Consol Begins Drilling Two Wells in North Jackson
NORTH JACKSON, Ohio – Consol Energy Corp. demonstrated just what it takes to drill not one, but two, wells at the same site Tuesday as the Pittsburgh-based company unveiled to reporters a new drilling rig positioned in northwest Mahoning County.
The well, named MAHN-7, is just off Bailey Road in Jackson Township, and it's one of the sites in the county that Consol hopes will produce a steady flow of oil, natural gas and natural-gas liquids.
And just 20 feet away from the first borehole where a 154-high derrick stands, a second well will be drilled.
"At this site, we're drilling the first of two horizontal well bores that we're going to use to test the Utica shale," said Harry Schurr, general manager of Consol Energy's Utica operations. "We started about a week ago in earnest and we should be done within the next 30 days with the drilling portion."
Both wells should be completed over the next several months, Schurr said, noting that developing pipeline infrastructure would come next, depending on the level of production from these wells.
Schurr said developing infrastructure around this particular well would be determined on whether it holds oil, liquids-rich gas such as ethane, or dry gas.
"We test for a long period of time, and we have a group of people who take a look at that data, get an understanding of it and determine whether or not we're happy with the results enough to put in pipeline and continue exploring the area," he remarked.
It could take six months to a year just to arrange new pipeline infrastructure if needed, Schurr said.
The company began work on another well pad in Trumbull County in Vienna earlier this year, but Schurr said that Consol is re-evaluating its position in this portion of the Utica play and wants to concentrate on other areas of the state that might hold better reserves. "We've re-prioritzed it within our mix," he said, adding that other counties that Consol and its joint venture partner, Hess Corp., operate in present more immediate opportunities and the better chance of returns.
He said the site at the Wollam Farm isn't fully reclaimed yet, but the well pad is now removed and Consol is taking a "wait and see" approach regarding the Vienna site.
Consol has drilled one well thus far in Mahoning County, in Ellsworth Township, and that well is waiting to be hydraulically fractured.
A conductor hole and surface casing have been drilled at the MAHN-7 well, which constitutes setting a 30-inch casing at a depth of 106 feet, reports Pete Nickel, Consol's horizontal rig manager. That casing is cemented in place, and a surface casing pipe measuring 20 inches in diameter is also set in place inside the conductor casing. The surface casing is lowered at a depth of 50 feet below the aquifer, or in this case, about 380 feet.
That casing is also cemented in place to prevent any migration of fluids or gas into the water supply, Nickel explained.
A third string of intermediate casing is then lowered inside the surface casing to a depth of 1,000 feet and cemented. The process is repeated again with a fourth string to a depth of 6,850 to complete the vertical drilling section of the rig.
"We don't go into this with a little thought," Nickel noted. "We're talking about three strings of steel casing and three sheets of cement protecting drinking water.”
Consol uses compressed air during the first three phases of the drilling to force rock shavings and particles to the surface. Once these cuttings are collected, they're sent to landfills for disposal, he noted. "They may be anywhere from an eighth of an inch size to a half-inch," he said. All refuse is analyzed before it's shipped to the landfill.
After the vertical well is drilled and the casings set, the rig begins drilling the horizontal leg. In the case of MAHN-7, the lateral is expected to extend about 5,000 feet to the northeast.
Then, once the first well is drilled, the 154-foot-high rig and its undercarriage – about 750,000 pounds, plus another 200,000 pounds of pipe standing on the drilling rig that can be used again -- is capable of slowly "marching" toward the next borehole 20 feet away, Nickel says.
The rig is automatically controlled and operated so that it can move to the next well at a pace of about seven feet an hour, Nickel noted. "So, it would take a few hours to get there," he said.
When the second well is drilled, the horizontal drill path is likely to run parallel to the first, Nickel said. Although the wellheads might be just 20 feet from one another at the surface, the path of the second drill winds away from the first at a certain depth.
By the time the lateral leg on the second well is drilled, the two horizontal paths are about 550 feet apart.
The wells are then prepared for hydraulic fracturing, Nickel said, a process used since the 1940s and first developed by Earl P. Halliburton, founder on the oilfield services company that bears his name.
The fracking process injects huge volumes of sand and water, plus a mixture of chemicals, into the well at high pressure to blast open tight shale formations and release the gas it contains.
Hydraulic fracturing has emerged as a topic of heated debate since the oil and gas rush started about five years ago in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Those opposed to the process allege that "fracking" poisons drinking water and has led to serious health issues for those near well sites.
A local activist group, Frackfree Mahoning Valley, says its concerned the MAHN-7 well is positioned too close to the Meander Reservoir, the source of drinking water for the city of Youngstown.
"When I came on five years ago in central Pennsylvania, we were fracking shallow wells four to five days a week, but no one paid attention to it," Nickel said. "The technology today is not super-different, they're [horizontal wells] just way bigger. You're dealing with higher pressure and you use more water and more sand."
And, he added, before a well is fracked, a 5½-inch casing is lowered into the well to provide an additional layer of protection and containment as fluids are injected and drawn from the well.
"The regulations are very effective in accomplishing what we want to do, and that's protecting fresh water on the surface," Nickel said.
Consol has contracted with a Houston-based drilling company whose employees are operating the drilling rig here while Consol manages the project. Rig employees usually work two weeks on, two weeks off, and average 12-hour days. They live in trailers at the site.
"We manage every aspect of this operation," Nickel said.
Nickel said about 60% of the rig employees in this area are from outside the region, the rest from the Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia.
Vitally important, Nickel said, is how Consol is at the forefront of making safety the company's No. 1 core value. Each employee undergoes stringent safety training, and the rig at this site comes equipped with some of the latest mechanical enhancements to make for a safer working environment.
Nickel points to the automated "catwalk" on the rig where pipe is loaded vertically onto a large skid and then raised automatically to the drill pad.
"We feel it’s a much safer route of picking up pipe," he said. "We walk the walk."
Copyright 2012 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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