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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.

CA Crude Oil by Rail Shipments and Railway Accidents

CA Crude Oil by Rail Shipments and Railway Accidents

By Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Incidents in California involving oil-by-rail cars increased from 3 in 2011 to 25 in 2013. There were 24 incidents within the first 6 months of 2014, and oil spills from rail cars increased from 98 in 2010 to 182 in 2013.1 With such an increase in oil train incidents, we have to ask what the state is doing to protect public safety.

CA Crude Oil by Rail – The Status Quo

California is currently far behind states like New Hampshire and Minnesota that have taken more control over in-state hazards, and have passed laws aimed at forcing rail and pipeline companies to abide by more rigorous emergency response measures instead of relying on the federal government and undertaking state-level spill response plans. These state movements are in response to the existing federal oversight, which critics cite as inadequate.2

State environmental health officials have acknowledged the dangers of a derailment, but have downplayed the risk – comparing the hazard of an incident to be similar to ethanol or gasoline, based on volatility. They do not believe oil train derailments are as hazardous as other materials transported by rail such as chlorine or ammonia. The bigger concern, though, is the huge volume of Bakken crude oil that is being shipped by rail. A recent report by the State of California Interagency Rail Safety Working group acknowledged this and identified key vulnerabilities along CA rail lines; Destinations of the crude trains in CA are the Bay Area via the Feather River or Donner Pass, Bakersfield via the Tehachapi Pass, and Los Angeles via the same route. These routes pass through the state’s most densely populated areas, as well as through some of the state’s most sensitive ecological areas, and each route has at least one high hazard area for derailments. Other issues identified include the impact of earthquakes on trains and rail lines and a shortage of emergency response capacity.

At-Risk Populations

A recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council used census data to identify at risk-populations for communities living near the rail lines that can be used for transporting shipments. The analysis identified a total of nearly four million people in the Bay Area and the Central Valley alone that live within 1 mile (the U.S. DOT isolation zone for a crude tanker fire) of a crude shipment rail line. The authors go on to provide the following recommendations to prevent crude oil train accidents:

  1. Remove Defective, Dangerous Tankers from Crude by Rail Service
  2. Impose Safer Speed Limits
  3. Reroute Around Sensitive Areas
  4. Provide Emergency Responder Resources
  5. Make Additional operational Safety and Oversight Improvements
  6. Exercise Local Government Powers4

Crude Oil Shipment Trends

Support of these recommendations is most important as more crude shipments in CA are on the horizon. A recent permit application by the Phillips 66 oil company included a proposal to use Amtrak passenger lines to transport Bakken crude through the San Francisco Bay Area. A review of the proposal by Hinman Consulting Engineers found that over the next 30 years, there is an approximate 28% risk of derailment in the heavily populated stretches of Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Santa Clara, San Jose and others. This estimate is assuming there is no increase in shipping volumes. The damage of an accident was estimated by the researchers, and the analysis showed that approximately 47,000 households and $22 billion in improved property value lay within the projected blast zone, 1000 feet from the railway. A projection of the damage from a single accident estimated that an average of 117 households along with $244 million in property value could be destroyed. Hinman also stated that “this figure does not include loss of revenue, environmental cleanup costs, loss of human life, or other societal costs.”5 A proposal by Valero Refining Co. plans to ship 100 crude oil tank cars a day through downtown Sacramento and downtown Davis to Benicia.

Responses by CA Regulators and Railroads

To plan for this increase in rail traffic, Sacramento passed a shipping charge to prevent and manage spills that will result in $11 million in 2015. Another bill has been introduced to impose a second shipping fee on oil companies to train and equip first responders to deal with major spills and fires on railroad lines. An additional bill was also authored requiring rail carriers to communicate more closely with state emergency officials about crude oil rail movements.6

The map below shows where spills and train accidents have occurred in CA since 2011. When zoomed out the map shows areas with higher incidence rates of accidents, but when zoomed to a higher resolution the map differentiates the accidents by year.7

CA Crude Oil by Rail and Railroad Accidents

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In the map above, a hot spot analysis shows the frequency of railroad accidents, such as derailments. Areas with the highest incidence rates are shown in yellow. The actual locations and descriptions with dates of these accidents can be seen by zooming in using the plus (+) button in the top left corner of the map, and clicking on a diamond symbol. Shown in red and green are the BNSF and other railroad lines used for the transportation of crude by rail.

BNSF Route

Figure taken from BNSF’s U.S. DOT disclosure to the state of California for emergency preparedness.9

From what little data has been released, it is clear that BNSF railway intends to ship two Bakken crude trains per week carrying more than one million gallons of crude through the CA counties of Butte, Contra Costa, Lassen, Modoc, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Joaquin, and Yuba.8 The same information from Union Pacific Railroad has not been made public by the state of CA. The route shown in the figure to the right has been mapped in the FracTracker Alliance’s California Crude Shipment Routes and Railroad Accidents map above. From the map, you can see that there have been numerous accidents already on this BNSF rail line, particularly near Stockton and in the heavily populated North Bay Area.

References

  1. California Office of Emergency Services. 5/6/14. Historical HazMat Spill Notifications. Accessed 3/8/15.
  2. Douglas E. 6/16/14. 2 States Beef Up Oil-by-Rail and Pipeline Safety After String of Accidents. Inside Climate News. Accessed 3/9/15.
  3. Interagency Rail Safety Working Group. 6/10/14. Oil by Rail Safety in California. California Office of Emergency Services.
  4. Bailey D. 6/2014. It Could Happen Here: The Exploding Threat of Crude by Rail in California. Natural Resources Defense Council. Accessed 3/10/15.
  5. Reis E & Coughlin A. 6/6/2014. New Proposed Oil Transportation Calls for Rational, Risk-Based Mitigation Approach. Hinman Consulting Engineers. Accessed 3/11/15
  6. Bizjak T. 6/16/14. California to impose fee on crude oil rail shipments; funds to be used for spill prevention, cleanup. The Sacramento Bee. Accessed 3/10/15.
  7. U.S. DOT. 5/7/2014. Emergency Order. Docket No. DOT-OST-2014-0067. Accessed 3/10/15.
  8. California Public Utilities Commission. 2015. Railroad Safety and Operations. Accessed 3/8/15.
  9. U.S. DOT. 9/30/14. Re: U.S. Department of Transportation Emergency Order Docket Number DOT-OST-2014-0067 (Issued May 7, 2014). Accessed 3/10/15.

Responses to the Rash of Oil Train Incidents

By Kyle Ferrar and Samantha Malone

Throughout the U.S. more crude was spilled from rail incidents in 2013 than the prior four decades combined. Recently, in a period of three weeks, there were four* derailments of crude oil trains carrying Bakken and other Canadian crudes resulting in fire and explosions, with multiple cars rupturing and set ablaze.1 One of the most recent incidents occurred on March 5th in Galena, Illinois, just north of Chicago (video below). The fires resulting from crude derailments blaze so hot that emergency responders and firefighters are not able to get close enough to extinguish them.  The only option is to let the fire burn out. This process can take days, during which local communities are subject to impaired air quality if not evacuated.2

*This number was revised 4/19/15.

Here we explore how regulators are responding to this public health risk and the new rules being put in place.

Oil Train Incidents Prior to August 2014


Derailments and accidents that occurred prior to August 1, 2014. Click here to view map fullscreen3

Regulatory Responses

Local Bakken Oil and Oil Train Resolutions

In response to these incidents and concerns, at least 50 cities and counties around the country have enacted or proposed resolutions regarding oil trains and Bakken oil. Some of these resolutions ask for direct action while others simply express concern publicly about the risks that the transportation of volatile crude oil by rail poses within their communities.

Resolutions Passed By Local Jurisdictions in California

While we have not collected all of these repossess, a good sample is shown below by state:

STATE TYPE
California
Berkeley, CA Resolution no. 66516
California State Senate Safety provisions in budget
Davis, CA Resolution
Martinez, CA Resolution No. 106-14
Moorpark, CA Letter
Oakland, CA Resolution no. 85054
Richmond, CA Resolution no. 26-14
Sacramento Area Council of Governments Letter
San Jose, CA Letter
San Luis Obispo, CA Letter
Santa Cruz County, CA Letter
Simi Valley, CA Letter
Illinois
Barrington/Chicago, IL Commission letter to President Obama
New York
Clinton County, NY Proposed taskforce
Hyde Park, NY Resolution no. 9:8 – 2 OF 2014
Newburg, NY Resolution no. 230-2014
New York State NY Governor letter to President Obama
Philipstown, NY Resolution
Rockland County, NY Meeting plus resolution
Oregon
Hood River, OR Resolution 2014-22
Columbia River Gorge Commission, OR/WA Resolution
Pennsylvania
Harrisburg, PA Proposed
Philadelphia, PA Resolution no. 150129-A01
Washington
Aberdeen, WA Resolution no. 2014
Anacortes, WA Resolution no. 1889
Auburn, WA Resolution no. 5050
Bainbridge Island, WA Resolution no. 2014 – 18
Bellingham, WA Resolution no. 2014-03
Chehalis, WA Resolution
Columbia River Gorge Commission, OR/WA Resolution
Edmonds, WA Resolutions no. 1317 & no. 1280
Elma, WA Resolution
Hoquiam, WA Resolution no. 2014-10
Kent, WA Proposed resolution
King County, WA Resolution 2014-0164
Montesano, WA Resolution
Mount Vernon, WA Resolution no. 879
Mukilteo, WA Resolution no. 2014-12
Ocean Shores, WA Resolution no. 727
Olympia, WA Resolution no. M-1812
Port of Olympia, WA Resolution no. 2014-07
Quinault Indian Nation Issued opinion
Seattle, WA Resolution no. 31504
Safe Energy Leadership Alliance SELA letter to DOT and WA Governor
Spokane, WA Resolution
Stevenson, WA Resolution no. 2014-279
Vancouver, WA Policy resolution 5b
Washington State Council of Firefighters Resolution no. 14-33
Washougal, WA Resolution no. 1048
Whatcom County, WA Resolution no. 2014-001

If any of the PDF’s linked to above do not load, refresh your browser.

Thank you to the many groups and individuals who have helped to compile this list above, such as Audubon Washington and Forest Ethics.

If you would like to recommend additions to this oil trains local actions list, please do so using the comment form at the bottom of this page.

Federal and National Responses

In an official request, the federal Department of Transportation ordered rail companies to provide the shipping details only to state emergency response officials. Due to the health and safety implications of crude by rail, groups like Earth Justice say the public has the right to know what is going through their backyards.4 The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and a working group for the state of New York both found numerous deficiencies in the regulation of rail safety. The Working Group found that there are serious risks throughout the state from oil by rail in addition to significant gaps in local emergency response capabilities.5, 6

To reduce the actual intensity of these incidents, federal regulations establishing “vapor-pressure cap” rules go into effect this April. This specific regulation puts a limit on the amount of explosive gas allowed in the tanker cars. Crudes with greater amounts of short chain hydrocarbons are more volatile (lighter) and therefore more explosive. Bakken crude is considered “light” and “sweet” (more volatile short chain hydrocarbons) and therefore is more flammable/explosive than other crudes.7 Oil producers will have to measure the actual vapor pressure of the crude. The current practice is to calculate the vapor pressure using standards that are not specific enough for the lighter Bakken crude. Measuring the vapor pressure of each tank using an established protocol (i.e. regulatory standards) is therefore necessary to ensure an accurate knowledge of vapor pressure.8

The new standards for North Dakota crude will require operators to filter the crude in order to bring the vapor pressure down to 13.7 psi, a level comparable to the 13.5 psi standard for most automobile gasoline. The North Dakota Petroleum Council criticized the regulations, saying the explosive components of the Bakken crude are what give it such high value. NDPC also criticized the standards for temperature and pressure as being unnecessary.9 The recent West Virginia train that derailed and exploded would have violated this rule according to the testing conducted in North Dakota before departure. Crude involved in the Lac-Mégantic disaster was far below this standard, with an estimated vapor pressure of 9.3.10

Canadian Pacific Railway, the second largest rail company in Canada, wants the authority to refuse to haul crude oil and other hazardous materials due to liability concerns. This change would require an overhaul of the Canada Transportation Act that requires railways to haul any and all legal goods in rail cars that meet safety standards. The Board of Directors asked, “‘What kind of exposure do we have and what kind of exposure are we [exposing] the public to by hauling some of these commodities?” The U.S. railway BNSF, owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, has also protested against a similar U.S. federal regulation.11

Are the recent regulations enough?

The most destructive incident to-date was the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec derailment that killed 47 people on July 6, 2013. Following the Lac-Mégantic explosion, U.S. regulators issued an emergency directive that trains carrying hazardous materials could no longer be left unattended with the engines running unless they first received approval from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The actual implementation of the rule only requires the railroad operators to prepare a plan for such activity and have it on file. There is no requirement for approval from the FRA.3

Other more substantive regulations are slowly coming into effect; for example, by 2017 the weaker DOT-111 oil tanker cars will be retired and all crude will be transported in safer Model CPC-1232 tank cars. Of note, however, is the fact that all five of these recent incidents have involved the safer, reinforced Model 1232 tank cars. A video of the recent derailment outside of Chicago can be seen below.


Galena, Illinois oil train derails with safer model CP-1232 tank cars that had been retrofitted with protective shields.

Data Transparency and Information

Not much detailed information is known publicly about the amount of crude being shipped by railway, the source of the crude, or which routes will be used, but research by the FracTracker Alliance has identified the expansion of crude shipments in communities throughout New York State. In the City of Buffalo, 33% of residents live within the ½ mile blast zone of a railway with crude oil tanker shipments, for example.12 Additional work by groups such as ours and Oil Change International has identified gaps in oversight that may not be possible for state or federal regulations to address. Because the nature of shipping by rail involves long distances and periods of time with infrequent cargo checks, any type of oil spill that goes immediately unnoticed may make it impossible to issue an effective response. Such is the case of a spill in Washington State, shown in the map below.12

In order to preserve the confidentiality of this information, the BNSF and other rail carriers have claimed trade secret exemptions to keep the information and data from being released to the public. The U.S. Department of Transportation has found the oil shipments by rail to “constitute an imminent hazard” and has required that carriers notify the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) in each state that it operates trains transporting 1,000,000 gallons (23,809.5 barrels) or more of Bakken crude. This information has not been released to the public due to security concerns, however.13

References

  1. Wikipedia. List of Rail Accidents. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rail_accidents_%282010%E2%80%93present%29#2015). Accessed 4/19/15.
  2. Stern, Marcus; Jones, Sebastian. U.S. Crackdown on Oil Trains – Less Than Meets the Eye. 12/8/2014. Inside Climate News. Accessed 3/10/15.
  3. Kelso, Matt. 2014. North American Petroleum Transportation by Rail. FracTracker Alliance. Accessed 3/10/15.
  4. Bizjak, Tony. Tate, Curtis. 10/7/2014. Details about Crude Oil Rail Shipments Shrouded in secrecy. The Sacramento Bee. Accessed 3/10/15.
  5. 1/23/14. Safety Recommendation R-14-1. Accessed 3/5/15.
  6. State of New York. 4/30/14. Transporting Crude Oil in New York State: A Review of Incident Prevention and Response Capacity. Accessed 3/10/15.
  7. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. 2014. Operation Safe Delivery Update. U.S. Department of Transportation. Accessed 3/12/15.
  8. Pichler, Hannes, and Josef Lutz. 2014. Why Crude Oil Vapor Pressure Should Be Tested Prior to Rail Transport. Advances in Petroleum Exploration and Development2.
  9. Scheyder, Ernest. 12/9/2014. North Dakota to require every barrel of crude oil be filtered. Reuters. Accessed 3/10/15.
  10. Gold, Russel. 3/2/15. Crude on Derailed Train Contained High Levels of Gas. Wall Street Journal. Accessed 3/10/15.
  11. Eric Atkins. 3/4/2015. Canadian Pacific wants to limit shipments of dangerous goods. The Globe and Mail. Accessed 3/12/15.
  12. Kelso, Matt. 1/29/15. Regulatory Gaps for Train Spills?. FracTracker Alliance. Accessed 3/14/15.
  13. S. DOT. 5/7/2014. Emergency Order. Docket No. DOT-OST-2014-0067. Accessed 3/10/15