Parked Oil Trains in Berks County, PA

Matt Kelso, Manager of Data & Technology
Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community Based Research & Engagement

The Risks of Crude Oil Trains

As new oil fields boomed across North America in recent years, drillers looked for ways to get the product to refineries thousands of miles away. One solution was to use the nation’s rail infrastructure to ship hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil per day. The flow of oil was so great that thousands of additional tanker cars were ordered to get the oil to market. And yet, this solution of transporting crude by rail brought additional problems. Shipping large quantities of highly volatile and combustible crude oil on often antiquated rail lines has resulted in numerous accidents, at times spectacular in scale. In recent months, however, thousands of these oil tankers have been sitting idle on the tracks around the country, partially due to dropping oil prices, leading refineries to opt for cheaper imported oil and less expensive ways to get the domestic product to market such as through pipelines.

Communities Along the Tracks

The interactive story map below investigates a stretch of oil trains that have been parked for months in close proximity to homes, schools, and busy intersections in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Altogether, 30,494 people live in the seven communities through which the tracks in question pass. We began this project in response to concerns from residents who contacted FracTracker for assistance in understanding why these trains were located in their community, what hazards they might pose, and to help people bring this story to the public to foster meaningful discussions about the risks of parked oil trains.


FracTracker has covered the risks of oil trains in a series of other articles. Click here to learn more.

Maps of Updated Central Penn Pipeline Emphasize Threats to Residents and Environment

By Sierra Shamer, Guest Author

The Atlantic Sunrise Project or Central Penn Line is a natural gas pipeline Williams Companies has proposed for construction through eight counties of Central Pennsylvania. Williams intends to connect the Atlantic Sunrise to their two Transco pipelines, which extend from the northeast to the Gulf of Mexico. FracTracker discussed and mapped this controversial project as part of a blog entry in June of 2014; since then, the Atlantic Sunrise Project has been, and continues to be, a focus of unprecedented opposition. While supporters of the pipeline stress how it may enhance energy independence, economic growth, and job opportunities, opponents cite Williams’ poor safety records, their threats of eminent domain, and environmental hazards. This article provides details and maps pertaining to these threats and concerns.

Atlantic Sunrise: Project Overview

The Atlantic Sunrise Project would add 183 miles of new pipeline through the construction of the Central Penn Line North and the Central Penn Line South. The proposed Central Penn Line North (CPLN) begins in Susquehanna County, continues through Wyoming and Luzerne counties, and meets with the Transco Pipeline in Columbia County. With a 30 inch in diameter, it would allow for a maximum pressure of 1,480 psi (pounds per square inch). The proposed Central Penn Line South (CPLS) begins at the Transco Pipeline in Columbia County, and continues through Northumberland, Schuylkill, and Lebanon counties, ending in Lancaster. It would be 42 inches in diameter with a maximum pressure of 1,480 psi. The Atlantic Sunrise project also involves the construction of two new compressor stations, one in Clinton Township, Wyoming County, and the other in Orange Township, Columbia County. Finally, to accommodate the daily 1.7 million dekatherms (1 dekatherm equals 1,000 cubic feet of gas or slightly more than 1 million BTUs in energy) of additional natural gas that would flow through the system, the project proposes the expansion of 10 existing compressor stations along the Transco Pipeline in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. Although the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline would be entirely within Pennsylvania, it is permitted and regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) because through its connection to the Transco Pipeline, it transports natural gas over state lines.

Updated Central Penn Pipeline Route

On March 31, 2015, Williams filed their formal application to FERC docket #CP15-138. Along with the formal application came changes to the pre-filing route of the pipeline that was submitted in the spring of 2014. The route of the Central Penn Line North has been modified since then by 21%, while the Central Penn Line South has been rerouted by 57%.

Williams’ application comprised of hundreds of attached documents, including pipeline alignment sheets for the entire route. Here is one example: 


These alignment sheets show the extent of William’s biological investigation, the limits of disturbance, the occurrence of stream and wetland crossings, and any road or foreign pipeline crossings. Absent from the alignment sheets, however, is the area around the right-of-way that will be endangered by the presence of the pipeline. This is colloquially known as the “burn zone” or “hazard zone”.

What are “Hazard Zones”?

A natural gas pipeline moves flammable gas under extreme pressure, creating a risk of pipeline rupture and potential explosion. The “potential impact radius” or “hazard zone” is the approximate area within which there will be immediate damage in the case of an explosion. Should this occur, everything within the hazard zone would be incinerated and there would be virtually no chance of escape or survival. Based on pipeline diameter and pressure, the hazard zone can be calculated using the formula: potential impact radius = 0.69 * pipeline diameter * (√max pressure ).

Based on this formula, the hazard zone for the Central Penn Line North, with its diameter of 30 inches and maximum pressure of 1,480 psi, is approximately 796 feet (243 meters) on either side of the pipeline. The hazard zone for Central Penn Line South, with its diameter of 42 inches and maximum pressure of 1480 psi, is 1,115 feet (340 meters) on either side.

Many residents are unaware that their homes, workplaces, and schools are located within the hazard zone of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline. Williams does not inform the public about this risk, primarily communicating with landowners along the right-of-way. The interactive, zoomable map (below) of the currently proposed route of the Atlantic Sunrise, Central Penn North and South pipelines depicts the pipeline right-of-way, as well as the hazard zones. The pipeline route was digitized using the alignments sheets included in Williams’ documents submitted to FERC. You can use this map to search home, work, and school addresses to see how the pipeline will affect residents’ lives and the lives of their communities.

Click in the upper right-hand corner of the map to expand to full-screen view, with a map legend.

Affected Communities

Landowners & Eminent Domain

Landowners along the right-of-way are among the most directly and most negatively impacted by the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, and other similar projects. Typically, people first become aware that a pipeline is intended to pass through their property when they receive a notice in the mail. Landowners faced with this news are on their own to negotiate with the company, navigate the FERC permitting and public comment process, and access unbiased and pertinent information. They face on-going stress, experiencing pressure from Williams to sign easement agreements, concern about the effects of construction on their property, and fear of living near explosive infrastructure. They must also consider costs of legal representation, decreases in property value, and limited options for mortgage and refinancing.

Sometimes, landowners in a pipeline’s right-of-way choose to not allow the company onto their property to conduct a survey. Landowners may also refuse to negotiate an agreement with the pipeline company. In response, the pipeline company can threaten to seize the property through the power of eminent domain, the federal power allowing private property to be taken if it is for the “public use.”

The law of eminent domain states that landowners whose properties are condemned must be fairly compensated for their loss. However, most landowners feel that in order to be fairly compensated by the company, they must hire their own land appraiser and attorney. This decision can be costly, however, and may not be an option for many people. The legitimacy of Williams’ intent to use eminent domain is contested by opponents of the project, who cite how “public use” of the property provides no positive local impacts. The Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline is intended to transport gas out of Pennsylvania through the Transco, so the landowners in its path will not benefit from it at all. Further, it connects to a network of pipelines leading to current export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as controversial planned export facilities like Cove Point, MD .

Throughout Pennsylvania, communities have responded to the expansion of pipelines, and to the threats of large companies like Williams. The need for landowner support has been addressed by organizations such as the Shalefield Organizing Committee, Energy Justice Network, the Clean Air Council, the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, and We Are Lancaster County. These organizations have worked to provide information, increase public awareness, engage with FERC, and develop resistance to the exploitation of Pennsylvania’s resources and residents. Director Scott Cannon of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition has documented firsthand the impacts of unconventional drilling in Pennsylvania through a short film series called the Marcellus Shale Reality Tour. The most recent in the series relates the stories of two landowners impacted by the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in the short film Atlantic Sunrise Surprise.

Environmental Review

Theoretically, environmental review of this proposed pipeline would be extensive. Primary decision-making on the future of the Atlantic Sunrise rests with FERC. Due to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), all projects overseen by federal agencies are required to prepare environmental assessments (EAs) or environmental impact assessments (EIAs). Because FERC regulates interstate pipelines, EA’s or EIA’s are required in their approval process. These assessments are conducted to accurately assess the environmental impacts of projects and to ensure that the proposals comply with federal environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Air and Water Acts. On the state level, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) issues permits for wetlands and waterways crossings and for compressor stations on regional basis.

Core Habitats, Supporting Landscapes

The route of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline will disturb numerous areas of ecological importance, including many documented in the County Natural Heritage Inventory (CNHI). The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources conducted the inventory to be used as a planning, economic, and infrastructural development tool, intending to avoid the destruction of habitats and species of concern. The following four maps show the CNHI landscapes affected by the current route of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline (Figures 1-4).

Figure 1

Figure 1. Columbia & Northumberland counties

Figure 3. Lebanon County

Figure 2. Lebanon & Lancaster counties

Figure 3. ddd

Figure 3. Threatened Core Habitats

Figure 4. Schuyklill

Figure 4. Schuyklill & Lebanon counties

The proposed pipeline would disrupt core habitats, supporting landscapes, and provisional species-of-concern sites. According to the Natural Heritage Inventory report, core habitats “contain plant or animal species of state or federal concern, exemplary natural communities, or exceptional native diversity.” The inventory notes that the species in these habitats will be significantly impacted by disturbance activities. Supporting landscapes are defined as areas that “maintain vital ecological processes or habitat for sensitive natural features.” Finally, the provisional species of concern sites are regions where species have been identified outside of core habitat and are in the process of being evaluated. The Atlantic Sunrise intersects 16 core habitats, 12 supporting landscapes, and 6 provisional sites.

Active Mine Fires


Figure 5. Glen Burn Mine Fires

The current route of the Atlantic Sunrise intersects the Cameron/Glen Burn Colliery, considered to be the largest man-made mountain in the world and composed entirely of waste coal. This site also includes a network of abandoned mines, three of which are actively burning (Figure 5).

The pipeline right-of-way is roughly a half-mile from the closest burning mine, Hickory Swamp. These mine fire data were sourced from a 1988 report by GAI Consulting Inc. The time frame for the spread of the mine fires is unknown, and dependent on environmental factors. Mine subsidence — when voids in the earth created by mines cause the surface of the earth to collapse — is another issue of concern. Routing the pipeline through this unstable area adds to the risk of constructing the pipeline through the Glen Burn region.

Looking Ahead

The Atlantic Sunrise Project has received an unprecedented level of resistance that continues to grow as awareness and information about the threats and hazards develops. While Williams, FERC, and the PA DEP negotiate applications and permits, work is also being done by many non-profit, research, and grassroots organizations to investigate the environmental, cultural, and social costs of this pipeline. We will follow up with more information about this project as it becomes available.

This article was written by Sierra Shamer, an environmental mapper and activist. Sierra is a member of the Shalefield Organizing Committee and holds two degrees from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County: a B.A. in environmental studies and an M.S. in geography and environmental systems.

Danger Around the Bend

The Threat of Oil Trains in Pennsylvania

A PennEnvironment Report – Read Full Report (PDF)

On the heels of the West Virginia oil train explosion, this new study and interactive map show populations living in the evacuation zone of a potential oil train crash.

PA Oil Train Routes Map

This dynamic map shows the population estimates in Pennsylvania that are within a half-mile of train tracks – the recommended evacuation distance in the event of a crude oil rail car explosion. Zoom in for further detail or view fullscreen.

Danger Around the Bend Summary

The increasingly common practice of transporting Bakken Formation crude oil by rail from North Dakota to points across the nation—including Pennsylvania—poses a significant risk to the health, well-being, and safety of our communities.

This risk is due to a confluence of dangerous factors including, but not limited to:

  1. Bakken Formation crude oil is far more volatile and combustible than typical crude, making it an incredibly dangerous commodity to transport, especially over the nation’s antiquated rail lines.
  2. The routes for these trains often travel through highly populated cities, counties and neighborhoods — as well as near major drinking water sources.
  3. Bakken Formation crude is often shipped in massive amounts — often more than 100 cars, or over 3 million gallons per train.
  4. The nation’s existing laws to protect and inform the public, first responders, and decision makers are woefully inadequate to avert derailments and worst-case accidents from occurring.
Lac-Mégantic derailment. Source:

Lac-Mégantic derailment, July 2013. Source

In the past few years, production of Bakken crude oil has dramatically increased, resulting in greater quantities of this dangerous fuel being transported through our communities and across the nation every day. This increase has led to more derailments, accidents, and disasters involving oil trains and putting local com- munities at risk. In the past 2 years, there have been major disasters in Casselton, North Dakota; Lynchburg, Virginia; Pickens County, Alabama; and most recently, Mount Carbon, West Virginia. The worst of these was the town of Lac-Mégantic, in Canada’s Quebec Province. This catastrophic oil train accident took place on July 6, 2013, killing 47 people and leveling half the town.

Oil train accidents have not just taken place in other states, they have also happened closer to home. Pennsylvania has had three near misses in the last two years alone — one near Pittsburgh and two in Philadelphia. In all three cases, trains carrying this highly volatile Bakken crude derailed in densely populated areas, and in the derailment outside of Pittsburgh, 10,000 gallons of crude oil spilled. Fortunately these oil train accidents did not lead to explosions or fires.

All of these incidents point to one fact: that unless we take action to curb the growing threat of oil trains, the next time a derailment occurs an unsuspecting community may not be so lucky.

Bakken oil train routes often travel through high-density cities and neighborhoods, increasing the risk of a catastrophic accident for Pennsylvania’s residents. Reviewing GIS data and statewide rail routes from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, research by FracTracker and PennEnvironment show that millions of Pennsylvanians live within the potential evacuation zone (typically a half-mile radius around the train explosion ). Our findings include:

  • Over 3.9 million Pennsylvania residents live within a possible evacuation zone for an oil train accident.
  • These trains travel near homes, schools, and day cares, putting Pennsylvania’s youngest residents at risk. All told, more than 860,000 Pennsylvania children under the age of 18 live within the 1⁄2 mile potential evacuation zone for an oil train accident.
  • Philadelphia County has the highest at-risk population — Almost 710,000 people live within the half-mile evacuation zone. These areas include neighborhoods from the suburbs to Center City.
  • 16 of the 25 zip codes with the most people at risk — the top percentile in the state — are located in the city of Philadelphia.
  • The top five Pennsylvania cities with the most residents at risk are:
    • Philadelphia (709869, residents),
    • Pittsburgh (183,456 residents),
    • Reading (70,012 residents),
    • Scranton (61,004 residents), and
    • Erie (over 51,058 residents).


Bakken Crude Oil

How we get it and why we ship it

Bakken crude oil comes from drilling in the Bakken Formation, located in North Dakota. It contains deposits of both oil and natural gas, which can be accessed by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Until recent technological developments, the oil contained in the formation was too difficult to access to yield large production. But advances in this extraction technology since 2007 have transformed the area into a major oil producer — North Dakota now ranks second in the U.S. for oil production. The vast expansion of wells over the last 4 years (from 470 wells to over 3,300 today) means that there is more oil to transport to the market, both domestically and abroad. This increase is especially concerning considering that the U.S. Department of Transportation stated in early 2014 that Bakken crude oil may be more flammable than traditional crude, therefore making it more dangerous to transport by rail.

For More Information

Where have all the guardrails gone?

Guardrails vs. Trucks

Wetzel County in northwestern West Virginia is remarkable for its steep, knobby hills and long narrow winding valleys – providing residents and visitor alike with beautiful views. Along with these scenic views, however, comes difficult roadways and dangerous traveling.

Two two-lane roads traverse the county from the west, along the Ohio River, to the east. There are very few connecting roads going north-south between these two main highways, and only one of them is semi-paved. This road is called Barker Run Road — treacherous, steep and winding. There is at least a 400-foot change in elevation in about ½ mile at one point, with multiple switchbacks.

Switchbacks have a reputation for swallowing up the long trailer component of the tractor-trailer combos, which now comprise a larger part of the traffic on Barker Run Road. Many of these trucks are heading to the HG Energy drilling sites on the ridges at the top. HG Energy has a significant footprint up there. On the east ridge there are four well pads in place and two additional pads being completed to the east, and two large ones on the ridge to the west of Barker Run Road. All that traffic must use Barker Run Road. Until the recent expansion of natural gas exploration in the area, however, I had never seen a tractor and trailer come up either side of the very steep road.

The first casualty caused by the large, long trailer trucks needed to service these well pads is always the full-time sentinels of our traffic safety – our faithful guard rails that are designed to take a beating before we and our vehicle descend over the hillside sideways or rolling over. A good example of a damaged but still useful guardrail is shown below from February on 2012 – wrinkled but useful. The very sharp turn in the roadway is also obvious here.

Figure 1. Switchback curve on Barker Run Road has seen its share of damage from the increase in truck traffic.

Figure 1. Switchback curve on Barker Run Road has seen its share of damage from the increase in truck traffic.

After leaving Route 7 heading south on Barker Run Road, one encounters a particularly sharp and steep switchback curve as shown in Figure 1. It is this kind of turn that is so sharp that it allows the driver of an overlong truck to be able to look back and check the lug nuts on the rear wheels.

On a few occasions, I have been able to actually witness the attempt of our full-time guards as they try to keep a truck somewhat close to the roadway. The below photo shows that the guardrail was barely able to keep the trailer from going completely over the hillside. The truck was stuck, causing the road to be closed for hours till help could arrive (Figure 2, below).

When that incident was over, the photo below from a few weeks later, on March 16, 2013, shows the final damaged rail (Figure 3). The guardrail and posts were replaced and were largely intact when the rail was pushed over again in May of 2013 by another oversized truck trying to get up the hill and around the turn (Figure 4). Ongoing impacts with the guardrail eventually rendered it useless. Figure 5 below is a photo taken in August of 2013.

Infrastructure Damage & Costs

When the Marcellus shale gas drilling began here in Wetzel County eight years ago, it quickly became apparent that the rapidly expanding Chesapeake Energy drilling footprint in north central Wetzel County was leaving scars in the neighborhood, particularly on the roadways. The most visible damages were the road signs, guardrails, and pavement. These effects resulted in a three-layer, road bonding program implemented by the West Virginia Department of Highways. The stipulation requires that any of the large natural gas drillers or operators must post a $1-million bond to cover them statewide, or a single highway district bond for $250,000. This bonding only applies to secondary roads. The third option is to post a bond for fixed, limited miles along specific roads. Some of the pipeline contractors who might be working in a smaller area will use the latter option. Since the DOH generally knows which companies are using the roads, the department usually knows who to approach to pay for damage. In a few cases the companies have reported the damage to the Highway department, and at other times the truckers’ insurance companies report an accident or insurance claim. .

During a recent conversation with a WV-DOH representative, I was told that he quite frequently gets good cooperation from the gas industry companies in paying for damages. He said this is true even when a number of different companies and dozens of their subcontractors are using the same road.

Usually the guardrails just need to be fixed or replaced and new posts installed. Sometimes it is not critical that it be done immediately. However, at times the repairs should be done now. A good example of when repairs are needed soon is shown below in Figure 7, right. This remnant is the shredded, mangled, twisted remains of the stubborn effort of the steel to stop a truck.

The rail has now been totally sliced open, making it an extraordinary danger to the traveling public. As we enter the winter season with a bit of snow and ice on this steep road above this section, any of my neighbors could slide into this. I am optimistic that it will be replaced soon and have had several conversations with the WV-DOH to speed up the process.

By Bill Hughes, WV Community Liaison, FracTracker Alliance
Read more Field Diary articles.

Crime and the Utica Shale

By Ted Auch, OH Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

No matter where you live in Ohio you have probably asked yourself if crime trends will be – or have already been – affected by the shale gas boom.

To quantify the relationship between crime rates and oil and gas development, we compared 14 OH counties (that have more than 10 Utica permits) to statewide safety metrics. Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Statistical Analysis Unit provided us with the necessary crime data. From this dataset, we chose to analyze several metrics:

a. three types of arrests,
b. two types of violations and accidents, and
c. misdemeanors and suspended licenses (as proxies for changes in safety).

Image of accident involving truck carrying freshwater for fracking between January 20th and 27th of 2014 during snowstorm adjacent to Seneca Lake, Noble and Guernsey Counties, Ohio adjacent to Antero pad off State Route 147 Map of Senaca Lake, OH frackwater truck accident between January 20th and 27th, 2014. Map of the area including producing or drilled Antero wells (Red Points) and laterals along with State Route 147
Accident involving truck carrying freshwater for fracking between Jan. 20 and 27 of 2014 during snowstorm adjacent to Seneca Lake, Noble and Guernsey Counties, OH adjacent to Antero pad off State Route 147 Map of Senaca Lake, OH Jan 2014 frackwater truck accident including producing or drilled Antero wells (Red Points) and laterals along with State Route 147

Crunching the Data

The data in Table 1 below are corrected for changes in population at the state level (+0.2% per year) and at the county level, with the annualized rate for the counties of interest ranging between -2.2% in Jefferson and -0.05 in Tuscarawas. We used the first four months of 2014 to determine an annualized rate for the rest of 2014. Since the first Utica permit was issued on Sept. 28, 2010, we assumed that the 2009 data would be an close measure for the ambient levels for the nine crime metrics we investigated across Ohio prior to shale gas development.

Statewide Crime Trends

Overturned frac sand trucks in Carroll County, OH May, 2014 (Courtesy of Carol McIntire, The Free Press Standard)

Overturned frac sand trucks in Carroll County, OH May, 2014 (Courtesy of Carol McIntire, The Free Press Standard)

Commercial Vehicle Enforcements (CVE) and Crashes Investigated are the only metrics that increase by 8.9% and 6.9% per year, larger than the statewide averages of 2.8% and 6.0%. Respectively, 10 of the 14 shale gas counties have experienced rates that exceed the state average. Noble, Harrison, Columbiana, Carroll, and Monroe are experiencing annualized CVE increases that are 15-57% higher than Ohio as a whole.

Meanwhile, Crashes Investigated are increasing at a slower pace relative to the state wide average, with Carroll, Noble, and Jefferson counties experiencing >5% rate increases relative to the entire state (Table 1). There is a strong increasing linear relationship between the number of Utica permits and the average percent change in CVE and Crashes Investigated. The former accounts for a combined 66% change in the latter. From a macro perspective, the Utica counties accounted for 19.8% of all OH CVEs in 2009 prior to shale gas exploration and now account for 25.1% of all CVEs.  Crashes Investigated as a percentage of state totals, however, only increased from 21.3% to 21.7%.

The other variable that is significantly and positively correlated with Utica permitting at the present time is the number of Suspended License reports, with the former explaining 22% of the average annual change in the latter since 2009.

Given that we investigated changes in nine public safety metrics we thought it would be worth categorizing the fourteen counties by state wide averages:

  1. Significantly Less Safe (SLS) – >5 of 9 metrics increasing,
  2. Noticeably Less Safe (NLS) – 4 metrics, and
  3. Marginally Less Safe (MLS) – <3 metrics.

Our findings support that about half the Utica counties fall within the SLS category, with Harrison, Jefferson, Columbiana, and Trumbull experiencing higher relative rates across seven or more of the metrics investigated. Trumbell specifically has had public safety rate increases that are greater than the state in all categories but for Suspended Licenses. Guernsey and Washington counties fall within the NLS category; both are seeing elevated Resisting Arrests and CVEs relative to changes in statewide rates. Surprisingly, Carroll County, home to 404 Utica permits as of the middle of May 2014, falls within the MLS category with only two of nine metrics increasing at a rate that exceeds the state’s. However, the two metrics that are worse than the state average (Crashes Investigated (+21.4%) and CVEs (59.8%)) are increasing at a rate that is significantly higher than the other Ohio Utica counties. Additional MLS counties include Belmont, Portage, and Monroe, which are in the upper, middle, and lower third of Utica permits at the present time.


While correlation does not mean causation, there is a significant correlation between certain public safety metrics and Utica permitting in Ohio’s primary shale gas counties, specifically when looking at Crashes Investigated and CVEs. Additionally, many of the Ohio Utica counties are experiencing notable increases in criminal activity. Whether this trend will continue to increase in the long-term is uncertain, but the short-term trends are concerning given that these counties populations are decreasing; there is more criminal activity within a smaller population. Finally, these trends will differ based on whether or not county sheriffs and emergency responders working with the Ohio State Highway Patrol have the necessary resources and manpower to address increasing criminal activity. This issue is of concern to most southeastern Ohioans regardless of their stance on fracking. We will continue to monitor these relationships and are working to generate a map in the coming months that illustrates these trends.

Table 1. Average percent change in select public safety metrics across Ohio’s primary Utica Shale Counties relative to parallel changes across the state of Ohio between 2009 and 2014.

Percent Change Between 2009 and 2014











Crashes Investigated


Misdemeanor Issued

Suspended License

Noble (93, 6)










Harrison (232, 0)










Belmont (102, 2)










Jefferson (39, 1)










Columbiana (103, 0)










Tuscarawas (16, 6)










Washington (10, 13)










Stark (13, 17)










Trumbull (15, 20)










Mahoning (30, 10)










Portage (15, 19)










Guernsey (99, 5)










Carroll (404, 4)










Monroe (80, 0)






























% of State 2009










% of State 2014










2014 annualized using the first 4 months of the year.

Number of Permitted Utica wells and Class II Salt Water Disposal (SWD) wells as of May, 2014

Well Worker Safety and Statistics

By Samantha Malone, MPH, CPH – Manager of Science and Communications, FracTracker Alliance

The population most at risk from accidents and incidents near unconventional drilling operations are the drillers and contractors within the industry. While that statement may seem quite obvious, let’s explore some of the numbers behind how often these workers are in harm’s way and why.

O&G Risks

Oil and Gas Worker Fatalities over Time

Fig. 1. Number of oil and gas worker fatalities over time
Data Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014

Drilling operations, whether conventional or unconventional (aka fracking), run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Workers may be on site for several hours or even days at a time. Simply the amount of time spent on the job inherently increases one’s chances of health and safety concerns. Working in the extraction field is traditionally risky business. In 2012, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction jobs experienced an overall 15.9 deaths for every 100,000 workers, the second highest rate among American businesses. (Only Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting jobs had a higher rate.)

According to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the oil and gas industry employed 188,003 workers in 2012 in the U.S., a jump from 120,328 in 2003. Preliminary data indicate that the upward employment trend continued in 2013. However, between 2003 and 2012, a total of 1,077 oil and gas extraction workers were killed on the job (Fig. 1).

Causes of Injuries and Fatalities in Oil and Gas Field

Reasons for O&G Fatalities 2003-12. Aggregated from Table 1.

Fig. 2. Reasons for O&G Fatalities 2003-12. Aggregated from Table 1.

Like many industrial operations, here are some of the reasons why oil and gas workers may be hurt or killed according to OSHA:

  • Vehicle Accidents
  • Struck-By/ Caught-In/ Caught-Between Equipment
  • Explosions and Fires
  • Falls
  • Confined Spaces
  • Chemical Exposures

If you drill down to the raw fatality-cause numbers, you can see that the fatal worksite hazards vary over time and job type1 (Table 1, bottom). Supporting jobs to the O&G sector are at higher risk of fatal injuries than those within the O&G extraction job category2. The chart to the right shows aggregate data for years 2003-12. Records indicate that the primary risk of death originated from transportation incidents, followed by situations where someone came into contact with physical equipment (Fig. 2).

Silica Research

Silica-Exposed Workers

Fig. 3. Number of total silica-exposed workers and those exposed above PEL – compared across industries
Source: OSHA Directorate of Standards and Guidance

A recent NIOSH study by Esswein et al. regarding workplace safety for oil and gas workers was that the methods being employed to protect workers against respirable crystalline silica3 were not adequate. This form of silica can be found in the sand used for hydraulic fracturing operations and presents health concerns such as silicosis if inhaled over time. According to Esswein’s research, workers were being exposed to levels above the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of ~0.1 mg/m3 for pure quartz silica because of insufficient respirator use and inadequate technology controls on site. It is unclear at this time how far the dust may migrate from the well pad or sand mining site, a concern for nearby residents of the sand mines, distribution methods, and well pads. (Check out our photos of a recent frac sand mine tour.) The oil and gas industry is not the only employer that must protect people from this airborne workplace hazard. Several other classes of jobs result in exposure to silica dust above the PEL (Fig. 3).

References and Additional Resources

1. What do the job categories in the table below mean?

For the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is important for jobs to be classified into groups to allow for better reporting/tracking. The jobs and associated numbers are assigned according to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).

(NAICS 21111) Oil and Gas Extraction comprises establishments primarily engaged in operating and/or developing oil and gas field properties and establishments primarily engaged in recovering liquid hydrocarbons from oil and gas field gases. Such activities may include exploration for crude petroleum and natural gas; drilling, completing, and equipping wells; operation of separators, emulsion breakers, desilting equipment, and field gathering lines for crude petroleum and natural gas; and all other activities in the preparation of oil and gas up to the point of shipment from the producing property. This industry includes the production of crude petroleum, the mining and extraction of oil from oil shale and oil sands, the production of natural gas, sulfur recovery from natural gas, and the recovery of hydrocarbon liquids from oil and gas field gases. Establishments in this industry operate oil and gas wells on their own account or for others on a contract or fee basis. Learn more

(NAICS 213111) Drilling Oil and Gas Wells comprises establishments primarily engaged in drilling oil and gas wells for others on a contract or fee basis. This industry includes contractors that specialize in spudding in, drilling in, redrilling, and directional drilling. Learn more

(NAICS 213112) Support Activities for Oil and Gas Operations comprises establishments primarily engaged in performing support activities on a contract or fee basis for oil and gas operations (except site preparation and related construction activities). Services included are exploration (except geophysical surveying and mapping); excavating slush pits and cellars, well surveying; running, cutting, and pulling casings, tubes, and rods; cementing wells, shooting wells; perforating well casings; acidizing and chemically treating wells; and cleaning out, bailing, and swabbing wells. Learn more

2. Fifteen percent of all fatal work injuries in 2012 involved contractors. Source

3. What is respirable crystalline silica?

Respirable crystalline silica – very small particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary sand you might encounter on beaches and playgrounds – is created during work operations involving stone, rock, concrete, brick, block, mortar, and industrial sand. Exposures to respirable crystalline silica can occur when cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling, and crushing these materials. These exposures are common in brick, concrete, and pottery manufacturing operations, as well as during operations using industrial sand products, such as in foundries, sand blasting, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations in the oil and gas industry.

4. OSHA Fact Sheet: OSHA’s Proposed Crystalline Silica Rule: General Industry and Maritime. Learn more

Employee health and safety are protected under the following OSHA regulations. These standards require employers to make sure that the workplace is in due order:

Table 1. 2003-2012 U.S. fatalities in oil & gas industries by year, job category, & event/exposure
Year Oil and Gas (O&G) Industriesa Total Fatal Injuries (number)b Event or Exposurec
Violence / injuries by persons / animalsd Transportatione Fires & Explosions Falls, Slips, Trips Exposure to Harmful Substances or Environments Contact w/Objects & Equipment
O&G Extraction 26 0 8 6 5 3 4
Drilling O&G Wells 39 0 10 6 8 3 10
Support Activities 77 0 46 11 5 3 10
Yearly Totals 142 0 64 23 18 9 24
O&G Extraction 13 0 7 0 0 0 3
Drilling O&G Wells 41 0 15 5 4 5 12
Support Activities 58 3 29 7 4 4 11
Yearly Totals 112 3 51 12 8 9 26
O&G Extraction 12 0 5 3 0 3 0
Drilling O&G Wells 47 0 8 14 7 6 12
Support Activities 48 3 28 8 0 0 8
Yearly Totals 107 3 41 25 7 9 20
O&G Extraction 12 0 6 0 0 0 3
Drilling O&G Wells 29 0 9 0 0 4 13
Support Activities 27 0 12 5 0 4 5
Yearly Totals 68 0 27 5 0 8 21
O&G Extraction 21 0 7 4 0 0 5
Drilling O&G Wells 30 0 6 3 4 4 13
Support Activities 69 0 36 11 4 6 12
Yearly Totals 120 0 49 18 8 10 30
O&G Extraction 15 0 5 0 0 0 5
Drilling O&G Wells 42 0 12 0 4 8 16
Support Activities 65 0 33 6 0 5 19
Yearly Totals 122 0 50 6 4 13 40
O&G Extraction 22 0 6 7 0 3 4
Drilling O&G Wells 36 0 11 0 5 4 14
Support Activities 67 0 2 12 0 5 21
Yearly Totals 125 0 19 19 5 12 39
O&G Extraction 17 0 4 5 0 0 4
Drilling O&G Wells 34 0 9 0 7 4 10
Support Activities 47 0 21 5 0 5 13
Yearly Totals 98 0 34 10 7 9 27
O&G Extraction 29 0 17 0 0 0 8
Drilling O&G Wells 30 0 6 0 6 3 11
Support Activities 39 0 22 5 0 0 10
Yearly Totals 98 0 45 5 6 3 29
O&G Extraction 17 0 9 4 0 0 3
Drilling O&G Wells 26 0 5 5 0 0 13
Support Activities 42 0 17 10 0 3 10
Yearly Totals 85 0 31 19 0 3 26
2003-12 TOTAL FATALITIES 1077 6 411 142 63 85 282
a Oil and gas extraction industries include oil and gas extraction (NAICS 21111), drilling oil and gas wells (NAICS 213111), and support activities for oil and gas operations (NAICS 213112).
b Data in event or exposure categories do not always add up to total fatalities due to data gaps.
c Based on the BLS Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System (OIICS) 2.01 implemented for 2011 data forward
d Includes violence by persons, self-inflicted injury, and attacks by animals
e Includes highway, non-highway, air, water, rail fatal occupational injuries, and fatal occupational injuries resulting from being struck by a vehicle.