New Castle News

October 27, 2012

Shale Boom, Part 1: Activity escalating in Lawrence County

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Impact fee and occupancy tax dollars from Marcellus Shale are rolling into Lawrence County, its municipalities and tourism.

Meanwhile, the trucks are rolling in, too.

A cavalcade of tanker trucks was parked along the northbound Pulaski exit ramp of Interstate 376 last week for a few days, their destination a Marcellus/Utica shale drilling site off Garner Road.

Trucks laden with pipe also are making their way into the township as gas transmission line digging gets under way.

All are signs of progress for Lawrence County, which — since last year — has seen drilling rigs go up and come down and move on to other sites, exploring the richness of natural gas, and possibly oil, in the area.



WAVE OF THE FUTURE

Thousands of hopeful property owners have signed contracts for mineral rights leasing and now, people in the western part of the county are signing leases to allow pipelines to cross their land.

Seismic measuring companies are busy in Little Beaver Township, New Beaver Borough and elsewhere taking measurements in preparation for digging and hydraulic drilling.

In Pulaski, excavating started last week on a farm off Route 551 for the laying of gas and water pipeline by Hilcorp Energy Co. of Houston, which has the drilling operation on Garner Road.

The company’s plans are to drill five wells on property owned by Laird and Joyce Whiting, and, until recently, a rig there could be seen for miles around.

Hilcorp secured five conditional use approvals from the township for each well, and has received conditional use approval to build a central facility for processing gas at the Whiting site.



GAS PROCESSING

According to paperwork Hilcorp submitted to the township, the 350-by-450-foot central facility is used to process fluids including natural gas, oil and water for it to meet sales specifications.

Total well fluids enter the facility, where gas is separated from the liquids. Gas then is sent to a compressor where it is compressed and passed through a filter separator to remove any free liquid. The gas then flows through a sales meter and into the Tennessee Gas Pipeline. Oil, kept in storage tanks, is then hauled to a sales point by a truck and then to a disposal facility, according to the company’s description.

Two temporary water lines are being placed between a water intake location on the Shenango River and the well pad.

Greenhorne and O’Mara, consulting engineers for Hilcorp, notified the township in June of its intent to apply for permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and said the project scope includes improving an access road to the Lafarge Corp. Pulaski plant, and a former rail bed. The improvements will include vegetation clearing and widening both sides of the access roads about five feet.

In addition, a total fluids pipeline and gas lift line was to be installed between the well pad and central facility, all on the Whiting property.



TOWNSHIP HEARING

Hilcorp also has received a conditional use from the township for a well on the property of Rick Kinkela on North Valley View Road, and has applied for conditional uses for two more well sites there as well, according to township records.

The supervisors have scheduled a public hearing for 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at the municipal building to consider those applications.

Digging for pipeline started Wednesday off Route 551 on the John Thompson farm in Pulaski.

Jake Catlett, working for Ronald Cline Trenching of Arkansas, explained the company’s job is to bore under roads and any property that cannot be cut, in preparation to lay water and natural gas pipelines.

Ronnie Cline, the company owner, was operating a backhoe and explained they had just dug the bore and were putting an easement through. His firm was subcontracted by Hilcorp for the work, he said.

Maps provided to the township by Hilcorp show that is where the Tennessee Gas Pipeline is going through. A Hilcorp representative on site would not provide further details.



DRILLING COUNTYWIDE

Justin Furnace, a Hilcorp spokesman, offered these comments via email about Hilcorp’s work in the area:

“With regard to our operations in the area, we are still in the infancy stage of our growth and development. Right now our operations are largely focused in and around Pulaski Township. We are just now drilling and completing our first wells in the area.”

Regarding future infrastructure development and drilling, he said that will be determined by results of current drilling activity, “but it is way too early to tell.

“We are working now to obtain the necessary permits for additional drilling activity next year but have not decided on which wells we will be drilling,” he said, adding, “We hope to have a better understanding of what the future holds in the next few months. However, without question, we plan to continue to grow our presence in the form of hiring additional contractors and employees in the area.”



SHELL’S PROGRESS

In the eastern end of the county, Joe Minnitte, case manager for Shell Exploration and Production Co., said the company is gearing up for more drilling next year.

Right now, the company is drilling its last two wells of 2012 in this area — one is the Williams Well in Slippery Rock Township in Butler County, and one is the Thomas Kephart well in North Beaver Township. Those are still part of Shell’s exploration phase, Minnitte said.

Shell has built four well pads in Lawrence County. In addition to the Kephart, there is the Patterson well in Little Beaver Township, the Twentier property in Perry Township and the Mayberry property in Scott Township.

Minnitte said Shell is not yet installing any gas transmission pipeline but he knows that other companies are.

Shell’s plans for 2013 so far include about eight to 10 wells on a site called the Halterline site in Slippery Rock Township, Butler County, Minnitte said.

“That pad is almost done,” he said. He added no plans are on the schedule yet for drilling next year in Lawrence County.

 “That part’s still being discussed.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)