DEP Says Fracking at PA Utica Wells “Likely” Caused Earthquakes

On Friday, the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection held a hastily-called webinar to discuss findings that, frankly, aren’t all that newsworthy or surprising. After 10 months of study, the DEP has concluded that zipper fracking activities by Hilcorp in Lawrence County, PA “likely” caused a series of earthquakes in April 2016 so minor that nobody could feel them. And the DEP concluded this after 10 months of study, when a week before the DEP itself issued the permits to drill in Lawrence County, Hilcorp drilling was shut down about seven miles away, across the border in Mahoning County, Ohio, for potentially causing low-level earthquakes there (see Hilcorp Awarded Permits to Drill 7 New Wells Near Earthquake Zone). It wasn’t exactly rocket science to connect the dots and speculate that fracking over top an active fault had caused the low-level earthquakes on the PA side of the border, as it had on the OH side of the border. As we’ve stressed multiple times here on MDN, earthquakes related to shale are almost always connected with injection wells–when large amounts of liquid are injected near a fault. Earthquakes from fracking activities are rare–like under 10 times, ever, out of millions of fracked wells. Statistically zero. Still, let’s not let a good “crisis” go to waste. The DEP, in releasing a report about the incident (full copy below), said they will work up new regulations to detect and prevent such statistically zero occurrences from happening again…
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DEP Concludes Hilcorp Drilling Caused Minor Earthquakes in W PA

In April of last year (2016), MDN brought you the story of earthquakes so minor nobody could feel them in Lawrence County, PA were likely caused by fracking (see PA DEP Investigates Hilcorp Fracking in Earthquake Nobody Felt). However, seismic monitoring equipment could detect them. We have to stress that earthquakes caused by fracking is rare–like this is one of five instances we’re aware of. Far more common are earthquakes caused by deep injection wells. But fracking itself? Statistically zero percent of the time earthquakes are caused by fracking. So when it happens, it’s noteworthy. The conditions must be just right–fracking immediately overtop a fault in the rock layers. The driller in this case, Hilcorp, was ordered to stop all fracking and drilling activity at the well site, which they did. The Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) says they have concluded their investigation and will today (on a webinar) disclose their results. Here’s the kicker: the DEP could have avoided this. Two years earlier the same driller, Hilcorp, caused minor earthquakes seven miles away–just across the border in Ohio. At that time Ohio officials stopped Hilcorp from drilling in that region. A week after the Ohio earthquakes that stopped Hilcorp, the PA DEP issued permits to drill in the same area (see Hilcorp Awarded Permits to Drill 7 New Wells Near Earthquake Zone). MDN was the only source to make that observation. We waved our little red flag and said maybe it’s not such a wise decision to grant those permits. Someone at the DEP needs to read MDN! At any rate, below is the news, as much of it as we currently know. By the time you read this, the DEP earthquake webinar will be over, but we’ve included the webinar notice as (so far) it’s the only information we have to indicate the DEP now concludes Hilcorp drilling was at fault for the earthquakes in Lawrence County…
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Top 20 Marcellus Drillers in Southwest Pennsylvania

The sharp folks over at the Pittsburgh Business Times have been looking through data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and have compiled a list of 20 drillers who have at least a dozen shale wells in the southwest PA region. And they ranked them from lowest to highest. We’ve grabbed the list below. The interesting thing for MDN is that there is one name in the list not familiar to us, and we’ve been watching this space since 2009. Always fun to learn something new. Here’s the list of southwest PA’s “Top 20” Marcellus drillers…
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PA Econ Dev Secretary Hits Road to Promote Shell Cracker

roadshowWe suppose we should have known, but we didn’t. We didn’t know that Pennsylvania has a Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). In fact, the DCED has its own cabinet-level Secretary–Dennis Davin–appointed by Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf in January 2015 when Wolf assumed office. Davin has stayed largely under the radar–until now. Wolf has sent Davin out on a road show to promote the forthcoming Shell ethane cracker plant. Davin is conducting roundtable discussions in various communities around PA to generate ideas on how local businesses can benefit from the cracker. So far he’s visited Beaver County (where the cracker will be built), Lawrence County and Washington County. The DCED is flooding the airways with press releases about Davin’s cracker road show…
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Utica Gas Production in PA’s Northern Tier “Inches” Up

Western PA counties
Western PA counties – click for larger version

The Utica Shale in Pennsylvania continues to grow in both drilling and production. The Youngstown Business Journal took a look at Utica production numbers for PA’s northern tier, Lawrence and Mercer counties. They found that even with the slow down in drilling, production in those two counties for 1Q16 increased over 1Q15. Here’s who’s busy drilling in PA’s northern tier Utica, and how much gas is flowing from that region…
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PA DEP Investigates Hilcorp Fracking in Earthquake Nobody Felt

earthquake.jpgYou can count on one hand the number of cases where fracking a shale well over top an active underground fault (never a good idea) has caused a detectable earthquake. Can we now add one more case in western PA? Officials from the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection are investigating whether or not fracking by Hilcorp in well in Lawrence County, PA caused two 1.9 earthquakes in the area on Monday. Just so you know, you can’t feel a 1.9 earthquake on the surface. The only way you know of such an earthquake is through special monitors maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). A football stadium full of fans stomping their feet at the same time can (and has) caused earthquakes greater than 1.0 (see ODNR Temporarily Shuts Down Injection Wells After Low-Level Quake). You don’t even feel earthquakes on the surface until they hit around magnitude 4.0 and above. Still, with so little drilling happening in the state these days, chasing fracking earthquakes gives DEP investigators something to do, we suppose…
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Hilcorp is to Northern Utica as Cabot is to Eastern Marcellus

We’re always fascinated how some companies, like Cabot Oil & Gas, make money even in the lowest of low price environments with their Marcellus wells in Susquehanna County, PA (northeastern part of the state), while another driller right down the road, like WPX Energy, can’t make money and end up selling all of their wells and leases. What does Cabot do right that WPX doesn’t do? That’s the gajillion dollar question. We’ve observed a similar situation in the Utica Shale region of western PA/eastern OH. Hilcorp Energy is drilling Utica wells in Lawrence County, PA. In fact, Hilcorp is the “dominant active prospector” in the northern tier area of the Utica Shale–an area including Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties in OH and Lawrence and Mercer counties in PA. Hilcorp is strong and steady–and they’re making money. They’re also producing gas–lots of it. Lawrence County, PA produces almost as much natural gas as the far-more-drilled Columbiana County (OH). And it’s nearly all Hilcorp gas in Lawrence County. So if Hilcorp is like the Cabot of the Utica, who’s the WPX of the Utica? That would be Halcon Resources, with 140,000 acres in the northern Utica. Back in 2013 Halcon CEO Floyd Wilson famously said he wouldn’t drill any more “crappy” wells in the Utica (see Halcon CEO Says No More S***** Wells in Northern OH Utica). Halcon is desperately trying to stay afloat, Hilcorp is flourishing. Here’s more about Hilcorp and their success in the northern Utica…
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Rex Energy 3Q15: $95M Paper Loss, 1st Utica Well Online, Prod Up 15%

Rex Energy and Eclipse Resources are really like two peas in a pod. The people who founded Eclipse, which is shopping itself (see today’s companion story), are former Rex Energy people. Both companies are pure play, concentrating on the Marcellus/Utica, and both companies are headquartered in State College, PA. On Monday Rex Energy issued its third quarter 2015 update. The company lost nearly $95 million for 3Q15–but the entire thing was a paper loss, writedowns for the value of their assets because the price of natural gas took a nosedive. Production for the company was up 15% in 3Q15 over the same period a year earlier. Some of the biggest news we spot in the update is that Rex has been able to squeeze the costs all the way down to $5.2 million per Marcellus well they drill. Also big news: Rex put into production their very first Utica Shale well, drilled in Lawrence County, PA. Here’s the particulars…
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Hilcorp Asks Permission to Drill 25 Feet from Unleased Landowner

public hearingIvan and Kathy Dubrasky are anti-drillers located in Pulaski Township (Lawrence County), PA, just across the border from Ohio and close to Youngstown. They recently hosted a tiny anti-drilling rally at their property (see Tiny Protest (in PA) Claims to be Part of “Hands Across Our Land”). Although all of their neighbors signed leases with Hilcorp, the Dubrasky’s, as is their right, stubbornly refused to do so. They’ve screwed themselves out of money they could have had. Hilcorp is drilling multiple wells from a pad right across the street from the Dubraskys. Hilcorp would like to sink one of those wells about 25 feet from the edge of the Dubrasky property line. State law says a gas well must be at least 330 feet away from an unleased property line. If a well is any closer, inevitably some of the gas from under the unleased property will seep into the fracked well–no matter how careful you are. Hilcorp says they won’t perforate the pipe/well along their property line, so no Dubrasky gas will seep out. A hearing will be held on Sept. 16 to consider Hilcorp’s request–a request likely to be granted. The hearing should be interesting. No doubt there will be fireworks…
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Tiny Protest (in PA) Claims to be Part of “Hands Across Our Land”

Yesterday we told you about the “nationwide” protest that was a bust–held in three locations in Virginia and one in West Virginia by less than a cumulative 100 people (see Anti-Pipeline “Hands Across Our Land” Protest in VA & WV a Bust). The protest was supposedly against two natural gas pipelines planned to run from West Virginia through Virginia and for one of the pipelines, into North Carolina. We spotted one more protest that claims to have been part of the Hands Across Our Land “movement”–a protest at a well pad site in Pennsylvania. Of course the PA gathering had nothing to do with being against pipelines, the supposed reason for the protest in the first place. This particular group of protesters slipped across the border from Ohio (an anti-drilling group called Frackfree Mahoning Valley) to show their “solidarity” with a family who didn’t want a drill pad operating near their property. Once again it illustrates that whether they claim to be “against” fracking/drilling, or “against” a pipeline–it’s really neither. These protesters are “against” fossil fuels, period. That’s what motivates them–an irrational hatred of fossil fuels…
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Hilcorp Enclosing PA Compressor Station to Please the Neighbors

Hilcorp Energy is doing the right thing in Lawrence County, PA. Back in June, MDN told you the story of residents living near a compressor station owned by Hilcorp in Mahoning Township, Lawrence County (see Tackling a Tough Issue: Compressor Stations Near Populated Areas). Residents living near the compressor station said the noise level is intolerable. It took a few months, but Hilcorp has agreed to build a new structure around the compressor station lined with special noise-deadening blankets that should take care of the problem. Kudos to Hilcorp for doing the right thing for the neighbors on Baird Road…
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Hilcorp Well Pad Approval Conundrum in Lawrence County Resolved

In May MDN told you about an unusual case in Pulaski Township (Lawrence County), PA where all three Board of Supervisors had a potential conflict of interest if they proceeded to approve a well pad for Hilcorp (see Conflict of Interest Prevents Hilcorp Wellpad Approval, What Now?). The proposed well pad would sit on one of the supervisors’ property. A second supervisor owns land adjacent to the first and his land would presumably be located in the first’s drilling unit. So they were both out of the running to make a motion. The third supervisor works for Hilcorp, so she couldn’t make the motion. We asked the question, what next? Now we know. A provision in Pennsylvania state law, according to a legal notice filed by Hilcorp, states that a decision “is deemed to have been rendered in favor of the applicant” after Hilcorp published legal ads on July 9 and 16. Anyone who wants to challenge it has 30 days to do so in the PA Court of Common Pleas (county court). No comment from anti-drillers at The Fracking Resistence, Lawrence County, PA (so far) other than to note that on their Facebook page that Supervisor Sam Varano will get a well pad after all…
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Rex Energy Drilling 1st Utica Shale Well in Lawrence County, PA

Exciting news from “the little drilling company that could…and does,” as MDN likes to call Rex Energy. Last week Rex released an operational update with the big news that they will drill their very first dry gas Utica Shale well in Lawrence County, PA (near the Ohio border) in the third quarter of 2015. Rex also brought online another two Marcellus Shale wells in Butler County, PA…
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Tackling a Tough Issue: Compressor Stations Near Populated Areas

tough issuesThere’s no denying that compressor stations located in populated neighborhoods create problems. We have two examples to share–one from Lawrence County, PA, and one from Broome County, NY (MDN’s backyard). The usual complaint about compressor stations–required to compress natural gas and send it on its way through a pipeline system–is the noise. Noise seems to be the chief issue with a compressor station in Lawrence County, PA where landowners, many of them (most? all?) have signed leases with Hilcorp, the company that owns the compressor station in Mahoning Township, a township that borders Ohio. Although noise has also been an issue at the compressor station in the Town of Windsor, NY (Windsor borders Pennsylvania)–about five miles from the border of the City of Binghamton–noise at the Williams compressor station is now largely mitigated. In the case of the Williams compressor, the concerns by those who live closest to it are regular releases of mercaptan and constant truck traffic to and from the station…
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Conflict of Interest Prevents Hilcorp Wellpad Approval, What Now?

A strange ending occurred at the Pulaski Township (Lawrence County), PA Board of Supervisors meeting Monday night. The marathon four hour hearing saw Pulaski’s three Supervisors (actually, two of the three) approve one of two conditional use permits to allow Hilcorp to construct a wellpad on the property of Victor A. Litwinovich on Topper Hill Road–much to the consternation of anti-fossil fuel ninnies who were present. But when it came to approving a second Hilcorp wellpad–on the property of Sam Varano and his wife, Beverly, on Evergreen Road–the board couldn’t get a single motion among the three Supervisors to approve it. Why? Because one of the Supervisors is Sam Varano himself–a clear conflict of interest. A second Supervisor is Greg Carna, who owns land adjacent to Varano that is leased to Hilcorp and, presumably, would be included in the Varano well drilling unit–also a conflict of interest. That left the third Supervisor, Lori Sniezek, who won’t vote any Hilcorp matters because she is employed full-time by Hilcorp. Ethics rules barred any of the three from making a motion to approve the wellpad. Without a motion, Varano gavelled the marathon session to a close. What will happen next?…
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Rex Energy to Sell Acreage in OH & PA, Focus on 3 Counties

Last week MDN brought you the first quarter 2015 update for State College, PA-based Rex Energy (see Rex Energy 1Q15: Production Up 61%, Revenue Down 33%, Gulf Coast Deal). Rex’s management held an earnings call later that day, and as is typical, a some important news was revealed on that call that was not included in the press release update. Namely, Rex is looking to sell it’s leased Utica Shale property in Belmont, Guernsey and Noble counties in Ohio. They also plan to sell leases in Westmoreland, Clearfield, and Centre counties in PA. When it’s all over and done, Rex will be concentrating on just three counties…
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