drilling activity in Collier County has drastically altered the day-to-day lifestyle of many of its residents.  Pamela and Jaime have dedicated much of their time to fighting the companies and following discussions surrounding the issue, which takes up a significant amount of their time. Pamela notes:

For the past 14 months, our lives have been on hold, dedicating the past months to stopping drilling.  We wanted to do certain things to our house, but we’ve put it on hold.   Why invest in a home if we might have to leave it for health reasons later? I’m not going to stay and watch us get sick.

Dwyer has similar feelings on the issue.  He is concerned about the human rights aspect of the problem, such as equal access to clean water and air, as well as the difficulty of communicating with large corporations.  Dwyer would like to see the state and federal government buy the mineral rights from Collier Resources and set that land aside as a reserve, which is what it was prior to drilling. Feeling that the drilling will most likely be permitted, Dwyer believes that companies should concentrate on improving procedures and communication.

Dwyer recognizes that even though resisting the industry has proved to be frustrating, she now knows about the issues surrounding gas and is determined to continue informing as many people as possible and is continuing an open dialogue with the county commissioners.  She feels that progress towards stopping gas companies can be made when more people know about the problems that are occurring.

Learn more about the unique aspects of drilling in Florida.

The interviews that served as the basis for this article were conducted in the summer 2014. This article is an update to an article we wrote in 2013. Read more.

Photo by Lara Marie Rauschert-Mcfarland

Florida’s Geographic and Geologic Challenges

By Maria Rose, Communications Intern, FracTracker Alliance

FracTracker has received numerous emails and phones calls wondering about unconventional drilling activity in Florida. Part of the concern related to fracking in the Sunshine State stems from Florida’s unique geographic and geologic characteristics, including a variety of environmental, geologic, and social issues that make drilling a very different challenge from other states. This article provides a brief compilation and explanation of those issues.

Everglades & Big Cypress National Preserve

Everglades

FL Everglades. Photo: Lara Marie Rauschert-Mcfarland, 2013.

Florida is home to the Everglades and the Big Cypress National Preserve, two locations that have a unique climate, assortment of wildlife, and diversity of fauna. Drilling has occurred in Southwest Florida since the 1940s,2 but it has been contained to traditional vertical drilling, until recently. The transition to more extreme methods of extraction, such as acid or hydraulic fracturing, may have more severe consequences on the fragile environment. The current rules and regulations in place are specific to vertical drilling, not focused on the distinct risks of fracking.2

Citizens have expressed concern that more drilling, and more extreme drilling, may contaminate regional groundwater and disrupt the habitat of the animals in the area. The endangered Florida panther is one species of particular concern; there are plans to drill close to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge on the western edge of the Everglades. Drilling requires a host of preparation and set up, including clearing out areas, building roads, and seismic testing for underground reserves. Both animals and the environment can be disturbed or destroyed by these processes, whether it is from accidental spills from drilling, clearing out forested areas, or road traffic.3

Currently, there are 350,000 acres in southwest Florida leased for seismic testing to determine what areas underground have the most promising oil reserves: 115,00 acres in the greater Everglades by the company Tocala for dynamite blasting, and 234,510 acres in the Big Cypress National Park by Burnett Oil Co., for testing with “thumper trucks”.3 Thumper trucks drop heavy weights on the ground and use the vibrations to estimate oil reserves there. These weights have the potential to fracture the crust over porous limestone formations that hold aquifers, where people get their drinking water.4

 References and Resources

  1. Senator Nelson on Drilling 
  2. Florida Halts Fracking Near Everglades 
  3. Concern Over Plans to Drill for Oil in the Everglades 
  4. Senator Nelson Prevents Oil Drilling in Southwest Florida 

Water

The natural gas drilling industry requires large amounts of water to frack wells, using approximately four million gallons of fresh water per well.4 The water becomes extremely saline from the elements that mix with the water and earth underground. This fluid will also contain frac fluid chemicals added by the industry – some of which are toxic.3 After the drilling process is complete, the resulting waste must then be treated and disposed of properly either via deep well injection sites, limited reuse, recycling, and/or landfills. The potential for contamination of underground aquifers or aboveground mixing with freshwater sources is an important risk to consider.2

Florida has an already sensitive relationship with water. Being so close to the ocean, Florida often bears the brunt of natural disasters such as hurricanes and heavy storms, which all pose threats to freshwater sources above ground. There is also a high water table in Florida that lies directly under and very close to the Sunniland Basin, a layer of fossil fuel rich rock that is of interest to drillers. Drilling in the area, if done hastily, could contaminate a very important fresh water source.1

References and Resources

  1. Legislators Prepare for Potential Fracking in Florida 
  2. Drilling for Natural Gas Jeopardizes Clean Water 
  3. Environment America-Fracking By the Numbers
  4. Oil and Gas Extraction and Hydraulic Fracturing
  5. EPA Oil and Gas Production Wastes

Tourism

For Dr. Karen Dwyer, a concerned citizen of Collier County, the issue of parks and water also ties in to one of Florida’s most important industries: tourism. As Dwyer sees it, if what draws crowds to the state is diminished — the natural beauty of the Everglades and beaches and water — then tourism will falter. The communities impacted by the 2010 BP Gulf Oil Spill can attest to this fact. Small Florida towns near drilling activity  that rely on the income generated by tourism could fall into obscurity.

“People rely on touristy things here,” Dwyer said. “If people aren’t going to come here, we’re going to be a ghost town. If we have a huge accident, we’re not going to have [tourism anymore].”1

Reference:

  1. Interview with Dr. Karen Dwyer, Wednesday June 11th.

Karst Formations

Karst geologic formations visible near a spring. Photo: Richard Gant

Karst geologic formations visible near spring. Photo: Richard Gant

In addition to the unique environmental landscape, need for water, and dependence on tourism, Florida also has a vulnerable geology. The majority of the rock formation underground is made up of sand and limestone, which erodes and dissolves easily both above and below ground from exposure to rainwater. This feature causes karst formations in the rock, leading to sinkholes and fractures in the ground. There is some concern that the drilling processes required to access the gas might disturb the already sensitive environment and cause more stress or damage in areas already affected by sinkholes. Karst geology also has potential for increased aquifer contamination; if the ground is extremely porous, then water — and therefore, other chemicals and radioactive materials — may move through the ground more easily than in other geologies and contaminate water sources.

 References and Resources:

  1. Florida Development and Legislation
  2. USGS – The Science of Sinkholes
  3. Florida Hydraulic Fracturing

Demographics

Environmental justice can be a challenge that accompanies oil and gas drilling at times, defined as the inequitable distributions of environmental burdens. In Florida, we see a potential example of environmental justice, as the drilling completed thus far has dominantly affected low-income communities such as Collier County. Collier County has a large proportion of older, retired families, as well as younger families that may hold multiple jobs and relatively low incomes. In these communities, people are less resistant to the introduction of large, new industries that promise economic growth, since opportunities for such economic stimulation are rare. Similarly, people are less resistant to these issues simply because they may not have enough influence or understanding to reject such risky industries. It is clear then, that impoverished or under-stimulated communities often have to deal with the repercussions – environmentally, economically, and socially – of industry presence more than in places where people can afford and know how to repel industries that may pose environmental risks.

 References and Resources

  1. Florida Census 
  2. Florida County Profile
  3. Environmental Racism

Demographics content originated from interview with Pamela Duran, Monday June 30th.

Over 1.1 Million Active Oil and Gas Wells in the US

Many people ask us how many wells have been hydraulically fractured in the United States.  It is an excellent question, but not one that is easily answered; most states don’t release data on well stimulation activities.  Also, since the data are released by state regulatory agencies, it is necessary to obtain data from each state that has oil and gas data to even begin the conversation.  We’ve finally had a chance to complete that task, and have been able to aggregate the following totals:

Oil and gas summary data of drilled wells in the United States.

Oil and gas summary data of drilled wells in the United States.

 

While data on hydraulically fractured wells is rarely made available, the slant of the wells are often made accessible.  The well types are as follows:

  • Directional:  Directional wells are those where the top and the bottom of the holes do not line up vertically.  In some cases, the deviation is fairly slight.  These are also known as deviated or slant wells.
  • Horizontal:  Horizontal wells are directional wells, where the well bore makes something of an “L” shape.  States may have their own definition for horizontal wells.  In Alaska, these wells are defined as those deviating at least 80° from vertical.  Currently, operators are able to drill horizontally for several miles.
  • Directional or Horizontal:  These wells are known to be directional, but whether they are classified as horizontal or not could not be determined from the available data.  In many cases, the directionality was determined by the presence of directional sidetrack codes in the well’s API number.
  • Vertical:  Wells in which the top hole and bottom hole locations are in alignment.  States may have differing tolerances for what constitutes a vertical well, as opposed to directional.
  • Hydraulically Fractured:  As each state releases data differently, it wasn’t always possible to get consistent data.  These wells are known to be hydraulically fractured, but the slant of the well is unknown.
  • Not Fractured:  These wells have not been hydraulically fractured, and the slant of the well is unknown.
  • Unknown:  Nothing is known about the slant, stimulation, or target formation of the well in question.
  • Unknown (Shale Formation):  Nothing is known about the slant or stimulation of the wells in question; however, it is known that the target formation is a major shale play.  Therefore, it is probable that the well has been hydraulically fractured, with a strong possibility of being drilled horizontally.

Wells that have been hydraulically fractured might appear in any of the eight categories, with the obvious exception of “Not Fractured.”  Categories that are very likely to be fractured include, “Horizontal”, “Hydraulically Fractured”, and “Unknown (Shale Formation),” the total of which is about 32,000 wells.  However, that number doesn’t include any wells from Texas or Colorado, where we know thousands wells have been drilled into major shale formations, but the data had to be placed into categories that were more vague.


Oil and gas wells in the United States, as of February 2014. Location data were not available for Maryland (n=104), North Carolina (n=2), and Texas (n=303,909).  To access the legend and other map tools, click the expanding arrows icon in the top-right corner.

The standard that we attempted to reach for all of the well totals was for wells that have been drilled but have not yet been plugged, which is a broad spectrum of the well’s life-cycle.  In some cases, decisions had to be made in terms of which wells to include, due to imperfect metadata.

No location data were available for Maryland, North Carolina, or Texas.  The first two have very few wells, and officials in Maryland said that they expect to have the data available within about a month.  Texas location data is available for purchase, however such data cannot be redistributed, so it was not included on the map.

It should not be assumed that all of the wells that are shown in  the map above the shale plays and shale basin layers are actually drilled into shale.  In many cases, however, shale is considered a source rock, where hydrocarbons are developed, before the oil and gas products migrate upward into shallower, more conventional formations.

The raw data oil and gas data is available for download on our site in shapefile format.

 

Florida Hydraulic Fracturing, Proposed Drilling, and Seismic Tests

Over the last few months, we have received several requests to map drilling data in Florida. Below is the information we have been able to procure to-date.

One of the newest controversies in the field of oil and gas extraction is playing out in South Florida, just outside of the City of Naples. While there has been history of oil and gas development, both on- and off-shore in Florida since the 1940s, the risks of fracturing rock to extract hydrocarbons more than 10,000 feet below the surface, has been gaining much attention recently.

The map below shows the locations of planned seismic testing for deep strata oil extraction in Collier and Hendry Counties, Florida, and also the location of a newly permitted exploratory oil well and an adjacent salt water injection well close to the center of the city of Naples, Florida, in the suburb of Golden Gate Estates. According to the final permit, filed 9/20/2013, the horizontally-drilled exploratory well, if it reaches “an economically viable layer and the applicant chooses to continue drilling operations…will proceed to a final depth of 16,600 feet measured depth/12,064 feet total vertical depth”. The nearby salt water injection well would be 2800 feet deep. This extraction targets a fossil fuel-bearing geological layer called the South Florida Basin Sunniland/Dollar Bay Basin. The method of extraction will be via “acid fracking” – the type of unconventional process proposed for the Monterey Shale in California – not hydraulic fracturing using water. Florida is underlain by limestone bedrock. Acid-fracking in this sort of geology creates cracks in the rock by dissolving the calcium carbonate, allowing trapped gas to escape.

In April 2013, in conjunction with the well permitting plan,  31 neighbors near the proposed well received notices that they were living in a “hydrogen sulfide evacuation zone.” Hydrogen sulfide is a often released from gas-bearing rock formations during drilling.

(Click here to be redirected to a full-screen version of this map, including a legend and capability to toggle layers on and off)

The drilling activities are being opposed by groups such as Preserve Our Paradise. Preserve Our Paradise was formed when residents learned that the Dan A. Hughes Company of Beeville, Texas had applied to drill a well that the organization feels presents threats to public safety and the natural environment. Members felt particular concern because the proposed well would be less than a mile from the “City of Naples main water wellfield, the future Collier County water wellfield area, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Preserve, and the residential suburb of Golden Gate Estates,” according to Preserve Our Paradise’s website. The Dan A. Hughes Company has already leased 115,000 environmentally sensitive acres of Southwest Florida for exploration. Two other petitions were filed opposing the well: one from the Stone Crab Alliance, a citizens’ group, and other by Matthew Schwartz, a Lake Worth resident. Both petitions cite concerns for panthers and other environmental issues.

Additional testing for oil and gas is may be occurring not far away. Companies, such as Kerogen Florida Operating Comp. LLC, Hendry Energy Services, and Tocala LLC have applied for permits to conduct seismic testing for oil in Hendry and Collier Counties, just north of Big Cypress National Preserve, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Oil and Gas Drilling Applications Database.

EPA Region 4 will be holding a public hearing on the Golden Gate well permit, tentatively scheduled for February 27, 2014 at the Golden Gate Civic Association.

Addendum: In a victory for opponents of the drilling near the Panther refuge, Sierra Club reported that in mid July, 2014, the Dan Hughes Oil Company announced that it would be terminating its lease holdings on 115,000 acres in the area. Only a few weeks earlier, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced that the driller had been using illegal extraction techniques similar to fracking.

Data sources