The Straight Scoop on Shale

A project of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania Citizen Education Fund

Links to Organizations with Varying Viewpoints

The following links are provided for educational purposes only:

E-Library of Research Studies and Other Informational Materials

  • Acid Mine Drainage

    • Coal Mine Drainage for Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Extraction
      Author: Aimee E. Curtright and Kate Giglio
      Description: This event, “Feasibility and Challenges of Using Acid Mine Drainage for Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Extraction,” was held in RAND’s Pittsburgh office on December 14, 2011. With funding from the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), RAND hosted and moderated the round- table and retained full editorial control of the writing and production of these proceedings. The roundtable brought together leading researchers, hydraulic fracturing operators, legal experts, representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and corresponding agencies in neighboring states (Maryland, Ohio, and West Virginia), and other stakeholders. This document summarizes the presentations of the panelists and the audience’s responses and highlights the primary takeaway messages from the day, including a number of research gaps.
      Keywords: Marcellus Shale, research, companies, organizations
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  • Air

    • Estimation of regional air-quality damages from Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania
      Author: Aviva Litovitz, Aimee Curtright, Shmuel Abramzon, Nicholas Burger and Constantine Samaras
      Description: This letter provides a first-order estimate of conventional air pollutant emissions, and the monetary value of the associated environmental and health damages, from the extraction of unconventional shale gas in Pennsylvania.
      Keywords: natural gas, Marcellus Shale, criteria pollutants, air quality, externalities
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    • Whiff of Phenol Spells Trouble
      Author: Abrahm Lustgarten
      Description: Phenol, a deadly chemical used in Aristech Chemical Corp.’s process of drilling, is known to cause internal burns, muscle spasms and organ failure. Environmental regulators suspect that the chemical is somehow drifting upward in one the of company’s sites. If confirmed it would mean that the type of disposal wells Aristech is using should be stringently regulated and monitored.
      Keywords: disposal wells, phenol, regulation, monitoring
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  • Blowouts and Accidents

    • Response to PA Gas Well Accident Took 13 Hours
      Author: Nicholas Kusnetz
      Description: When Chesapeake Energy lost control of a Marcellus Shale gas well in Pennsylvania on April 19, an emergency response team from Texas was called in to stop the leak. By the time the team arrived more than 13 hours later, brine water and hydraulic fracturing fluids from the well had spewed across nearby fields and into a creek.
      Keywords: hours, CUDD, DEP
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  • Climate Change

  • Economic Impact

    • New EPA Rules Could Prevent 'Fracking' Backlash
      Author: Paul Tullis
      Description: The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday released new rules to limit methane emissions from natural gas production, a rare set of regulations that may serve the industry well, even if it cuts into producers’ profit margins.
      Keywords: climate, NOAA, NRDC, CO2
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    • Mortgages for Drilling Properties May Face Hurdle
      Author: Ian Urbina
      Description: The Department of Agriculture is considering requiring an extensive environmental review before issuing mortgages to people who have leased their land for oil and gas drilling.
      Keywords: growth, drilling, agriculture
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    • Geologists Sharply Cut Estimate of Shale Gas
      Author: Ian Urbina
      Description: Energy Information Administration, which is responsible for quantifying oil and gas supplies, has said it will slash its official estimate for the Marcellus Shale by nearly 80 percent, a move that is likely to generate new questions about how the agency calculates its estimates and why it was so far off in its projections.
      Keywords: EIA, Marcellus, geology
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    • Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush
      Author: Ian Urbina
      Description: Energy executives, industry lawyers, state geologists and market analysts voice skepticism about lofty forecasts and question whether companies are intentionally, and even illegally, overstating the productivity of their wells and the size of their reserves.
      Keywords: invest, gas, industry
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    • Homeowners and Gas Drilling Leases: Boon or Bust?
      Author: Elisabeth N. Radow
      Description: Many homeowners and farmers in need of cash are inclined sign leasing agreements with gas companies. In making their argument, gas companies reassure property owners that the drilling processes and chemicals used are safe. Yet aside from arguments about the relative safety of the extraction process are issues not often discussed, such as the owner’s potential liability and the continued viability of the mortgage. The property owner can be particularly vulnerable when the drilling process involves high- volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
      Keywords: fracking, legal, land, gas, lease
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    • Economic Value of Marcellus Shale Gas in the Delaware Basin
      Author: Gerald J. Kauffman and Andrew R. Homsey
      Description: In the Delaware Basin, Marcellus shale gas drilling is at the center of a contentious energy-water policy debate that pits gas companies, land owners, and rural towns interested in jobs versus environmental groups, water utilities, and fishermen concerned about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on the quality and quantity of water supplies. This study reviews the Marcellus shale gas policy and regulations considered by federal, state, local, and regional agencies and estimate the economic value of potentially recoverable shale gas in the Delaware Basin with protective buffers in place compared to the value of renewable water resources such as drinking water, forests, and river-based recreation.
      Keywords: Marcellus shale gas, natural gas reserves, Delaware River Basin, regulations (federal, state, and local), job creation, water resources, ecosystem goods and services
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    • Socioeconomic Value of the Delaware River Basin in Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania
      Author: Gerald J. Kauffman
      Description: The Delaware River Basin is an economic engine that supplies drinking water to the 1st (New York City) and 7th (Philadelphia) largest metropolitan economies in the United States and supports the largest freshwater port in the world. Therefore, this report’s socioeconomic evaluations of the basin is imperative for populations in the dependent states. 
      Keywords: water, economic, watershed
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    • In Western Pennsylvania, an Energy Boom Not Visibly Stifled
      Author: Jonathan Weisman
      Description: Early in 2013, Western Pennsylvania’s Washington County chalked up the third-fastest growth among the country’s 322 largest counties. Just to the north, Butler County ranked sixth.
      Keywords: growth, natural gas industry, drillers, washington county, butler county
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    • Oh, Canada's Become a Home for Record Fracking
      Author: Nicholas Kusnetz
      Description: Though the same themes of balancing economic benefits with environmental harms occurs in Canada as in the U.S., the Canadian western areas’ enthusiastic embrace of large scale fracking provides onlookers with a vision of what could happen if there was less regulation from governments. Eastern regions have tackled the resource more cautiously. Although there is a moratorium in Quebec, British Columbia has generally welcomed the industry with series of incentives.
      Keywords: Canada, drillers, environment, government, moratorium, incentives, regulation
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  • Health Impacts

  • Injection Wells

    • Injection Wells: The Poison Beneath Us
      Author: Abrahm Lustgarten
      Description: There are more than 680,000 underground waste and injection wells nationwide, more than 150,000 of which shoot industrial fluids thousands of feet below the surface. Scientists and federal regulators acknowledge they do not know how many of the sites are leaking. But in interviews, several key experts acknowledged that the idea that injection is safe rests on science that has not kept pace with reality, and on oversight that doesn't always work.
      Keywords: injection wells, chemicals, EPA
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  • Planning and Regulation

    • Experts: Drillers must coordinate to prevent sprawl
      Author: Timothy Puko
      Description: Researchers said better planning among drillers, with government and citizen involvement, are key to realizing a lot of the best recommendations. Collaboration can put multiple pipelines into one right-of-way and ensure drilling happens at times when vegetation is most likely to regrow.
      Keywords: pipelines, one right-of-way, wells, planning, gas industry
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  • Seismicity (Earthquakes)

    • Department of Environmental Protection considers rules on tremors and fracking
      Author: Laura Legere / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
      Description: By Laura Legere / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette The closest earthquakes presumably caused by hydraulic fracturing stirred about a mile west of the Pennsylvania border, but regulators felt the reverberations in Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is considering creating rules for the first time for wells in “seismic hazard areas” — places that may be susceptible to tremors triggered by well stimulation techniques like fracking. The agency floated the proposal in recent weeks in a paper outlining conceptual changes to the state’s oil and gas well regulations under the heading “TBD – Induced seismicity.” A lot remains to be determined, including what “seismic hazard areas” are and where they might be, if the state has them at all. DEP’s chief of oil and gas compliance and data management, Joseph Lee Jr., said the language is a placeholder for now, but the department and its partners are beginning a massive data-mining project to fill in the blanks. The issue arose after a series of earthquakes in March were linked to fracking at a Utica Shale well pad in Ohio. “The question is: Are these conditions that can occur in Pennsylvania?” Mr. Lee said. The U.S. Geological Survey, Pennsylvania Geological Survey, universities and the natural gas industry measure the faintly shaking earth from dozens of points in the state and historical records for seismic events stretch back centuries. The state plans to compile those records and compare them to the completion reports filed by drilling companies that detail where and when wells were fracked to look for potential relationships. Before they can draw any connections, researchers will also have to weed out other kinds of earth-shaking human behavior, like blasting and mining. “It would be like diagnosing a disease,” said Kristin Carter, assistant state geologist in the Pennsylvania Geological Survey’s economic geology division. “Sometimes you have to use a process of elimination to eliminate the things that aren’t the culprit and then get to the cause.” Pennsylvania is not known for earthquakes. Maps of past seismic activity show that when quakes have originated here, they have been clustered in the northwest and southeast parts of the state, “the exact opposite,” Mr. Lee said, of the Marcellus Shale gas drilling fairway that extends roughly diagonally from the southwest to northeast corners. The state’s largest recorded quake — a magnitude 5.2 event — began in Crawford County near Pymatuning Lake in 1998. Although several Utica Shale wells have been drilled in that region, none have triggered any noticeable shaking, Mr. Lee said. Ms. Carter said nothing in the data she has seen indicates areas of seismic concern in the state related to oil and gas production. “We’ve had decades and decades of oil and gas industry experience here with no major or notable seismic events related to that particular activity,” she said. “The best we can do as a survey then is to be cautious.” Just because an area has no record of past seismic activity, she said, “doesn’t necessarily tell you it is not going to be an issue today.” Fracking, the practice of cracking oil- and gas-bearing rocks with a high-pressure injection of chemically treated water and sand, has only rarely been suspected of directly triggering earthquakes. Researchers have identified fracking as the probable culprit in a few cases, in England, British Columbia, Oklahoma and Ohio. More often, oil and gas activity has been linked to earthquakes when waste fluids are injected into deep disposal wells designed to allow fluids to seep into permeable rock and stay there. That has caused faults to slip in some cases. Quakes have been reported in Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and Arkansas in recent years. The few oil and gas wastewater disposal wells in Pennsylvania are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and they are not the focus of DEP’s study. Ohio regulators announced new permit conditions for drilling near faults and sites of past seismic events in April when they reported that a series of small earthquakes in Mahoning County showed “a probable connection” to fracking at a Utica Shale well near a previously unknown microfault. Five quakes ranged in magnitude from 2.1 to 3.0, according to USGS records. Under the new rules, oil and gas companies in Ohio have to install seismic monitors to drill horizontal wells within three miles of a known fault or the site of a past earthquake greater than magnitude 2.0. If the monitors pick up a seismic event larger than magnitude 1.0 — generally well below what humans would feel — well site activities would be put on hold for an investigation. All completion operations would be suspended if the investigation revealed a probable connection to fracking. Pennsylvania regulators want to know more before they consider following Ohio’s lead, including what might have happened to cause the quake and what new rules or monitoring requirements would be appropriate if they do find areas of risk. “There is a flip side to what Ohio is trying to do with their monitoring scheme,” Mr. Lee said. “You start putting out the seismographs, you are going to start seeing something and it is not necessarily caused by humans. It could be natural occurrences of seismic activity.” And then there is the question of how to minimize the risk of damaging quakes without overreacting to tremors too subtle to affect people. If there’‍s an earthquake and no one feels it, in other words, does it shake the ground? Laura Legere:
      Keywords: none
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  • Studies

  • Water

    • Weak records cited on Pa. shale pollution
      Author: Don Hopey
      Description: Even when pollution discharges from shale gas well pads and impoundments contaminate private water supplies, those violations often go unrecorded or publicly reported by state environmental regulators, according to documents filed in the Pennsylvania Superior Court case challenging the constitutionality of the state's oil and gas law, Act 13.
      Keywords: water
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    • More evidence for (and against) groundwater contamination by shale gas
      Author: Scott K. Johnson
      Description: Due to the differences in geological location of Pennsylvania and Arkansas, studies of leakage will differ depending on the state it is recorded in.
      Keywords: methane, gas, carbon
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    • Fracked Pennsylvania shale could be naturally leaky
      Author: Scott K. Johnson
      Description: In 2011, researchers from Duke University published results showing a correlation between methane concentrations in private water wells and proximity to local natural gas production wells in parts of Pennsylvania and New York. While that suggested the water well contamination could be related to recent fracking, it was not at all a sure thing.
      Keywords: Marcellus Shale, rock, research
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    • EPA steps away from fracking investigation in Wyoming
      Author: Scott K. Johnson
      Description: EPA announced that it will step back from the investigation for The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to further investigate groundwater conditions around Pavillion with support from the EPA.
      Keywords: Wyoming, environment
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    • How the EPA linked “fracking” to contaminated well water
      Author: Scott K. Johnson
      Description: A new investigation by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at a site in Wyoming is one of the first to look thoroughly at the potential link between fracking operations and groundwater contamination. The agency's report provides a clear link between fracking and water supply problems.
      Keywords: Wyoming, hydraulic fracturing, regulate, EPA
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    • EPA fracking investigation in Wyoming revisited after objections
      Author: Scott K. Johnson
      Description: In December 2011, Ars reported on a major EPA study in Pavillion, Wyoming that concluded hydraulic fracking operations there had contaminated the groundwater aquifer. While there wasn’t a clear link to contamination detected in some shallow private water wells, EPA believed the deeper contamination was very likely related to fracking.
      Keywords: Wyoming, United States Geological Survey (USGS), Encana
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    • Seepage pathway assessment for natural gas to shallow groundwater during well stimulation, production and after abandonment
      Author: Maurice Dusseault and Richard Jackson
      Description: Geo Montréal evaluates the potential pathways of fugitive gas seepage during stimulation and production and concludes that the quality of surface casing and deeper casing installations is a major concern with respect to future gas migration. The pathway outside the casing is of greatest concern, and likely leads to many wells leaking natural gas upwards from intermediate, non-depleted thin gas zones, rather than from the deeper target reservoirs which are depleted during production.
      Keywords: gas migration, groundwater, hydraulic fracturing, canada, wells, surface, stimulation
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    • Polluted Water Fuels a Battle for Answers
      Author: Abrahm Lustgarten
      Description: Reverend David Hudson, a resident of DeBerry Texas, sent water from his well to be tested for pollutants after he noticed it had a metallic flavor and sharp smell, and found out that high levels of chlorides and other chemicals found in drilling waste were contaminating the town’s water. Nearly a year after receiving the material, commission officials tested DeBerry’s waters themselves, confirming that it contained arsenic, cadmium, lead, benzene and other substances. The contamination was extensive enough that they advised DeBerry residents not to drink their water, leaving Hudson and others to purchase bottled water.
      Keywords: water contamination, drilling waste, Texas, EPA
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    • New Study Predicts Frack Fluids Can Migrate to Aquifers Within Years
      Author: Abrahm Lustgarten
      Description: A new study has raised fresh concerns about the safety of gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, concluding that fracking chemicals injected into the ground could migrate toward drinking water supplies far more quickly than experts have previously predicted. The study concluded that natural faults and fractures in the Marcellus, exacerbated by the effects of fracking itself, could allow chemicals to reach the surface in as little as "just a few years."
      Keywords: migration, drinking water, fracking chemicals, marcellus shale
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    • Duke study finds methane in well water near gas drilling sites
      Author: Sandy Bauers
      Description: A study from Duke University finds that methane levels in private water wells average to 17 times higher when within 1,000 yards of a natural gas drilling site. Both industry professionals and researchers agree that more studies need to be done.
      Keywords: methane, water wells, Pennsylvania, new york, duke university
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    • Regulation Lax as Gas Wells' Tainted Water Hits Rivers
      Author: Ian Urbina
      Description: In addition to the environmental and health dangers that the Environmental Protection Agency report, a confidential study by the drilling industry concluded that radioactivity in produced water from hydraulic fracturing can’t be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways. This becomes problematic for Pennsylvania—and increasingly in other states like New York—since many drinking water plants are downstream from sewage treatment facilities.
      Keywords: radioactivity, EPA, Pennsylvania, wastewater, natural gas, sewage, drinking water
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  • Well Integrity