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Hydraulic fracturing, stimulations, & oil & gas drilling unjustly burden Hispanic & non-white students

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

As my first year in The Bay Area of California comes to a conclusion and the summer once again turns into fall I realize how much more this time of year meant for me living on the east coast. For us lucky ducks living in the Bay Area, fall is perpetual. With the California drought seasons blur together, but back home in Pennsylvania and New York, fall marks a much appreciated relief from 90°F+ days. Regardless of where you live certain fall activities are universal, including hockey, postseason baseball, football, and most importantly for kids – going back to school.

In California alone, almost 6.24 million students from kindergarten to 12th grade are enrolled and attend classes at one of the 10,366 state “campuses.” State-recognized schools range in size from under a dozen students to a maximum 2013/2014 enrollment of 5,229. When so many children are together in one space, they share much more than just the scholarship, social development, and the occasional but inevitable flu virus. They share the same environmental media (air, water, soil) and are therefore exposed to the same environmental contaminants.

To understand who among this vulnerable population is subject to potential health impacts, the FracTracker Alliance has put together a report analyzing the demographic characteristics of schools located near oil and gas extraction activity. An interactive map of the data that was analyzed is shown below, as are the points of the report. The full report can be found here:

 Disproportionate Burdens for Hispanic and Non-White Students in California

and here in Spanish:

Las Estimulaciones por Fracturación Hidráulica y la Perforación Petrolífera Cerca de las Escuelas y dentro de los Distritos Escolares de California son una Carga Desproporcionada para los Estudiantes Hispanos y Estudiantes No Blancos.

Fracked well near elementary school

Sequoia Elementary School located in Shafter, CA.

In the background, less than 1,200 feet from the school is
an oil well (API 403043765) that was hydraulically fractured.

Key Findings of School Analysis:

  • There are 485 active/new oil and gas wells within 1 mile of a school and 177 active/new oil and gas wells within 0.5 miles of a school.
  • There are 352,784 students who attend school within 1 mile of an oil or gas well, and 121,903 student who attend school within 0.5 miles of an oil or gas well.
  • There are 78 stimulated wells drilled within 1 mile of a school and 14 stimulated wells drilled within 0.5 miles of a school.
  • There are 61,612 students who attend school within 1 mile of a stimulated oil or gas well, and 12,362 students who attend school within 0.5 miles of a stimulated oil or gas well.
  • School Districts with greater Hispanic and non-white student enrollment are more likely to contain more oil and gas drilling and stimulation.
  • Schools campuses with greater Hispanic and non-white student enrollment are more likely to be closer to more oil and gas drilling and stimulation.
  • Students attending school within 1 mile of oil and gas wells are predominantly non-white (79.6%), and 60.3% are Hispanic.
  • The top 11 school districts with the highest well counts are located the San Joaquin Valley with 10 districts in Kern County and the other just north of Kern in Fresno County.
  • The two districts with the highest well counts are in Kern County; Taft Union High School District, host to 33,155 oil and gas wells, and Kern Union High School District, host to 19,800 oil and gas wells.
  • Of the schools with the most wells within a 1 mile radius, 8/10 are located in Los Angeles County.

Report Map

The interactive map below allows the user to compare the demographical profiles of school districts with oil and gas drilling and stimulation activity. Non-white enrollment percentages of school districts are displayed in shades of blue. Overlaid with red are the relative counts of stimulated and/or non-stimulated oil and gas wells. The highest counts of wells are hosted in school districts located in the Central (San Joaquin) Valley and along California’s south coast. Geologically, these areas lay above the Monterey Shale – the 50 million year sedimentary basin producing California’s oil reserves.

Class II Oil and Gas Wastewater Injection and Seismic Hazards in CA

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance Shake Ground Cover

In collaboration with the environmental advocacy groups Earthworks, Center for Biological Diversity, and Clean Water Action, The FracTracker Alliance has completed a proximity analysis of the locations of California’s Class II oil and gas wastewater injection wells to “recently” active fault zones in California. The results of the analysis can be found in the On Shaky Ground report, available for download at www.ShakyGround.org.1

Production of oil and natural gas results in a large and growing waste stream. Using current projections for oil development, the report projects a potential 9 trillion gallons of wastewater over the lifetime of the Monterey shale. In California the majority of wastewater is injected deep underground for disposal in wells deemed Class II wastewater injection.  The connection between seismic activity and underground injections of fluid has been well established, but with the current surge of shale resource development the occurrence of earthquakes in typically seismically inactive regions has increased, including a recent event in Ohio covered by the LA Times.   While both hydraulic fracturing and wastewater injection wells have been linked to the induction of seismic activity, the impacts of underground injection wells used for disposal are better documented and linked to larger magnitude earthquakes.

Therefore, while hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells has also been documented to induce seismic activity, the focus of this report is underground injection of waste fluids.

Active CA Faults

A spatial overview of the wastewater injection activity in California and recently active faults can be viewed in Figure 1, below.


Figure 1. California’s Faults and Wastewater Injection Wells. With this and all maps on this page, click on the arrows in the upper right hand corner of the map to view it fullscreen and to see the legend and more details.

The focus of the On Shaky Ground report outlines the relationship between does a thorough job reviewing the literature that shows how the underground injection of fluids induces seismic activity.  The proximity analysis of wastewater injection wells, conducted by The FracTracker Alliance, provides insight into the spatial distribution of the injection wells.  In addition, the report M7.8 earthquake along the San Andreas fault could cause 1,800 fatalities and nearly $213 billion in economic damages.2  To complement the report and provide further information on the potential impacts of earthquakes in California, FracTracker created the maps in Figure 2 and Figure 3.

Shaking Assessments

Figure 2 presents shaking amplification and shaking hazards assessments. The dataset is generated from seismic evaluations.  When there is an earthquake, the ground will amplify the seismic activity in certain ways.  The amount of amplification is typically dependent on distance to the earthquake event and the material that comprises the Earth’s crust.  Softer materials, such as areas of San Francisco built on landfills, will typically shake more than areas comprised of bedrock at the surface.  The type of shaking, whether it is low frequency or high frequency will also present varying hazards for different types of structures.  Low frequency shaking is more hazardous to larger buildings and infrastructure, whereas high frequency events can be more damaging to smaller structure such as single family houses.  Various assessments have been conducted throughout the state, the majority by the California Geological Survey and the United States Geological Survey.


Figure 2. California Earthquake Shaking Amplification and Class II Injection Wells

Landslide Hazards

Below, Figure 3. Southern California Landslide and Hazard Zones expands upon the map included in the On Shaky Ground report; during an earthquake liquefaction of soil and landslides represent some of the greatest hazards.  Liquefaction refers to the solid earth becoming “liquid-like”, whereas water-saturated, unconsolidated sediments are transformed into a substance that acts like a liquid, often in an earthquake. By undermining the foundations of infrastructure and buildings, liquefaction can cause serious damage. The highest hazard areas shown by the liquefaction hazard maps are concentrated in regions of man-made landfill, especially fill that was placed many decades ago in areas that were once submerged bay floor. Such areas along the Bay margins are found in San Francisco, Oakland and Alameda Island, as well as other places around San Francisco Bay. Other potentially hazardous areas include those along some of the larger streams, which produce the loose young soils that are particularly susceptible to liquefaction.  Liquefaction risks have been estimated by USGS and CGS specifically for the East Bay, multiple fault-slip scenarios for Santa Clara and for all the Bay Area in separate assessments.  There are not regional liquefaction risk estimate maps available outside of the bay area, although the CGS has identified regions of liquefaction and landslide hazards zones for the metropolitan areas surrounding the Bay Area and Los Angeles.  These maps outline the areas where liquefaction and landslides have occurred in the past and can be expected given a standard set of conservative assumptions, therefore there exist certain zoning codes and building requirements for infrastructure.


Figure 3. California Liquefaction/Landslide Hazards and Class II Injection Wells

Press Contacts

For more information about this report, please reach out to one of the following media contacts:

Alan Septoff
Earthworks
(202) 887-1872 x105
aseptoff@earthworksaction.org
Patrick Sullivan
Center for Biological Diversity
(415) 632-5316
psullivan@biologicaldiversity.org
Andrew Grinberg
Clean Water Action
(415) 369-9172
agrinberg@cleanwater.org

References

  1. Arbelaez, J., Wolf, S., Grinberg, A. 2014. On Shaky Ground. Earthworks, Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Water Action. Available at ShakyGround.org
  2. Jones, L.M. et al. 2008. The Shakeout Scenario. USGS Open File Report 2008-1150. U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.

 

Mapping California’s State Bill 4 (SB4) Well Stimulation Notices

By Kyle Ferrar, CA Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Introduction

California passed State Bill 4 (SB4) in September, 2013 to develop and establish a regulatorySanta Barbara Channel_10.7.13 structure for unconventional resource extraction (hydraulic fracturing, acidizing, and other stimulation techniques) for the state.   As a feature of the current version of the regulations, oil and gas drilling/development operators are required to notify the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), as well as neighboring property owners, 30 days prior to stimulating an oil or gas well.  In addition to property owners having the right to request baseline water sampling within the the following 20 days, DOGGR posts the well stimulation notices to their website.

Current State of Oil and Gas Production

The DOGGR dataset of well stimulation notices was downloaded, mapped, the dataset explored, and well-site proximity to certain sites of interest were evaluated using GIS techniques. First, the newest set of well stimulation notices, posted 1/17/14 were compared to a previous version of the same dataset, downloaded 12/27/13. When the two datasets are compared there are several distinct differences. The new dataset has an additional field identifying the date of permit approval and fields for latitude/longitude coordinates. This is an improvement, but there is much more data collected in the DOGGR stimulation notification forms that can be provided digitally in the dataset, including sources of water, amount of water used for stimulation, disposal methods, etc… An additional 60 wells have been added to the dataset, making the total count now 249 stimulation notices, with 37 stimulated by acid matrix (acidizing), 212 hydraulically fractured, and 3 by both. Of the 249, 59 look to be new wells as the API identifcation numbers are not listed in the DOGGR “AllWells.zip” database here, while 187 are reworks of existing wells. A difference of particular interest is the discrepancy in latitudes and longitudes listed for several well-sites. The largest discrepancy shows a difference of almost 10,000 feet for an Aera Energy well (API 3051341) approved for stimulation December 23, 2013. The majority of the well stimulations (246/249) are located in Kern County, and the remaining three are located in Ventura County.

Figure 1. Stimulation Notices and Past/Present Oil and Gas Wells
Click on the arrows in the upper right hand corner of the map for the legend and to view the map fullscreen.

Well Spacing

As can be seen in Figure 1, the well stimulations are planned for heavily developed oil and gas fields where hydraulic fracturing has been used by operators in the past. California is the 4th largest oil producing state in the nation, which means a high density of oil and gas wells. Many other states limit the amount of wells drilled in a set amount of space in support of safer development and extraction. In Ohio, unconventional wells (>4,000 foot depths) have a 1,000 foot spacing requirement , West Virginia has a 3,000 foot requirement for deep wells , and the Texas Railroad Commission has set a 1,200 foot well spacing requirement. Using Texas’s setback as an example buffer for analysis, 241/249 of the DOGGR new stimulations are within 1,200 feet of an active oil and gas well. Of the 364 hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells DOGGR has listed as “New” (they are not yet producing, but are permitted and may be in development), 351 are within 1,200 feet of a well identified in DOGGR’s database as an active oil and gas well. One of the industry promoted benefits of using stimulations such as hydraulic fracturing is the ability to decrease the number of well-sites necessary to extract resources and therefore decrease the surface impact of wells. This does not look to be the practice in California.

Environmental Media

Following this initial review of oil and gas production/development, three additional maps were created to visualize the environmental media threatened by contamination events such as fugitive emissions, spills or well-casing failures. The maps are focused on themes of freshwater resources, ambient air quality, and conservation areas.

Freshwater Resources

Figure 2. New Wells, Stimulation Notices and California’s Freshwater Resources
Click on the arrows in the upper right hand corner of the map for the legend and to view the map fullscreen.

Freshwater resources are limited in arid regions of California, and the state is currently suffering from the worst drought on record. In light of these issues, the FracMapper map “New Well Stimulations and California Freshwater Resources” includes map layers focused on groundwater withdrawals, groundwater availability, Class II wastewater injection wells, watershed basins, and the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Hydrography Data-set (NHD). Since California does not have a buffer rule for streams and waterways, we used the setback regulation from Pennsylvania for an analysis of the proximity of the well stimulation notices to streams and rivers. In Pennsylvania, 300 feet is the minimum setback allowed for hydraulic fracturing near recognized surface waters. Of the 246 wells listed for new stimulation, 26 are within 300 feet of a waterway identified in the USGS’s NHD. The watersheds layer shows the drainage areas for these well locations. As a side note, the state of Colorado does not allow well-sites located within 100 year flood plains after the flash floods in September 2013 that caused over 890 barrels of oil condensates to be spilled into waterways. Also featured in Figure 2 are the predominant shallow aquifers in California. The current well stimulations posted by DOGGR are located in the Elk Hills (Occidental Inc.), Lost Hills (Chevron), Belridge and Ventura (both Aera Production) oil fields and have all exempted out of a groundwater monitoring plans based on aquifer exemptions, even though the aquifers are a source of irrigation for the neighboring agriculture.   Stimulation notices by Vintage Production in the Rose oil field, located in crop fields on farms, are accompanied by a groundwater and surface water monitoring plan. Take notice of the source water wells on the map that provide freshwater for both the acidizing and hydraulic fracturing operations and the Class II oil and gas wastewater injection wells that dispose of the produced waters. Produced wastewaters may also be injected into Class II enhanced oil recovery water flood wells, and several of the stimulation notices have indicated the use of produced waters for hydraulic fracturing.

Ambient Air Quality

Figure 3. California New Wells, Stimulation Notices and Air Quality
Click on the arrows in the upper right hand corner of the map for the legend and to view the map fullscreen.

Impacts to ambient air quality resulting from oil and gas fields employing stimulation techniques have been documented in areas like Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin , the Uintah Basin of Utah , and the city of Dish, Texas . Typically, ozone is considered a summertime issue in urban environments, but the biggest threat to air quality in these regions has been elevated concentrations of ozone, particularly in the winter time. Ozone levels in these regions have been measured at concentrations higher than would typically be seen in Los Angeles or New York City. In Figure 3, the state and federal ozone attainment layers show that the areas with the highest concentrations of “new” wells and the DOGGR New Stimulation Notices do not pass ambient air criteria standards to qualify as “attainment” status for either state or federal ambient ozone compliance, meaning their ambient concentrations reach levels above health standards. Other air pollutants known to be released during oil and gas development, stimulation, and production include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX); carbon monoxide (CO); hydrogen sulfide (H2S), Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), and sulfur dioxide (SO2), and methane (CH4), a potent greenhouse gas. It is important to point out that ground level ozone is not emitted directly but rather is created by chemical reactions between NOx and VOCs. Besides ozone, all these other air pollutants are in “attainment” in California except NOx in Los Angeles County. There have not been any stimulation notices posted in Los Angeles County, but the South Coast Air Quality Monitoring District identifies 662 recent wells that have been stimulated using hydraulic fracturing, acidizing, or gravel packing. See the Local Actions map of California for these well sites.

Conservation Areas

Figure 4. New Wells, Stimulation Notices and Conservation Areas
Click on the arrows in the upper right hand corner of the map for the legend and to view the map fullscreen.

The map in Figure 4, “New Well Stimulations and Conservation Lands”, features land use planning maps developed by California and Federal agencies for conservation of the environment for multiple uses, ranging from recreation to farming and agriculture.  Many of the Stimulation Notices as well as “new” well sites located in Kern County are located in or along the boundary of the San Joaquin Valley Conservation Opportunity; land identified by the California Department of Fish and Game, Parks and Recreations, and Transportation (Caltrans) as important for wildlife connectivity. Oil and gas development inevitably results in loss of habitat for native species. Habitat disturbance and fragmentation of the natural ecosystems can pose risks particularly for endangered species like the San Joaquin Kit Fox, California Condor, and the blunt-nosed leopard lizards.

The California Rangeland Priority Conservation Areas layer was created to identify the most important areas for priority efforts to conserve the Oak Savannah grasslands of high diversity that host many grassland birds, native plants, and threatened vernal pool species. The areas of high biodiversity value are marked in red as “critical conservation areas”. The majority of the new well stimulations are encroaching on the borders of these “critical areas,” particularly in the Belridge oil field. The CA Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program map layer rates land according to soil quality to analyze impacts on California’s agricultural resources. The majority of new stimulations and new oil wells are located on the border of areas designated as “prime farmland,” particularly the Belridge and Lost Hills fields. The Rose field on the other hand is located within the “prime farmland” and “farmland of statewide importance.” Also, well-sites from all fields in Kern County are located on Williamson Act Agricultural Preserve Land Parcels. By enrolling in the program these areas can take advantage of reduced tax rates as they are important buffers to reduce urban sprawl and over-development. Although the point of the act was to protect California’s important farmland and agriculture, some parcels enrolled in the Williamson Agricultural Preserve Act program even house stimulation notice sites and “new” hydraulically fractured wells.

Discussion

While allowing hydraulic fracturing, acidizing and other stimulations until January 1, 2015 under temporary regulations, SB4 requires the state of California to complete an Environmental Impact Review (EIR). New regulations will then be developed on the recommendations of the EIR. The regulations will be enforced by the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the agency currently responsible for issuing drilling permits to operators in the state. In some municipalities of California, an additional “land-use” development permit is required from the local land-use agency (Air district, Water District, County, other local municipality or any combination) for an operator to be granted permission to drill a well. In most areas of California a “land-use” permit is not required, and only the state permit from DOGGR is necessary. A simple explanation is DOGGR grants the permit for everything that occurs underground, and in some locations a separate regulatory body approves the permit for what occurs above the ground at the surface. The exceptions are San Benito County which has a 500 foot setback from roads and buildings, Santa Cruz County, which passed a moratorium, Santa Barbara with a de facto ban*, and the South Coast Air quality Monitoring District’s notification requirements, permitting a well stimulation (such as “fracking” or “acidizing”).  For the rest of the state permitting a well  stimulation is essentially the same as permitting a conventional well-site, although it should be recognized that some counties like Ventura have setback and buffer provisions for all (conventional and unconventional) oil and gas wells. Additionally, DOGGR’s provisional regulations do require chemical disclosures to FracFocus and public notifications to local residents 30 days in advance, but lacks public health and safety provisions such as setbacks, continuous air monitoring, and the majority of wells in the notices are exempt from groundwater monitoring,   While public notifications and chemical disclosures are all important for liability and tracking purposes, they are no substitute for environmental and engineering standards of practice including setbacks and other primary protection regulations to prevent environmental contamination. The state-sponsored EIR is intended to inform these types of rules, but that leaves a year of development without these protections.
*Santa Barbara County requires all operators using hydraulic fracturing to obtain an oil drilling production plan from the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission. No operator has applied for a permit since the rule’s passing in 2011.

References

  1. DOGGR. 2014. Welcome to the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources.  Accessed 1/28/14.
  2. Lawriter Ohio Laws and Rules. 2010. 1501:9-1-04 Spacing of wells. Accessed 1/29/14.
  3. WVDNR. 2013. Regulations. Accessed 1/29/14.
  4. Railroad Commission of Texas. 2013. Texas Administrative Code. Accessed 1/28/14.
  5. PADEP. 2013. Act 13 Frequently Asked Questions.  Accessed 1/29/14.
  6. U.S.EPA. 2008. Wyoming Area Designations for the 2008 Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Accessed 1/29/14.
  7. UT DEQ. 2014. Uintah Basin. Accessed 1/29/14.
  8. UT DEQ. 2012. 2012 Uintah Basin Winter Ozone & Air Quality Study.
  9. Wolf Eagle Environmental. 2009. Town of Dish, TX Ambient Air Monitoring Analysis.