Gas Drilling Heating Up West Virginia

Although most of the recent natural gas drilling coverage has centered around the Marcellus Shale play in Pennsylvania, West Virginia has never been out of the loop when it comes to energy resource extraction.

Oil, natural gas and coal bed methane industries have quietly grown alongside the long-entrenched coal business in the state, but as production ramps up across the nation, West Virginia’s natural gas drilling is drawing increased attention.

(maps and more after the jump)

SkyTruth downloaded and analyzed data from West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection to create the maps below. Each show the extent and concentration of permits issued across the state between 2005 to 2011.  Note that a “permit” does not necessarily indicate that the well has been drilled, or fracking has taken place, but in the hot Marcellus Shale play we think it’s likely that action follows the permit approval more often than not, and quickly.

All oil and gas well drilling permits issued by watershed from 2005 to 2011

 

All hydraulic fracturing (fracking) permits issued by watershed from 2005 to 2011
So, what effects will the rising gas  industry have on the state, especially in highly permitted areas like the Middle West Fork River watershed?  Unlike coal, natural gas drilling, especially that employing hydraulic fracturing methods, is relatively unexplored regulatory and environmental territory.

Although the industry may be decreasing unemployment in some localities, some citizens are worried that in the haste to drill proper environmental regulations have not been implemented to account for the risks and impacts associated with the new technologies of horizontal drilling and fracking.

Here in West Virginia concerned citizens have pushed the legislature to review the issue and the Senate Judiciary Committee just this week forwarded along a controversial set of rules dictating Marcellus regulation, but to what end? With strong industry players touting economic benefits and pushing against costly regulations, it will be interesting to see where West Virginia falls in the battle between profit and oversight.

Gulf of Mexico Overflight Yesterday – Old Slicks, New Slicks

Jon Henderson of Gulf Restoration Network did an overflight over the Gulf yesterday, thanks to our Gulf Monitoring Consortium partner SouthWings. They documented two small slicks in Breton Sound, and a larger slicks from the Taylor Energy site where a cluster of hurricane-damaged wells have been leaking since 2004.  Read all about it and check out the excellent pics.

Jon filed three reports with the National Response Center, as all citizens who witness a suspected oil or hazardous materials spill are encouraged to do.  His reports should appear soon in the SkyTruth Alerts system, which you can subscribe to if you’d like to get automatic notifications any time a spill is reported. But in the meantime you can see Jon’s two Breton Sound reports here and here, and the Taylor report here.

Oil slick at Taylor Energy / 23051 chronic leak site in Gulf of Mexico, December 8, 2011. Photo courtesy Jon Henderson / Gulf Restoration Network.

Judging from the pics, it looks like both Breton Sound slicks are being caused by a slow point source of leakage underwater, probably on the seafloor.  The first is similar to what you’d see at a natural oil seep location; the second contains heavier brown material that suggests a larger/faster leak.  Given the maze of pipelines and abandoned wells on the seafloor in the Sound, both might be from leaking infrastructure.  We’ll check the NRC to see if any potential responsible party has come forward.

The slick at the Taylor Energy / 23051 site is similar to what we’ve been seeing since we first “discovered” this chronic leak in early 2010. A work boat of some kind is on the scene, but the Ocean Saratoga rig that was working to plug the leaking wells is obviously not. Apparently fixing these wells and stopping this leak isn’t a high priority. Check out a chronology of information and observations related to this leak. You can monitor this location on the SkyTruth Alerts, or subscribe to get automatic notifications.

Campos Basin Oil Spill, Brazil – Small Slick November 25

We’ve just processed an Envisat ASAR radar image of the Campos Basin that was taken on November 25.  As expected, it shows a much smaller apparent oil slick originating from the location of the SEDCO 706 drilling rig, operated for Chevron by Transocean, than we observed back on November 12:
Envisat ASAR satellite radar image taken November 25, 2011. Slicks are dark streaks and patches. Location of SEDCO 706 drill rig is marked. Image courtesy European Space Agency.
Surface wind speed over the leak site was good, about 5-15 knots (3-8 meters/sec), blowing from the north-northeast.  A very narrow slick about 120 meters wide and 50 kilometers long extends south from the rig location, covering about 6 square kilometers.  Assuming the slick is 1 micron thick, we estimate it holds about 1,584 gallons (38 barrels) of oil.
There are other small slicks in the area to the west and southwest of the Chevron leak site.  Some of these may be from natural oil seeps in the basin, other sources of natural surfactant such as phytoplankton, or leaks and spills from vessels and other offshore facilities.