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Photo by Evan Collins and Rachel Wadell

These Fish Weren’t Playing Opossum (Creek)

A First-hand Look at the Recent Statoil Well Pad Fire

By Evan Collins and Rachel Wadell, Summer Research Interns, Wheeling Jesuit University

Statoil well pad fire 2205-crop

Monroe Co. Ohio – Site of June 2014 Statoil well pad fire

After sitting in the non-air-conditioned lab on a muggy Monday afternoon (June 30, 2014), we were more than ready to go for a ride to Opossum Creek after our professor at Wheeling Jesuit University mentioned a field work opportunity. As a researcher concerned about drilling’s impacts, our professor has given many talks on the damaging effects that unconventional drilling can have on the local ecosystem. During the trip down route 7, he explained that there had been a serious incident on a well pad in Monroe County, Ohio (along the OH-WV border) on Saturday morning.

About the Incident

Hydraulic tubing had caught fire at Statoil’s Eisenbarth well pad, resulting in the evacuation of 20-25 nearby residents.1 Statoil North America is a relatively large Norwegian-based company, employing roughly 23,000 workers, that operates all of its OH shale wells in Monroe County.2 The Eisenbarth pad has 8 wells, 2 of which are active.1 However, the fire did not result from operations underground. All burning occurred at the surface from faulty hydraulic lines.

Resulting Fish Kill?

Photo by Evan Collins and Rachel Wadell

Several fish from the reported fish kill of Opossum Creek in the wake of the recent well pad fire in Monroe County, OH.

When we arrived at Opossum Creek, which flows into the Ohio River north of New Martinsville, WV, it smelled like the fresh scent of lemon pine-sol. A quick look revealed that there was definitely something wrong with the water. The water had an orange tint, aquatic plants were wilting, and dozens of fish were belly-up. In several shallow pools along the creek, a few small mouth bass were still alive, but they appeared to be disoriented.  As we drove down the rocky path towards the upstream contamination site, we passed other water samplers. One group was from the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH). The consulting firm was sampling for volatile organic compounds, while we were looking for the presence of halogens such as Bromide and Chloride. These are the precursors to trihalomethanes, a known environmental toxicant.

Visiting the Site

After collecting water samples, we decided to visit the site of the fire. As we drove up the ridge, we passed another active well site. Pausing for a break and a peek at the well, we gazed upon the scenic Appalachian hillsides and enjoyed the peaceful drone of the well site. Further up the road, we came to the skeletal frame of the previous Statoil site. Workers and members of consulting agencies, such as CTEH, surrounded the still smoking debris. After taking a few pictures, we ran into a woman who lived just a half-mile from the well site.  We asked her about the fire and she stated that she did not appreciate having to evacuate her home. Surrounding plants and animals were not able to be evacuated, however.

Somehow the fish living in Opossum Creek, just downhill from the well, ended up dead after the fire. The topography of the area suggests that runoff from the well would likely flow in a different direction, so the direct cause of the fish kill is still obscure. While it is possible that chemicals used on the well pad ran into the creek while the fire was being extinguished, the OH Department of Natural Resources “can’t confirm if it (the fish kill) is related to the gas-well fire.”3  In reference to the fire, a local resident said “It’s one of those things that happens. My God, they’re 20,000 feet down in the ground. Fracking isn’t going to hurt anything around here. The real danger is this kind of thing — fire or accidents like that.”4

Lacking Transparency

WV 2014 Photo by Evan Collins and Rachel Wadell

Run by Statoil North America, Eisenbarth well pad in Monroe County, Ohio is still smoking after the fire.

Unfortunately, this sentiment is just another example of the general public being ill-informed about all of the aspects involved in unconventional drilling. This knowledge gap is largely due to the fact that oil and gas extraction companies are not always transparent about their operations or the risks of drilling. In addition to the potential for water pollution, earthquakes, and illness due to chemicals, air pollution from active unconventional well sites is increasing annually.

CO2 Emissions

Using prior years’ data, from 2010 to 2013, we determined that the average CO2 output from unconventional gas wells in 2013 was equal to that of an average coal-fired plant. If growth continued at this rate, the total emissions of all unconventional wells in West Virginia will approximate 10 coal-fired power plants in the year 2030. Coincidentally, this is the same year which the EPA has mandated a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by all current forms of energy production. However, recent reports suggest that the amount of exported gas will quadruple by 2030, meaning that the growth will actually be larger than originally predicted.5 Yet, this number only includes the CO2 produced during extraction. It does not include the CO2 released when the natural gas is burned, or the gas that escapes from leaks in the wells.

Long-Term Impacts

Fires and explosions are just some of the dangers involved in unconventional drilling. While they can be immediately damaging, it is important to look at the long-term impacts that this industry has on the environment. Over time, seepage into drinking water wells and aquifers from underground injection sites will contaminate these potable sources of water. Constant drilling has also led to the occurrence of unnatural earthquakes. CO2 emissions, if left unchecked, could easily eclipse the output from coal-fired power plants – meaning that modern natural gas drilling isn’t necessarily the “clean alternative” as it has been advertised.

References

  1. Willis, Jim ed. (2014). Statoil Frack Trucks Catch Fire in Monroe County, OH. Marcellus Drilling News.
  2. Forbes. (2014). Statoil.
  3. Woods, Jim. (2014). Fish Kill in Eastern Ohio Might be Linked to Fire at Fracking Well. The Columbus Dispatch.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Cushman, John H., Jr. (2014). US Natural Gas Exports No Better for Climate than China’s Coal, Experts Say.

Putting the “Fun” in Fundraisers

By Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance

Great turnout and whiskey

Enjoying some whiskey in Pittsburgh

It’s almost July, but just a few weeks ago, FracTracker wrapped up the last of three fundraising events. From a site in San Francisco overlooking the Pacific to a budding distillery in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, friends and colleagues came together to show their support for our work and their concern about the effects of unconventional drilling. If you were able to join us for these events – whatever the motivation, we appreciated your collective, deliberate act of kindness. Thank you!

The gatherings were generally small but lots of fun – full of conversation, positive energy, and, yes, good spirits. At the Cleveland Heights event, we even had live music thanks to the jazzy guitar of Alan Brooks and at all three venues a colorful exhibit of thought-provoking, conversation-stoking maps entitled “Cartography on Canvas.” These events were our first foray into fundraisers. From the experience they’ll be improved and made even more memorable, unique, extraordinary. That’s our goal.

We aim to entice more attendees, enhance our revenue, and, most importantly, grow the network of the informed – not just informed about the activities of FracTracker but of all the groups, efforts, and learnings related to the impacts of extreme hydrocarbon extraction. Soon, another round of events – guaranteed to be mood improving, mind expanding affairs – will be rolled out. Prepare to mark your calendars, join the fun, and make your own social statement!

A special thank you goes out to FracTracker staff, interns, and board members who put in extra time and effort to help ensure the success of these initial fundraisers. Thank you, too, to our incredible door prize and auction item contributors:

Ohio Hydrocarbon Production Well Inspections and Violations

Inspections and Violations in Ohio

Only a few states in the U.S. currently release free violations data related to unconventional oil and gas drilling. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) maintains an inventory of well inspections and violations within its RBDMS database. We examined and mapped their data with a focus on hydrocarbon (oil and natural gas) production wells and relevant Class II Injection1 wells – where the high volumes of liquid wastes produced during hydrocarbon extraction are often disposed of, deep within the earth.

By the Numbers

As of January 2013 there were a total of 5,954 hydrocarbon well inspections and 956 “True” violations. “True” violations refer to those inspections that were deemed to be in violation of the Ohio Revised Code (OAC) Chapter 1501:9-3 Saltwater Operation or Chapter 1501:9-1 Oil Well Drilling.  Violations and/or inspections tend to fall under a couple of categories including compliance notices, neighbor phone call, or routine field visits or inspections. There have been 470 and 430 “Complaint” and “Request” based inspections to date, respectively (Table 1).

This graph depicts monthly and cumulative Ohio hydrocarbon production well inspections and ODNR deemed "True" violations between September 2010 and January 2013.

Figure 1. Cumulative OH hydrocarbon production well inspections & ODNR determined true violations (Sept 2010 – Jan 2013)

The ratio of inspections to violations issued over time in Ohio has been somewhat variable, but a trend does seem to be slowly emerging. At the present time average hydrocarbon well inspections are increasing by 7 per month, while true violations are only increasing by 0.5 per month (Figure 1)2. Thus, the ratio of inspections-to-violations declined from its September 2010 high of 13.2 to 3.1 in February 2011. This ratio, however, began to rise shortly thereafter.

Assuming the current trajectory holds, the next ODNR RBDMS update should report approximately 11,696 inspections as of the end of January 2014 and more than 48,000 total inspections by January 2018. This trajectory dictates that we will see roughly 1,500-1,600 true violations by January 2014 and approximately 4,500 by January 2018.

Map Description

The map below displays a monthly updated inventory of Ohio’s hydrocarbon and relevant injection well-related violations. This map will be updated monthly around the 25th of each month. We have established fixed search criteria for the RBDMS Microsoft Access database, which is updated weekly. Inspection purposes include general complaints, civil action, compliance agreement, and criminal actions, while there are myriad inspection descriptions (Table 2).

To view the legend, metadata, and map fullscreen click on the arrows in the top right hand corner of the map.

Inspection Data Availability and Analysis

Significant data gaps exist with respect to latitude-longitude across Ohio’s current inventory of Class II and hydrocarbon well inspections (Note: Data is only available up to February 2013). Below we have analyzed the current gap between “Total” inspections and those “w/Latitude-Longitude” data. We are currently working to close these gaps. The largest gap exists for the “Salt Water Injection Wells All Time” (i.e., Hydraulic Fracturing Waste Class II’s) data with only 3.5% of all inspections accompanied by latitude-longitude coordinates.

Production Wells

  • Pre 9/1/2010 (i.e., First Ohio Utica Permits)
    • Total: 63,707
    • w/Latitude-Longitude: 24,912
    • 39% coverage
  • Post 9/1/2010 (i.e., First Ohio Utica Permits)
    • Total:  13,735
    • w/Latitude-Longitude: 5,917
    • 43% coverage

Salt Water Injection Wells All Time

  • Total: 11,939
  • w/Latitude-Longitude: 413
  • 3.5% coverage

Annular Disposal + Enhanced Oil Recovery + Orphan + Solution Mining Project + Storage Well

  • Total: 15,694
  • w/Latitude-Longitude: 5,300
  • 33.8% coverage 

Tables

The primary columns of importance to the public in the tables below are “Inspection Purpose”, “Inspection Description”, and “Notification Type.” Eighty-three percent (83%) of the state’s production well inspections were for what seem to be routine “Status Checks.” With respect to notification type, most were categorized as “Unknown” (Tables 1 and 3).
Table 1. Ohio production and Class II injection well Inspection Purposes

Code

Definition

Number of Inspections

C

Complaint

470

CAF

Civil Action Follow-up

4

CMF

Compliance Agreement Follow-up

4

NMF

Notice of Material or Substantial Follow-Up

2

NVF

Notice of Violation Follow-Up

99

OF

Order Follow-Up

4

R

Request

430

SC

Status Check

4,802

Unknown

3

Table 2. Ohio production and Class II injection well inspection descriptions

Description

Failure to maintain record of pipeline location

Inadequate pipeline strength

Failure to properly bury pipeline

Well operation causing pollution and contamination

General Safety

Well insufficiently equipped to prevent escape of oil and gas

Failure to legibly identify well

Violation of tank spacing requirements

Violation of tank fire heater spacing requirements

Unattended portable heater less than 50 feet from  tank

Violation of separator spacing requirements

Operating tank heater while oil is being produced

Improperly located oil tank

Equipment pressure rated below operating pressure

No SPCC dike/or failure to keep dike free of water or oil

Unlawful venting or flaring of gas

Failure to have required locks, bull plugs

Well incapable of production

Illegal/Unauthorized annular disposal of brine

Unlawful method of storage or disposal of brine

Dike or pit not able to prevent brine escape

Unlawful use of pit for temporary brine storage

Use of pit of dike for ultimate disposal of brine

Disposal of muds or cuttings in violation of a rule

Failure to keep dike or pit free of brine / other wastes

Illegal/Unauthorized annular disposal of brine

Non registered operator/ Bond/ Insurance

Table 3. Ohio production and Class II injection well notification types

Code

Definition

Number of Inspections

CN

Compliance Notice

470

FVI

Field Visit or Inspection

225

LET

Informal Letter

2

NOV

Notice of Violation

74

OTH

Other Notification

8

PHN

Phone Call

225

Unknown

4,810

 


Endnotes

1. Relevant Class II wells include Salt Water Injection, Annular Disposal, Enhanced Oil Recovery, Orphan, Solution Mining Projects, and Storage Wells

2. If we remove the first month of 2013, the former increases to 9 per month and the latter 0.8 per month.

Land-Use Change, the Utica Shale, and the Loss of Ecosystem Services

By Ted Auch, PhD – Ohio Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

In Ohio, Utica Well pads range in size from 5-15 acres. (Estimates for pipeline and retention ponds are unavailable.) That figure gives us the chance to estimate how hydraulic fracturing influenced changes to land-use, ecosystem services, plant productivity, and soil carbon loss.

Working with Caleb Gallemore and his Ohio State University GIS class, we created a data set that estimated the percent cover for each well pad prior to drilling using the USGS and Department of Interior’s 2006 National Land Cover Database (NLCD, 2006) [1].

Figure 1. Ohio’s original vegetation cover and Utica Well permits as of April 30th, 2013

Figure 1. Ohio’s original vegetation cover and Utica Well permits as of April 30, 2013

Accordingly, the state was and is dominated by:

  • mixed oak (from 12,038 mi2 pre-settlement to 7,911 mi2 today) to the east and
  • maple-beech-birch (from 13,917 mi2 pre-settlement to 2,521 mi2 today) to the west stretching into the southeast and northwest corner of Ohio.

During pre-settlement times additional dominant forest types included:

Since industrialization:

  • The faster growing elm-ash-cottonwood has arisen as a sub-dominant forest type currently comprising 1,237 mi2.
  • Additional sub-dominant forest types comprising 100-140 mi2 of Ohio’s land area include aspen-birch (134 mi2), white-red-jack pine (124 mi2), and loblolly-shortleaf pine (108 mi2).

Our results suggest the average amount of deciduous forest [2] disturbed – as a percent of total well pad area – by well pad establishment is 9.8 ± 5.5% per well pad with a range of 4.7% in Stark and Holmes Counties and a high of 24% in Monroe County (Figure 2). With respect to pasture and crop displacement the average is 11.7 and 10.7% per well pad, respectively, with significantly higher between-county variability for crop cover (±5.5% Vs ±3.6%).

Figure 2. Percent Cover across Ohio’s 269 Utica Well Pads assuming an average area of 7.75 acres and the National Land Cover Database 2006 (NLCD 2006) as a proxy for previous land-use.

Figure 2. Percent Cover across Ohio’s 269 Utica Well Pads assuming an average area of 7.75 acres and the National Land Cover Database 2006 (NLCD 2006) as a proxy for previous land-use. – Click to enlarge

Converting this data into ecosystem services requires certain assumptions about plant growth, soil organic matter content, and soil compaction utilizing Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) soil data to model the latter two and established peer-reviewed estimates for plant pattern and process (Follett, Kimble, & Lal, 2000; Lobell et al., 2002; Valentine et al., 2012). The basics of this analysis – assuming subsurface soils are 25% more compact and contain 45% less organic matter than the surface 12-13 inches (Needelman et al., 1999) – demonstrated that well pad establishment has displaced approximately 28,205 tons of surface and 78,348 tons of subsurface soil carbon [3] for a total of 106,554 tons of carbon equivalent to 389,986 tons of CO2.

Additionally, the displacement and/or removal of vegetation – assuming the average Ohio forest is 40-80 years old [4] – has resulted in the annual loss of 1,050, 6,516, and 9,461 tons of crop, pasture, and forest carbon production, respectively. This is equal to 17,027 tons of carbon or 62,319 tons of CO2, which when added to the aforementioned soil loss is equivalent to the CO2 footprint of 25,198 Ohioans [5].

Over the life of these three ecosystem types, well pad establishment displaces 1,021,619 tons of carbon. This equates to 3.74 million tons of CO2 or 230,034 Ohioans, which is roughly 9,000 less people than reside in Akron and Warren combined. Another way way to frame this figure is that it would be equivalent to the eightieth largest US city between Henderson, NV and Scottsdale, AZ.

At CO2’s current valuation this Ohio Utica well pad “carbon displacement” is roughly $18.71 million. However, if we assume this is at the lower end of reasonable CO2 estimates and that a range of $10-75 dollars is more indicative of carbon’s price, then we estimate the value of well pad displaced carbon is more like $41.29-309.68 million.

The true value of Utica well pad carbon displacement is somewhere in this range and entirely dependent on your belief in the feasibility of valuing CO2 emissions. However, these estimates do point to some of the externalities associated with Utica Shale development currently ignored by industry lobbyists and political advocates. There is far more work to be done as it relates to understanding well pads’ influence on ecosystem services, crop productivity, and local hydrology; this is simply an attempt to begin quantifying such effects.


References

Follett, R F, Kimble, J M, & Lal, R. (2000). The Potential of U.S. Grazing Lands to Sequester Carbon and Mitigate the Greenhouse Effect. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press LLC.

Fry, J, Xian, G, Jin, S, Dewitz, J, Homer, C, Yang, L, . . . Wickham, J. (2011). Completion of the 2006 National Land Cover Database for the Conterminous United States. PE&RS, 77(9), 858-864.

Lobell, D B, Hicke, J A, Asner, G P, Field, C B, Tucker, C J, & Los, S O. (2002). Satellite estimates of productivity and light use efficiency in United States agriculture, 1982-98. Global Change Biology, 8(8), 722-735.

Needelman, B A, Wander, M M, Bollero, G A, Boast, C W, Sims, G K, & Bullock, D G. (1999). Interaction of Tillage and Soil Texture Biologically Active Soil Organic Matter in Illinois. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 63(5), 1326-1334.

Valentine, J, Clifton-Brown, J, Hastings, A, Robson, P, Allison, G, & Smith, P. (2012). Food vs. Fuel: The use of land for lignocellulosic next generation energy crops to minimize competition with primary food production. Global Change Biology Bioenergy, 4(1), 1-19.


Footnotes

[1] The NLCD estimates land cover using sixteen classes at a 98 foot spatial resolution applied to 2006 Landsat satellite data or 4-5 years prior to the first Ohio Utica permit in September, 2010 (Fry et al., 2011)

[2] Primary tree species include red and sugar maple, red and white oak, white ash, black cherry, American beech, hickory, and tulip poplar according to the most recent USFS Forest Inventory Analysis “Ohio Forests 2006”.

[3] Along with roughly 6,536 tons of soil nitrogen assuming an Ohio soil Carbon-To-Nitrogen ratio of 14.6.

[4] Utilizing the USFS’s Forest Inventory and Analysis EVALIDator Version 1.5.1.04 tool we determined that 62% of Ohio’s oak-hickory, maple-beech-birch, elm-ash-cottonwood, and oak-pine forest types, which account for 94% of the state’s forest area, are 40-80 years old.

[5] Assuming 17.3-18.6 tons of CO2 per capita based on Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center as cited by the World Bank.

Jobs Impact of Cracker Facility Likely Exaggerated

This past January, when Ohio was still in the midst of the bidding war for the proposed cracker facility, Toledoans saw the following blurb in their paper, the Toledo Blade:

Gov. John Kasich is pursuing the multibillion-dollar ethane-cracker facility that Shell Chemicals LP plans to build in Ohio, West Virginia, or Pennsylvania to capitalize on the increasing harvest of natural gas from Marcellus shale. The American Chemistry Council estimates that the plant would generate 17,000 jobs in chemistry and other industries as well as $1 billion in wages and $169 million in tax revenue.

That’s some financial impact, right?  And now we are hearing the same figure coming out of Harrisburg via the Post-Gazette:

Estimates from the American Chemical Council have projected that a $3.2 billion ethane-processing facility, similar to the one that Shell is considering for Beaver County, would create more than 17,000 new jobs at the plant itself and among spinoff businesses along the supply chain.

Too bad it is isn’t very realistic.

Although the planned Monaca plant is one of several new cracker facilities planned in North America, currently, there are just a handful on the continent. In January, I posted about one of them, a Shell facility in Norco, Louisiana.  On their website, the multinational giant proudly proclaims the following, in bold type:

Shell Chemicals’ Norco facility is located in St. Charles Parish. The facility has over 600 full-time employees, more than 160 contractors, and generates an annual payroll of $50 million. The company pays more than $16 million in state and local taxes and $6M is property taxes that help fund public education as well as police and fire departments.

As I mentioned five months ago, those are significant contributions, to be sure. But it is a far cry from the projections of the American Chemistry Counsel (ACC) state above.  Shell also operates another cracker in Deer Park, Texas, which claims:

Shell Deer Park is a 1,500-acre complex located in Deer Park, Texas, approximately 20 miles east of downtown Houston along the Houston Ship Channel. Founded in 1929, Shell Deer Park is now home to 1,700 employees who operate a fully integrated refinery and petrochemical facility 24 hours a day.

That’s a lot of jobs, but as an integrated facility, it already accounts for some of the “spinoff businesses along the supply chain”.

Nova Chemicals operates another cracker in Sarnia, Onterio, which according to their website employs about 900 people who earn an estimated $86 million in wages and benefits each year.

So how silly is the claim of 17,000 jobs and $1 billion in wages? Consider that with all of its existing crackers and other facilities,

Shell chemicals companies staff total 8,500 worldwide. The majority of these support our manufacturing operations.  This does not include joint venture employees.”

Even with the JV employees not being counted, we are talking about major petrochemical plants in nine locations around the world, plus three technology centers.  So just who are these experts at the ACC who keep getting quoted for the 17,000 job figure? According to website:

The American Chemistry Council’s (ACC’s) mission is to deliver business value through exceptional advocacy using best-in-class member performance, political engagement, communications and scientific research.

Well played, ACC.  You have put on a best-in-class performance with your exceptional advocacy.  But for the rest of us, it is time to start considering more realistic jobs numbers when talking about the proposed ethylene producing facility.