2012 Violations per Well in Pennsylvania

Ever since the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) first released violation data to FracTracker in October 2010, our viewers have wanted to know if there were any discernible patterns in the data.  Since that time, the format of the data has changed, the data categories have changed, and the analyses at FracTracker have continued to evolve.  The gold standard has always been some variation on the number of violations per well (VpW), which takes into account the reality that some operators have many more wells than others, so ranking by the total number of violations would show the largest operators in the worst light.

Even so, there are many ways to calculate the data.  The first effort was violations per offending well, which more than anything measures how badly things go when they do go wrong.  The difference between that and violations per drilled well is more than trivial semantics, because it’s designed to show how often things go wrong per attempt.  This same analysis also includes violations per amount of gas produced, which is more of a cost/benefit analysis, which allows for the possibility that some violations may be “worth it” more so than others, if the well is an especially large producer.

But even violations per drilled well is less straght-forward than one might think.  You could look at a given time frame, or the entire period of available data–either way you do it there will be some skew, whether because some activity is excluded, or because the data for drilled wells goes back three years further than violations data.

There is also the fact that some violation ID numbers appear more than one time on the compliance report, a fact that makes, “What is a violation?” something of an existential question.  Summaries by PADEP show that the agency counts violations by the number of violation IDs that have been issued, although a close look at the data really does make it seem like related issues are sometimes lumped together into a single violation ID, although usually not.

And finally, there is the whole issue of whether we should even bother to count administrative violations, or if we should limit it to the environmental, health, and safety (EH&S) category.  In February 2012, FracTracker argued to include administrative violations, as a closer look at those violations showed that it included real-world impacts, and not just a failure to dot i’s and cross t’s.  A few months later, the University of Buffalo’s Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) argued, among other things, to exclude them.  FracTracker then created a Classify the Violation Quiz, which asks users to guess whether a given violation was classified as administrative or EH&S.  This anonymous quiz was set up so that participants who got half of the questions correct would pass, but despite the fact that each question only has two possible answers, a large majority of respondents have failed.  A few months later, the prime advocate for excluding administrative violations–the SRSI–was closed by the University of Buffalo amid a cloud of ethics concerns.

It is a shame that a simple metric like violations per well should require such a preamble, but at FracTracker, we strive to be completely open with what we have done with the data.  In this case, I have looked at both the number of violation IDs issued as well as the raw number of appearances on the report.  Administrative violations are rightfully included.  Wells are included if their spud date was in 2012, and violations are included if their violation issue date was in 2012.  This data has been summarized by drilling operator and by county.  So let’s get to it:

Violations issued per well drilled

Violations issued per well drilled for unconventional oil and gas operators in Pennsylvania in 2012.

The following line chart shows the violations per well as tabulated by unique violation ID numbers issued:

Violations per well by operator for unconventional wells in Pennsylvania in 2012.  Violations tallied by unique violation ID numbers issued.

Violations per well by operator for unconventional wells in Pennsylvania in 2012. Violations tallied by unique violation ID numbers issued.

In the chart above, Penn Virginia and Enerplus seem to be particularly egregious in terms of violations per the number of wells drilled, but it should be pointed out that both operators had only one well drilled in 2012, reminding us of the importance of sample size.  Here then is the same data, including only operators that drilled 10 or more wells in 2012:

Violations per well by operators with 10 or more unconventional wells drilled in Pennsylvania.

Violations per well by operators with 10 or more unconventional wells drilled in Pennsylvania.

The state-wide average in this category is 0.50 violations per well drilled.

Let’s take a look at the data in terms of geography:

Violations per well by county for unconventional wells in PennsylvaniaViolations per well by county for unconventional wells in Pennsylvania

As with operators, there is considerable variation in terms of violations per well between the various counties:

Violations per well by county for unconventional wells in Pennsylvania

Violations per well by county for unconventional wells in Pennsylvania

Production Data by Operator for PA’s Unconventional Wells

A visitor to our site recently asked about the amount of shale gas produced in Pennsylvania by operator.  The following table contains data from the first six months of 2012, summarized by operator. It includes the number of wells showing gas production, the total sum of gas produced, and the average production of each operator’s producing wells. The dataset was downloaded on October 30, 2012, which is important to note, as it is sometimes updated without notice.

The results vary tremendously.  There could be numerous reasons for this, including the age and location of the wells.  This table does not take into consideration condensate or oil production, however those categories are rare in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale and other unconventional wells.

Trends in PA Data for Unconventional Wells

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) maintains datasets that are updated nightly for permits, drilled wells, and violations.  It seems like it should be a fairly simple task to find totals and trends in this data, but this isn’t always as straight-forward as one might hope.

For example, on the permits data that I downloaded from PADEP on October 22, 2012, there were 13,847 entries, but only 10,512 unique wells as defined by their eight digit API number.  This part is explainable, since additional permits are required for alterations to existing wells, but then there is the PADEP workload report, which counts 11,819 permits issued through October 12, 2012–a number that is obviously altogether different.

The drilled wells dataset used to be similarly afflicted, but the data now seem to be cured of that malady. However, the drilled wells had another issue: In January of this year, the Post-Gazette reported that there were hundreds of wells on the production dataset that were not on the drilled wells list, which is problematic because we’ve not yet figured out how to get the gas out of the ground without drilling a well first. At any rate, there is some reason to believe that this issue has been addressed–at least in part–as there are now records of more historical drilled unconventional wells than there used to be.

Which takes us to violations. The obstacle here is that there are often numerous issues that are encountered on an inspection, and the data show that PADEP hasn’t always been consistent in how it has handled that fact. While it does seem clear that PADEP counts violations by the number of discrete violation ID numbers that have been issued, sometimes those numbers have been used to apply to more than one issue found at a well. In addition, sometimes a single violation seems to apply to more than one well (perhaps at the same wellpad), and then sometimes there are enforcement actions that go along with violations, which generates a new line of data in the report. The net result is that the violations data that I downloaded on October 26, 2012 had 4,696 rows of data, which contained 4,064 violation ID numbers. Unlike permits and drilled wells, the workload report (see above) does not tally violations for multiple years, so that comparison is not available.

Given all of this, we can now see why questions such as, “How many unconventional gas permits have been issued in Pennsylvania?” are less straight-forward than one would hope. It also creates a challenge when trying to analyze the data that is based on such questions, while minimizing skew.

In order to look at long-term trends we need a consistent approach, so I developed a simple strategy to tackle these questions: use the summary information provided by PADEP from the dataset queries.  Results may therefore not reflect what I think to be an optimal representation of events on the ground, but they are totals produced by PADEP that have been obtained in a uniform manner. For each year, I searched for all unconventional records between New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve, except for 2012 of course, where I used today’s date. Here are those results:

Unconventional gas activity in Pennsylvania, with 2012 year to date totals and projections

The projected totals, for those who are curious, are based on the fact that October 29th is the 302nd day of the year, and multiplying the year to date totals by the inverse of the percentage of time elapsed in the year (365/302).  The projected total for each category is down substantially from 2011 totals.  Let’s take a closer look at each one:

Permits issued by year
At the current rate, there will be 1001 fewer permits for unconventional oil and gas wells issued in 2012 as the year before, a reduction of 28%.  This was widely predicted due to the low price of natural gas earlier in the year.  That price has now rebounded back to $3.81. It remains to be seen whether permit counts rebound as well.

Drilled wells per year
This graph looks pretty similar to the permits, with the exception that all of the total values are lower. 2012 is on pace to have 581 fewer wells drilled statewide than 2011, a 29% reduction, presumably for much the same reason as permits.

Violations issued per year
The number of violations peaked in 2010, so there may be some reason for the reduction other than the fact the industry itself is in a phase of contraction. Pennsylvania is on pace for 473 fewer violations that last year, which is a 39% drop. What these numbers cannot tell us is why. Is it a result of better performance in the field or less rigorous inspection by an administration with long-standing ties to the industry, or both?

Violations per drilled well, by year
Since 2010, I’ve taken periodic looks at the number of violations issued divided by the number of wells drilled. It is a somewhat simplistic but effective way to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of impact by various operators, geographies, or in this case, time. The 2012 rate of 0.54 violations per drilled well is down 13% from last year, and 36% from the peak in 2009. This chart also has a huge dip in the years 2006 and 2007, at a time when the number of wells being drilled was small but growing rapidly.

Approaching 10K Unconventional Wells in PA

Spatial Distribution of Unconventional Production in PA

In the first half of 2012, gas production from unconventional sources such as the Marcellus Shale was reported in 30 different counties in Pennsylvania, according to data downloaded from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) website on September 10, 2012. Of these, 19 counties had aggregated totals of at least one billion cubic feet (Bcf), lead by Bradford (235 Bcf); Susquehanna (189 Bcf); Lycoming (97 Bcf); Tioga (89 Bcf); Washington (79 Bcf); and Greene (74 Bcf). Here are the proportions of those 19 counties presented graphically:

We can also view the data spatially. To find out the production value of any county, please click the blue “i” tool, then any county shown in blue. Also added is the location of the top ten wells in the state in terms of natural gas production for the six month period:

On this view, the top wells are clustered so closely together that there appear to be only four. The top two producers are both operated by Citrus Energy in Meshoppen Bourough, a small town in Wyoming County with 563 residents as of the 2010 Census, and a total surface area of 0.7 square miles. The other eight wells on the list are operated by Cabot Oil and Gas in a handful of municipalities in Susquehanna County. Here is a closer look at the wells, with an additional layer of all unconventional drilled wells:

The wells in red are the same 10 wells, all within 10 miles of one another as the crow flies. The wells in black show the other unconventional drilled wells in the area as of late August. Obviously, this part of the state has been the focus of considerable attention by the operators active in the region.

Incidents continue to make headlines during drilling slowdown

Although drilling activity in some areas of PA seems to have slowed due to the lower price of natural gas ($2.82 per MMBtu), the decline in violations cited by the PA DEP have not followed that trend as quickly as one would hope. There have still been plenty of incidents over the last few months that keep the safety of drilling at the forefront of the media and in residents’ minds. Just last night there was a confirmed report about a gas well explosion (or possibly fire) in Susquehanna County. West Virginia is not exempt from these problems, either, after three rig workers were injured in an explosion at an Antero well pad on August 17th.

Check out the timeline below of  a selection of significant gas drilling incidents in PA that have surfaced since January 2012.


Flood Control and Shale Gas Wells

Flooding from Hurricane Irene in Wilkes-Barre PA

Photo Credit: Salvation Army, Randall Thomas, Wilkes-Barre, PA

Pennsylvania is no stranger to water and flooding, as we receive between 38 and 45 inches of rain per year on average. Unfortunately, the storms that hit the region starting on August 27th were more than we could handle – to say the least. During this time Hurricane Irene and the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee burdened the eastern portion of the state with flooding at water levels that rivaled Hurricane Agnes (1972).

While most residents hit hardest by flooding focused on protecting their families, homes, and livelihoods, others throughout the Commonwealth were also concerned about the impact that rising water levels could have on natural gas well pads. This is especially an issue for those sites operating in floodplains with open frac ponds. According to the reports we have been able to gather no shale gas well sites were compromised or sustained environmental damage in PA.  Apparently, Marcellus Shale drillers were advised to prevent overflows from wastewater/’frac’ ponds by the governor, although due to a communication loophole it is unclear as to whether all of the relevant sites temporarily shut down during the inclement weather. Regardless, with the number of wells being drilled in PA especially in the northeast, being able to prevent any incidents during these storms is quite a feat on the part of the drillers and should be recognized as such. Industry reports also indicate that drilling companies provided financial contributions, expertise, equipment, work hours, and supplies to aid in the flood relief efforts. Learn more about these contributions here.

We ask that if you have any knowledge that contradicts this information, please let us know and contact your local representative to report the incident.

West Virginia Marcellus Shale Data Updated

Three new West Virginia datasets have been added to the DataTool to keep up to date with Marcellus Shale activities in that state. The West Virginia DEP is the source for all three datasets. Included are:

West Virginia Marcellus Shale Permits (large)
Marcellus Shale permits in West Virginia through September 6, 2011. Please click the image for a dynamic view.

The permits list was filtered online to include only Marcellus Shale permits, then filtered on the desktop to reflect only “Permit Issued” actions, thereby ignoring applications, renewals, and other actions for the same well. I also converted the coordinate system from UTM’s to the more familiar system decimal degree latitude and longitude. There are 1,868 records in the dataset. One well apparently was given the wrong coordinates, and appears to be in Pennsylvania instead of West Virginia.

West Virginia Marcellus Shale Drilled Wells (large)
Marcellus Shale drilled wells in West Virginia through September 6, 2011. Please click the image for a dynamic view.

Each triangle in the map above represents a Marcellus Shale gas well that was listed as an active well. Location data was determined by matching the unique well numbers to the permits list, above.

Marcellus Shale Violations in West Virginia (large)
Marcellus Shale violations in West Virginia through September 6, 2011. Please click the image for a dynamic view.

The violations list did not mention whether or not the well was a Marcellus Shale well, nor did it give location information. Both of these categories were determined by matching the well number to the permits list.

PA Non Marcellus Oil and Gas Well Data Available for 2010


This page has been archived. It is provided for historical reference only.

Oil and gas service roads in the Allegheny National Forest. Photo from the Allegheny Defense Project

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has recently released 2010 production and waste data for non Marcellus Shale wells. The following datasets have been added to FracTracker’s DataTool (links removed – no longer active):

  • PA Non Marcellus Production by Well, 2010
  • PA Non Marcellus Brine Production by Well, 2010
  • PA Non Marcellus Drill Cuttings Production by Well, 2010
  • PA Non Marcellus Drilling Fluid Production by Well, 2010
  • PA Non Marcellus Frac Fluid Production by Well, 2010

All data is self-reported by the drilling operators to the DEP.

Gas, Oil, and Condensate Production

Non-Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania reported production of gas, oil, and condensate in 2010. Gas is reported in thousands of cubic feet (Mcf), while production values for oil and condensate are reported in barrels.

Natural Gas

Natural gas production in the state is significant, even without the prodigious Marcellus Shale formation that dominates current drilling activity.

2010 gas production summary in Pennsylvania for non Marcellus Shale wells

Production values vary widely throughout Pennsylvania, which of course feeds into how much royalty a landowner could make off a well on his or her property. Based on the $4.16 average wellhead price of gas for 2010, a well would have needed to produce about 1,924 Mcf of gas in order to collect $1,000, assuming the minimum one eighth share required by Pennsylvania. 36,062 of the producing wells in Pennsylvania produced that amount or less, and 28,616 earned more than that figure. The most productive non Marcellus Shale well produced 1,049,000 Mcf, which would produed a royalty check of over $540,000. The least productive wells would not qualify for any royalty check.

Vertical and horizontal non Marcellus gas well summaries and market estimates

There are some non Marcellus gas wells that are drilled horizontally now, and they are on average five times more productive than their vertical counterparts, although the sample size is fairly small. The last column, “TX Severance” calculates the estimated severance tax that would have been collected on the gas produced from Pennsylvania’s non Marcellus Shale wells, if the Commonwealth had the same 7.5 percent severance tax as Texas.

135 of 256 operators with just one well reported exactly 100 Mcf produced in 2010.

Since there is no severance tax in Pennsylvania, the most important reason to get production values correct is to make sure the landowner gets the proper royalty check. However, there are a 2,617 wells that are identified as home wells, and for these wells, royalty payments wouldn’t apply either, since the operator and the resident are the same person. Many of these wells are unmetered, according to the notes in the dataset. This probably explains why a large number of operators with just one well reported exactly 100 Mcf.

Oil and Condensate

Non Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania also produced oil and condensate. Condensate is a hydrocarbon liquid or gas (depending on conditions) that is often associated with “wet gas” wells. Through the control of temperature and pressure, this is turned into liquid, removed from the natural gas stream, and sold to oil refineries. Although counted separately, condensate is fundamentally similar to light crude oil, and it is relatively easy to process into gasoline and other fuels. The average price per barrel for petroleum and other liquids in 2010 was $79.61.

Production summaries and market estimates for oil and condensate from non Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania in 2010.

If Pennsylvania had the same 4.6 percent severance tax as Texas, we would have collected about $9.5 million in revenues. Combined with hypothetical gas revenues discussed above, Pennsylvania would have a handy $72.5 million to help fill in the budget gaps, just from the non Marcellus Shale wells.

Waste Production

There are five categories of waste production in the 2010 report:

  • Basic Sediment
  • Brine
  • Drill Cuttings
  • Drilling (Fluid)
  • Frac Fluid

Basic Sediment. This is composed of salt and other impurities that often settle at the bottom of the tank. No basic sediment was reported in Pennsylvania for non Marcellus Shale wells in 2010.

Brine. I contacted the DEP in February to clear up a point about brine for Marcellus wells. The amount of brine and frac fluid were nearly the same. Usually, “frac fluid” refers to the 1% or so of chemical fluids that are added to the sand and millions of gallons of water in order to hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells. Brine is usually one of several terms that describe this mixture once it flows back up to the surface after fracturing, having acquired significant salinity along the way. I was told that in this case, brine referred to natural underground salty waters that were encountered in the drilling process, and that frac fluid was the flow back water after fracturing operations had begun. On the other hand, I have spoken with reporters who have learned from industry sources that they treat the distinction differently: flow back water in the first 30 days are so are considered “frac fluid”, and anything thereafter is “brine”.

Regardless of how the distinction is used in practice, both are wastewater types that are difficult to dispose of. There is a movement in the industry to recycle as much as possible of these fluids for future wells. In April, the DEP asked drillers to stop disposing of these fluids in treatment plants that ultimately put the diluted fluid back into our rivers and streams. Recently, some progress has been made in those regards. Another common disposal method is the use of underground injection wells.

40,731 non Marcellus wells reported brine wastewater production in Pennsylvania in 2010, with amounts ranging from 0 to 105,000 barrels. 33,153 wells (81 percent) reported amounts of 100 barrels or less. Statewide, 4,452,905 barrels of brine were reported in 2010 for non Marcellus Shale wells, or about 187 million gallons.

Drill Cutting. Of the thousands of non Marcellus Shale wells drilled last year, apparently only one company encountered drill cuttings. Newfield Appalachia PA, LLC reported three Wayne County wells that created this type of waste that is created when the drill bit chews up thousands of feet of subterranean rock and sediment en route to the target formation. There is no word on how the other companies avoided creating drill cuttings, but in my opinion, Newfield deserves some praise for taking their reporting obligations seriously. Drill cutting waste ranged from 25 tons to 506 tons, with two wells (67 percent) reporting less than 100 tons.

Drilling Fluid. According to OSHA, there are several functions for drilling fluid, including maintaining a proper well pressure, keeping the drill bit cool, removing the drill cuttings, and preventing a collapse of the well before it has been cased.  836 wells reported drilling fluid waste, 580 of which (69 percent)reported values of under 100 barrels.  The largest quantity was 45,360 barrels, an amount large enough to possibly include drill cuttings as well.

Frac Fluid For more information, see the comments for brine, above. 2,805 wells reported frac fluid waste produciton, with quantities ranging from 0 to 54,600 barrels. 2,330 wells (83 percent) reported production of less than 100 barrels of frac fluid. Statewide, there were 499,351 barrels reported, or about 22.9 million gallons.

A Look at Horizontal Well Production in Virginia

Horizontal gas wells in Virginia in 2008 to 2009. Note that they are all clustered in the extreme western portion of the Commonwealth.

According to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy’s (DMME) Division of Gas and Oil, there are 30 horizontal gas wells that produced gas between January 2008 and December 2009 (1). While this is not a large number of horizontal wells, the dataset is interesting, since Virginia publishes monthly production data online.

Of the 30 wells, only nine were in production for at least 12 of the 24 months that I looked at. This is, admittedly, a small sample size, but is as good an entry point as any into the discussion of how gas production changes over time.

Chart 1: Production in Thousands of Cubic Feet (Mcf) of Horizontal Gas Wells in Virginia, with at least 12 months of production between 2008 to 2009.

Many of the wells in this analysis have a spike in production within the first few months of production, followed by a gradual decline.

Chart 2: Maximum, Minimum, and Mean Production of Horizontal Gas Wells in Virginia, with at least 12 months of production between 2008 to 2009.

For wells with at least 12 months of production, the mean production value tends to be closer to the minimum value than the maximum. This is particularly true for those wells which show a significant spike in production, such as VH-520008.

Chart 3: Ratio of Most Recent Monthly Production to Peak Monthly Production of Horizontal Gas Wells in Virginia, with at least 12 months of production between 2008 to 2009.

Ratio of December 2009 production to each well’s maximum monthly production for all horizontal gas wells. Please click the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus. Click the “i” tool then any map feature for more information.

For these nine horizontal gas wells in Virginia, the average production of the most recent month (December 2009) is slightly less than 30 percent of the peak monthly production. This figure is skewed on the one side by a well with a tremendous production spike (VH-530008, 6.93%) and on the other by a well with low but relatively steady production (VH-536927, 42.75%). When all wells are considered (as with the map) the range of values is much greater.

Each of these wells had been in production between 12 and 24 months as of December 2009, and none of them produced even half as much gas in that month as the month for their respective maximum production values. The complete production data is available on FracTracker’s DataTool.

  1. The most recent production data currently available is for January 2010, one month after the end of this analysis.