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US Map of Suspected Well Water Impacts

Launch of National Mapping Project Designed to Show Possible Impacts of Oil and Gas Drilling on Well Water

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
US Map of Suspected Well Water Impacts
Contacts: Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance, (717) 303-0403; and
Samantha Malone, Manager of Science and Communications, FracTracker Alliance, (412) 802-0273

May 1, 2013 – The US Map of Suspected Well Water Impacts is a project that will attempt to piece together recent complaints of well water quality impacts that people believe are attributed to unconventional gas and oil operations. Research has demonstrated potential risks to ground and drinking water posed by faulty well casings, surface spills, and hydraulic fracturing. From across the country, in areas where gas and oil development is occurring, accounts of possible well water contamination have been reported but not been collected all in one place – yet. The FracTracker Alliance and cooperating organizations are providing that opportunity.

Inspired by other “crowd-sourced” data and mapping projects, this project aims to collect ongoing stories, narratives, and data from individual homeowners living on well water near drilling operations and map the general location of these reports online.  The first version of the dynamic map (shown below) is available at www.fractracker.org/usmap.

US Map of Suspected Well Water Impacts - V1

US Map of Suspected Well Water Impacts
Read more about Version 1 of the map

Once received, submissions will be reviewed to the extent possible by cooperating researchers and organizations. Not all reported cases of water contamination, however, have been or will be able to be substantiated. According to Brook Lenker, Executive Director of FracTracker Alliance:

The reports we are collecting are not necessarily indisputable evidence that drilling has contaminated drinking water sources. Some accounts are irrefutable. Others remain unsubstantiated, but that doesn’t mean the well owner isn’t experiencing serious problems. Even where proof may be elusive, perception of risk can tell us much about an issue and the level of concern by the community.  This information will likely help to identify pre-existing problems or conditions that were not previously well known.  Such outreach is needed to permit citizens, local agencies, and others to work together to address pre-existing concerns, improve local regulations or standards, conduct proper baseline testing and monitoring, and make informed decisions.

As unconventional natural gas and oil extraction expands internationally, an Internet-based project like the US Map of Suspected Well Water Impacts can help to share on a global scale how people in the U.S. view – and may be impacted by – unconventional drilling. If everyone contributed their stories, the public’s understanding of gas and oil extraction’s impacts on well water could expand dramatically.

Anyone wishing to submit their story should visit www.fractracker.org/usmap or call (202) 639-6426. A complete list of current project partners is available on the website.

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Downloadable Press Release (PDF)
Read more about Version 1 of the map

Unconventional oil and gas wells in the Chesapeake Basin

A Fresh Opportunity in the FRESHER Act

By Tanya Dierolf, Choose Clean Water Coalition

Love him or hate him, there’s no arguing that Stephen Colbert can grab a headline. Recently he’s had a lot to say about environmental protection, energy and water. Last week he reported on the Pegasus Pipeline Spill in Arkansas and reminded us that what’s “out of sight” and “out of mind” might still be in our drinking water. Those of us in Pennsylvania familiar with Talisman Terry have yet to forget his exposé on the children’s coloring book that attempts to teach kids about hydraulic fracturing through the expertise of a friendly Frackasaurus. This leaves me wondering if Colbert might ask Congressman Matt Cartwright about his legislative attempts to apply stricter federal protections to oil and gas development when the Pennsylvania Congressman appears on Stephen’s “Better Know a District” segment in early May.

In March 2013, Congressman Cartwright (PA-17) introduced the “Focused Reduction of Effluence and Stormwater runoff through Hydrofracking Environmental Regulation Act” or FRESHER act. Because of expanding development of oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania and exploration, construction, and operations in almost 30 other states, Mr. Cartwright introduced legislation aimed at fixing a federal Clean Water Act loophole to control stormwater runoff from for oil and gas operations. Under the Clean Water Act, industrial facilities are required to obtain a permit to discharge stormwater from their sites and develop “Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans” if disturbing more than one acre of land. However, Congress exempted oil and gas operations from both of these requirements. By closing the loophole, the FRESHER Act would provide for stronger oversight as both regulators and the public would be aware of industry plans to control pollution. The bill would also require a federal study of stormwater impacts in areas that might be contaminated by stormwater runoff pollution from oil and gas operations.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Many of us working in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are often asked about the impacts that increasing natural gas activity may have on our local waters and the larger Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Considering the ongoing challenges we have with sediment impacts to our local waterways in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and the pollution limits we now have in place to bring the Bay back to health, many are asking how we quantify these impacts. In addition to increased sediment pollution largely carried by stormwater runoff, others are also asking what impact a change in our land use might have as we convert farm fields and forests to well pads. Furthermore, many are asking about roads and pipelines and cumulative impacts. All good questions – and these are just related to natural gas development and its relationship to existing pollution limits and cleanup plans. There are a host of additional questions being asked about drinking water, emissions, groundwater contamination, methane migration, and health and safety.

Mapping a Better Picture

Unconventional oil and gas wells in the Chesapeake Basin

Unconventional Oil and Gas Wells in PA’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Click here to view dynamic, PA map of unconventional wells

To get an idea of the impacts of the oil and gas industry in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, we turned to our colleagues at the FracTracker Alliance. FracTracker is committed to working with partners – citizens, organizations, and institutions – in a quest for objective, helpful information to perpetuate awareness and support actions that protect public health, the environment, and socioeconomic well-being. FracTracker collects, interprets and shares data through a website and mapping tool. When it came time to understand impacts, we asked for and received some numbers.

In the portion of Pennsylvania that has waterways draining to the Chesapeake Bay, there have been 5,137 oil and gas wells drilled since 2005*. This number includes both conventional and unconventional wells and vertical and horizontal wells (see map on right). Pennsylvania defines an “unconventional well” as one that is drilled into an unconventional formation, which is defined as a geologic shale formation between the base of the Elk Sandstone or its geologic equivalent where natural gas generally cannot be produced except by horizontal or vertical well bores stimulated by hydraulic fracturing. In short, the definition does include wells drilled within the Marcellus Shale formation. We are continuing to work with FracTracker to obtain similar information on West Virginia.

In Practice

I don’t want to leave the impression that oil and gas development, specifically gas development because of hydraulic fracturing, is an unregulated industry. For example, Pennsylvania already requires erosion & sediment permits for activities involving earth disturbance activities over five acres. I’m also not attempting to get into the patchwork of state-by-state regulations of the oil and gas industry, but Congressman Cartwright’s legislation would ensure that oil and gas companies have stormwater-related permits and pollution prevention plans in place prior to well pad development. The lack of oversight and permitting represents a significant threat to our waterways in places without adequate accountability mechanisms. It’s a fresh opportunity to address an ongoing challenge. We hope Mr. Colbert might just ask Mr. Cartwright about his efforts as we get to know PA’s 17th district. We think he might just say the FRESHER Act is good for his Congressional district and the region.

Written by Tanya Dierolf, Choose Clean Water Coalition


*For those who prefer to read statistics in a table format, see below:

Number of PA Drilled Wells in Chesapeake Basin 1/1/05 – 3/20/13

Well Type Conventional Unconventional Total
Vertical 1197 461 1658
Horizontal 5 3474 3479

Total 1202 3935 5137

A Tale of Two “Gas Rush Stories”

Kirsi Jansa in her element

Many people may have seen or are familiar with Gas Rush Stories, a series of short documentaries about natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. According to the website, these stories are important to tell because “whether we live near a drilling site or downstream, whether we receive royalties or paychecks from a gas company, we are all impacted by this gas drilling in ways good and bad.” But how many of you know how Gas Rush Stories came to be? How many actually know the woman behind the curtain, Kirsi Jansa? If you have ever coordinated an event or been a speaker at one like I have, you have most certainly run into a wonderfully impassioned Finn standing behind her video equipment. Here is her Gas Rush Story…

A few weeks ago I sat down with Kirsi to get a better understanding of her work. Originally, I thought she was an extreme advocate against natural gas drilling, but like many other people with that perception, I was way off. Looking back, I don’t even know where I developed that idea about this energetic and passionate journalist.  Kirsi has been covering environmental and public health issues for some time. A couple of years ago, she saw the need to develop a forum for people to share their experiences of this new industrial development in the northeastern United States. She sold the pilot idea as a project to the Finnish Broadcasting Company. The project eventually evolved into a series of documentaries on shale gas that presented various facets of the issue. She continues the project to this day and is looking for additional funding to develop an extension of the series called Rethinking Energy Stories.

It’s all who you know – and who you can access

Unfortunately, as those of us who work in this field know, the climate that surrounds unconventional natural gas drilling is tense at best. Kirsi has found it very difficult to access people with the true know-how. She says that the culture in the U.S. does not support bridging the gaps between industry, regulators, academia, and the public. (If you follow U.S. politics you will see this behavior mirrored in the inability or unwillingness of many politicians to work across party lines.) As a result of this barrier, many of her initial short videos showcase the negative aspects of drilling – partly because that is who agreed to speak publicly about it at the time and partly because that is where she saw the gaps in information being presented. Trouble accessing industry and regulatory experts only intensified when her stories were slammed as “advocacy-ridden.” Kirsi believes that her personal opinion on whether drilling should continue is irrelevant to the experiences being presented. “Even though I have concerns and critical questions, I want to you tell your story,” she relayed to me during our frank conversation. Through sheer persistence and fortitude, Kirsi later was able to cover other perspectives and issues such as frac fluid recycling with Reserved Environmental Services (RES), water management with engineering professor, Dr. Radisav Vidic, and even a short documentary in Germany.

In Need of a Transparent Dialogue

Kirsi feels that the lack of transparency inhibits true participation in the public dialogue regarding the nature of unconventional natural gas drilling. People need unbiased sources of information that allow them to develop their own opinions organically. The problem is that there seems to be no neutral party in this game, since all of us involved live and work in this economy. Unconventional natural gas extraction may offer many benefits (economic boosts, domestic energy production) but also many drawbacks (environmental spills and pollution, health risks). Through her stories, Kirsi hopes to highlight the need for us to listen to each other in order to develop a broader, more comprehensive picture of such a complicated issue.

Check out the Gas Rush Stories series here: www.gasrushstories.com, with additional videos on Kirsi’s vimeo page.

Unconventional Gas Production Cut in Half in PA

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) has released their semi-annual unconventional production and waste reports. This data is self-reported from well operators to PADEP. While in the past, this report was limited to Marcellus Shale wells only, now it includes wells in other formations, such as the Utica, which require similar treatment to extract hydrocarbons.

Despite the expanded definition, the gas production for this period is half that of the previous six months, and barely more than one fifth of condensate production:

Here’s a look at just the gas production over the last three cycles:

In the map below, you can see production values for each well that reported for the cycle. Please click the compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus, then click the “i” tool and any map icon to learn about specific wells.

Unconventional Gas Activity in Pennsylvania

Recently, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) Office of Oil and Gas Management changed a column on a variety of their data that they distribute. Now, instead of indicating whether or not a well is permitted or drilled into the Marcellus Shale, we are given data as to whether or not it is an unconventional well. This is a move likely designed to incorporate the Utica Shale, and perhaps other formations as well. PADEP defines unconventional wells as:

An unconventional gas well is a well that is drilled into an Unconventional formation, which is defined as a geologic shale formation below the base of the Elk Sandstone or its geologic equivalent where natural gas generally cannot be produced except by horizontal or vertical well bores stimulated by hydraulic fracturing.

Historically, of course, the lion’s share of unconventional wells in Pennsylvania have been drilled into the Marcellus Shale, although I have encountered the odd report about activity in the Utica.  Interestingly, just across the state line in Ohio, the situation is more or less reversed; evidently operators in the Buckeye State find the Utica to be more enticing than the Marcellus. In Pennsylvania, these distinctions will unfortunately be lost for us moving forward because they will be lumped together as unconventional, but really, the process is the same and the associated concerns are too. We just won’t be able to effectively compare the two black shale formations to each other in Pennsylvania.

I always feel like changes in data are a good opportunity for a retrospective. Here, perhaps for the first time ever, is a single chart with permits, violations, and drilled wells, dating back to 2005:

Obviously, June 2012 is not yet over, and the data though the 25th represents only about 83% of what we would expect for month long totals.  However, the decline in recent months is notable on all three fronts.  Let’s zoom in, so to speak, and take a look at the last 12 complete months, and add some Excel generated trend lines while we are at it:

While there is obviously significant fluctuation on a month to month basis, the negative slope of the trend lines show that these three indicators of activity for unconventional wells in Pennsylvania are all well down over a one year period.

Here is the data spatially (with violations upload pending):

Unconventional Wells and Permits in PA (large)

Notes:  At the risk of being redundant from post to post, I always like to say a few a words about how I worked with the data, just in case you want to try this at home and your graph looks a little different. The permits require a bit of preparation, because there can be multiple items listed for the same well. While that data can be valuable, it’s not really what we are looking for in this analysis. I have resolved this by using the earliest permit action for any given well API number. The drilled wells are unchanged from the original, as each well appears on the downloaded dataset exactly once. The violations are also unchanged from the original in terms of the number of records used. This results in a number of actions greater than the official DEP count of violations, which are apparently tallied by the number of violation ID’s issued. As I have mentioned elsewhere there are numerous issues with the violation dataset, and my perception is that there was a period of time in which there was a lack of uniformity in how the data were entered, which is reflected in data trail left behind. So while using all records from the data download may inflate the number of of violations, to use only the unique violation ID’s will yield a number that is too small.

Oil and Gas Production and Waste Reports Available

Oil and gas production and waste reports for 2011 are now available for download at the PADEP Office of Oil and Gas Management website, and the Marcellus shale portion of that is now available on FracTracker’s DataTool as well:


Marcellus Shale production from July to December 2011. Click the gray compass rose and double carat to hide those fields.

The third dataset contains the production and waste data aggregated by county, as in the following chart:

Keep in mind that these totals are self-reported by drilling operators to the DEP.  Marcellus Shale waste and production data are released every six months, while non-Marcellus Shale data is released annually.  The following non Marcellus shale datasets are also available:

Statewide Production Totals

The following chart includes statewide production totals for 2011:

So Pennsylvania joins the trillion cubic foot (Tcf) club with 1.2 Tcf of natural gas produced, more than doubling the 2010 dry production value, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).  The EIA does not yet have state values for 2011 posted, but Pennsylvania’s 2011 total would have ranked eighth in 2010 behind  Texas (6.3 Tcf); Federal Offshore Gulf of Mexico (2.2 Tcf); Wyoming (2.2 Tcf); Louisiana (2.1 Tcf); Oklahoma (1.7 Tcf); Colorado (1.5 Tcf) and New Mexico (1.2 Tcf) for dry gas production.

Here is the reported waste for 2011:

Stay tuned to FracTracker for more analyses of these reports in the coming days and weeks.

Abandoned Well Suspected in McKean County Explosion

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) thinks this February 28, 2011 gas explosion might have been caused by one of three abandoned gas wells in the vicinity. Photo by Jay Braddish

Luckily, Thomas Federspiel of Bradford Township in McKean County Pennsylvania was outside of his home when it suddenly exploded on February 28, 2011. He was able to rescue his dogs, too, but his house didn’t fare as well, taking an estimated $250,000 in damages, according to the Erie Times-News.

This fire, combined with a similar incident on December 12, 2010 have gotten the attention of U.S. Senator Bob Casey, who urged federal input into the investigation, which he suspected might be due to recent gas drilling operations:

While investigations are ongoing, the initial determinations are that these harrowing incidents were not caused by any gas utility issue. Rather, it appears that the gas may have migrated from deep underground during periods of high barometric pressure coupled with seismic activity and extensive new deep drilling activities.

The DEP recently suggested that the issue might be related to abandoned wells in the area, rather than new gas drilling activities. Three nearby uncapped abandoned wells were discovered, all of which are at least 90 years old. The well that the DEP considers to be a suspect in the February explosion, Rogers 9, was drilled in 1881.

Wells are considered to be abandoned if they have been out of production for twelve months.