Drilling Alerts: SkyTruth Kicks It Up a Notch for 2012!

A new year brings new possibilities here at SkyTruth! For us, that means an amazing new portal of drilling data and maps for easy access and download.

SkyTruth Drilling Alerts is a compendium of datasets, links and news to give any concerned citizen the tools necessary to become informed about the issues that matter most to them.

We have created a live system of alerts for the public to subscribe to, providing up-to-date notification of drilling events in Pennsylvania and/or West Virginia (other states are on our radar). As soon as we know, you know!

Click to visit the SkyTruth Drilling Alerts site!

The site also showcases our mapping work showing drilling throughout the Marcellus shale region. Maps that highlight levels of drilling activity by county and watershed are provided in printable format as well as in interactive form for more dynamic, searchable viewing. These maps are designed to help concerned citizens get organized to perform regular tests of water quality in streams, creeks and rivers where drilling activity is highest and impacts to water quality are most likely to be occurring. As new shale-gas drilling spreads throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and on to Ohio and New York, such proactive knowledge is crucial to understanding if and how resource extraction will affect our nation’s valuable waterways.

This site also provides visitors with recent SkyTruth news and updates as well as links to and explanations of our most useful data sources.

We want this to be an informative and user-driven resource, so please do not hesitate to share your comments and suggestions for improvement as you explore! We are also calling for any and all assistance with identifying and maintaining datasets you think would be useful to include on the Alerts maps. Contact us! 

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter where we will be announcing additions and improvements to this site as we strive to keep our Earth and global community as clean and healthy as possible!

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.

“Fracking Pit” Spill Reported near Salem, West Virginia

Yesterday we received this report from our SkyTruth Alerts System about a spill of “fracking fluid” from a pit located about a mile and a half to the north east of Salem, WV in Harrison county.  Note that we placed the original report in the town of Salem because we had to approximate the location since no specific latitude and longitude were given in the report.  The actual location according to gas drilling permit data from the West Virginia DEP appears to be about a mile up Cherry Camp Run heading north from Rt. 50:

Approximate location of recent report of “fracking fluid” spill near Salem, WV

Here’s what we know:

The operator of the site is Antero Resources Bluestone, LLC which sits on property reportedly owned by Mary Post and Robert Haught. Several drilling permits on this property were issued over the past few years, and several permits were issued and then canceled. The most recent permit we see in the WV Permit Data site is API number 033-05540 which was approved on 4/19/2011. The prior permits for this farm were signed by Hall Drilling. So far, we haven’t found any actual ‘permit commenced’ filing for any permit issued on this property (we believe that a “permit commenced” filing indicates the start of drilling activity). In the most recent permit, the current operator is listed as Antero Resources Bluestone LLC.   A little online research reveals that Bluestone LLC was acquired by Antero Resources last December. According to that press release: “Sam Ross, Mike Hall and the Bluestone team have created quite a valuable asset in the play and we congratulate them on their success.” In the WV Permit Data search, we found that Michael Hall was the contact person for Hall Drilling, LLC. So we conclude that Hall became Bluestone LLC, and was then taken over by Antero Resources.

We did a little more digging and found this Youtube video which was uploaded on March 6, 2011 and appears to show the same site:

Then we found another Youtube clip, uploaded just two months later on May 21, 2011 showing what appears to be the same drilling site and including the API number of the most recent permit for that site, which is probably posted on a sign near the road:

We’ll let the videos speak for themselves, and only point out that the surface of the water is awfully close to the top of the berm and there is not much clearance there to prevent the contents of the pond from overflowing into the creek.  We have no idea what’s in the pond though, and no way to verify that these videos do indeed show the same location as the NRC report.

U.S. National Forests No Match for Drilling Boom

As part of SkyTruth’s ongoing analysis of gas and oil drilling in Pennsylvania (see HotSpot Map blog and Abandoned Wells blog) we’ve begun exploring the effects of the Marcellus play on national and state forests.

This issue has been of concern to environmentalists and residents alike for several years. In 2009 the U.S. Forest Service was sued by conservation groups for allowing gas drilling to continue without the completion of environmental site assessments of potential drilling effects. The case was ruled in favor of such assessments, but drilling companies and private mineral owners with stakes in the Allegheny were quick to appeal. In September, 2011 the settlement requiring environmental site assessments before drilling can begin was overturned, thus opening up the national forest for new gas and oil drilling, including horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

The map below illustrates drilling in Allegheny National Forest from January 2005 – October 2011:

3,845 oil and gas wells drilled in Allegheny National Forest since 2005


Nearly 4,000 oil and gas wells were drilled in Allegheny National Forest since 2005.  Only 15 of those are Marcellus Shale wells, and all of them were drilled since 2009. As the concern about natural gas drilling in U.S. National Forests spreads, SkyTruth intends to continue monitoring the number of permits received by the PA DEP Bureau of Oil and Gas Management to see if this ruling will bring increased drilling activity in the area as expected. 

High Fracking Rates in Pennsylvania Since January 1, 2011

SkyTruth analysts have found that since the beginning of 2011 there have been 2,067 new natural gas and oil wells drilled in the state of Pennsylvania, with the majority being Marcellus Shale gas wells. All of these wells are being hydraulically fractured (fracked).

Data are updated daily from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and accounts not only for wells already drilled, but also those soon to be drilled.

As listed today, there are ten wells slated to be drilled between September 30 (tomorrow) and October 6, 2011.

These listings bring the grand total to 2,077 drilled wells in the state so far this year.

The tables below break this down by county.