Pennsylvania’s Grand Fracking Experiment

Earthquake strikes Washington County, Pa. near shale gas drilling for the second time in three years

(Republished blog from October 30, 2019)

In a county where earthquakes are non-existent to extremely rare, a minor earthquake shook residents 6-1/2 miles south of Washington, Pennsylvania in the early hours of the morning Tuesday October 15, 2019. This is the second earthquake to strike the Southwestern Pennsylvania county in less than three years!

“I was up in the middle of the night getting something to drink, and felt the house moving. I didn’t know what that was,” said a woman who lives on Vaneal Road, about one mile east of the epicenter.”

LOCAL RESIDENT
Drilling a well lateral in a northwesterly direction, 1.8 miles long, from this NV38 well pad would hit the earthquake epicenter, but these all appear to be older wells.

Image: Drilling a well lateral in a northwesterly direction, 1.8 miles long, from this NV38 well pad would hit the earthquake epicenter, but these all appear to be older wells.

Another resident, who lives a bit closer to the epicenter on Vaneal Road, said that while she slept through the quake, her elderly father felt it. That area is home to multiple Marcellus shale gas well pads and the Enlow Fork Mine, where plans are in place for continued longwall coal mining.

Map of the Enlow Fork Mine, Bailey Mine and Harvey Mine    here

Image: Map of the Enlow Fork Mine, Bailey Mine and Harvey Mine here

According to the USGS, the earthquake measured 2.2 on the Richter scale, with the epicenter 1 km deep (2/3-mile or 3,279 feet deep). A near “twin” to this earthquake (2.1 on the Richter scale and 1 km deep) occurred on May 11, 2017, in the midst of drilling and fracking activity just west of Claysville, Pa.

The two Washington County, Pa. earthquakes were about 9-miles apart. Image: USGS

Image: The two Washington County, Pa. earthquakes were about 9-miles apart. Source: USGS

“The Earthquake Twins” live in a fracked-up neighborhood, with all this drilling and fracking taking place over the last 15 years. Image:    FracMapper

Image: “The Earthquake Twins” live in a fracked-up neighborhood, with all this drilling and fracking taking place over the last 15 years. Image: FracMapper

Earthquakes linked to Pennsylvania fracking

Over a two day period in April 2016, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania (further north) experienced five earthquakes, ranging from 1.8 to 2.1 on the Richter scale. Nearby “zipper fracking” (where two horizontal wells next to each other are fracked at the same time) was confirmed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (Pa. DEP) to be the cause of the earthquake cluster, that were each 3 km deep (1.8-miles or 9,837 feet).

Pennsylvania’s first fracking-related earthquakes. Five Lawrence County, Pa. earthquakes in April 2016 ranged from 1.8 to 2.1 and were all 3 km (1.8 miles or 9,837 feet) deep. Image: USGS

Image: Pennsylvania’s first fracking-related earthquakes. Five Lawrence County, Pa. earthquakes in April 2016 ranged from 1.8 to 2.1 and were all 3 km (1.8 miles or 9,837 feet) deep. Image: USGS

As reported by Reid Frazier at StateImpact Pennsylvania:

“At least within Pennsylvania, this is the first time that we have seen that sort of spatial and temporal correlation with [oil and gas] operator activity,” says Seth Pelepko, chief of well-plugging and subsurface activities for DEP’s oil and gas management program. In addition, Pelepko says there were “no faults identified along portions of the well bore where these seismic events were detected.” Earthquakes in Pennsylvania are relatively uncommon, though oil and gas-related earthquakes have been observed in Ohio and Oklahoma. In those cases, fracking waste disposal — not the fracking process itself — is usually the cause. In Ohio, a study found that 77 small earthquakes were linked to natural gas drilling around Poland Township in 2014, just over the state line from Lawrence County.” Full story

STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA

Many would rightly consider this widespread drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) taking place in Western Pennsylvania as a “Grand Fracking Experiment.” Supporters of fracking will tell you that it has been done safely for 70 years, but the high volume slick water hydraulic fracturing (HVSWHF) is a new animal, so their argument is like comparing a 1949 Ford to a 2019 Tesla — in more ways than one!

Pennsylvania is already a “minefield”

Then consider everything else that is still going on underground, incompatible uses in a maze of unknowns, where methane releases from gas storage fields can add risk to mine safety and further climate change. Longwall mining through a “minefield” of uncharted territory, where the location of all the old oil and gas wells is part guessing game.

As reported by Laura Legere in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“Pennsylvania regulators reached a settlement Tuesday with Equitrans Midstream Corp. over a natural gas storage field that regulators threatened to shut down last winter out of concern that unidentified old oil and gas wells might be in the path of an advancing coal mine. The Pa DEP fined the Canonsburg-based company $650,000 and laid out a timeline for it to identify and plug wells that might pierce its Swarts storage field in Greene County. Canonsburg-based Consol Energy has begun mining a layer of coal sandwiched 2,000 feet above the underground storage reservoir. Pennsylvania’s law for identifying old wells in such situations is especially strict because an uncharted open well could give gas a path between the storage field and the mine, creating a risk of asphyxiation for miners or an explosion. It is unclear how many ownerless old wells might still litter the field. The operating wells at Swarts were drilled between 1895 and 1930 and converted to storage wells in 1949 and 1973, according to federal filings.” Full story

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE
MERE COINCIDENCE?
The October 15, 2019 earthquake epicenter was 6 miles north of the Swarts storage field and at about the same depth.

“Frackenstein” well pads

And now, in the short 15-year history of HVSWHF in Western Pennsylvania, we’re seeing the advent of ‘MEGA WELL PADS’ with more than 40 or 50 wells each. Some gas wells will have laterals (the horizontal portion of a well) extending 3 miles, and that’s after drilling down 1-1/2 miles to reach the Marcellus Shale layer.

“Mega” Mingo Pad permitted for Northeastern Washington County, Pa. where drilling and fracking will be anything but a “temporary” industrial activity.

Image: “Mega” Mingo Pad permitted for Northeastern Washington County, Pa. where drilling and fracking will be anything but a “temporary” industrial activity.

These new MEGA WELL PADS will require tens-of-thousands air polluting (PM2.5) diesel truck trips (over 1,000 truck trips per well), thousands of tons of frac sand (strip mined in the upper Midwest of the US), and millions of gallons of water and “proprietary” frac chemicals, to complete dozens of wells.

Frac chemicals on a western Pennsylvania well pad. A large percentage of these chemicals are exempt from being fully disclosed with CAS numbers due to their “proprietary” nature.

Image: Frac chemicals on a western Pennsylvania well pad. A large percentage of these chemicals are exempt from being fully disclosed with CAS numbers due to their “proprietary” nature.

Industry is only “at arms length”

The best some townships have done (without getting sued) is restricting this industrial activity to areas zoned “Industrial.” 500 feet is currently the standard Pennsylvania state setback from wells, even though health studies have begun to show much greater health risks within 1/2 to 1 mile (5,280 feet) of wells.

Find health studies and more at: Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (the Compendium) by the Health Professionals of New York, which is a “fully referenced compilation of evidence outlining the risks and harms of fracking.”

Habitat loss and forest fragmentation

The excavation of shale gas well pads, access roads and gathering pipelines to each well pad has a consistently negative effect on biodiversity, migratory bird populations, species such as deer and elk, and creates invasive plant problems. It’s been said that secondary infrastructure can have a footprint over eight times that of the well pad itself.

Along with other nearby well pads, these two well pads and a compressor station (middle) were cut into the forest directly above Beaver Run Reservoir in Westmoreland County, Pa. — a 1,300 acre lake that provides water to 150,000 people.

Image: Along with other nearby well pads, these two well pads and a compressor station (middle) were cut into the forest directly above Beaver Run Reservoir in Westmoreland County, Pa. — a 1,300 acre lake that provides water to 150,000 people.

In a NPR story by Marie Cusick:

“Everything from the noise and the traffic to the lighting, to the pad placements, to the pipeline construction to the road expansion — this is all industrial infrastructure. It’s inherently incompatible with sustainable forest management. You’re looking at some of the impacts associated with forest fragmentation.” Kevin Heatley Full story

NPR

“Getting wasted” in Pennsylvania

Disposing of the toxic drilling and flowback waste from these wells has always been the industry’s biggest problem. Tens of thousands of truckloads have made long haul roundtrips to disposal wells in Ohio. Unbelievable to many perhaps, but some of this liquid waste was being trucked into local sewage plants (POTW’s), and hardly treated at all, before it went into Pittsburgh’s 3 rivers, at the cheap disposal cost of 5-cents per gallon.

Huge frac wastewater impoundments like the one above began appearing all over Washington County in the past 15 years. Leaks, violations and Pa. DEP fines led to some being closed.

Image: Huge frac wastewater impoundments like the one above began appearing all over Washington County in the past 15 years. Leaks, violations and Pa. DEP fines led to some being closed.

“Toxic teabags”

Now, the millions of pounds of shale drilling waste hauled into local landfills is further revealing itself as toxic leachate, as it reaches drinking water sources like the the Monongahela River. I neglected to mention up to this point that this toxic waste is RADIOACTIVE, and Radium 226 (Ra226) is water soluble.

May 16, 2019 Post-Gazette story: Belle Vernon sewage plant to stop accepting contaminated landfill runoff

”The Belle Vernon sewage treatment plant in Fayette County will no longer accept highly contaminated liquid runoff from a nearby landfill in Rostraver that takes in large amounts of shale gas drilling and fracking waste. The five-member Belle Vernon Municipal Authority board voted unanimously Wednesday evening to stop accepting the landfill’s runoff or “leachate” because its excessive volume and toxic chemical components are damaging the sewage plant’s ability to treat the wastewater before it is discharged into the Monongahela River.”

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

With 12,000 of these new fracked wells in Pennsylvania being drilled since 2004, estimates indicate that total could easily reach 50,000 to 100,000 wells over the next 50 years, especially with new cracker plants, that are used to make plastic, coming online. These wells will be concentrated primarily in Marcellus shale regions in Western and Northeastern Pennsylvania.

frack-out-back.jpg

Ohio River Valley “pushers”

Business groups get giddy talking about the prospects of a massive petro-chemical (Pet-Chem) build-out in the Ohio River Valley (aka Appalachian Basin), and there are strong tailwinds pushing this industry along at the state and federal levels, with grand talk of massive underground ethane storage, south of Wheeling, West Virginia, near Marcellus and Utica Shale production in the panhandle of West Virginia and eastern Ohio, areas with legacy air pollution problems already. Another cracker plant or two are already in the works, to make more plastic from ethane and bolster liquified natural gas (LNG) exports.

The Drilling Treadmill

Potential gas production and actual gas production from Marcellus Shale wells became a hot topic during the summer of 2011 with an SEC investigation. Financial investors wanted to know how accurate the predictions were of Marcellus Shale gas reserves and the true productive life of Marcellus shale wells.

In addition to stakeholders facing rapid production declines, gas well royalties are often gutted by 35 to 50 percent deductions for gas processing and transportation expenses, drastically shrinking ‘mailbox money’ on twin fronts.

Image: In addition to stakeholders facing rapid production declines, gas well royalties are often gutted by 35 to 50 percent deductions for gas processing and transportation expenses, drastically shrinking ‘mailbox money’ on twin fronts.

Considering the average productive life of a Barnett Shale well was only 7½ years, I did a local Pennsylvania analysis using Pa DEP data (graph above) that showed Marcellus wells share that same “in like a lion, out like a lamb” production curve. The overall trend points to a 65-percent drop in production over the first 3 years. In order to maintain production levels to supply cracker plants over the next 50 years, constant and repeated drilling will have to occur in defined portions of Pennsylvania, something commonly known as “the drilling treadmill.”VIDEO: Shale Promises or Shale Spin? A Conversation with Deborah Rogers

Ewing sarcoma

Beyond all the obvious air and water pollution taking place with shale gas production, concerns are building around the youth cancer clusters now appearing in the four county region of Southwestern Pennsylvania — Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties. Most notable is Ewing sarcoma.

Children are never supposed to die before their parents. Luke Blanock’s mother holds a poster at a public meeting at Canon-McMillan high school with the Pennsylvania Department of Health regarding the clusters of youth cancers appearing near fracking.

Image: Children are never supposed to die before their parents. Luke Blanock’s mother holds a poster at a public meeting at Canon-McMillan high school with the Pennsylvania Department of Health regarding the clusters of youth cancers appearing near fracking.

Extensive reporting has been done on the youth cancer clusters by Dave Templeton and Don Hopey, reporters at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. October 7, 2019 Post-Gazette story: Is pollution causing childhood cancers in Canon-McMillan?

“Sara Rankin of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project said the organization “heard loud and clear from residents” during a public meeting in June “that they want to know if something in their environment is contributing to these high rates of cancer. What we do know is that southwest Pennsylvania has been inundated by shale gas development, an industry that emits 55 compounds which are either known, probable, or possible carcinogens into our environment,” she said, adding that no level of exposure to carcinogens is considered safe.”

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

Timber, coal and an oily past

Resource extraction is nothing new to Pennsylvania, having left deep scars from timbering, coal mining and widespread oil drilling 135 years ago. Previous coal mining and oil drilling created a shaky foundation for this new fracking, due to all the abandoned mines (with ongoing mine subsidence issues), ongoing longwall mining (with intentional subsidence caving roads and houses), and tens of thousands unplugged oil and gas wells (creating instant “communication” pathways to aquifers and water wells).

Oil wells covered the city of Washington, Pa in 1882. How many were properly plugged? Fracking typically uses 9,000 to 15,000 pounds per square inch (PSI) of pressure to crack the shale, so “communication” with older wells during fracking has occurred.

Image: Oil wells covered the city of Washington, Pa in 1882. How many were properly plugged? Fracking typically uses 9,000 to 15,000 pounds per square inch (PSI) of pressure to crack the shale, so “communication” with older wells during fracking has occurred.

Another dangerous aspect of this Grand Fracking Experiment is all the pipelines, both old and new. Building huge new, high pressure pipelines over shaky ground is a bad idea, and climate change has begun to make a wet Pennsylvania even wetter, causing dangerous slips on steep slopes. Then there’s the idiotic loophole that allows gathering pipelines (from each well site to a gas processing facility) not to be recorded on the ONE CALL 811 system, adding huge risk to future excavation activities.

In 2014, these large gas transmission pipelines had to make special accommodations for longwall mining occurring beneath them. “Mineral rights trump surface rights.”

Image: In 2014, these large gas transmission pipelines had to make special accommodations for longwall mining occurring beneath them. “Mineral rights trump surface rights.”

The Revolution Pipeline explosion occurred on a steep western Pennsylvania slope, north of Pittsburgh, in October 2018.

The Revolution Pipeline explosion occurred on a steep western Pennsylvania slope, north of Pittsburgh, in October 2018.

In light of everything I’ve written here, it’s FULL STEAM AHEAD in Pennsylvania, as the Grand Fracking Experiment continues.
Trump’s vision for the future calls for expanding this drilling and fracking everywhere, while stripping away more regulations meant to protect your air and water!
Bob

One Comment on “Pennsylvania’s Grand Fracking Experiment

  1. Pingback: Unprotected Sex and Fracking in Pennsylvania – Bobscaping

%d bloggers like this: