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.

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