Pennsylvania

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Answering Your Burning Questions About Fracking And Gas Drilling

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All this week, StateImpact answered your burning questions about natural gas drilling. Answering queries submitted by readers, we explained the basics of water testing, water use during hydraulic fracturing, the location of Pennsylvania’s deep injection wells, and whether or not fracking has been linked to earthquakes.

Now, it’s your turn to weigh in on which topics we should answer next.

First, a brief recap of our posts:

Is a well going up near your home? If so, you may want to think about springing for a baseline water test, in order to determine what chemicals are in your well water. If, down the line, you’re concerned the drilling contaminated your water, you’ll be able to know what was in there before the drilling began.

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A Bradford County drilling rig

The Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion has a list of accred­ited labs. The state requires drilling com­pa­nies to test water wells that lie within 1000 feet of a gas well. If water qual­ity changes within a cer­tain period of time, the gas com­pany is held liable. But many res­i­dents pre­fer to con­duct their own water test­ing. In that case, the state does pro­vide some guide­lines. Both the DEP and the pri­vate labs have bro­ken these tests down in tiers, with the first tier being the least exten­sive, but also cheaper than the other tiers.\The most com­mon pol­lu­tants to test for are salts, met­als and organic mate­ri­als. The cheap­est level of test­ing includes total dis­solved solids, sodium, methane and ethane, as well as iron, man­ganese and bar­ium. The cost for this test would range between $200 to $300 dollars.

Some residents can choose to use results from the industry tests, which are done be accredited independent labs.  Those are free, but landowners should check with the drillers to make sure they will be given a copy of the results.

Speaking of water and drilling, just how much fluid goes into each well, and where does it come from? The average well pad uses about 4 million gallons of H2O a day, during fracking operations.

A water impoundment in Tioga County

All told, the com­mis­sion esti­mates drillers are using about 30 mil­lion gal­lons of water each day, across Pennsylvania.

Drillers, who have got­ten a bad rap for their water usage, are quick to put that fig­ure in com­par­i­son. “4 mil­lion gal­lons per well sounds like a lot,” said Range Resources’ Matt Pitzarella, “but even if we tripled our expected usage, we’d [still use] less than one half of one per­cent of the state’s [water con­sump­tion.] We would be less than golf courses.”

“We could frack 100,000 wells,” Pitzarella con­tin­ued, “and use less than a third of one per­cent of the water that’s in Lake Erie alone.”

Drillers obtain water from municipal water systems, or nearby rivers and streams. When they’re taking water from a tributary or ground source, they need to obtain permission from the commonwealth or Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

After drilling is complete, energy companies need to deal with the leftover fracking fluid, which is laden with chemicals, methane and other particles picked up during its high-pressure journey underground. Some of that “flowback” is reused after it gets treated. The most concentrated fluid remaining from treatment, is trucked to what’s called a “deep injection well,” or “brine disposal well.” That’s a cased well where the highly salty, or contaminated water, gets shot deep into the earth. Pennsylvania has only 8 of these wells, so most drillers truck their waste to Ohio.

Range Resources has an injec­tion well in Erie County, which is per­mit­ted to take the most frack water in the state at 45,000 bar­rels per month. Some take as low as 4200 bar­rels per month, but most of them can take about 30,000 bar­rels a month. EXCO Resources oper­ates two in Clearfield County. Other oper­a­tors include Colum­bia Gas, Cot­ton­wood and CNX Gas. Those wells are in Beaver, and Som­er­set coun­ties. When it comes to pres­sure, the wells are per­mit­ted to take between 1300 to about 3200 pounds per square inch. The two newest wells will be oper­ated by Bear Lake Prop­er­ties in War­ren County. All eight wells are in the west­ern part of the state.

Finally, StateImpact took a look at whether or not fracking has been linked to earthquakes. The answer? “Jim Cole­man, a geol­o­gist with the U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey told StateIm­pact that inject­ing fluid under high pres­sure does cause mea­sur­able seis­mic activ­ity. But he says the earth­quakes are typ­i­cally too small to be noticed and didn’t think there was any evi­dence that frack­ing would have caused the Vir­ginia quake.” Some studies, however, are ongoing.

What should StateImpact answer next? That’s where you come in. Click on the link below, take our poll, and let us know which burning question to tackle.

Comments

  • Kalen

    I would like to know what economic consequences are of establishing a moratorium until additional environmental research can be conducted. My true question would be, if a town, county, or state established a moratorium, BUT the surrounding towns, counties, states did not, would it be possible to “steal” the gas from underneath the town, county, state not allowing the drilling. I think this is an important question, because the general feeling I get is that we need to get down there and get the gas before it is gone. We don’t want to be left in the dust! On the other hand, perhaps it makes sense to just put the brakes on and sort this out.

  • C R

    “The average well pad uses about 4 million gallons of H2O a day, during fracking operations.” – from your article.

    “All told, the commission estimates drillers are using about 30 million gallons of water each day, across Pennsylvania.” – from your article

    So, there are fewer than 8 drilling pads fracking in PA each day, on average?

    Also, what percentage, by volume, of the total flow back fluid qualifies as “the most concentrated” which gets trucked away to injection wells?

  • Mr Danecki

    YES, how much of that 4 million gallons is contaminated and buried?

  • bush

    whats the fracking problem. these operations are all in rural areas inhabited by poor people. who gives a frack as long as the US keeps burning fossil fuels. When that’s all gone we can put the poor in camps and fuel the world by burning the terrorist in giant furnaces. Frackin’ A Baby.

  • Td Sbstn

    I’d like to know more specifics about the chemicals used. I’ve heard mercury and other heavy metals show up in tap water close to private wells. They’re not “picked up during their high pressure journey” down the wells, but injected along with the water and have shown up in households near the sights.

    Several states and countries have banned fracking because of this, and the destabilizing of tectonic plates in “danger zone” areas like the New Madrid fault line.

  • JKS

    The policy question should be who owns the burden of proof that fracking is safe? Why is up to those of us without resources to prove that fracking won’t irreversibly contaminate our water supply? Companies should pay for the research, but the research itself should be done by a neutral party. Perhaps the NAS?

  • http://www.facebook.com/djem18 David Evans

    “We could frack 100,000 wells,” Pitzarella con­tin­ued, “and use less than a third of one per­cent of the water that’s in Lake Erie alone.”
    Making nonsensical comparisons is not comforting, in fact quite the opposite….
    Making vague comparisons to golf courses (one golf course, all golf courses? one day? a year’s worth?) which are known wasters of water themselves, is not comforting….
    “4 mil­lion gal­lons per well sounds like a lot” – sounds like a lot because it is a lot. But still compared to a state’s water consumption for what? a day? a month? a year? vs. one well? That’s ridiculous. Another nonsensical comparison.

    Those are Carny comparisons… Shell game anyone…?

  • Gavin Smith

    what is in the the fluid? That is a good question to ask. What is its specific gravity? Who is going to pay for the unintended damage that might be being caused on an apocalyptic scale right now beneath our feet if their calculations are wrong? The questions listed are seriously soft ball considering what is at stake: our water.

  • Bob Nast

    • PA is a major producer of HF natural gas; and PA does not collect a severance tax. Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state in the country that doesn’t tax natural gas production. Although, PA’s state income tax is 3.07%.
    http://www.money-zine.com/Financial-Planning/Tax-Shelter/State-Income-Tax-Rates/
    • CA, is a major natural gas producer, and collects a nominal severance tax (i.e. .13%.) Ref:
    http://www.alleghenyconference.org/PEL/PDFs/NaturalGasSeveranceTax021009.pdf Although, CA’s state income tax is the highest at 1.0-9.3%.

    • AK is major natural gas producer; and AK’s severance tax is 25%. Although, AK’s state income tax is 0 % (NONE). A quick look at this and one might conclude:
    “PA and CA taxpayers had been unknowingly underwriting the shale gas industry start up in their respective states.”

    • A severance tax for PA {and the author contends a higher severance tax for CA as well} has national implications and would be in everyone’s best interest.
    http://blogs.cfr.org/levi/2011/08/09/the-case-for-a-natural-gas-severance-tax/

  • Lauren

    It is a well known fact that NPR and this affiliate is grossly biased. I don’t live up north where the Marcellus Shale is but I have friends who come from those areas. And they are grateful that their family members still up there can finally put food on the table.  Indeed, their family members now have jobs and a future. Not once have I heard a radio program that interviews the people who are benefiting from the shale. And this morning I woke up to hear a woman whine about the “Buckwheat Road” that went nowhere now goes to a gas well.  She no longer lives up there, but by golly she should be able to go back and drive down that old Buckwheat Road and enjoy her memories.
    Meanwhile we’ve got Troops all over the Middle East in war torn dangerous situations because we need fuel.  But hey, we’ve got to protect those old time roads and the rural life that doesn’t even exist anymore.  But leave it for future generations. there is some broken thinking going on in PA and we have WITF to thank for it!

    • Scott Detrow

      Lauren – thanks for your comment. I’ve got questions about what you mean when you talk about bias in WITF’s coverage, and have sent you an email. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about what we cover and why we chose those stories.

      And, I’ll point out that we do regularly cover the economic side of natural gas drilling. If you click on “economy” at the top of the page, you’ll see all our stories on that subject.

      Thanks,

      Scott Detrow

    • Kalen

      Lauren – I live “up North” as you call it and I would argue that we do currently have a rural life that still exists.  In Ridgway, PA, we have a tourism business that thrives on people being able to get a weekend away from the rush of their daily lives.  Please do not discount the value of that to those of us the do live “up North”.  I lived in Charlotte and Atlanta before I moved back to this area, so I know how much value this rural life has.  

      I wanted to share a link with you from our local newspaper.  Ironically, it hit the presses the same morning I read your comment:
      http://www.ridgwayrecord.com/content/boring-accident-affects-reservoir
      This is our water supply.  It claims that chemical will not affect quality, but would you let me drop a teaspoon of it in your next glass of water?

      I am a conservative Republican.  I traditionally always vote pro-business, but not when there is a safety concern.  I am all for pulling this gas out of the ground, but only if it can be done safely and unfortunately, the drilling companies have proved that it isn’t possible yet.  I can deal with potholes, waiting to go up hills behind water trucks, and large meadows that replace forest because of well pads.  I won’t like it, but I understand the tradeoff.  I cannot deal with a compromised water supply.
      Regarding the liberal slant of NPR, sometimes you are right.  On the other hand, I find most of their reporting fair and enlightening.  You can always find a bias in the news.

  • Fcfcfc

    Hi:

    People you need to wake up. Fracking is a tatoo that can NEVER, NEVER be removed and the ink is poison. Once you break the shale, THE GENIE CAN NEVER, EVER be fixed or put back in the bottle. Its not even like an oil spill that at least has the POSSIBILITY OF cleanup, or a chemical spill, etc.. You are a mile underground splitting a geologic that was formed millions of years ago!!!! There is no fixing it!!!
    When its gets to your water, you are done. We have a very small amount of FRESH water on this planet and it is getting squeezed from every direction (See Documentary: “BLUE GOLD”) We are venturing to the Moon and Mars and the big wish is to find, GUESS WHAT??? WATER!! WATER!! because where there is water there can be life…. so, what are we doing for money…destroying our water… gee,,, imagine that….

    …..Bill

  • Fcfcfc

    Hi:

    Just an FYI for shale info. This web site:
    http://www.fractracker.org/
    Is a great site to zoom in on where you live, and look at some details about the shale under you.
    The more you know the better….

    …..Bill

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