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Gas-Fired Power Plant Buildout in PA

Wanted: More Places to Burn Natural Gas

By Alison Grass, Senior Researcher at Food & Water Watch

Over the past decade, the natural gas industry has experienced a renaissance that has been a boon to energy company profits. But it has altered the quality of life for the rural communities where most new gas wells have been drilled. Now, fracking is fueling a gas-fired power plant boom in Pennsylvania, with 47 new facilities. Most have already been approved, with a handful in commercial operation (see map below).

New research by Pennsylvanians Against Fracking shows, in vivid detail, the scale of this buildout, and the impacts it will have on Pennsylvania communities.

Current & Potential PA Gas-Fired Power Plants & their Emissions

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Approximately half of the new gas power plants are located in northeastern region of Pennsylvania, a part of the state already overburdened by the lingering environmental maladies of coal mining and the more recent dangers associated with fracking. These rural communities may see increased drilling, fracking and pipeline construction to support the power plants — and the siting could be strategic. In a StateImpact Pennsylvania article about the first Marcellus shale gas power plant, for example, a company representative admitted that the location was chosen specifically due to its convenient access to shale gas. “This plant was sited precisely where it is because of its access to the abundant, high-quality natural gas that’s found a mile to two miles beneath our feet.”

Drilling Trends

The first modern Marcellus well was drilled in Pennsylvania by Range Resources in 2003, and commercial production began in 2005. Although fracking expanded rapidly in several areas across the country, Pennsylvania has been ground zero of the fracking boom, with just over 10,000 shale gas wells drilled between 2005 and 2016. Since then, however, there has been a rapid downturn in new wells drilled. After the early and dramatic increase in drilling – from 9 shale wells in 2005 to 1,957 shale wells in 2011 – the number dropped to 504 in 2016.

According to Natural Gas Intelligence, natural gas from the Appalachian Basin “…hit a roadblock in 2016, as pipeline projects struggled to move forward and a storage glut slowed the region’s previously rapid production growth.” Thus, it appears that in order to maintain fracking’s profitability, the gas industry is relying on new gas-fired power plants to alleviate the storage glut, while potentially increasing demand for shale gas (which could propagate more drilling and fracking).

Gas-Fired Power Plant Siting

The siting of these power plants also enables companies to use Pennsylvanian fracked gas to generate power for larger regional markets. This is because northeastern Pennsylvania is close to dense populations, including New York City. In Luzerne County, for instance, the new Caithness Moxie Freedom Generating Station gas-fired power plant will supply electricity to not just Pennsylvania residents, but also to New Jersey and New York State. And in the more central region of the state in Snyder County, the Panda Hummel Station will send “much of its power to the New York City market.”

Siting gas-fired power plants in the northeast may also increase drilling and fracking in the region, where gas is predominantly “dry”  and less profitable than the “wet” gas found in southwest PA. This trend is largely due to a resurgence in North American petrochemical markets and increased ethane exports that rely on wet gas. (Dry natural gas contains primarily methane and smaller amounts of other hydrocarbons, while wet natural gas has higher concentrations of natural gas liquids. Natural gas liquids — predominantly ethane but also propane, butane, isobutane and pentanes — are the raw materials for manufacturing petrochemicals.)

Well Integrity and Other Risks

However, increased drilling and fracking mean more pollution for the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania, where shale gas wells have proven to be more prone to well construction “impairments” and well integrity problems, compared to conventional wells. This risk is especially true in the northeastern part of the state, where over nine percent of shale gas wells have indications of compromised well integrity.

Overall, fracking causes many public health and environmental problems. Methane, fracking fluids, and wastewater can pollute water supplies and imperil the livelihoods of farmers, who rely on clean water. Increased truck traffic and drilling emissions reduce air quality, and methane leaks contribute to global warming. Meanwhile, the proliferation of natural gas derricks and associated infrastructure destroys pristine landscapes (and related tourism and recreation industries).

The last thing that Pennsylvanians need is another way for the oil and gas industry to capitalize on shale at the expense of residents’ health and well-being.

Power Plants & Other Facilities Now on Ohio Oil & Gas Map

Over the last few months we’ve been busy working on some updates to our Ohio Oil & Gas Map. Check out what we’ve added recently and explore the map below!

New: Power Plants & ATEX Pipeline

We now have the locations of eight of the credible natural gas power plants proposed in Ohio, along with the jobs they cite during construction and operations. We also now have a complete inventory of 118 existing power plants, including 25 natural gas facilities. Together, these plants would produce 7,660 megawatts, around 957 per facility.

Six of these plants are either in the heart of Ohio’s Utica Shale or within several miles of the 1,200+ mile Appalachia-to-Texas (ATEX) pipeline. ATEX was installed to transport 190,000 barrels per day (BPD) of natural gas liquids (NGLs) from the Marcellus and Utica region to the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Goast refinery corridor. The 360 mile segment of this pipeline that runs from Pennsylvania to south central Jackson County, Indiana is also now shown on the Ohio Oil & Gas Map.

Late Permitting Increases

Cumulative and Monthly Ohio Utica Hydraulic Fracturing Well Permits

Figure 1. Cumulative and monthly hydraulic fracturing well permits in Ohio’s Utica Shale

While many shale plays across the United States are experiencing a period of contraction (with low gas prices often cited as the primary reason), drilling activity in Ohio’s Utica Shale has been experiencing a slow and steady expansion. The region has seen more than 2,700 permitted wells as of the end of January 2017. Incidentally, roughly 59% of these wells are producing either oil or gas as of Q3-2016. For more information on that subject, explore our production map.

The permitting trajectory hit a low of 13-16 permits per month between February and January of 2016. Since the presidential election in November, however, permitting rates have more than doubled (Figure 1).

Ohio Oil & Gas Map

Ohio sits on the western edge of both the Utica and Marcellus Shale formations, but conditions are such that the Marcellus Shale is all but being ignored in Ohio. Explore our updated map of OH drilling activity and related facilities below:


View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

Map Layers

The map above is made up of various datasets, from the location of permits to compressor stations. These “map layers” make up the legend. Below we describe each layer on the map, as well as the data source and date range.


Horizontal Marcellus Permits, Laterals
There have been 40+ permits issued for horizontal wells in Ohio’s Marcellus Shale.

Source:   Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Date Range:  December 2009 – Present


Horizontal Utica Permits
An aggregate of ODNR’s monthly cumulative Utica and Marcellus permits as well as a more detailed weekly Risk Based Data Management System (RBDMS) Microsoft Access inventory. At the present time Ohio is home to 2,160+ permitted Utica Wells with the wells broken out by status. Additionally this layer contains depth, water usage, sand usage, HCl, and Gelling Agent percentage for 249 wells based on data provided to FracFocus. Finally, we have incorporated production in various units from individual industry press releases and the ODNR annual report.

Source:   Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Date Range:  December 2009 – Present


Horizontal Utica Permits actual and straight line laterals
An aggregate of ODNR’s monthly cumulative Utica and Marcellus permits as well as a more detailed weekly Risk Based Data Management System (RBDMS) Microsoft Access inventory. At the present time we have straight line laterals for all drilled, drilling, and producing wells as well as actual PLAT laterals for 341 of the wells.

Source:   Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Date Range:  December 2009 – Present


High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Gathering Lines
All gathering lines servicing Ohio’s inventory of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) wells.

Source:   Herbert Hoover Foundation grant
Date Range:  December 2009 – 2015


High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Well Pads
The well-pads of all Ohio’s drilled or producing High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) wells.

Source:   Herbert Hoover Foundation grant
Date Range:  December 2009 – 2015


High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Well Pad’s Limits Of Disturbance (LOD)
Limits Of Disturbance (LOD) for all Ohio’s drilled or producing High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) well-pads.

Source: Herbert Hoover Foundation grant
Date Range:  December 2009 – 2015


Compressor Stations and Cracking Facilities
Boundaries of several confirmed High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) servicing cracking and compressor station facilities.

Source:   Herbert Hoover Foundation grant
Date Range:  December 2009 – 2015


Ohio Active Class II Injection Wells
This data speaks to the state’s “Active” Class II Injection wells able to accept hydraulic fracturing waste. There are 240+ Active Wells with 51 having yet to receive waste from hydraulic fracturing. For more on Ohio’s Class II Inventory in depth refer to our recent Ohio Fracking Waste Transport & Disposal Network article.

Source:   Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Date Range:  Historical to October, 2015


Earthquakes of >2.0 Magnitude
This data speaks to the state’s 258 earthquakes with current updates from the Ohio Seismic Network and historical quakes – all >2.0 magnitude. These data come from the department’s inventory. Additionally, we present Ohio earthquakes with <2.0 magnitude courtesy of Environment Canada’s Search the Earthquake Database platform.

Source: Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geological Survey, The Ohio Seismic Network
Date Range:  Historical to Present