This will be a multi-part article.
As part of the on-going coverage of the mid-term elections, we were made aware of candidate George Phillips (running for the 22nd Congressional District) going on a visit to a gas drilling rig in Pennsylvania. This trip was motivated by the huge issue of whether or not gas drilling of the Marcellus shale deposits will be allowed in New York State. The potential for the economy in the State is enormous, as is the argument that it poses a danger to water resources.
George Phillips made an open invitation to the media, of which several of the local television stations stated they would accept as well as M V Consulting, Inc., and the Press & Sun. As it turned out only the Press & Sun and M V Consulting arrived for the presentation by Chesapeake Energy Corporation, and the trip to an operating gas drilling rig.
Presenting the information about the operations of Chesapeake were Mr. Mike Atchie and Mr. Paul Hartman.
The event started as we drove from Binghamton after the Chamber of Commerce forum to the Chesapeake offices in PA. On the trip down (roughly an hour down) we were told about several of the myths and stories floating about gas drilling, and some facts about the Marcellus shale deposit. The facts can also be found online with little difficulty and include:
- Marcellus Formation is a black shale that may contain limestone beds and concentrations of iron pyrite (FeS2) and siderite (FeCO3)
- Marcellus also contains some amount of uranium
- Most of the Marcellus shale runs across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions of New York, in northern and western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, through western Maryland, and throughout most of West Virginia extending across the state line into extreme western Virginia
- It’s age is roughly 391.9 to 383.7 million years old
- The thickness of the Marcellus shale layer runs from 40ft to 890ft throughout it’s length
- April 2009, the United States Department of Energy estimated the Marcellus to contain 262 TCF of recoverable gas
- State University of New York at Fredonia geology professor Gary Lash has estimated that just 10% of the reserve under New York State to West Virginia could run all the energy needs of the United States for 2 years – equivalent to roughly $1 trillion.
The biggest question against Natural gas drilling is that gas will leak into water tables and contaminate the water, as was supposed to have happened in Dimock, Susquehanna County, Pa. It is in that area that gas drilling supposedly leaked gas into the water table, allowing residents to light their water taps on fire.
The Dimock story is a myth though. It is unclear that gas drilling was the source of anything. In many areas, across the Marcellus, residents have had the ability to light their water taps due to the natural seepage of gas into the water table in areas where gas drilling has never occured for years. Gas seepage into water tables is a natural event, and there has been no confirmed report of water contamination from a gas drilling operation in the Marcellus shale to date.
**CORRECTION – Dimock was found to have contamination from CABOT. The referednce was meant about Chesapeake Energy. Also the myth, as clarification, was meant to refer only to the claim that natual gas never existed before hydrofracking occured. Natural gas leakage into water tables is a natual occuring event, withou any gas drilling.**
When we arrived at the Chesapeake offices in Pennsylvania, we awaited the arrival of the other news media. As stated above only the Press & Sun had a reporter arrive for the story. With that, and with the Phillips campaign pressed for time due to other obligations, the presentation began.
For the next roughly 40 minutes we were given a presentation that included saftey, drilling porcedures, environmental precautions, landowner revenues, economic impact to communities, and Chesapeake projections for Pennsylvania.
Some of the highlights of that presentation were:
- The drilling sites are insulated with a burn (topsoil removed and used to create a ridge enclosing the site), a plastic tarp, a filler material to hold any spills, a platform to stabilize worker movement. Areas where drill mud, debris from drilling, and water collection/hydrofracking are stored are further insulated with an additional burn and insulating materials.
- The average depth of municipal wells – less than 1000ft – (that are deeper than regular wells) is roughly in excess of 4000 feet higher than where drilling for the Marcellus shale occurs.
- The wells used to drill the Marcellus shale have 7 layers of concrete and pipe lining them to help protect the environment and reduce the chance of leakage or other hazzard
- Cheasapeake uses horizontal drilling to maximize gas recovery, but also to minimize drill rigs
- The average length of actual drilling is 70 days, and there after is maintained by a small collection unit that has minimal impact on the environment and view
- Chesapeake uses roughly 6 chemicals in their hydrofracking, not the often misquoted 297 (which is the total number of chemical used by ALL drillers at all locations combined).
- Chesapeake uses independant auditors that randomly check their drill rigs to ensure safety codes and standards are being met
- Chesapeake pre-drills and tests water tables 4000ft away from drill sites (industry standard is 2500ft) to determine the local natural status of water tables to ensure no contamination has been done
- Chesapeake returns the drill locations back to as close to the natural state as possible after drilling
- Chesapeake uses locla supplies and personnel whenever possible
- Drill sites are so insulated from the environment that rainwater must be collected from the site as it will not drain away
- Cheasapeake has begun to recycle water collected on site (including rain water) to ensure minimal water usage
- Drill mud, used to facilitate ease of drilling and to help prevent gas leakage, is also recycled
- All liquids on site are contained in enclosed containers, isolated from the environment and recycled for use
Besides these highlights there were several questions asked. The Phillips campaign enquired about the number of people employed by Chesapeake. Currently there are 9000 in the compnay, with 1000 just in Pennsylvania. Which does not include those people employed locally as a by-product of the drilling and gas capture.
The Phillips campaign asked if the natural gas preventors, a major safety device, have ever failed? There has been only 1 instance where there was a problem with a blowout preventor – in Clearfield PA. The problem, as determined by the Department of Environmental Protection occured in part due to human error, as the blowout preventor was being activated on a pipe joint seam and not the normal pipe itself.
A question by M V Consulting, Inc. was directly on the drill mud. We asked if the drill mud was ever exposed and/or what happened to it? The answer is that the drill mud is cleaned of all the drilling debris in a closed system loop and then re-introduced for further drilling. The mud not being used is stored in a closed container, preventing environmental exposure. The debris is used in various options including use to improve roadways used by Cheasapeake and the local community.
This is similar to the closed system used for the water and hydrofracking. Rainwater and hydrofracking is recycled in a closed system and stored to prevent environmental exposure. The system, called AquaRenew, allows for analysis as well.
In each case the recycled materials are transported and re-used at other drill sites, minimizing use of local resources and limiting any environmental footprint.
Another question asked was about the amount of water used in the hydrofracking. We were told that of the 30 million gallons of water authorized by Pennsylvania, 2 million has been used. which brought up an interesting chart.
When compared, the amount of gallons of water used for the same amount of energy produced shows that Marcellus shale natural gas requires aprrox. 1.3 – 3.3 gallons of water. Nuclear energy requires 8 -14 gallons. Conventional oil requires 8 – 20 gallons. Biofuels, including irrigated Corn Ethanol and Soy Biodiesel, use in excess of 2,500 gallons of water. [Cheasapeake cites Hydraulic Fracturing Considerations for Natural Gas Wells of the Marcellus Shale for this and other facts presented]
Another interesting item in the materials provided by Chesapeake was that 5.6 million gallons of water are used to drill and hydrofrack a single Marcellus gas well. To put that into context, the material states, New York City uses the same amount of water in 8 minutes. It is the same amount of water used on a golf course in 28 days. It is the same amount for a 1,000 megawatt coal power plant in 13 hours. The differnce being that the Marcellus site will only use this total amount once per drill site (with much of the water recycled) and the other sources of use being continuous.
There was more technical data provided, which is available via the internet and the Chesapeake site which we invite readers and voters to look into. But it is suffice to say that the presentation answered all the questions posed about safety, environmental imapct, and local resource questions we had at the time.
Cheasapeake ended the presentation with a few facts about their status currently.
- They are expanding from 21 rigs to 30 in 2010
- they have paid $1.2 billion to landowners
- $350 million has been paid to vendors in Pennsylvania
- They have contributed $1 million to non-profits and the local community in Pennsylvania
- They have drilled 100 wells in 2009, with a target of 200 in 2010
- Numbers of Cheasapeake workers has increased from 250 in 2009 to 1100 in 2010, not including local economic growth
All in all it presented a compelling arguement for natural gas drilling in the Southern Tier and New York State. But we were about to go to an actual drilling site, and that would really be the answer to many questions.
Continued in part 2.