West Virginia Fracking: State and Industry Fail to Keep Public Informed
In June 2012, SkyTruth wrote that voluntary hydraulic fracturing "fracking" chemical disclosures from FracFocus.org were only covering approximately 43 percent of unconventional wells drilled in Pennsylvania. Only 54 percent of wells drilled submitted a report, and of those that did, only about 81 percent of the chemicals were actually disclosed (instead of concealed as "proprietary" or "trade secret"). Just over half of Pennsylvanian wells had a corresponding report, so I wondered if transparency was any better in West Virginia.
From January 2011 to August 2012, industry operators posted 183 voluntary disclosures for wells drilled and hydraulically fractured in West Virginia. According to the Office of Oil and Gas, a division of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), there were 1,360 permits issued for horizontal wells. So my question is, of the 183 voluntary disclosures, do the numbers correlate with the state data?
To put it bluntly, no.
A completed FRACT permit is the only record that we know of which positively identifies when a corresponding voluntary disclosure should be on record. However, since the DEP only lists nine records in 20 months of drilling, there is not much we can say statistically. In our experience, the DEP is struggling just to keep up with posting permits and seems to have a very large backlog of post-drilling records, so this low number is no surprise.
The second best indicator that fracking will likely occur soon is the presence of a permit. If industry has taken the time, money and effort to put a rig on the ground and secure fracking permits, then it is likely that the "sand kings," compressors and water trucks are not far off. Yet, with 79 fracturing permits recorded by the state, there is not a single corresponding chemical component disclosure!
By the time I found a decent correlation, 231 permits completed and 61 disclosures, I still couldn't confidently say that a completed horizontal well means that fracking has also occurred. Horizontal wells permitted is even less definite. While it may be reasonable to guess that these permitted wells will be fracked soon, a guess is not good science. But where state and industry data falls short on the completed well permits, I turned to "skytruthing" to get a more accurate rate of voluntary disclosure from the industry.
Using the WV DEP Office of Oil and Gas Map Search, I looked at aerial imagery from the 2011 National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP) overlaid with current well locations across the state. The NAIP imagery is acquired by the Farm Service Agency in the summer when leaves are on the trees, so I narrowed down my list of wells in question to only the wells that would have appeared on a 2011 fly-over before the leaves fell off. From January to the end of August 2011, the DEP lists 125 completed wells and 30 corresponding disclosures. I then randomly selected 19 wells to check visually, and found that a 20 percent representative sample of 95 completed horizontal wells are unaccounted for on FracFocus. Are they really sitting idle as the data suggests?
The DEP reports that this Stone Energy well in Wetzel County has six finished horizontal wells, but does not
have a single permit recorded for hydraulic fracturing. FracFocus has no voluntary disclosures that correspond
to these wells, but equipment on this pad is in the unmistakable configuration of an active frack.
Some wells l looked at appeared to be prepped for drilling and fracking, but in the absence of wastewater ponds or production infrastructure, I was far more inclined to put a well in the "inconclusive" category rather than make a false assumption. However, there were only four that I had doubts about.
Extrapolating from the sample of the number of wells that were clearly fracked, and factoring in the 30 wells voluntarily reported by industry, I conclude that for the first eight months of 2011, industry's voluntary disclosure rate was 31.6 percent.*
Here's how I came to that disclosure rate:
125 horizontal well permits completed from Jan. - Aug. 31, 2011, but no other state data.
30 out of 125 are disclosed. 95 have no other relevant data: Let's call them unknown wells.
68.4 percent visual assessment rate x 95 unknown wells = approx. 65 wells most likely fracked
30 Industry reported fracks + 65 likely fracks from the unknown wells: 65+30= 95*
30 disclosed wells ÷ 95 wells = 31.6 percent disclosure rate.
*I have triple fact checked that the value "95" appears twice, but it is purely coincidental.
If 31.6 percent is the absolute best disclosure rate we can calculate for West Virginia, and absolutely no disclosure in categories where the record should be complete, then the public is not being adequately informed. The fault lies with both industry for their poor rates of reporting and with West Virginia for not keeping up with this critical aspect of the public record.
The State of West Virginia clearly intends to continue developing unconventional shale gas in the Marcellus and Utica, touting its benefits to its residents. However, they must keep the official record accurate and up to date in order to properly inform the public. Failure to keep the people informed about what is happening in their state, and even backyard, exposes citizens to uncertain health risks, potential damage to property and severely impairs decision-making by local, state and federal government.
If the Oil and Gas Industry wishes to convince West Virginia and the world that they are being open and transparent about fracking in unconventional shale basins, 31.6 percent is not convincing. The current voluntary disclosure system severely hinders aggregate analysis, rendering it nearly impossible to even check the transparency and completeness.
For now, know that the chemicals used in two out of every three wells drilled in the State of West Virginia remain a complete mystery to the public.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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