New Castle News

June 26, 2012

Photos, Video, Story: Shell’s shale operations under way locally

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — (Video screen appears below. To view a photo gallery, click on the link at the right or CLICK HERE) The hot summer sun beats down on Jim Brown and he’s all business.

Wearing a jumpsuit, leather gloves, a hard-hat, goggles, earplugs and steel-toed shoes, the burly guide with his southern drawl gives the once-over to everyone he leads onto the site of a Marcellus Shale well pad in Scott Township.

He’s making sure employees and visitors alike are wearing the same gear he has, including paper jumpsuits for guests — or they cannot step onto the tarpaulin covering the ground where a drill rig is in operation.

Shell Appalachia’s safety rules get even stricter. Only one person is allowed on a metal stairwell at a time and is required to hold onto the railings with both hands.

As a worker for Shell Appalachia, Brown takes his job seriously and safety comes first.

His drawl is drowned out by the sound of a rig behind him, which is drilling about 5,000 feet into the earth.

The rig sits off Route 956 in Scott Township on the land of William Mayberry, a location that is expected to have a four wells in total.

One of those, according to Shell case manager Joe Minnitte, will be a Utica shale well, which will tap into natural gas reserves even deeper than the Marcellus Shale vein.

Considered by Shell to be medium-sized, the rig at the Mayberry site is designed for exploratory drilling to determine what amount of natural gas can be extracted from the Marcellus shale vein.

The actual drilling is controlled from a platform on top of the rig, where workers constantly are monitoring pressure, bringing cuttings to the surface and operating the digging process.

On the rig floor, more and more pipe is screwed into the rig to keep extending the drill deeper and deeper.

It’s a 24-hour operation.

Holding bins on site contain the ground cuttings brought to the surface by the drill.

When the cuttings come to the surface they are put on a shaking machine with a screen that sifts out all the liquid. That water is reused and the cuttings are put into the bins and are hauled away to a permitted disposal site.

Fresh water is stored on site as well.

Whether any of Shell’s wells will be producing soon is anyone’s guess. Only the Shell people know what they’re finding, and they’re not telling, said Kimberly Windon, a public relations representative.

There’s competition out there.

In Lawrence County alone, leasing and drilling operations are under way from one end of the county to another, and competitors include Chesapeake and Hilcorp Energy.

Hilcorp’s best-known location is the Laird and Joyce Whiting property on Garner Road in Pulaski Township, which can be seen from Interstate 376, and is well lit at night.

Shell has leases for more than 900,000 acres in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, Windon said, and most are in Pennsylvania.

“We’re taking a look at the liquid rich gas,” she said, adding, “We have resources that can take us through the long haul.”

The company has decided that while natural gas prices are low, “let’s go ahead and appraise what we have.”

She said the company needs to make sure its sites have pipeline availability.

According to Minnitte, the Patterson well in Little Beaver Township, under way now, will undergo hydraulic fracking beginning next week.

The process will take about five days, he said, adding two wells on that site will be fracked.

Those have access to the Tennessee Pipeline and another unnamed one, he confirmed.

“With Patterson, we’re looking now at what’s there and the ability to place the gas into a pipeline,” Windon said.

 Minnitte said Shell hopes to connect the Patterson well into a pipeline by fall.

The fracking process begins once the hole is drilled and casing is in place, he explained.

“They put a perforating gun down the pipe and it blows four or five very small holes along the pipe. When we pump the pressure down it comes out through the holes to fracture the rock.”

Fracking is done in stages. One of the wells at Patterson will have 18 stages, he said. The well will extend laterally 5,309 feet in the Utica vein.

 Shell’s other well sites this year in Lawrence County will be in the appraisal phase of drilling and testing, “to see what our resource capacity really is,” Windon said.

Shell entered the Appalachian Basin for Marcellus drilling in 2010.

At the Mayberry site, the rig has been up and running since June 4. Once fracking starts there, the horizontal well will extend 4,500 feet, he said.

At Shell’s sites elsewhere in Lawrence County, the Kephart site in North Beaver Township is just getting under way, and the Twentier site in Perry Township just finished with hydraulic fracturing. That well next will be flared, meaning they put in a pipe and burn the gas to see how long it will produce, Minnitte explained.

Because no pipeline is readily available there, he said, the well most likely will be capped until there is access to one.

Video Footage

New Castle News correspondent Becca Stanek offers an exclusive look at the Marcellus Shale drilling site in her video below.