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Oil wastewater pit

Wastewater Pits Still Allowed in California

By Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator

Above-ground, unlined, open-air sumps/ponds

It is hard to believe, but disposing of hazardous oil and gas wastewaters in unlined, open-air pits – also known as sumps or ponds – is still a common practice in California. It is also permitted in other states such as Texas and West Virginia. Because these ponds are unlined and not enclosed, they contribute to degraded air quality, are a hazard for terrestrial animals and birds, and threaten groundwater quality. A 2014 report by Clean Water Action, entitled In the Pits provides a thorough summary of the issue in California. Since the report was released, new data has been made available by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Review Board identifying additional locations of wastewater pits.

With the increase of oil and gas development in unconventional reservoirs, such as the Monterey Shale Play in California, the size of the resultant waste stream of drill cuttings, produced brines, and wastewater has skyrocketed. Operators now drill larger, deeper wells, requiring larger volumes of liquid required for enhanced oil recovery methods, such as steam injection, and stimulations such as hydraulic fracturing and acidizing. While California is the 4th largest oil-producing state, it is 2nd only to Texas in wastewater production. This boom of unconventional development, which may still in its infancy in California, has resulted in an annual waste stream of over 130 billion gallons across the state, 80 billion (62%) from Kern County alone.1

Results of the state mandated California Council on Science and Technology Report found that more than half of the California oil industries waste water is “disposed” in pits.2 As outlined by Clean Water Action, the massive waste-stream resulting from drilling, stimulation, and production is one of the most significant and threatening aspects of oil and gas operations in terms of potential impacts to public health and environmental resources.

Wastewater Facility Details

Last February, the LA Times reported on the pits, identifying a total of 933 in California.3 The most recent data from the Regional Water Quality Control Board of the Central Valley shows:

  • A total of 1,088 pits at 381 different facilities
  • 719 pits are listed as “Active.” 369 are “Idle.”
  • 444/939 (47.3%) ponds do not list a permit.
  • 462 pits are operated by Valley Water Management Corporation.

In Table 1, below, the counts of Active and Idle facilities and pits are broken down further to show the numbers of sites that are operating with or without permits. The same has been done for the operator with the most pits in Table 2, because Valley Wastewater operates nearly 9 times as many pits as the second largest operator, E & B Natural Resources Management Corporation. These two operators, along with California Resources Elk Hills LLC, all operate the same number of facilities (28). The other top 20 operators in Kern County are listed in Table 3, below.

Table 1. Wastewater Pit and Facility Counts by Category
Counts Active Idle
Facilities 180 201
Unpermitted Facilities 102 179
Facility Permitted prior to 1985 37 11
Individual Pits 719 369
Unpermitted Individual Pits 187 257
Pit Permitted prior to 1985 252 63

 

Table 2. Valley Water Wastewater Pit and Facility Counts by Category
Counts Active Inactive
Facilities 21 7
Unpermitted Facilities 2 2
Facility Permitted prior to 1985 9 1
Individual Pits 356 78
Unpermitted Individual Pits 5 9
Pit Permitted prior to 1985 166 35

 

Table 3. Top 20 Operators by Facility Count, with Pond Counts.
Rank Operator Pond Count Facility Count
1 Valley Water Management Company 462 28
2 E & B Natural Resources Management Corporation 53 28
3 California Resources Elk Hills, LLC 31 28
4 Aera Energy LLC 67 25
5 California Resources Corporation 31 23
6 Chevron U.S.A. Inc. 40 14
7 Pyramid Oil Company 21 12
8 Macpherson Oil Company 14 9
9 Schafer, Jim & Peggy 8 8
10 Crimson Resource Management 20 6
11 Bellaire Oil Company 11 6
12 Howard Caywood 11 6
13 LINN Energy 10 6
14 Seneca Resources Corporation 9 6
15 Holmes Western Oil Corporation 6 6
16 Hathaway, LLC 22 5
17 Central Resources, Inc. 15 5
18 Griffin Resources, LLC 13 5
19 KB Oil & Gas 8 5
20 Petro Resources, Inc. 6 5

Maps of the Pit Locations and Details

 

The following maps use the Water Authority data to show the locations details of the wastewater pits. The first map shows the number of pits housed at each facility. Larger markers represent more pits. Zoom in closer using the [+] to see the activity status of the facilities. Click the link below the map to open a new webpage. View the names of the facility operators by turning on the layer in the “Layers” menu at the top of the page. The second and third maps show the activity and permit status of each facility. The fourth map allows you to view both activity status and permit status simultaneously by toggling the layers on and off (Open the map in its own webpage, then use the layers menu at the top of the screen to change views).

Map 1. Facility Pit Counts with the top 10 operators identified as well as facility status

Map 1. To view the legend and map full screen, click here.

Map 2. Facility Activity Status

Map 2. To view the legend and map full screen, click here.

Map 3. Facility Permit Status

Map 3. To view the legend and map full screen, click here.

Map 4. Facilityhttps://maps.fractracker.org/lembed/?appid=7385605f018e437691731c94bb589f0a” width=”800″ height=”500″>
Map 4. To view the legend and map full screen, click here.

References

  1. USGS. 2014. Oil, Gas, and Groundwater Quality in California – a discussion of issues relevant to monitoring the effects of well stimulation at regional scales.. California Water Science Center. Accessed 10/1/15.
  2. CCST. 2015. Well Stimulation in California. California Council on Science and Technology. Accessed 9/1/15.
  3. Cart, Julie. 2/26/15. Hundreds of illicit oil wastewater pits found in Kern County . Los Angeles Times. Accessed 9/1/15.

The Curious Case of the Shrinking Utica Shale Play

Oil, Gas, and Brine Oh My!
By Ted Auch, Great Lakes Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

It was just three years ago that the Ohio Geological Survey (OGS) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) were proposing – and expanding – their bullish stance on the potential Utica Shale oil and gas production “play.” Back in April 2012 both agencies continue[d] to redraw their best guess, although as the Ohio Geological Survey’s Chief Larry Wickstrom cautioned, “It doesn’t mean anywhere you go in the core area that you will have a really successful well.”

What we found is that the OGS projections have not held up to their substantial claims. And here is why…

Background

The Geological Survey eventually parsed the Utica play into pieces:

  • a large oil component encompassing much of the central part of the state,
  • natural gas liquids from Ashtabula on the Pennsylvania border southwest to Muskingum, Guernsey, and Noble Counties, and
  • natural gas counties, primarily, along the Ohio River from Columbiana on the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border to Washington County in the Southeast quarter of the state.
Columbus Dispatch Utica Shale "play" map

Columbus Dispatch Utica Shale “play” map

Fast forward to the first quarter of 2015 and we have a very healthy dataset to begin to model and validate/refute these projections. Back in 2009 Wickstrom & Co. only had 53 Utica Shale laterals, while today Ohio is host to 962 laterals from which to draw our conclusions. The preponderance of producing wells are operated by Chesapeake (463), Gulfport (118), Antero Resources (62), Eclipse Resources (41), American Energy Utica (36), Consol (35), and R.E. Gas Development (34), with an additional 13 LLCs and 10 publicly traded companies accounting for the remaining 173 producing laterals. A further difference between the following analysis and the OGS one is that we looked at total production and how much oil and gas was produced on a per-day basis.

Analysis

Using an interpolative geostatistical technique known as Empirical Bayesian Kriging and the 962 lateral dataset, we modeled total and per day oil, gas, and brine production for Ohio’s Utica Shale between 2011 and Q1-2015 to determine if the aforementioned map redrawing holds up, is out-of-date, and/or is overly optimistic as is generally the case with initial O&G “moving target” projections.

Days of Activity & Brine Production

The most active regions of the Utica Shale for well pad activity has been much of Muskingum County and its border with Guernsey and Noble counties; laterals are in production every 1 in 2.1-3.4 days. Conversely, the least active wells have been drilled along the Harrison-Belmont border and the intersection between Harrison, Tuscarawas, and Guernsey counties.

Brine is a form of liquid drilling waste characterized by high salt loads and total dissolved solids. The laterals that have produced the most brine to date are located in a large section of Monroe County and at the intersection of Belmont, Monroe, and Noble counties, with total brine production amounting to 23,292 barrels or 734,000-978,000 gallons (Fig. 1).

Total Ohio Utica Shale Production Days 2011 to Q1-2015

Total Ohio Utica Shale Oil Production 2011 to Q1-2015

Total Ohio Utica Shale Gas Production 2011 to Q1-2015

Total Ohio Utica Shale Brine Production 2011 to Q1-2015

Figure 1. Total Ohio Utica Shale Oil, Gas, and Brine Production 2011 to Q1-2015

This area is also one of the top three regions of the state with respect to Class II Injection volumes; the other two high-brine production regions are Morrow and Portage counties to the west and southwest, respectively (Fig. 2).

Layout & Volume (2010 to Q1-2015, Gallons) of Ohio’s Active Class II Injection Wells

Figure 2. Layout & Volume (2010 to Q1-2015, Gallons) of Ohio’s Active Class II Injection Wells

However, on a per-day basis we are seeing quite a few inefficient laterals across the state, including Devon Energy’s Eichelberger and Richman Farms laterals in Ashland and Medina counties. Ashland and Medina are producing 230-270 barrels (8,453-9,923 gallons) of brine per day. In Carroll County, one of Chesapeake’s Trushell laterals tops the list for brine production at 1,843 barrels (67,730 gallons) per day. One of Gulfport’s Bolton laterals in Belmont County and EdgeMarc’s Merlin 10PPH in Washington County are generating 1,100-1,200 barrels (40,425-44,100 gallons) of brine per day.

Oil & Gas Production

Since the last time we modeled production the oil hotspots have shrunk. They have also become more discrete and migrated southward – all of this in contrast to the model proposed by the OGS in 2012. The areas of greatest productivity (i.e., >26,000 barrels of oil) are not the central part of the state, but rather Tuscarawas, Harrison, Guernsey, and Noble counties (Fig. 1). The intersection of Harrison, Tuscarawas, and Guernsey counties is where oil productivity per-day is highest – in the range of 300-630+ barrels (Fig. 3). The areas that the OGS proposed had the highest oil potential have produced <600 barrels total or <12 barrels per day.

Per Day Ohio Utica Shale Oil Production 2011 to Q1-2015

Per Day Ohio Utica Shale Gas Production 2011 to Q1-2015

Per Day Ohio Utica Shale Brine Production 2011 to Q1-2015

Figure 3. Per-Day Ohio Utica Shale Oil, Gas, and Brine Production 2011 to Q1-2015

The OGS natural gas region has proven to be another area of extremely low oil productivity.

Natural gas productivity in the Utica Shale is far less extensive than the OGS projected back in 2012. High gas production is restricted to discreet areas of Belmont and Monroe counties to the tune of 947,000-4.1 million Mcf to date – or 5,300-18,100 Mcf per day. While the OGS projected natural gas and natural gas liquid potential all the way from Medina to Fairfield and Perry counties, we found a precipitous drop-off in productivity in these counties to <1,028 Mcf per day (<155,000 Mcf total from 2011 to Q1-2015) or a mere 6-11% of the Belmont-Monroe sweet spot.

Conclusion: A Shrinking Utica Shale Play

Simply put, the OGS 2012 estimates:

  • Have not held up,
  • Are behind the times and unreliable with respect to citizens looking to guestimate potential royalties,
  • Were far too simplistic,
  • Mapped high-yield sections of the “play” as continuous when in fact productive zones are small and discrete,
  • Did not differentiate between per day and total productivity, and
  • Did not address brine waste.

These issues should be addressed by the OGS and ODNR on a more transparent and frequent basis. Combine this analysis with the disappointing returns Ohio’s 17 publicly traded drilling firms are delivering and one might conclude that the structural Utica Shale bubble is about to burst. However, we know that when all else fails these same firms can just “lever up,” like their Rocky Mountain brethren, to maintain or marginally increase production and shareholder happiness. Will these Red Queens of the O&G industry stay ahead of the Big Bank and Private Equity hounds on their trail?

Digging into Waste Data

Pennsylvania’s Drilling Waste Distributed to Eight States

By Matt Kelso, Manager of Data & Technology

According to data published by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Pennsylvania’s unconventional oil and gas waste that was generated in the first half of 2015 found its way to treatment facilities, disposal wells, and landfills in eight different states. While the majority of the waste stayed in-state, neighboring Ohio, New York, and West Virginia all received significant quantities of both solid and liquid waste, and additional disposals were made in the non-contiguous states of Michigan, Texas, Utah, and Idaho.


Waste generated by Pennsylvania’s unconventional oil and gas wells was disposed of in a variety of ways and over a large geographic area. Click on a facility to learn more, or zoom in to access waste generated by individual wells. Click here to access the full screen map with a legend and additional controls.

Unconventional drillers in the state are now required to report production data monthly, rather than in six month increments, but waste quantities generated by the wells is still supposed to be reported biannually. However, a small number of operators have been reporting waste monthly, as well, and those figures have been included in this analysis, after spot-checking for duplication. Each record includes data on how the waste was processed and where it was shipped, so we were able to map the receiving facilities as well, and aggregate their waste totals.

Types of Waste

Waste generated by unconventional wells in Pennsylvania from January to June 2015.

Waste generated by unconventional wells in Pennsylvania from January to June 2015 by type.

There are eight types of waste detailed in the Pennsylvania data, including:

  • Basic Sediment (Barrels) – Impurities that accompany the desired product
  • Drill Cuttings (Tons) – Broken bits of rock produced during the drilling process
  • Flowback Fracturing Sand (Tons) – Sand used to prop open cracks made during hydraulic fracturing that return to the surface
  • Fracing Fluid Waste (Barrels) – Fluid pumped into the well for hydraulic fracturing that returns to the surface. This includes chemicals that were added to the well.
  • Produced Fluid (Barrels) – Naturally occurring brines encountered during drilling that contain various contaminants, which are often toxic or radioactive
  • Servicing Fluid (Barrels) – Various other fluids used in the drilling process
  • Spent Lubricant (Barrels) – Oils used in engines as lubricants
  • General O&G Waste (Tons) – Solid waste types other than drill cuttings or fracturing sand

For the sake of simplicity, this analysis will at times aggregate the waste types into two categories, with all types reporting in tons as solid waste, while those listed in 42 gallon barrels will be considered liquid waste.

Waste Disposal

Waste disposal method for unconventional wells in PA, January to June 2015

Waste disposal method for unconventional wells in PA, January to June 2015

This PA waste gets disposed of in a variety of ways. About 93 percent of all solid waste ends up in landfills. 29 of the 58 operators reporting waste during this cycle reported drill cuttings. In a separate report, the DEP has records for unconventional wells drilled by 28 different operators during the same time frame, so these results seem reasonable, since drill cuttings are generated during the drilling process, whereas other types of waste are produced throughout the life cycle of the well.

Statewide, there over 596,000 tons of drill cuttings produced during a period which saw 422 wells spudded, an average of 1,412 tons of cuttings per well. Not all operators generated the same amount of cuttings per well, however. Vantage Energy reports 3,089 tons of cuttings per well, while Hilcorp Energy manages to average just 119 tons over 23 wells drilled in the six month period. It is worth noting that some wells that were spudded just prior to the reporting period likely still generated drill cuttings during the six months in question, and some wells spudded during the cycle will continue to produce cuttings into the next one.

In terms of liquid waste, nearly two thirds of the amount reported is reused for purposes other than road spreading. This is, unfortunately, a dead end in terms of being able to follow the waste stream in the data, as there are no facilities associated with the 13.8 million barrels of waste that falls into this category. 225,000 barrels are specified as being reused for hydraulic fracturing, while the remainder is simply destined for, “Reuse without processing at a permitted facility.”

The amount used for road spreading, 147 barrels, is relatively small, and all of this waste is reported as going to private roads in Greene County. The total amount of liquid waste produced in the six month period is almost 879 million gallons, or enough to fill 1,331 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

PA Waste Receiving Facilities

Altogether, we know where roughly 7 million of the nearly 21 million barrels of reported liquid waste wound up, as well as 640,000 of the 647,000 tons of solid waste. The top ten destinations for each waste type are as follows:

Top 10 reported recipients of unconventional O&G waste produced in PA during the first half of 2015.

Top 10 reported recipients of unconventional O&G waste produced in PA during the first half of 2015.

Six of the top destinations for liquid waste were located in-state, while seven of the top ten facilities for solid waste stayed in Pennsylvania. The only facility to appear on both lists is Patriot Water Treatment in Warren, Ohio.

Landfill disposal of drill cuttings

Landfill Disposal of WV Oil and Gas Waste – A Report Review

By Bill Hughes, WV Community Liaison

As oil and gas drilling increases in West Virginia, the resulting waste stream must also be managed. House Bill 107 required the Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to investigate the risks associated with landfill disposal of solid drilling waste. On July 1, 2015, a massive report was issued that details the investigation and its results: Examination of Leachate, Drill Cuttings and Related Environmental, Economic and Technical Aspects Associated with Solid Waste Facilities in West Virginia, by Marshall University.

While I must commend the State for looking into this important issue, much more needs to be done, and I have serious concerns about the validity of several aspects of this study. Since the report is almost 200 pages long, I will summarize its findings and my critiques below.

Summary of Waste Disposal Concerns in Report

The page numbers that I reference below refer to the page numbers found within the PDF version of the full study.

  1. Marcellus shale cuttings are radioactive: pgs. 17, 139, 142, 154
  2. We do not know if there is a long term problem: pg. 19
  3. About 30 million tons of waste in next few decades: pg. 176
  4. Landfill liners leak: pg. 20
  5. Owning & operating their own landfill would be expensive & risky for gas companies: pgs. 186-7
  6. Toxicity and biotic risk from drill cuttings is uncharted territory: pg. 78
  7. Landfill leachate is toxic to plants & invertebrates: pgs. 16, 95, 97
  8. Other landfills also have radioactive waste: pgs. 14-15
  9. We have no idea if this will get worse: pgs. 96, 154
  10. If all systems at landfills work as designed, leachate might not affect ground water: pg. 41

Introduction

WV Field Visits 2013

Drilling rig behind a wastewater pond in West Virginia

Any formal report comprised of 195 pages generated by a reputable school like Marshall University with additional input from Glenville State College – supported by over 2,300 pages of semi-raw data and graphs and charts and tables – requires some serious investigation prior to making comprehensive and final conclusions. However, some initial observations are needed to provide independent perspective and to help reflect on how sections of this report might be interpreted.

The overarching perspective that must be kept in mind is that the complete study was first limited by exactly what the legislature told the WV Department of Environmental Protection DEP to do. Secondly, the DEP then added other research guidelines and determined exactly what needed to be in the study and what did not belong. There were also budget and time constraints. The most constricting factor was the large body of existing data possessed by the DEP that was provided to the researchers and report writers. Because of the time restrictions, only a small amount of additional raw data could be added.

And most importantly, similar to the WVU Water Research Institute (WVU WRI) report from two years ago, it must be kept in mind that these types of studies, initiated by those elected to our well-lobbied legislature and funded and overseen by a state agency, do not occur in a political power vacuum. It was surely anticipated that the completed report might have the ability to affect the growing natural gas industry – which is supported by most in the political administration. Therefore, we must be cautious here. The presence and influence of political and economic factors need to be considered. Also, for universities to receive research contracts and government paid study requests, the focus must include keeping the customer satisfied.

My comments below on the report’s methods and findings are organized into three broad and overlapping categories:

  • GOOD  –  positive aspects, good suggestions, important observations
  • GENERAL  –  general comments
  • FLAW  –  problems, flaws, limitations
  • MOVING FORWARD  – my suggestions & recommendations

I. Water Quality: EPA Test Protocols & Datasets

Marcellus Shale (at the surface)

Marcellus Shale (at the surface)

GENERAL  It is obvious that a very smart and well-trained set of researchers put a lot of long, detailed thought into analyzing all of the available data. There must be tens of thousands of data points. Meticulous attention was put into how to assemble all of the existing years’ worth of leachate chemical and radiological information.

GOOD  There is an elaborate and detailed discussion of how to best analyze everything and how to utilize the best statistical methods and generate a uniform and integrated report. This was made difficult with non-uniform time intervals, some non-detect values, and some missing items. The researchers used a credible process, explaining how they applied the various appropriate statistical analysis methods to all the data. They provided some trends and observations and draw some conclusions.

FLAW 1  The most glaring flaw and the greatest limitation pertaining to the data sets is the nature of the very data set, which was provided to the researchers from the DEP. It is to the commendable credit of the DEP that the leachate at landfills receiving black shale drill cuttings from the Marcellus and other shale formations were, from the beginning, required to start bi-monthly testing of leachate samples at landfills that were burying drill waste products. And in general, when compared to on-site disposal as done for conventional wells, it was initially a good requirement to have the drill cuttings put into some type of landfill; that way we could keep track of where the drill cuttings are located when there are future problems.

To the best of my knowledge, until the states in the Marcellus region started allowing massive quantities of black shale waste material to be put into local landfills, we have never knowingly deposited large quantities of known radioactive industrial waste products into generic municipal waste landfills. The various waste products and drill cuttings of Marcellus black shales have been known for decades by geologists and radiochemists to be radioactive. We know better than to depose of hazardous radioactive waste in an improper way. Therefore, it is very understandable that we might not know how to best solve the problems of this particular waste product. This was and still is new territory.

FLAW 2  All of the years of leachate test samples were processed for radioactivity using what is called the clean drinking water test protocols, also referred to as the EPA 900 series. Three years ago, given the unfamiliarity of regulatory agencies with the uniqueness of this waste problem, we chose the wrong test protocol for assessing leachate samples. We speculated that the commonly used and familiar clean drinking water test procedure would work. So now we have a massive set of test results all derived from using the wrong test protocol for the radiologicals. Fortunately, all of the chemistry test results should still be reasonably useful and accurate.

At first, three years ago, this was understandable and possibly not an intentional error. Now it is widely known by hydrogeologists and radiochemists, however, that the plain EPA 900 series of test methods for determining the radioactivity of contaminated liquids do not work on liquids with high TDS — Total Dissolved Solids. Method 900.0 is designed for samples with low dissolved solid like finished drinking water supplies.

Despite this major and significant limitation, the effort by Marshall University still has some utility. For example, doing comparisons between and among the various landfills accepting drill waste might provide some interesting observations and correlations. It is clearly known now, however, that the protocols that were used for all samples from the start when testing for gross alpha, gross beta and radium-226 and radium-228 in leachate, can only result in very inaccurate, under-reported data. Therefore, it is not possible to draw any valid conclusions on several very important topics, including:

  • surface water quality,
  • potential ground water contamination,
  • exposure levels at landfills and public health implications,
  • and policy and regulations considerations.

Labs certified to test for radiological compounds and elements are very familiar with the 900 series of EPA test procedures. These protocols are intended to be used on clean drinking water. They are not intended to be used on “sludgy” waters or liquids contaminated with high dissolved solids like all the many liquid wastes from black shale operations like flowback and produced water and brines and leachate. The required lab process for sample size, preparation, and testing will guarantee that the results will be incorrect.

In no place in the final 195 page report have I seen any discussion of which EPA test protocol was used for the newer samples and why was it used. It has also not yet been seen in the 2,300+ pages of supportive statistical and analytical results, either. The fact that the wrong protocol was used three years ago is very understandable. However, this conventional EPA 900 series was still being used on the additional very recent (done in fall of 2014 and spring of 2015) samples that were included in the final report. The researchers, without any justification or discussion or explanations continued to use the wrong test protocol.

The clean drinking water procedures should have been used along with the 901.1M (gamma spec) process, for comparison. It is understandable for the new data to be consistent and comparable with the very large existing dataset that a case could be made for using the incorrect protocol and the proper one also. There should have been a detailed discussion of what and why any test method was being used, however. That discussion is usually one of the first topics investigated and explained in the Methods section. Having that type of discussion and justification seems to represent a basic science method and accepted research process – and that omission is a serious flaw.

MOVING FORWARD  We all know that if we want to bake an appetizing and attractive cake we must use the correct measuring cups for the ingredients. If we want to take our child’s temperature we need an accurate thermometer. When our doctor helps us understand our blood test results, we all want to be confident the right test was used at the lab. The proper test instrument, recently calibrated and designed for the specific sample, is crucial to get useable test results from which conclusions can be drawn and policy enacted.

It seems that the best suggestion so far to test high TDS liquids similar to leachate would be to use what is referred to as Gamma-ray Spectrometry with a high purity germanium instrument with at least a 21-day hold period (30 days are better), while the sample is sealed then counted for at least 16 hours. Many of the old leachate test results indicate high uncertainties that might be attributed to short hold times and short counting times. This procedure is referred to as the 901.1 M (modified). If the sample is sealed, the sample will reach about 99% equilibrium after 30 days. Radon 222 (a gas) must not be allowed to escape.

The potential environmental impacts to water quality section of this report seems to demonstrate that if you do not want to find out something, there are always justifiable options to avoid some inconvenient facts. Given the very narrow scope as defined, some the Marshall University folks did not seem to have the option to stray into important scientific foundational assumptions and, for the most part, just had to work with the stale data sets given to them. All of which, as we have known for close to a year now, have used the wrong test protocol. Therefore we have incorrect results of limited value.

II. Marcellus is Radioactive

GOOD 1  Of course, geologists have known that the Marcellus Shale is radioactive for many decades, but also for decades there has been great reluctance by the natural gas exploration and production companies to acknowledge this fact to the public. And finally we now have a public report that clearly and unambiguously states that Marcellus shale is radioactive. Interestingly enough, it was not much more than a year ago that some on the WV House of Delegates Judiciary Committee, seemed to be echoing the industry’s intentional deception by declaring that:

…it was only dirt and rock…

So this report represents progress and provides a very valuable contribution to beginning to recognize some of the potential problems with shale wastes and their disposal challenges.

GOOD 2  Another very important advance is that finally after eight years of drilling here in Wetzel County, we now have a test sample from near the horizontal bore. The WVU WRI study researchers were never given access to any samples taken from the horizontal bore material itself, however. That was, of course, what they were supposed to have been allowed to do, but they were only given access to study material from the vertical section of the well bore. This report describes how we are getting closer to actually testing good samples of the black shale. It seems that we have gotten closer – but let’s see how close.

Page 11 describes that only three Antero wells in Doddridge County were chosen as the place to try to obtain samples from the horizontal bore. Considering that over 1,000 deviated/horizontal wells or wells with laterals have been drilled in the past few years, that number represents a very small fraction of wells drilled: less than .3%. Even if a high quality sample could have been obtained it might be a challenge to extrapolate test results to the waste being produced from the other wells in WV. These limitations are completely ignored in the report, however. Given the available documentation from the DEP, this seems to be a serious flaw that compromises the reliability of the entire report.

III. Samples From Vertical vs. Horizontal Well Bores

FLAW  The actual samples tested from at least two of the three wells used in the study do not seem to be from the horizontal bore material. The sample from the third well might have come from the horizontal bore, but just barely. There is no way to know for sure. I will try to show this within the below chart using information provided by Antero to DEP Office of Oil & Gas. This information is in state records on Antero’s well plats, which become part of the well work application and also part of the final permit.

Table 1. Details about the samples taken from three Antero wells in Doddridge County, WV – and my concerns about the sampling process*

Antero well ID API # Sample’s drilling depth Marcellus depth** Horizontal bore length** Comments / Issues
Morton 1H 47-017-06559 6,856 ft. 7,900 TVD*** 10,600 ft. ~1,044 ft. short of reaching Marcellus formation
McGee 2H 47-017-06622 6,506 ft. 6,900 TVD 8,652 ft. ~394 ft. short of reaching Marcellus
Wentz1 H 47-017-06476 8,119 ft. 7,900 TVD 8,300 ft. Just drilled into Marcellus by 219 ft.
* Original chart found on page 11 of report
** Based on information from Antero’s well plat
*** TVD = Total Vertical Depth

Antero is an active driller in Doddridge County. If any company knows where to find the Marcellus formation it is that company. Well plats are very detailed, technical documents provided to the DEP by the operator regarding the well location, watershed, and leased acres and property boundaries. We need to trust that the information on those plats is accurate and has been reviewed and approved by the permitting agency. Those plats also give the depth of the Marcellus and the length and heading of the lateral or horizontal bore. The Marshall University report gives the drilling depth when the sample was taken on the surface. Using these available well plat records from the DEP it appears that at two of the wells the sample (and its test results included in the report) came from material produced when the experienced drilling operator was not yet into the shale formation.

On the third well, Wentz 1H, the numbers seem to indicate that the sample was taken when the driller said that they were just barely within the shale layer – by 219 feet. Since the drill cuttings take some time to return to the surface from over 7,000 feet down, drilling just a few hundred feet would not at all guarantee that the returned cuttings were totally from the black shale. The processing of the drill cuttings at the shaker table and separator and centrifuge and the mixing in the tubs all cast some doubt on whether the sample, wherever it was taken from, was truly from the horizontal bore material.

On page 11 there is a clear and unambiguous statement:

Three representative sets of drill cuttings from the horizontal drilling activities within the Marcellus Shale formation were collected.

A successful attempt to get three such samples might have then allowed an appropriate waste characterization to be done as needed to accomplish the five required research topics listed in the report’s cover letter. Only an accurate chemical and radiological waste characterization would have allowed scientifically justifiable conclusions to be formulated and then allow for accurate legislation and regulations. It does not seem that West Virginia yet has the required scientific data upon which to confidently formulate laws and regulations to protect public health with regard to shale waste disposal.

Would it not seem prudent – if one wanted a good, representative sample – to make absolutely sure that the operator was, in fact, drilling in the black shale and that the cuttings returning to the surface were, in fact, from the Marcellus bore? That approach would have been eminently defensible and easily accomplished by just waiting for drilling to progress into the lateral bore far enough that the drill cuttings returning to the surface were in fact from the black shale. There might be plausible explanations for this apparent inconsistency or error. Of course, it might be speculated that the Antero-provided information on the well plats is incorrect and not intended to be accurate, or perhaps the driller is not really sure yet where the Marcellus layer starts. There may be many other possible scenarios of explanations. Time will tell.

IV. Research Observations Review

Landfill disposal of drill cuttings

Landfill disposal of drill cuttings

GOOD There are a number of recommendations and suggestions in the study on landfills and leachate related conditions. It seems that a number of these proposals are very accurate and should be implemented. For example:

The report clearly restates that drill cuttings are known to contain radioactive compounds. Since all landfill liners will eventually leak, and since landfills already have ground water test wells for monitoring for potential ground water contamination due to leaking liners, then the well samples should be tested for radiological isotopes. Good idea. They are not required to do that now, but this recommendation should be implemented immediately (pgs. 17 and 21).

GOOD The report recommends that the Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) or in the case of Wetzel County, the on-site wastewater treatment plants, should also test their effluent for radioactive isotopes. This is very important since there is no way to efficiently filter out many of the radioactive isotopes. Such contaminants will pass through traditional wastewater treatment plants.

It is also very useful that the report recommends that all the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) limits at the POTWs be reviewed and required to take into consideration the significantly more challenging chemical and radiological makeup of the shale waste products.

V. Economic Considerations on an Industry Supported Mono-Fill

The legislature asked that the DEP evaluate the feasibility of the natural gas industry to build, own, or operate its own landfill solely for the disposal of the known radioactive waste. This request seems to be a very reasonable approach, since for decades we have only put known radioactive waste products into dedicated landfills that are exclusively and specifically designed for the long term storage of the special waste material.

The discussion of the economic considerations is extremely complete and detailed. They are given in Appendix I and take into consideration a very thorough economic feasibility study of such a proposed endeavor. This section seems to have been compiled by a very talented professional team.

FLAW  However, some of the basic assumptions are a bit askew. For example:

The initial Abstract of the financial analysis states that two new landfills would be needed because we do not want to have the well operators to drive any further than they do now. Interesting. This seems to be not too different than a homeowner while in search for privacy and quiet, builds a home far out into the country and then expects the public sewage lines to be extended miles to his new home so he would not have to incur the cost of a septic system. Homebuilders in rural settings should know they will have to incur expenses for their waste disposal needs. Should gas companies expect that communities to provide cheap waste disposal for them?

More than 15 pages later, the most important aspect is clearly stated that, “…the most salient benefit of establishing a separate landfill sited specifically to receive (radioactive) drill cuttings would be the preservation of existing disposal capacity of existing fills for future waste disposal”. Meaning for my (our) grandchildren. See page 175.

Comprehensive and sound financial details later explain that having the natural gas operators build, operate, and eventually close their own radioactive waste depository landfill would involve a lot of their capital and involve some risk to them. It is stated that their money would be better used drilling more wells. The conclusion then seems to be that, all around, it is simply cheaper and less risky for the gas industry to put all their waste products into our Municipal Waste Landfills, and later residents should incur the costs and risk to build another land fill for their household garbage when needed.

VI. Report Omissions

  1. Within the report section dealing with the leachate test results, it is casually mentioned that not only do the landfills receiving shale waste materials have radioactive contaminated leachate, but the other tested landfills do, as well. However, rather than raising a very red flag and expressing concern over a problem that no one has looked into, the report implies we should not worry about any radioactive waste because it might be in all landfills (pg. 139).
  2. Nowhere within the radiological discussion is there any mention of what might be called speciation of radioactive isotopes. The report does state that the test for both gross alpha and gross beta, are considered a “scanning procedure.” The speciation process is sort of a slice and dice procedure, showing exactly what isotopes are responsible for the activity that is being indicated. This process, however, does not seem to have been done on the landfill leachate test samples. The general scanning process cannot do that. Appendix H, pages 141-142, contains detailed facts on radiation dose, risk, and exposure. This might have been a good place to also discuss the proper EPA testing protocols, used or not used, and why.
  3. A short discussion of the DEP-required landfill entrance radiation monitors is included on page 146. The installed monitors are the goalpost type. Trucks drive between them at the entrance and when they cross the scales. It seems that the report should have emphasized that that type of monitor will primarily only detect high-energy gamma radiation. However what is omitted on page 144 is that the primary form of decay for radium-226 is releasing alpha particles. The report is ambiguous in saying the decay products of radium-226 include both alpha particles and some gamma radiation, but radium-266 is not a strong gamma emitter. It is very unlikely that a normal steel enclosed roll-off box would ever trip the alarm setting with a load of drill cuttings. However those monitors are still useful since they will detect the high-energy gamma radiation from a truck carrying a lot of medical waste (pg. 17).
  4. It is stated on page 144 that the greatest health risk due to the presence of radium-226 is the fact that its daughter product is radon-222. Radium-226 has a half-life of 1,600 years, compared to radon’s 3.8 days. This difference might seem to imply that radon is less of a concern. Given the multitude of radium-226 going into our landfills means that we will be producing radon for a very long time.

VII. Resource Referenced in Article

Examination of Leachate, Drill Cuttings and Related Environmental, Economic and Technical Aspects Associated with Solid Waste Facilities in West Virginia, by Marshall University.

Northeast Ohio Class II injection wells taken via FracTracker's mobile app, May 2015

OH Class II Injection Wells – Waste Disposal and Industry Water Demand

By Ted Auch, PhD – Great Lakes Program Coordinator

Waste Trends in Ohio

Map of Class II Injection Volumes and Utica Shale Freshwater Demand in Ohio

Map of Class II Injection Volumes and Utica Shale Freshwater Demand in Ohio. Explore dynamic map

It has been nearly 2 years since last we looked at the injection well landscape in Ohio. Are existing disposals wells receiving just as much waste as before? Have new injection wells been added to the list of those permitted to receive oil and gas waste? Let’s take a look.

Waste disposal is an issue that causes quite a bit of consternation even amongst those that are pro-fracking. The disposal of fracking waste into injection wells has exposed many “hidden geologic faults” across the US as a result of induced seismicity, and it has been linked recently with increases in earthquake activity in states like Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, and Ohio. Here in OH there is growing evidence – from Ashtabula to Washington counties – that injection well volumes and quarterly rates of change are related to upticks in seismic activity.

Origins of Fracking Waste

Furthermore, as part of this analysis we wanted to understand the ratio of Ohio’s Class II waste that has come from within Ohio and the proportion of waste originating from neighboring states such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Out of 960 Utica laterals and 245+ Class II wells, the results speak to the fact that a preponderance of the waste is coming from outside Ohio with out-of-state shale development accounting for ≈90% of the state’s hydraulic fracturing brine stream to-date. However, more recently the tables have turned with in-state waste increasing by 4,202 barrels per quarter per well (BPQPW). Out-of-state waste is only increasing by 1,112 BPQPW. Such a change stands in sharp contrast to our August 2013 analysis that spoke to 471 and 723 BPQPW rates of change for In- and Out-Of-State, respectively.

Brine Production

Ohio Class II Injection Well trends In- and Out-Of-State, Cumulatively, and on Per Well basis (n = 248).

Figure 1. Ohio Class II Injection Well trends In- and Out-Of-State, Cumulatively, and on Per Well basis (n = 248).

For every gallon of freshwater used in the fracking process here in Ohio the industry is generating .03 gallons of brine (On average, Ohio’s 758 Utica wells use 6.88 million gallons of freshwater and produce 225,883 gallons of brine per well).

Back in August of 2013 the rate at which brine volumes were increasing was approaching 150,000 BPQPW (Learn more, Fig 5), however, that number has nearly doubled to +279,586 BPQPW (Note: 1 barrel of brine equals 32-42 gallons). Furthermore, Ohio’s Class II Injection wells are averaging 37,301 BPQPW (1.6 MGs) per quarter over the last year vs. 12,926 barrels BPQPW – all of this between the initiation of frack waste injection in 2010 and our last analysis up to and including Q2-2013. Finally, between Q3-2010 and Q1-2015 the exponential increase in injection activity has resulted in a total of 81.7 million barrels (2.6-3.4 billion gallons) of waste disposed of here in Ohio. From a dollars and cents perspective this waste has generated $2.5 million in revenue for the state or 00.01% of the average state budget (Note: 2.5% of ODNR’s annual budget).

Freshwater Demand Growing

Ohio Class II Injection Well disposal as a function of freshwater demand by the shale industry in Ohio between Q3-2010 and Q1-2015.

Figure 2. Ohio Class II Injection Well disposal as a function of freshwater demand by the shale industry in Ohio between Q3-2010 and Q1-2015.

The relationship between brine (waste) produced and freshwater needed by the hydraulic fracturing industry is an interesting one; average freshwater demand during the fracking process accounts for 87% of the trend in brine disposal here in Ohio (Fig. 2). The more water used, the more waste produced. Additionally, the demand for OH freshwater is growing to the tune of 405-410,000 gallons PQPW, which means brine production is growing by roughly 12,000 gallons PQPW. This says nothing for the 450,000 gallons of freshwater PQPW increase in West Virginia and their likely demand for injection sites that can accommodate their 13,500 gallons PQPW increase.

Where will all this waste go? I’ll give you two guesses, and the first one doesn’t count given that in the last month the ODNR has issued 7 new injection well permits with 9 pending according to the Center For Health and Environmental Justice’s Teresa Mills.

Landfill disposal of drill cuttings

Has radioactivity risk from oil and gas activity been underrated?

Reviewing a Pennsylvania TENORM Study

By Juliana Henao, Communications Intern

Technologically-enhanced, naturally-occurring radioactive materials, also known as TENORM, are produced when radionuclides deep in the earth are brought to the surface by human activity such as oil and gas drilling. The radioactive materials, which include uranium (U), thorium (th), potassium-40 (K-40) and their decay products, occur naturally in the environment. These materials are known to dissolve in produced water, or brine, from the hydraulic fracturing process (e.g. fracking), can be found in drilling muds, and can accumulate in drilling equipment over time.

According to the EPA, ~30% of domestic oil and gas wells produce TENORM. Surveys have shown that 90% of the wells show some TENORM concentrations, while others have nothing at all. However, with increasing natural gas exploration and production in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, there is a parallel increase in TENORM. According to Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, an international expert on radiation, drilling companies and geologists locate the Marcellus Shale layer by way of its higher level of radiation.

Bringing more of this TENORM to the surface has the potential to greatly impact public health and the environment. Since 2013, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) has been gathering raw data on TENORM associated with oil and gas activity in the state. The study was initiated due to the volume of waste containing high TENORM concentrations in the state’s landfills, something that is largely unregulated at the state and federal level.  In January 2015, the PA DEP released a report that outlined their findings and conclusions, including potential exposures, TENORM disposal practices, and possible environmental impacts.

Radioactivity Study Overview

Drilling mud being collected on the well pad

This review touches on the samples tested, the findings, and the conclusions drawn after analysis. The main areas of concern included potential exposure to workers, members of the public, and the environment.

The samples gathered by the DEP came from 38 well sites, conventional and unconventional, by testing solids, liquids, ambient air, soils, and natural gas near oil and gas activity in Pennsylvania. All samples contained TENORM or were in some way impacted by TENORM due to oil and gas operations. The samples were mainly tested for radioactive isotopes, specifically radium, through radiological surveys.

The PA DEP concluded in the cases of well sites, wastewater treatment plants (POTW), centralized wastewater treatment plants, zero liquid discharge plants, landfills, natural gas in underground storage, natural gas fired power plants, compressor stations, natural gas processing plants, radon dosimetry (the calculation and assessment of the radiation dose received by the human body), and oil and gas brine-treated roads that there is little potential for internal radiation exposure to workers and members of the public. In spite of this, each section of the report typically concluded with: however, there is a potential for radiological environmental impacts…

Examples of these findings include:

  • There is little potential for radiological exposure to workers and members of the public from handling and temporary storage of produced water on natural gas well sites. However, there is a potential for radiological environmental impacts from spills of produced water from unconventional natural gas well sites and from spills that could occur from the transportation of this fluid.
  • There is little potential for radiological exposure to workers and members of the public from sediment-impacted soil at landfills that accepted O&G waste for disposal.  However, there may be a radiological environmental impact to soil from the sediments from landfill leachate treatment facilities that treat leachate from landfills that accept O&G waste for disposal.
  • Radium 226 was detected within the hydraulic fracturing fluid ranging from 64.0-21,000 pCi/L. Radium-228 was also detected ranging from 4.5-1,640 pCi/L. The hydraulic fracturing fluid was made up of a combination of fresh water, produced water, and reuse flowback fluid. There is little potential impact for radiological exposure to workers and members of the public from handling and temporary storage of flowback fluid on natural gas well sites. However, there is a potential for radiological environmental impacts from spills of flowback fluid on natural gas well sites and from spills that could occur from the transport of this fluid.
  • Nine influent and seven effluent leachate samples were collected at the nine selected landfills.  Radium was detected in all of the leachate samples. Radium-226 concentrations were detected in produced water samples ranging from 40.5 – 26,600 pCi/L. Radium-228 concentrations were also detected ranging from 26.0 – 1,900 pCi/L. The Ra-226 activity in unconventional well site produced water is approximately 20 times greater than that observed in conventional well site produced water. The ratio of Ra-226 to Ra-228 in unconventional well site produced water is approximately eight times greater than that found in conventional well site produced water.  (Sections 3.3.4 and 3.6.3) (PA DEP TENORM study report section 9.0)

According to Melody Fleck from Moshannon Group- Sierra Club Executive Committee:

While the report comprehensively covers the processes from drilling to end users, the number of samples collected and analyzed are very sparse for a state-wide study. Just to give an idea, only 8 well sites were sampled during the flowback phase and of the 8 only 4 had enough volume to analyze. Of 14 drill mud samples collected, only 5 were analyzed as liquids, and alpha & beta analysis was only done on one sample.

Obtaining the proper sample size is often a major barrier for field studies. Additional research needs to be conducted with a larger sample size and more rigorous exposure monitoring to determine specific risk metrics for workers and the public.

Current Handling of TENORM

From drilling to distribution, there are many topics of concern associated with TENORM; however, we will focus on the current treatment of TENORM waste, the release of data, and the transparency of this issue.

On a federal level, there are no specific regulations governing many aspects of TENORM, such as sludge or solids containing TENORM from water treatment plants. Additionally, if concentrations of U or Th make up less than .05% by weight, they are seen as an “unimportant quantity” and are exempt from NRE regulation. Currently, 13 states regulate TENORM with varying degrees of standards. Hazardous waste facilities in each state can choose to accept TENORM materials as long as they don’t exceed certain concentrations.

Today, about 12 of PA’s 50 landfills accept such radioactive waste from oil and gas activity at a 1:50 dilution ratio (related to their other intake sources). Under RCRA’s Land Disposal Restrictions, “dilution is prohibited as treatment for both listed and characterized wastes.”

According to the DEP report, hydraulic fracturing produces an enormous stream of waste by-products. Safe disposal of this waste has not yet been devised. A few of the conclusions concerning TENORM disposal and treatment in the report listed some areas of concern, identified below:

  1. Filter cake [1] and its radiological environmental impact if spilled, and
  2. The amount of radioactive waste entering the landfills in PA, which reached 430,317 tons in the first 10 months of 2014.

In unison with the conclusions were recommendations, where the report “recommends considering limiting radioactive effluent discharge from landfills, and adding radium-226 and radium-228 to annual sample analysis of leachate from landfills.” Additionally, the report states that if something such as filter cake spills, it will bring into question the safety of long-term disposal and suggest a protocol revision.

Public Health Concerns

The report identified two places where there is a higher than average radioactive exposure risk for workers and community members of the public: specifically at centralized wastewater treatment plants and zero liquid discharge plants that treat oil and gas wastewater. An additional unknown is whether there is a potential inhalation or ingestion hazard from fixed alpha and beta surface radioactivity if materials are disturbed. As a general precaution, they recommend the evaluation of worker’s use of protective equipment under certain circumstances.

Although research has not come to a consensus regarding a safe level of radiation exposure, it should not be assumed that any exposure is safe. Past research has evaluated two types of radiation exposure: stochastic and non-stochastic, both of which have their own risks and are known to be harmful to the human body. The EPA has defined stochastic effects as those associated with long-term, low level exposure to radiation, while non-stochastic effects are associated with short-term, high-level exposure. From past scientific research, radiation is known to cause cancer and alter DNA, causing genetic mutations that can occur from both stochastic and non-stochastic exposure. Radiation sickness is also common, which involves nausea, weakness, damage to the central nervous system, and diminished organ function. Exposure levels set by the EPA and other regulatory agencies fall at 100 millirem (mrem) per year to avoid acute health effects. As a point of reference, medical X-rays deliver less than 10 mrem, and yearly background exposure can be about 300 mrem.

In the report, Radiological Dose and Risk Assessment of Landfill Disposal of TENORM in North Dakota, Argonne National Laboratory researchers suggest that the exposure to workers be limited and monitored. In many of their studies, they found the doses exceed the 100 mrem/year level in the workers when the appropriate attire is not worn during working hours, which raised some concern.

The DEP deems certain radiation levels “allowable”, but it should be noted that allowable doses are set by federal agencies and may be arbitrary. Based on the PA DEP’s report, consumers of produced gas can get up to 17.8% of their yearly radiation allowance, while POTW workers could get up to 36.3% of their yearly allowable dose. According to the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, radiation bio-accumulates in ecosystems and in the body, which introduces a serious confounder in understanding the risk posed by a dose of 17.8% per year.

Transparency of Radiation Risk

The DEP has been gathering data for their TENORM report since 2012. In July of 2014, Delaware Riverkeeper Network filed a Right-to Know request to obtain the information that the DEP had collected in order for their expert to analyze the raw data. The department refused to release the information, insisting that “the release of preliminary invalidated data, including sample locations, could likely result in a substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm, pose a security risk and lead to erroneous and/or misleading characterizations of the levels and effects of the radioactive risks.” Essentially, the DEP was equating the risks of radioactive material to the risks of releasing raw data — two incomparable risks. DRN appealed, claiming that they simply sought the raw information, which is presumed public unless exempt, and would have no risk on the public. PA DEP was ordered to release their records to DRN within 30 days.

Conclusion

One observation that you could take from this report is the lack of regulatory advancement. The study is filled with suggestions, like:

  • Radium should be added to the PA spill protocol to ensure cleanups are adequately characterized,
  • A limited potential was found for recreationists on roads with oil and gas brine from conventional natural gas wells–further study should be conducted, and
  • More testing is needed to identify areas of contamination and any area should be cleaned up.

Intent doesn’t make the changes; action does. Will any regulations change, at least in Pennsylvania where radioactive materials are returning to the surface on a daily basis? There seems to be no urgency when it comes to regulating TENORM and its many issues at the state level. Are workers, citizens, and the environment truly being protected or will we wait for a disaster to spur action?

Footnotes:

[1] This is the residue deposited on a permeable medium when a slurry, such as a drilling fluid, is forced against the medium under pressure. Filtrate is the liquid that passes through the medium, leaving the cake on the medium.

The Science Behind OK’s Man-made Earthquakes, Part 1

By Ariel Conn, Seismologist and Science Writer with the Virginia Tech Department of Geosciences

On April 21, the Oklahoma Geological Survey issued a statement claiming that the sharp rise in Oklahoma earthquakes — from only a couple per year to thousands — was most likely caused by wastewater disposal wells associated with major oil and gas plays. This is huge news after years of Oklahoma scientists hesitating to place blame on an industry that provides so many jobs.

Now, seismologists from around the country — including Oklahoma — are convinced that these earthquakes are the result of human activity, also known as induced or triggered seismicity. Yet many people, especially those in the oil industry, still refute such an argument. Just what is the science that has seismologists so convinced that the earthquakes are induced and not natural?

Hidden Faults

Over the last billion years (give or take a couple hundred million), colliding tectonic plates have created earthquake zones, just as we see today in California, Japan, Chile and Nepal. As geologic processes occurred, these zones shifted and moved and were covered up, and the faults that once triggered earthquakes achieved a state of equilibrium deep in the basement rocks of the earth’s crust. But the faults still exist. If the delicate balance that keeps these fault systems stable ever shifts, the ancient faults can still move, resulting in earthquakes. Because these inactive faults are so deep, and because they can theoretically exist just about anywhere, they’re incredibly difficult to map or predict – until an earthquake occurs.

Thanks to historic reports of earthquakes in the central and eastern United States, we know there are some regions, far away from tectonic plate boundaries, that occasionally experience large earthquakes. Missouri and South Carolina, for example, suffered significant and damaging earthquakes in the last 200 hundred years, yet these states lie nowhere near a plate boundary. We know that fault zones exist in these locations, but we have no way of knowing about dormant faults in regions of the country that haven’t experienced earthquakes in the last couple hundred years.

What is induced seismicity?

As early as the 1930s, seismologists began to suspect that extremely large volumes of water could impact seismic activity, even in those regions where earthquakes weren’t thought to occur. Scientists found that after certain reservoirs were built and filled with water, earthquake swarms often followed. This didn’t happen everywhere, and when it did, the earthquakes were rarely large enough to be damaging. These quakes were large enough to be felt, however, and they represented early instances of human activity triggering earthquakes.[1]

Research into induced seismicity really picked up in the 1960s. The most famous example of man-made earthquakes occurred as a result of injection well activity at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. The arsenal began injecting wastewater into a disposal well 12,000 feet deep in March of 1962, and by April of that year, people were feeling earthquakes. Researchers at the arsenal tracked the injections and the earthquakes. They found that each time the arsenal injected large volumes of water (between 2 and 8 million gallons per month, or 47,000 to 190,000 barrels), earthquakes would start shaking the ground within a matter of weeks (Figure 1).

Rocky Mountain Arsenal fluid injection correlated to earthquake frequency

Figure 1. Rocky Mountain Arsenal fluid injection correlated to earthquake frequency

South Carolina experienced induced earthquakes after filling a reservoir

Figure 2. South Carolina experienced induced earthquakes after filling a reservoir

When the injections ended, the earthquakes also ceased, usually after a similar time delay, but some seismicity continued for a while. The well was active for many years, and the largest earthquake thought to be induced by the injection well actually occurred nearly a year and a half after injection officially ended. That earthquake registered as a magnitude 5.3. Scientists also noticed that over time, the earthquakes moved farther and farther away from the well.

Research at a reservoir in South Carolina produced similar results; large volumes of water triggered earthquake swarms that spread farther from the reservoir with time (Figure 2).

When people say we’ve known for decades that human activity can trigger earthquakes, this is the research they’re talking about.

Why now? Why Oklahoma?

Class II Injection Well. Photo by Lea Harper

Injection Well in Ohio. Photo by Ted Auch

Seismologists have known conclusively and for quite a while that wastewater injection wells can trigger earthquakes, yet people have also successfully injected wastewater into tens of thousands of wells across the country for decades without triggering any earthquakes. So why now? And why in Oklahoma?

The short answers are:

  • At no point in history have we injected this much water this deep into the ground, and
  • It’s not just happening in Oklahoma.

One further point to clarify: General consensus among seismologists is that most of these earthquakes are triggered by wastewater disposal wells and not by hydrofracking (or fracking) wells. That may be a point to be contested in a future article, but for now, the largest induced earthquakes we’ve seen have been associated with wastewater disposal wells and not fracking. This distinction is important when considering high-pressure versus high-volume wells. A clear connection between high-pressure wells and earthquakes has not been satisfactorily demonstrated in our research at the Virginia Tech Seismological Observatory (VTSO) (nor have we seen it demonstrated elsewhere, yet). High-volume wastewater disposal wells, on the other hand, have been connected to earthquakes.

At the VTSO, we looked at about 8,000 disposal wells in Oklahoma that we suspected might be connected to induced seismicity. Of those, over 7,200 had maximum allowed injection rates of less than 10,000 barrels per month, which means the volume is low enough that they’re unlikely to trigger earthquakes. Of the remaining 800 wells, only 300 had maximum allowed injection rates of over 40,000 barrels per month — and up to millions of barrels per year for some wells. These maximum rates are on par with the injection rates seen at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and our own plots indicate a correlation between high-volume injection wells and earthquakes (Figure 3-4).

Triangles represent wastewater injection wells scaled to reflect maximum volume rates. Wells with high volumes are located near earthquakes.

Figure 3. Triangles represent wastewater injection wells scaled to reflect maximum volume rates. Wells with high volumes are located near earthquakes.

Triangles represent wastewater injection wells scaled to reflect maximum pressure. Wells with high pressures are not necessarily near earthquakes.

Figure 4. Triangles represent wastewater injection wells scaled to reflect maximum pressure. Wells with high pressures are not necessarily near earthquakes.

This does not mean that all high-volume wells will trigger earthquakes, or that lower-volume wells are always safe, but rather, it’s an important connection that scientists and well operators should consider.

Starting in 2008 and 2009, with the big oil and gas plays in Oklahoma, a lot more fluid was injected into a lot more wells. As the amount of fluid injected in Oklahoma has increased, so too have the number of earthquakes. But Oklahoma is not the only state to experience this phenomenon. Induced earthquakes have been recorded in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas.

In the last four years, Arkansas, Kansas, Ohio and Texas have all had “man-made” earthquakes larger than magnitude 4, which is the magnitude at which damage begins to occur. Meanwhile, in that time period, Colorado experienced its second induced earthquake that registered larger than magnitude 5. Oklahoma may have the most induced and triggered earthquakes, but the problem is one of national concern.

Footnote

[1] Induced seismicity actually dates back to the late 1800s with mining, but the connection to high volumes of fluid was first recognized in the 1930s. However, the extent to which it was documented is unknown.

Name that oil and gas storage container [quiz]

By Bill Hughes, WV Community Liaison

We were recently asked if there is a reliable way to determine what constituents are being housed in certain types of oil and gas storage containers. While there is not typically a simple and straightforward response to questions like this, some times we can provide educated guesses based on a few photos, placards, or a trip to the site.

One way to become better informed is to follow the trucks. The origins of the trucks will determine whether the current stage in the extraction process is drilling or fracturing (the containers cannot be for both unless they are delivering fresh water). Combine that with good side-view photos of the trucks will tell you if they are heavier going into the site or heavier leaving. Look for the clearance between the rear tires and the frame. Tanker trucks can typically carry 4000 gallons or 100 barrels.

For a quick guide to oil and gas storage containers, see the “quiz” we have compiled below:

Storage Container Quiz

1. What is in this yellow tank?

Photo 1

Q1: Photo 1

Q1: Photo 2 (same tank zoomed in)

Answer: This yellow 500-barrel wheelie storage tank in photos 1 and 2 is a portable storage tank, identified in the placard in photo 2 as having held oil base drill mud at one time. Drillers prefer to keep certain tanks identified for specific purposes if at all possible. This is especially true if they have paid extra to get a tank “certified clean” to use for fresh water storage. A certified clean tank does not mean that the water is potable (drinkable).

Other storage containers that hold fresh water are shown below:

Shark Tanks

Shark Tanks

Shark Tanks

Shark Tanks from the sky

2. What is this truck transporting?

Q2: Truck

Q2: Truck

Answer: This type of truck is normally used to haul solid waste – such as drill cuttings going to a landfill. Some trucks, however do not make it the whole way to the landfill before losing some of their contents as shown below.

Truck-spill

Truck spill in WV

3. How about these yellow tanks?

Q3: Photo 1

Q3: Photo 1

Q3: Photo 2

Q3: Photo 2

Answer: The above storage containers are 500-barrel liquid storage tanks, also called “frac” tanks.

In photo 2 you can see that at least one tank is connected to others on either side of it. In this case you need to look at the overall operation to see what process is occurring nearby — or what had just finished — to determine what might be in the container presently.

The name plate on photo 1 says “drill mud,” which means that at one time that container might have held exactly that. Now, however, that container would likely have very little to do with drilling waste or drill cuttings. The “GP” and the number on the sign refers to Great Plains and the tank’s number. These type of tanks do not have official placards on them for the purposes of DOT labeling since they are never moved with any significant liquid in them.

4: What about these miscellaneous tanks?

Q4: Photo 1 – Tank farm with 103 blue tanks

Q4: Photo 2 – Red tanks with connecting hoses

Q4: Photo 3 – Red tanks, no connections

Answer: There is no way to know – unless you have been closely following the process in your neighborhood and know the current stage of the well pad’s drilling process. Tank farms are usually just for storage unless there is some type of filtering and processing equipment on site. The drilling crews (for either horizontal or vertical wells) do not mix their fluids with the fracturing crew. That does not mean that one tank farm could not store a selection of flowback brine—or produced water, or drilling fluids. They would be stored in separate tanks or tank groups that are connected together – usually with flex hoses.

Since I am in the area often, I know that the tanks in photos 1 and 2 were storing fresh water. Both sets were associated with a nearby hydraulic fracturing operation, which has very little to do with the drilling process.  You will never see big groups of tanks like this on a well pad that is currently being drilled.

The third set of tanks with no connections on an in-production well pad are probably just empty and storing air – but not fresh air. These tanks are just sitting there, waiting for their next assignment – storage only, not in use. Notice that there are no connecting pipes like in photo 2. The tanks in photo 3 could have held any of the following: fresh water, flowback, brine, mixed fracturing fluids, or condensate. Only the operator would know for certain.

The Water-Energy Nexus in Ohio, Part II

OH Utica Production, Water Usage, and Waste Disposal by County
Part II of a Multi-part Series
By Ted Auch, Great Lakes Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

In this part of our ongoing “Water-Energy Nexus” series focusing on Water and Water Use, we are looking at how counties in Ohio differ between how much oil and gas are produced, as well as the amount of water used and waste produced. This analysis also highlights how the OH DNR’s initial Utica projections differ dramatically from the current state of affairs. In the first article in this series, we conducted an analysis of OH’s water-energy nexus showing that Utica wells are using an ave. of 5 million gallons/well. As lateral well lengths increase, so does water use. In this analysis we demonstrate that:

  1. Drillers have to use more water, at higher pressures, to extract the same unit of oil or gas that they did years ago,
  2. Where production is relatively high, water usage is lower,
  3. As fracking operations move to the perimeter of a marginally productive play – and smaller LLCs and MLPs become a larger component of the landscape – operators are finding minimal returns on $6-8 million in well pad development costs,
  4. Market forces and Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) policy has allowed industry to exploit OH’s freshwater resources at bargain basement prices relative to commonly agreed upon water pricing schemes.

At current prices1, the shale gas industry is allocating < 0.27% of total well pad costs to current – and growing – freshwater requirements. It stands to reason that this multi-part series could be a jumping off point for a more holistic discussion of how we price our “endless” freshwater resources here in OH.

In an effort to better understand the inter-county differences in water usage, waste production, and hydrocarbon productivity across OH’s 19 Utica Shale counties we compiled a data-set for 500+ Utica wells which was previously used to look at differenced in these metrics across the state’s primary industry players. The results from Table 1 below are discussed in detail in the subsequent sections.

Table 1. Hydrocarbon production totals and per day values with top three producers in bold

County

# Wells

Total

Per Day

Oil

Gas

Brine

Production

Days

Oil

Gas

Brine

Ashland

1

0

0

23,598

102

0

0

231

Belmont

32

55,017

39,564,446

450,134

4,667

20

8,578

125

Carroll

256

3,715,771

121,812,758

2,432,022

66,935

67

2,092

58

Columbiana

26

165,316

9,759,353

189,140

6,093

20

2,178

65

Coshocton

1

949

0

23,953

66

14

0

363

Guernsey

29

726,149

7,495,066

275,617

7,060

147

1,413

49

Harrison

74

2,200,863

31,256,851

1,082,239

17,335

136

1,840

118

Jefferson

14

8,396

9,102,302

79,428

2,819

2

2,447

147

Knox

1

0

0

9,078

44

0

0

206

Mahoning

3

2,562

0

4,124

287

9

0

14

Medina

1

0

0

20,217

75

0

0

270

Monroe

12

28,683

13,077,480

165,424

2,045

22

7,348

130

Muskingum

1

18,298

89,689

14,073

455

40

197

31

Noble

39

1,326,326

18,251,742

390,791

7,731

268

3,379

267

Portage

2

2,369

75,749

10,442

245

19

168

228

Stark

1

17,271

166,592

14,285

602

29

277

24

Trumbull

8

48,802

742,164

127,222

1,320

36

566

100

Tuscarawas

1

9,219

77,234

2,117

369

25

209

6

Washington

3

18,976

372,885

67,768

368

59

1,268

192

Production

Total

It will come as no surprise to the reader that OH’s Utica oil and gas production is being led by Carroll County, followed distantly by Harrison, Noble, Belmont, Guernsey and Columbiana counties. Carroll has produced 3.7 million barrels of oil to date, while the latter have combined to produce an additional 4.5 million barrels. Carroll wells have been in production for nearly 67,000 days2, while the aforementioned county wells have been producing for 42,886 days. The remaining counties are home to 49 wells that have been in production for nearly 8,800 days or 7% of total production days in Ohio.

Combined with the state’s remaining 49 producing wells spread across 13 counties, OH’s Utica Shale has produced 8.3 million barrels of oil as well as 251,844,311 Mcf3 of natural gas and 5.4 million barrels of brine. Oil and natural gas together have an estimated value of $2.99 billion ($213 million per quarter)4 assuming average oil and natural gas prices of $96 per barrel and $8.67 per Mcf during the current period of production (2011 to Q2-2014), respectively.

Potential Revenue at Different Severance Tax Rates:

  • Current production tax, 0.5-0.8%: $19 million ($1.4 Million Per Quarter (MPQ). At this rate it would take the oil and gas industry 35 years to generate the $4.6 billion in tax revenue they proposed would be generated by 2020.
  • Proposed, 1% gas and 4% oil: At Governor Kasich’s proposed tax rate, $2.99 billion translates into $54 million ($3.9 MPQ). It would still take 21 years to return the aforementioned $4.6 billion to the state’s coffers.
  • Proposed, 5-7%: Even at the proposed rate of 5-7% by Policy Matters OH and northeastern OH Democrats, the industry would only have generated $179 million ($12.8 MPQ) to date. It would take 11 years to generate the remaining $4.42 billion in tax revenue promised by OH Oil and Gas Association’s (OOGA) partners at IHS “Energy Oil & Gas Industry Solutions” (NYSE: IHS).5

The bottom-line is that a production tax of 11-25% or more ($24-53 MPQ) would be necessary to generate the kind of tax revenue proposed by the end of 2020. This type of O&G taxation regime is employed in the states of Alaska and Oklahoma.

From an outreach and monitoring perspective, effects on air and water quality are two of the biggest gaps in our understanding of shale gas from a socioeconomic, health, and environmental perspective. Pulling out a mere 1% from any of these tax regimes would generate what we’ll call an “Environmental Monitoring Fee.” Available monitoring funds would range between $194,261 and $1.8 million ($16 million at 55%). These monies would be used to purchase 2-21 mobile air quality devices and 10-97 stream quantity/quality gauges to be deployed throughout the state’s primary shale counties to fill in the aforementioned data gaps.

Per-Day Production

On a per-day oil production basis, Belmont and Columbiana (20 barrels per day (BPD)) are overshadowed by Washington (59 BPD) and Muskingum (40 BPD) counties’ four giant Utica wells. Carroll is able to maintain such a high level of production relative to the other 15 counties by shear volume of producing wells; Noble (268 BPD), Guernsey (147 BPD), and Harrison (136 BPD) counties exceed Carroll’s production on a per-day basis. The bottom of the league table includes three oil-free wells in Ashland, Knox, and Medina, as well as seventeen <10 BPD wells in Jefferson and Mahoning counties.

With respect to natural gas, Harrison (1,840 Mcf per day (MPD)) and Guernsey counties are replaced by Monroe (7,348 MPD) and Jefferson (2,447 MPD) counties’ 26 Utica wells. The range of production rates for natural gas is represented by the king of natural gas producers, Belmont County, producing 8,578 MPD on the high end and Mahoning and Coshocton counties in addition to the aforementioned oil dry counties on the low end. Four of the five oil- or gas-dry counties produce the least amount of brine each day (BrPD). Coshocton, Medina, and Noble county Utica wells are currently generating 267-363 barrels of BrPD, with an additional seven counties generating 100-200 BrPD. Only four counties – 1.2% of OH Utica wells – are home to unconventional wells that generate ≤ 30 BrPD.

Water Usage

Freshwater is needed for the hydraulic fracturing process during well stimulation. For counties where we had compiled a respectable sample size we found that Monroe and Noble counties are home to the Utica wells requiring the greatest amount of freshwater to obtain acceptable levels of productivity (Figure 1). Monroe and Noble wells are using 10.6 and 8.8 million gallons (MGs) of water per well. Coshocton is home to a well that required 10.8 MGs, while Muskingum and Washington counties are home to wells that have utilized 10.2 and 9.5 MGs, respectively. Belmont, Guernsey, and Harrison reflect the current average state of freshwater usage by the Utica Shale industry in OH, with average requirements of 6.4, 6.9, and 7.2 MGs per well. Wells in eight other counties have used an average of 3.8 (Mahoning) to 5.4 MGs (Tuscarawas). The counties of Ashland, Knox, and Medina are home to wells requiring the least amount of freshwater in the range of 2.2-2.9 MGs. Overall freshwater demand on a per well basis is increasing by 220,500-333,300 gallons per quarter in Ohio with percent recycled water actually declining by 00.54% from an already trivial average of 6-7% in 2011 (Figure 2).

Water and production (Mcf and barrels of oil per day) in OH’s Utica Shale.

Figure 1. Average water usage (gallons) per Utica well by county

Average water usage (gallons) on a per well basis by OH’s Utica Shale industry, shown quarterly between Q3-2010 and Q2-2014.

Figure 2. Average water usage (gallons) on per well basis by OH Utica Shale industry, shown quarterly between Q3-2010 & Q2-2014.

Belmont County’s 30+ Utica wells are the least efficient with respect to oil recovery relative to freshwater requirements, averaging 7,190 gallons of water per gallon of oil (Figure 3). A distant second is Jefferson County’s 14 wells, which have required on average 3,205 gallons of water per gallon of oil. Columbiana’s 26 Utica wells are in third place requiring 1,093 gallons of freshwater. Coshocton, Mahoning, Monroe, and Portage counties are home to wells requiring 146-473 gallons for each gallon of oil produced.

Belmont County’s 14 Utica wells are the least efficient with respect to natural gas recovery relative to freshwater requirements (Figure 4). They average 1,306 gallons of water per Mcf. A distant second is Carroll County’s 250+ wells, which have injected 520 gallons of water 7,000+ feet below the earth’s service to produce a single Mcf of natural gas. Muskingum’s Utica well and Noble County’s 39 wells are the only other wells requiring more than 100 gallons of freshwater per Mcf. The remaining nine counties’ wells require 15-92 gallons of water to produce an Mcf of natural gas.

Water and production (Mcf and barrels of oil per day) in OH’s Utica Shale – Average Water Usage Per Unit of Oil Produced (Gallons of Water Per Gallon of Oil).

Figure 3. Average water usage (gallons) per unit of oil (gallons) produced across 19 Ohio Utica counties

Water and production (Mcf and barrels of oil per day) in OH’s Utica Shale – Average Water Usage Per Unit of Gas Produced (Gallons of Water Per MCF of Gas)

Figure 4. Average water usage (gallons) per unit of gas produced (Mcf) across 19 Ohio Utica counties

Waste Production

The aforementioned Jefferson wells are the least efficient with respect to waste vs. product produced. Jefferson wells are generating 12,728 gallons of brine per gallon of oil (Figure 5).6 Wells from this county are followed distantly by the 32 Belmont and 26 Columbiana county wells, which are generating 5,830 and 3,976 gallons of brine per unit of oil.5 The remaining counties (for which we have data) are using 8-927 gallons of brine per unit of oil; six counties’ wells are generating <38 gallons of brine per gallon of oil.

Water and production (Mcf and barrels of oil per day) in OH’s Utica Shale – Average Brine Production Per Unit of Oil Produced (Gallons of Brine Per Gallon of Oil)

Figure 5. Average brine production (gallons) per gallon of oil produced per day across 19 Ohio Utica Counties

The average Utica well in OH is generating 820 gallons of fracking waste per unit of product produced. Across all OH Utica wells, an average of 0.078 gallons of brine is being generated for every gallon of freshwater used. This figure amounts to a current total of 233.9 MGs of brine waste produce statewide. Over the next five years this trend will result in the generation of one billion gallons (BGs) of brine waste and 12.8 BGs of freshwater required in OH. Put another way…

233.9 MGs is equivalent to the annual waste production of 5.2 million Ohioans – or 45% of the state’s current population. 

Due to the low costs incurred by industry when they choose to dispose of their fracking waste in OH, drillers will have only to incur $100 million over the next five years to pay for the injection of the above 1.0 BGs of brine. Ohioans, however, will pay at least $1.5 billion in the same time period to dispose of their municipal solid waste. The average fee to dispose of every ton of waste is $32, which means that the $100 million figure is at the very least $33.5 million – and as much as $250.6 million – less than we should expect industry should be paying to offset the costs.

Environmental Accounting

In summary, there are two ways to look at the potential “energy revolution” that is shale gas:

  1. Using the same traditional supply-side economics metrics we have used in the past (e.g., globalization, Efficient Market Hypothesis, Trickle Down Economics, Bubbles Don’t Exist) to socialize long-term externalities and privatize short-term windfall profits, or
  2. We can begin to incorporate into the national dialogue issues pertaining to watershed resilience, ecosystem services, and the more nuanced valuation of our ecosystems via Ecological Economics.

The latter will require a more real-time and granular understanding of water resource utilization and fracking waste production at the watershed and regional scale, especially as it relates to headline production and the often-trumpeted job generating numbers.

We hope to shed further light on this new “environmental accounting” as it relates to more thorough and responsible energy development policy at the state, federal, and global levels. The life cycle costs of shale gas drilling have all too often been ignored and can’t be if we are to generate the types of energy our country demands while also stewarding our ecosystems. As Mark Twain is reported to have said “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” In order to avoid such a battle over the water-energy nexus in the long run it is imperative that we price in the shale gas industry’s water-use footprint in the near term. As we have demonstrated so far with this series this issue is far from settled here in OH and as they say so goes Ohio so goes the nation!

A Moving Target

ODNR projection map of potential Utica productivity from Spring, 2012

Figure 6. ODNR projection map of potential Utica productivity from spring 2012

OH’s Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) originally claimed a big red – and nearly continuous – blob of Utica productivity existed. The projection originally stretched from Ashtabula and Trumbull counties south-southwest to Tuscarawas, Guernsey, and Coshocton along the Appalachian Plateau (See Figure 6).

However, our analysis demonstrates that (Figures 7 and 8):

  1. This is a rapidly moving target,
  2. The big red blob isn’t as big – or continuous – as once projected, and
  3. It might not even include many of the counties once thought to be the heart of the OH Utica shale play.

This last point is important because counties, families, investors, and outside interests were developing investment and/or savings strategies based on this map and a 30+ year timeframe – neither of which may be even remotely close according to our model.

An Ohio Utica Shale oil production model for Q1-2013 using an interpolative Geostatistical technique called Empirical Bayesian Kriging.

Figure 7a. An Ohio Utica Shale oil production model using Kriging6 for Q1-2013

An Ohio Utica Shale oil production model for Q2-2014 using an interpolative Geostatistical technique called Empirical Bayesian Kriging.

Figure 7b. An Ohio Utica Shale oil production model using Kriging for Q2-2014

An Ohio Utica Shale gas production model for Q1-2013 using an interpolative Geostatistical technique called Empirical Bayesian Kriging.

Figure 8a. An Ohio Utica Shale gas production model using Kriging for Q1-2013

An Ohio Utica Shale gas production model for Q2-2014 using an interpolative Geostatistical technique called Empirical Bayesian Kriging.

Figure 8b. An Ohio Utica Shale gas production model using Kriging for Q2-2014


Footnotes

  1. $4.25 per 1,000 gallons, which is the current going rate for freshwater at OH’s MWCD New Philadelphia headquarters, is 4.7-8.2 times less than residential water costs at the city level according to Global Water Intelligence.
  2. Carroll County wells have seen days in production jump from 36-62 days in 2011-2012 to 68-78 in 2014 across 256 producing wells as of Q2-2014.
  3. One Mcf is a unit of measurement for natural gas referring to 1,000 cubic feet, which is approximately enough gas to run an American household (e.g. heat, water heater, cooking) for four days.
  4. Assuming average oil and natural gas prices of $96 per barrel and $8.67 per Mcf during the current period of production (2011 to Q2-2014), respectively
  5. IHS’ share price has increased by $1.7 per month since publishing a report about the potential of US shale gas as a job creator and revenue generator
  6. On a per-API# basis or even regional basis we have not found drilling muds data. We do have it – and are in the process of making sense of it – at the Solid Waste District level.
  7. An interpolative Geostatistical technique formally called Empirical Bayesian Kriging.
Digging into Waste Data

Digging into Waste Data

By Katie Mattern, FracTracker Summer Intern

Seeing is believing, as the saying goes. Without physically observing the amount of waste generated from hydraulic fracturing of unconventional oil and gas wells, it is difficult to comprehend the volume and scope of the waste produced.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) makes a considerable amount of waste production data publicly available, speaking to the quantities of fluids and solids produced by 25 oil and gas operators across 25 counties. This figure, however, is only about 40% of all of the operators according to StateImpactPA. Also, complete data is not available for the 25 companies that are included, but let’s dig into some waste data simply as an exercise.

Dig Into Basic Cabot Waste Statistics

In order to gain a sense for industry trends we decided to look at data pertaining to Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation, specifically, whose entire 2013 inventory of oil and gas wells were in Susquehanna County and the surrounding region. The first and second halves of 2013 contain fairly complete records for Cabot – such as well location, waste facility location, waste type, waste quantity, and disposal method. It is interesting to note that in the comments section, all but a few of the well permit sites read “Entire water fraction of waste stream recycled at a centralized treatment plant for reuse by Cabot,” even for drill cuttings that were taken to a landfill.

The following analysis focuses on the waste generated by 264 Cabot wells during this period. All of Cabot’s unconventional oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania during 2013 were in Susquehanna County and the surrounding region.

Waste Produced

In the first 6 months of 2013 (Period 1), liquid waste – consisting of produced fluid, servicing fluid, hydraulic fracturing fluid (frac fluid) waste, and drilling fluid waste – totaled 745,898 barrels (Bbl) or over 30,000,000 gallons. Solid waste – or drill cuttings – totaled 51,981 tons.1 To put this into perspective, 745,898 Bbls is equivalent to the water usage requirements of about 4 wells in West Virginia.2 The 51,981 tons of drill cuttings weighs about the same as the average amount of garbage produced by 65,029 Americans per year, or 1.5 times the population of Susquehanna County. The fluid waste is also enough to fill approximately 48 Olympic swimming pools.

Period 2 (July through December) of 2013, consisting of 319 reporting wells, experienced a 77% increase in liquid waste, climbing past the 1 million Bbl mark to 1,340,143 Bbl. This figure is the equivalent of filling almost 85 Olympic swimming pools. Similarly, drill cuttings increased to 96,165 tons, almost double the amount generated in Period 1. The total amount of waste generated by Cabot for the entire year yields more than 2 million Bbl of liquid waste and nearly 150,000 tons of solid waste from drill cuttings1 – more than 130 Olympic swimming pools worth of water and a weight of solid waste equivalent to the average waste generated by more than 120,000 American per year- over 2.8 times the population pf Susquehanna County (see infographic below).

Digging into waste data infographic

Waste Composition

According to Cabot’s waste data, most of the liquid waste is made up of produced fluid,1 which is the saline water that returns to the surface as a byproduct of the drilling process. This fluid can be up to 10 times saltier than ocean water and can also be radioactive.3 Frac fluid waste3 contributed to the next largest amount of waste, followed by drilling fluid waste and servicing fluid. Produced fluid tripled from Period 1 to Period 2, while frac fluid waste remained fairly steady, and drilling fluid waste decreased slightly. However, the amount of servicing fluid waste generated between the first and second half of 2013 increased more than 12 times.1 Overall, the following increases were seen between Period 1 and Period 2 in 2013:

  • Fluid waste from hydraulic fracturing rose by nearly 80%
  • Solid waste rose by 85%
  • The number of unconventional oil and gas reporting wells only increased by about 20%, from 264 to 319.

Examining the data from FracFocus that is available for these reporting wells,4 it is interesting to note that the average true vertical depth of the wells decreased by about 100 feet between the two periods. Therefore, it is difficult to understand why the amount of drill cuttings increased by 85% in Period 2. Why is there such a large increase in both solid and liquid waste between these two periods when there was only a 20% increase in the number of wells? There are various theories that could result in such a dramatic increase in period 2 compared to the 6 months prior, including but not limited to:

  1. The use of more liquids for the construction or drilling processes,
  2. Longer lateral distances per horizontal well,
  3. More lax operating procedures,
  4. More detailed reporting by Cabot, and/or
  5. Stricter reporting/enforcement by the PADEP.
Dig into waste date. Waste Impoundment - Photo by Pete Stern 2013

Waste Impoundment – Photo by Pete Stern 2013

Waste Produced Means Waste Transported

Although Cabot is responsible for producing large amounts of waste, they also are recycling their liquid waste (as is listed for every site in the Period 2 data). To do so, the company transports their waste to a centralized treatment plant. There, the water is filtered so that it can be mixed with more freshwater and chemicals and be reused at another well site. However, hauling so much fluid to the centralized treatment plant requires numerous trips by tanker trucks, as well as dump trucks and trailer trucks taking drill cuttings to landfills. Some treatment facilities for PA waste are located as far away as Ohio, West Virginia, and New York. Cabot trucks travelled approximately 114,000 miles5 in Period 1 of 2013, and over 1,122,000 miles were travelled in Period 2 of 2013. The total miles travelled to transport Cabot’s waste is equivalent to almost 50 times around the earth – for one company in one state, operating in only two counties.1

Additional Considerations

Further analysis should examine the air pollution and carbon footprint generated from such extensive traffic. The miles make a difference, considering that a highly efficient tractor trailor only gets ~10 miles per gallon.

While reusing the majority of liquid waste in an effort to reduce the amount of fresh water needed for hydraulic fracturing is a positive step, transporting recycling water by truck still results in fuel used, pollutants emitted, and traffic impacts.

Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. was the second largest unconventional shale gas producer in PA behind Chesapeake Appalachia LLC, which had more than 809 reporting wells in Period 2 of 2013. With a total of 62 companies operating in PA at this time,6 the cumulative effects of waste transportation undoubtedly add up. Serious efforts should be made on the part of all oil and gas companies to reduce their waste and provide accurate and timely waste reports.


References and Resources

  1. Data obtained from the PA DEP Oil and Gas Reporting Website
  2. Data originally posted on FracTracker.org
  3. Data obtained from New York State Water Resources Institute
  4. True vertical depth measurements are missing for many of the sites in Period 1. Data obtained from FracFocus
  5. Miles calculated in Microsoft Excel using formula obtained from Blogspot.com
  6. Data obtained from StateImpact Pennsylvania