Task force takes a look at Marcellus drilling

Members of the Elk County Gas Task Force learned more about the new Marcellus Shale drilling law that recently took effect at their Tuesday meeting, including a brief overview of shale deposits in the state. State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Oil and Gas Manager Craig Lobins discussed what a typical well site might look like and some history about drilling. According to Lobins, the first Marcellus well in Pennsylvania was drilled in 2004. He displayed a map showing the variation of shale thickness throughout the state and noted that the shale deposits were very thick in northeastern Pa. “With Marcellus being so widespread, covering two-thirds of Pennsylvania, a lot of activity out in Bradford, Susquehanna (counties), we ended up opening up a new office in 2009, the Williamsport office,” Lobins said. “Since 2009, we had a staff increase in the Oil and Gas Program of 105 new employees, new complement added. Half are out in Williamsport. “It’s a field office – they have the oil and gas inspectors and water quality specialists doing the inspections, the site inspections, and they do have some engineers and biologists and geologists. And the engineers and biologists would be looking at storm water permits and encroachment permits, and the geologists would help out with any investigations or gas migrations or complaints going on.”Lobins also discussed various shale formations across the country. “There’s quite a few unconventional shales out there,” Lobins said. “The shale is the source rock. It’s the mother lode. It’s where the gas and oils migrate from into the typical reservoir rocks, which would be your sandstones, your limestones, some stratigraphic traps. That’s where all the oil and gas is locked up.“A lot of resources there, but they were never able to get them out. I don’t think they really, truly believed they could get them out until these fracking techniques evolved over the last 20 years.” Lobins noted that hydrofracturing, the process of pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to open fissures and improve the flow of oil or gas to the surface, is not something new to the oil and gas well industry.There’s a concern about the amount of waters used in hydrofracking. And there’s a lot of buzz about fracking, hydrofracking, and I think the public thinks it’s a new technology. Well, it’s not a new technology,” Lobins said. "Halliburton developed hydrofracking back in the 1940s. Fracking’s been around for a long time."What the difference is, is the amount of water that they’re using in this fracking. And I think the real reason why the water usage has increased so much is that they’re using these horizontal bores. Before, if you had a formation maybe 100 feet thick, you’d have to frack maybe a 100-foot area. If you have a 5,000-foot lateral, instead of going 100 feet, you’re going 5,000 feet. So that’s why the volume of water has significantly increased.”He said DEP was concerned about the amount of water use by drilling companies. “They (DEP) didn’t want the streams to dry up,” Lobins said. “So the operators have to submit a water management plan, tell us how much water they’re going to be withdrawing, they have certain limits they have to follow when they’re doing it. It’s only for unconventional wells.”Pick up a copy of the Wednesday, April 11, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.